Come and See the Stench of Death

Come and See the Stench of Death

As we have seen, the first two callings of “come and see” are both directed toward a new disciple. First, to come and see the place where Christ dwells and then to come and see for oneself who He really is. The third “come and see,” however, is different.

As Jesus nears His own crucifixion, His friend Lazarus dies and is laid in a stone tomb. Lazarus’ sisters come to Him, weeping over the death of their brother. They doubt that His presence will do any good at this point because Lazarus has been dead four days and the sweet smell of the spices that were used to anoint his body have worn off revealing the real stench of death. They weep at His feet and reprimand Him for not coming sooner.

Jesus seemingly remains unconcerned as he gets nearer to the tomb, continually reminding Mary and Martha of who He is.

Finally, He asks them, “Where have you laid him?” and they respond, “Lord, come and see.”

The third “come and see” of the gospels is an invitation for the Lord to come and see the wages of sin, to confront the death and corruption that plagues humanity–that plagues each of us.

It is an invitation we must extend to Jesus knowing that we are Lazarus, dead four days and stinking from our own sins within the stone tomb of our harden hearts. Experience (the first come and see) and knowledge (the second) of Christ are gifts of grace, freely offered by Him to those who will receive Him.

What is required of us is to respond.

And we respond by asking Jesus to come and see the sins that bind us like Lazarus in the grave no matter how foul we may think they have become. What is asked of us is that we weep bitterly, like Mary at her brother’s tomb, over the death that is within us.

When they reach the tomb, Jesus, confronted with the death of His friend and the end result of humanity’s fallen state, joins Mary in her lament. And then, incredibly and in spite of the doubts and disgust of the crowd, He asked for the tomb to be opened, and He calls the rotting Lazarus out of the tomb and into Life.

So too it is with our hearts when we truly and honestly invite Jesus to come and see what lies within. He takes away the stony hardness of our hearts, and He does not flinch at the stench of the dead man who lies therein. Instead, He weeps with us, His own heart breaking to know what tragedies we suffer at our own hands, and then He calls forth the real man saying, “Loose him, and let him go,” freeing us from the grave clothes of our the sins which bind us and offering to us True Life in Him.

Come and See that Jesus Is the Messiah

Come and See that Jesus Is the Messiah

Last week we talked about the invitation of Jesus to “come and see” where He lived, and we established that to become a disciple is first to be near to the Lord and experience Him in His own home.

This week, we take a look at what happens right after this first “come and see” calling. Immediately after John’s two disciples spend the evening with Jesus, a Galilean game of telephone begins as Andrew goes to find Peter, and after being called by Jesus, Philip goes to find Nathanael. Andrew declares, “We have found the Messiah,” and Philip says, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Pretty hefty claims.

It’s perhaps not too much of a surprise that the testimony of Philip, no matter how enthusiastic, was not enough to convince Nathanael. He’s not only not convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, but he’s not convinced it is possible for someone that important to come from such a scripturally unimportant (and sometimes disreputable) town like Nazareth.

Amazingly, Philip is not taken aback by Nathanael’s doubts nor does he try to further convince him. He simply tells him, “Come and see.” He is neither offended that Nathanael may not believe him nor is he shaken in his own decision to follow Jesus. It’s as if he says, “You don’t have to believe me. I’m convinced. Come see for yourself and decide.”

As an aside, there’s an important lesson here about evangelism. First, it’s important to notice that “come and see” only follows Philip’s willingness to seek out his friend and boldly declare to him that he has found the Savior. But once he’s given the testimony of his own encounter with the Lord, Philip allows Nathanael the freedom to come and see for himself–or not.

Philip invites Nathanael to get to know Jesus, and Nathanael comes. Though he has heard the testimony of his friend, like Thomas after the resurrection, Nathanael needs to meet Jesus himself.

Icon by the hand of Dn. Matthew Garrett. Used with permission.

Icon by the hand of Dn. Matthew Garrett. Used with permission.

To meet Jesus and discover experientially that He is the Messiah, the Savior, is essential to becoming a disciple of Christ. No one is made a believer on the testimony of others alone. You have to meet Jesus yourself by coming to Him. And while we may not be able to walk down the road from our shady fig tree to find Him, we can meet Jesus in prayer. Even a tentative or doubt-filled prayer is a vehicle for encountering the Lord. Nathanael probably wasn’t walking down the road actually expecting to meet the Messiah; in fact, he probably thought the end result of his excursion with Philip would end in disappointment, in nothing. But he made the walk anyway just to see. He carried his doubts right to the feet of the Lord.

And when Nathanael got near to Jesus, while he was still a bit down the road, Jesus called out to him, praising him for his righteous doubt and for his willingness to meet Him anyway. He tells Nathanael that He already knows about his doubts because He saw him when he was under the fig tree.

So come. Don’t be afraid to carry your doubts and your questions with you, but come. If with authenticity and honesty you approach Jesus, He will honor you from far off, coming to you and offering you His salvation so that you of your own accord, with Nathanael, can declare, “You are the Son of God.”

New Podcast! Orthodox Apologetics: The Bible

New Podcast! Orthodox Apologetics: The Bible

OCFPodcastThe OCF Podcast is back, and we have lots of new things to share with you this year! First up, we start back into our apologetics series where we help you answer the questions you get asked on campus. Listen in to hear our new Media Student Leader Dan Bein continue the conversation with Fr. Brendan Pelphrey about sharing Orthodoxy with others. In this episode, they talk about the Bible and its place in the Church.

Click here to listen!

The Old Testament Canon

The Old Testament Canon

Today we continue to answer the question:

Why are some books in the Bible while others were excluded and how was that decided?

The canon of the Old Testament is a much more complicated collection than the New Testament. Unlike the New Testament that was written, collected, and pretty much standardized in the course of 300 years, the writing, editing, and collecting of the Old Testament spans at least eight centuries before Christ, and the decision about which texts should be considered canonical varies across Jewish and Christian traditions.

As a much older collection and one that is shared by Jews and Christians alike, explaining the full history of the Old Testament requires much more than a blog post! But probably the most common question you’ll face about the Old Testament is something like,

Why do you have ‘extra’ books in your Bible?

If you’ve never noticed, the Old Testament in your Orthodox Study Bible doesn’t quite match up with other English translations like the NKJV or NIV–it’s longer and the books are in a different order. Here’s why.

In the three centuries preceding Christ, Judea came under the rule of the Greeks and then the Romans. Because of this, many Jews were living outside of Judea and in other parts of the empire and many of them spoke Greek as their primary language. Thus, it became necessary for the Scripture (which, of course, at this time only included the Old Testament and did not yet have a set canon) to be translated from its original Hebrew into Greek.

A page from a 13th Century copy of the LXX. Image from Wikimedia

A page from a 13th Century copy of the LXX. Image from Wikimedia

According to early Jewish and Christian tradition, King Ptolomy II Philadelphus summoned 72 Hebrew scholars and asked them to translate the teachings of Moses into Greek to include in the famous library of Alexandria. The number of translators is what later gave this Greek translation its name–Septuagint being derived from the Latin for “the translation of the seventy”–and is why this version is often abbreviated as LXX.

Of course, modern scholars have all sorts of theories about if this ever happened or which books were translated when, but it is certain that by the time of Christ, the entire Hebrew Bible had been translated into Greek and additional texts had been penned in Greek and were circulating alongside the translations.

Most often, when Christ quotes Scripture in the gospels, He uses the Septuagint translations, as do the authors of the epistles. It seems, then, that the LXX was certainly an accepted if not the primary text of the Jews at the time of Jesus.

Thus, the early Christians naturally adopted the Greek LXX, including the later books such as Maccabees and Sirach.

Later, in the 7th to 10th centuries CE, the Jews compiled an authoritative Hebrew and Aramaic text of their scriptures based on Hebrew-only manuscripts and adjusting for the need to include vowels in the written text. This version of the Old Testament became known as the Masoretic text and did not use the LXX as a basis for its creation. Therefore, it does not include the books originally written in Greek or the portions of certain Old Testament books that were included in the LXX. It also uses a different numbering system for chapters and verses and sometimes orders things differently in certain books.

It is the Masoretic text that Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers preferred for a variety of reasons, and thus, it has become the standard among Protestants for translations into vernacular languages such as English.

So there you have it–while the Protestants only accept as authoritative the Masoretic text of the Middle Ages, the Orthodox (and to some extent, the Catholics) continue to view the older LXX as authoritative while certainly understanding that some books hold more significance than others (for example, we read Isaiah and use it in our hymnology way more than we use Judith). If you never knew this or have only ever read from a Protestant translation into English of the Old Testament, now is a great time to get an Orthodox Study Bible and start reading from the LXX of the ancient Church!

How to Read the Bible & Where to Start

How to Read the Bible & Where to Start

Just picking up a Bible and committing to read the whole thing can seem an impossible task. Where should you start? How should you make sense of the whole book? Here’s a little bit of advice for getting started:

  1. Everything must be read through the lens of Jesus Christ. The Incarnation of the Son of God is in a sense the beginning and the end of the story of salvation. As Christians, we understand all of the Scripture through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is a good argument for not reading the Bible cover to cover the first time you are getting really acquainted with the Scriptures–the gospels are the primary key to the rest of the Bible (for more on this, see my reading recommendations below).
  2. Everything is not equal. The Bible is not a monolithic document–it contains history, poetry, letters, prophecy, ritual practices, and more. The gospels, for example, are their own genre of literature: neither history nor mythology nor theological teaching, but “the good news.” This means we have to treat different parts of the Bible differently. Now, this isn’t a judgment of validity, but a ranking of importance. The Gospel of John is just always going to be more important to the life of the Church than the Apocalypse of John (Revelation). Psalms will always be read more often than Numbers. The Church uses all of Scripture, but uses the different parts differently, in a manner appropriate to their genre, content, and context.
  3. Everything need not be read literally. Flowing naturally from #1 and #2, allegorical and typological readings of the Old Testament especially are completely the norm in the Church. St. Paul does it in his letters (for example, in Galatians and 1 Corinthians), and the Church Fathers continue this tradition, seeing Christ and salvation through Him as the most important point of interpretation. This has a lot of implications for our understanding of Scripture. For example, we don’t deny any of the “ugly” history of the Old Testament, but we also understand it in a spiritual context and in relationship to the coming of Christ.
  4. There are supposed to be bumpy spots. The Bible is a collection of thousands of years worth of a variety of texts meant to apply to every era, culture, and individual person to encounter it until the Second Coming of Christ. Obviously, then, it’s not exactly the easiest book you’ll ever read. Sometimes, we open it up, and the reading for the day is perfect for what is going on in our lives and draws us closer to God in an obvious way. But sometimes, we can get disheartened when a passage seems difficult to understand or jars us in a negative way. We shouldn’t give up, but should continue to ask God to reveal to us what we need and use the bumpy spots as opportunities to ask questions and learn how to interpret these difficult passages. Which brings me to my last principle…
  5. Interpretation is done through and in the Church. The Bible is the text of the Christian Church, and it is only in the context of the worshiping, Eucharistic, Body of Christ that it can be interpreted. This means we should read the Scripture in the context of a full life in the Church and should go to the Church Fathers and the whole communion of saints to help us understand what we read and how it should be applied to our lives. It also means we shouldn’t be surprised when those who are outside of the Church don’t understand the Scripture or misinterpret it or even try to use it against us. St. Irenaeus in his book Against Heresies warns us that some who are outside of the Church will even try to use Scripture to their own ends and lead people astray with our sacred Scriptures. We shouldn’t be intimidated by anyone using our Scriptures inappropriately, and we should always go to the Church with our questions as we read the Bible ourselves.

So now that we have an idea about how to read Scripture, here are a few suggestions for where to start (these are my personal recommendations):

  1. The Daily Readings: If you aren’t in the habit of reading Scripture at all, a great way to start is by downloading the Daily Readings App and just starting with the daily readings. This will help you not only get used to reading the Bible, but will make sure you are automatically following #1, #2, and #5 above.
  2. The Gospels: If you’re wanting to read the whole Bible, you have to start with the gospels. Start with Mark (it’s the shortest) then Matthew and Luke (which are similar to Mark) then end with John (the theological gospel). Once you have read all four gospels, you’ll have a better foundation for whatever you read next.
  3. The Epistles: After the gospels, I recommend reading through some of the epistles. My college student recommendations are 1 & 2 Timothy (how to be a young Christian leader) and James (faith and works, wealth and poverty, and controlling your tongue).
  4. The Wisdom Literature: If you are looking for a good place to start in the Old Testament, I recommend starting with the wisdom literature. For college students, I always recommend the Wisdom of Sirach (practical advice for young people), Job (how to deal with suffering), and the Psalms (the favorite book of the Church, the Psalms have a prayer for everything).

We also have this list of great resources for starting a Bible Study (on your own or in a group). May your reading of Scripture illumine your heart with the Light of Divine Wisdom.