We now have come to the act of The Drama of Scripture where we ourselves fall: the Church. Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom as something radically different than everyone had imagined and left us to continue to spread its message. The book of Acts as well as the epistles give us more of a picture of how the earliest church understand this Act of the story.
In our journey through The Drama of Scripture, we now turn to the climax of the story: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Interestingly, the book doesn’t touch his birth at all. There are clearly some lessons to be learned from the birth narratives, although they are lessons that are also present elsewhere in Jesus’ life, I would say, so I’m not sure I felt like it was missing out. But let’s dig into the main points that the chapter did cover.
While I would probably be inclined to put the intertestamental/apocryphal period within the rest of Act 3: Israel, Bartholomew and Goheen give it a separate interlude section, presumably because of a primarily Protestant audience who wouldn’t identify this period as part of their Scripture. In any case, it is a very helpful piece of history to be familiar with as it sets the backdrop for the Gospels.
We left off with some Jews, but not nearly all, having returned to Israel to rebuild during the reign of the Persian Empire. Many others stayed in diaspora but continued to worship as Jews through synagogues and Scripture. Those who did return succeeded in rebuilding the Temple and a wall around the city, but they also experienced a lot of problems: violence from neighboring nations, the Temple as a shadow of what it had been under Solomon, and the simple fact they were still under the rule of a foreign Empire, albeit a relatively benevolent one.
The Persian Empire, including Israel and those Jews in diaspora, is then conquered by the Greeks under Alexander the Great. This sets in motion the cultural process of Hellenization, that is, making parts of the Empire more culturally Greek. Although Alexander himself died at a young age, his successors would continue to fight over Israel. This Hellenization period would have far-reaching effects on Judaism, both in Israel and in diaspora. One of the most important developments was the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. This translation was called the Septuagint, sometimes abbreviated as LXX, and was used by the the early Christians as well as Jews.
In 167 BCE, the Jewish people in Israel began to revolt, led by the Maccabees. This established Jewish people as heads of their nation for the first time since the Exile, but it would be short-lived. The Hasmonean dynasty were often corrupt and heavily influenced by Greek ideas. In 63 BCE, the Romans marched into Jerusalem, taking control with ease and maintaining it for almost 500 years despite multiple uprising attempts.
The frustration and tensions among Jewish people should be easy to sympathize with. They’ve been promised their own land and to be a blessing among the nations, and yet with the short exception of David and Solomon, they’ve largely been corrupt and often under the thumb of other Empires: Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek (Alexander, Ptolemy, and Seleucid), and Roman.
Yet they continue to have hope that God’s Kingdom promises would come true. This hope would manifest itself in different ways within different sects or political parties in Israel. The Pharisees emphasized personal piety in following the Law, particularly those that set them apart from other culture. Consequently, they did not look highly on the Romans but didn’t instigate violent revolt either. The Sadducees were much happier to cooperate with Roman rule as they validated their power in the Temple, where they could emphasize what they considered the most important element of Jewish life: the Temple rituals. The Essenes were similar to the Pharisees in that they emphasized keeping the Law, but wanted to completely separate to create their own holy society. Lastly, the Zealots were violent revolutionaries who believed it was their take back their Holy Land in order to establish God’s Kingdom instead. And of course, like with political parties today, the majority of the common people were not members of any of the above.
Interestingly and a little frustratingly, Bartholomew and Goheen detail how we can learn from the mistakes of the Sadducees, the Zealots, and the Essenes, which tends to leave the impression that we should therefore emulate the Pharisees. From the Sadducees we see the problem of compromise with political authorities. From the Essenes we see the problem of fleeing the world instead of trying to transform it. From the Zealots we see the problem of committing evil in the name of stopping evil. And I need to add: from the Pharisees we see, particularly throughout the Gospels, the problem of trying to force change on others and build walls through Law rather than spreading God’s love by relating with people and changing their hearts.
This is the environment that Jesus enters. Everybody is trying to hold onto hope of God’s Kingdom in the face of a new oppression. Almost all believe that Kingdom will come in the form of kicking the Romans out and establishing independent political rule, led by a political/religious Messiah. And a variety of political parties argue over how to best do this with the average person being caught in the middle. In other words, God’s Kingdom plan is still on track; in fact, I wonder if the stage has been set for God’s people to be more open than ever to a different understanding of what Kingdom will look like.
Act 3 of The Drama of Scripture spans the remainder of the Old Testament. Bartholomew and Goheen do run quickly over all of these details, but I’ll be sparse here on the exact details of the narrative and simply point to some other great resources: Taste and See completed as a collaboration between the Canadian Bible Society and Scripture Union Canada as well as Bible Intro by the Canadian Bible Society.
As with Act 1: Creation, Act 2 is told in a small section of Scripture, only one chapter in Genesis. It is an important chapter, though, and does serve as a very important act within the grand story. It gives us three important themes which are relevant in our lives: the nature of sin, the unchanged nature of God in the face of our sin, and the nature of the enemy, Satan.
Micah Murray recently offered up a brilliant piece on How Feminism Hurts Men. It is a purely satirical piece pointing out that men still have the advantage along pretty much every measurable dimension possible: wages for the same work, positions of power in the church, victimhood to violence, etc. And of course there are some in the comments who think by pointing out a rare exception (e.g. percentage of undergraduate population in colleges and universities) they are therefore proving women really are equal, but I won’t spend time on how crazy that is. I do, though, want to quickly discuss the concept that feminism is anti-male. As a man, obviously the whole concept should get me very upset if that were the case. It doesn’t, precisely because I think feminism helps men as much as it helps women.
The first act in the grand drama of Scripture is the act of creation. This act, while very important, makes up only two chapters of biblical text. These two chapters contain two back-to-back stories of God’s creation: Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25. The first, in poetic form, approaches creation in broad terms, speaking of phases in creation. The second focuses on the pinnacle of the creation - humanity – including our work caring for creation and our need for relationship. This diversity in perspective is one of the most beautiful things about Scripture. From the two creation stories we can learn about three areas which are still very relevant to us now.
I’ve seen a few people recently share an article from Dave Ramsey called 20 Things the Rich Do Every Day. I don’t know enough of Ramsey’s work, but I’ve seen enough others for the red flag to immediately be going off with the sense that what he really means is “20 ways to blame the poor for being poor.” Maybe that’s reading too much into it, but if he wasn’t implying that himself, it is clear that a lot of the commenters are feeling no qualms about making that statement outright.
I would like to very briefly debunk some of these victim-blaming tactics. Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way first.
- I am not suggesting that there are not some things which the poor could do to help themselves out. They do have some freedom.
- For the actual stats, look at the original articles. I’ve generalized, precisely because I think that’s what the article was promoting.
- Similarly, I’m generalizing here for dramatic effect. Yes, some poor people actually are simply lazy. Just like some rich people. The difference is the lazy rich people are ignored while the lazy poor people are seen as stereotypical of every poor person so you may as well not even bother helping them. I make generalizations in the opposite direction simply to help explode the false assumptions.
Anyway, let’s look at those things.
I’ve begun working through a new book The Drama of Scripture by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen. The book gives a whirlwind tour of the overarching story of Scripture, Genesis to Revelation. They take an approach I am a big fan of and borrowed from N.T. Wright, looking at Scripture as a drama with separate acts, where it is important to remember the place of each act within the larger story and how that changes our interpretative framework.
But first, some may be asking an important question: why would we want to view Scripture in this story framework anyway? Particularly if you are inclined toward a flat view of Scripture where every verse is to be interpreted the same way with no interest in genre or context, it is an odd question to ask. The authors explain why in their Preface:
Recently on the MennoNerds Facebook group, Robert was brave enough to ask for denominational history represented amongst our 199 members (as of writing this). I gave the short version there: United Church of Canada (evangelical), Canadian/Convention Baptist, non-denominational conservative evangelical, non-denominational post-conservative/”emerging”, non-denominational charismatic evangelical, United Church of Canada (liberal), Free Methodist, and (neo-)Anabaptist/Brethren in Christ. Those are the groups who I have been actively engaged in their ministry work. But I’m sure you all want to hear the long version along with some of the main things I learned in each “phase.”