08.05 Astonishing Power And Authority

08.05 Astonishing Power And Authority

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 07, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.05 Astonishing Power And Authority

Unit 08

Topical Issues

Chapter 05

Astonishing Power And Authority


 08.05.00.A. JESUS WITH FRIENDS IN THE HOUSE OF SIMON. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876. (2) 

08.05.00.A. JESUS WITH FRIENDS IN THE HOUSE OF SIMON. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876.  Jesus is illustrated being seated in the home of Simon, the Pharisee.  He and the other guests are accurately shown dining as was the custom in the first century.  He accepted the invitation of a wealthy Pharisee and, while conversing with him, a “sinful woman,” a euphemism generally (but not always) used for a prostitute, came and anointed His feet. When Jesus told her that her sins were forgiven, those present realized that He equated Himself with God, for only God could forgive sins. See Luke 7:36-38.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 07, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.05.01 CROWD IS ASTONISHED

08.05.01 Mt. 7:28-29



28 When Jesus had finished this sermon, the crowds were astonished at His teaching,        29 because He was teaching them like one who had authority, and not like their scribes.


Every Sabbath the scribes and Pharisees read the Scriptures and blended their oral traditions into the interpretation and message. This practice had become so widespread that it made the Bible of little or no effect.  However, Jesus focused only on the Bible and eliminated the restricting traditions of the Pharisees. His central focus was the Kingdom of God.  He contained within Himself a new era:  He not only announced it, but created it. His very soul and life was focused on ushering in the Kingdom of God, which would not be completed until He arose on the third day. In the meantime, He shared His life with all who would listen.


“When Jesus had finished this sermon.”  This phrase reflects not only what Jesus did, but also Matthew’s literary style.  His gospel was written in five distinct teaching sections and each one ends with a statement similar to this one. This was primarily a literary tool since there were no chapter headings or divisions, neither were there verse divisions. The four other “endings” are in 11:1; 13:53; 19:1 and 26:1.


The phrase, “one who had authority,” is often said to have been the way Jesus spoke, His charisma.  Well, He certainly had charisma and self-confidence, but that is not the correct meaning of the phrase.  In days of old, prophets would use a phrase such as, “Thus says the Lord your God.”  They claimed to have their authority directly from God. However, by the first century, no rabbi would dare use that phrase alone, but would quote another rabbi as well as the prophets to underscore the importance his message.  What made Jesus uniquely different was that He did not quote anyone – not a rabbi; not a prophet – but spoke with confidence in a courageous manner and without hesitation.   His authority was unlike anything people had ever seen or heard. He would say, “I say to you,” because He didn’t need to refer to any prophets or other rabbis. That was an outstanding change!


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 07, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.05.02 CENTURION’S SLAVE HEALED

08.05.02 Lk. 7:1-9; Mt. 8:11-13; Lk. 7:10 Capernaum




Lk.  1 When He had concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion’s slave, who was highly valued by him, was sick and about to die. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Him, requesting Him to come and save the life of his slave. 4 When they reached Jesus, they pleaded with Him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue.” 6 Jesus went with them, and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell Him, “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, since I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. 7 That is why I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be cured. 8 For I too am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”


9 Jesus heard this and was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found so great a faith even in Israel!”


Mt. 11 I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus told the centurion, “Go. As you have believed, let it be done for you.” And his servant was cured that very moment.


Lk. 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.


Capernaum was an important garrison town.  A Roman military unit was stationed there and the centurion and his foreign soldiers were under the command of Herod Antipas.  Centurions were the back-bone of the Roman military – responsible for executing orders, crushing revolts, maintaining the peace. And while the Jews hated them, evidently, this particular centurion was well respected by those under him and he, in turn, financed the construction of their synagogue.

For their success in command they were well paid.  Any mistakes would generally cost them their lives. The centurion in Capernaum was part of a larger unit stationed in Damascus, Syria. When considering the economic slavery the Romans placed upon the Jewish people, centurions are represented in a surprisingly positive manner in the New Testament.[1]  Nowhere in Scripture is there a reference of any centurion’s faith as being incompatible with his profession.

Historians have written various accounts on the Roman military. For example, one historian stated that the Roman military consisted of legions and auxiliary troops.  Each legion was made up of ten cohorts or sixty centuries, all together embracing from 5,000 to 6,000 soldiers. The nearest legion was the Tenth Legion stationed in Damascus. According to Josephus, there were no Roman legions stationed in Judea/Israel, only auxiliary units of centuries.  Each century was under the command of a centurion.  The infantry and cavalry each was formed into cohorts, whose strength varied between 500 and 1,000 men.[2] The centurion, or Latin centurio, was the commander of company of 50 to 100 soldiers.[3]  The centurion most likely was a Roman from Italy and his soldiers were either Italians or mercenaries.[4] Herod the Great would have had similar soldiers as well as Idumeans.

Another historian wrote that 90 to 100 men formed a “century,” six centuries formed a cohort, and ten cohorts (5400 men) formed a legion.[5]  The strength of an army was generally about 30 legions. A legion’s officers were sixty centurions, six military tribunes, and a legate of senatorial rank, who commanded the entire legion. In addition, there were special forces such as the Praetorian Guard, Urban Cohorts and the vigils, who acted as police and fire brigade.[6]



This passage in Luke and Matthew again demonstrates the interesting comparison between Jews and Gentiles.  While the magi were the first Gentiles to honor Jesus, the Jews in Jerusalem did not even care to see who was born in Bethlehem.  Likewise the centurion honored Jesus by his faith, while many Jews in Capernaum failed to recognize Him in spite of this incredible miracle. There were two occasions when Jesus was impressed by the faith of the Gentiles, especially in contrast to his fellow Jews.


  1. The Roman centurion (Mt. 8:10), who was in a ruling position over Galilee, and


  1. The Syro-Phoenician woman (Mt. 15:28), placed her faith in the Jewish messiah. Conversely, Jesus was equally affected by the unbelief of the sons of Abraham (Mk. 6:6).



08.05.02.A. RUINS OF THE ROMAN BATH HOUSE IN CAPERNAUM.  These overgrown ruins of a first century Roman bath house in Capernaum are situated near to what is today the Russian Orthodox Church. They confirm the presence of a Roman garrison and, possibly, a centurion, as mentioned by the gospel writers. Photograph by the author.


He is worthy for You to grant this, because he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue.” The text implies that, because the centurion was extremely kind to the Jews, Jesus healed his servant. But the centurion was also extremely kind to his servant. It certainly is an interesting reflection upon Genesis 12:3 that reads,


I will bless those who bless you,  and whoever curses you I will curse;


Genesis 12:3a


This phrase does not imply that a healing could be purchased, but rather, Jesus was moved by the kindness and faith of this military professional. Most Romans considered slaves merely as living tools and could not care less if one lived or died. But the centurion, who was well-trained in killing men, was radically different and had a compassionate heart.       

I am not worthy to have You come under my roof.”  This was an amazing comment for a Roman centurion to say to a Jew.  He stood in sharp contrast to most Romans, who considered Jews worse than lepers, pigs, or dogs.  The Jews were a captive people, reduced to peasant servitude. The centurion was aware that he, a Gentile, was considered unclean in their eyes. In fact, according to rabbinic Oral Law, his entire house and everything he owned was deemed unclean.  Therefore, any Jew who would have entered a Roman home was considered defiled and could not worship in the temple or participate in sacrifices. The Roman centurion had such great respect and faith in Jesus that he did not want Him to become impure by entering his home. The fact that he considered himself to be unworthy is precisely what made him worthy to receive the blessing of Jesus.



“I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”  This was a shocking statement! The Jews knew that, the Assyrians relocated the ten northern tribes to the east and that King Nebuchadnezzar had relocated the tribes of Benjamin and Judah to Babylon.  Only a few escaped to the west and settled in Spain and in northern Africa.  So obviously, Jesus was referring to the Gentiles. The Old Testament has prophetic blessings for the Gentiles[7] and now Jesus indicated this promise was about to be fulfilled. Obviously the message was not well received.  On a side note, to “recline at the table” was a sign of wealth and freedom – freedom from being impoverished and bonded to sin.

“There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Jesus left absolutely no doubt that there will come a time when the unrepentant will be cast into the eternal fires of hell.  It will be a place of unquenchable pain, an eternal death that has no end, no relief.[8] This statement sounds like a word that John the Baptist would have preached.


08.05.02.Q1 Who met Jesus, the centurion (Mt. 8:5) or the Jewish elders (Lk. 7:3)?

This narrative seems rather innocent, yet it is filled with cultural implications.  It was a common practice, and still is, that the messenger is sent by and with the authority of the sender. In the same manner, if the Jewish leaders in Capernaum sent the centurion to Jesus, in essence, both went to Him even though only one physically went.

This account is an excellent example of social protocol. According to the passage, the centurion sent a delegation to meet Jesus and make his request known. The reason the delegation was sent was that, if by any chance, Jesus would have denied their request, the centurion would not have been embarrassed as he would have been had he met Jesus personally.  Furthermore, to insure success in a possible meeting with Jesus, the delegation consisted of Jewish elders who revealed that a friendship existed between the Romans and Jews in Capernaum.  This was obviously in stark contrast to the Jewish-Roman relationship in Jerusalem.  The Capernaum Jews encouraged Jesus to visit the centurion’s house and, as they were traveling, they were met by a second delegation consisting of friends of the Roman commander.  The second delegation pleaded for Jesus not to enter his home, but just to give the command to heal.  Most important in understanding this social custom is that these friends spoke as if the Roman himself was speaking.  Luke recorded that the Roman commander had such a high respect for Jesus that he asked him not to enter his house because the Jews believed that entering the home of a Gentile would cause defilement.  Whether Jesus would have agreed with that, or if that would have kept him out of the house is not the issue. The point is that the centurion recognized Jesus as a very important person, more important than himself. The protocol that was demonstrated was just as significant as the centurion’s faith.

The accounts of Matthew and Luke are similar in a number of points, although the Greek word for servant is different.  The word used by Matthew could also be translated to mean child, as well as a servant. Yet there is no problem between the words servant and child. The reason is that not all servants were treated harshly as is portrayed in the media – the centurion evidently had a young slave whom he affectionately referred to as his child, because he care for him, as the narrative clearly shows.

Matthew also said that the servant was in extremely poor health, “paralyzed and suffering terribly” (8:6), while Luke said he was in a near terminal condition, “sick and about to die” (7:2).  Obviously, there is no disagreement here, only slightly different description of a gravely ill person. Being dead or near death were often deemed to be one and the same, especially since there was no basic medical knowledge, as is taken for granted today, to determine the difference.  And even if the difference between these two states of being were known, there was no medical cure to improve the condition of the dying or near death patient.



The difference between the gospel writers is that Matthew says the centurion came to see Jesus and Luke reported that first some Jewish elders came on behalf of the centurion.  They were followed by friends of the centurion, who came to meet with Jesus.  The cultural context is that there is no difference between an official and the agent who represents him.  But the most important difference is the passage in Matthew which is not in Luke.  These words of Jesus read as follows,


11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”


Matthew 8:11-12 (NIV)


At this point, it is important to recall the recipients of each of the gospels.  Matthew was written for a Jewish audience while Luke was written for Gentiles. The cultural and religious differences were tremendous.  Matthew included the verses 11 and 12 above because these words of Jesus would be most significant to Jews who identified themselves with the patriarchs while verses 11 and 12 would be meaningless to Luke’s Gentile readers.  Matthew structured the centurion’s comments because they would be of special interest to a Jewish audience.  Luke demonstrated similar respect, but for a Gentile’s interest.

Clearly, the gospel writers were mostly interested in presenting the full meaning of the event to their specific audiences. Other information that would be considered helpful in modern thinking is missing. Therefore, it is difficult to reconcile the two narratives.  Normally, one could state that an agent for the centurion would be the same as the centurion himself. However, the details of the conversation eliminate this interpretation. Therefore, the question persists: Did the centurion actually meet with Jesus?  The conversation recorded by Matthew would certainly indicate this, but the details may never be known. What is known is that the centurion…


  1. Was extremely wealthy
  2. Loved and respected the Jewish people, enough to finance their synagogue,


  1. Kept law and order in the Galilee region that was the hotbed of Zealot activity


  1. Highly valued his servant at a time in history when slaves (servants) were considered to be disposable property.


  1. Demonstrated respect and faith in Jesus.


It is remarkable, that even though the Romans were the occupying power, all centurions recorded in Scripture are mentioned honorably. Among them was the centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus said, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Mt. 27:54; Lk. 23:47), and Julius, who courteously entreated Paul on his way to Rome (Acts 27:3, 43). Furthermore, Scripture never hinted negatively of their military duties.



[1]. Lk. 23:47; Acts 10:22; 22:26; 23:17, 23-24; 24:23; 27:43.


[2]. Schurer, A History of the Jewish People First Division, 2:40-42.


[3]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:319.


[4]. Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. 106.


[5]. A cohort at full strength consisted of approximately 600 soldiers, although the word was also used for a maniple, that is a detachment of 200 soldiers. See Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. 199.


[6]. Toynbee, The Crucible, 134-35.


[7]. Gen. 12:3; Isa. 60:3; Amos 9:12.


[8]. Other references are Lk. 13:28; Mt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 07, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.05.03 Nain: WIDOW’S ONLY SON RAISED FROM DEATH

08.05.03 Lk. 7:11-17 Nain A.D. 28




11 Soon afterward He was on His way to a town called Nain. His disciples and a large crowd were traveling with Him. 12 Just as He neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was also with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said, “Don’t cry.” 14 Then He came up and touched the open coffin, and the pallbearers stopped. And He said, “Young man, I tell you, get up!”


15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Then fear came over everyone, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited His people.” 17 This report about Him went throughout Judea and all the vicinity.


Jesus and His group of followers left Capernaum and walked some twenty-five miles to the southwest, to the northern slope of a mountain commonly called the “Little Hermon,” or “Mount Moreh.” There was the poor miserable village of Nain, whose name means the beautiful,[1] where they met a grieving widow who had lost her only son – an occasion that was especially devastating for two reasons.


  1. The death of her only son meant that she would live the rest of her life in dire poverty.


  1. More significant than that was the extinction of her family. The raising of a young man to life, as profound as that was, was insignificant in comparison to the restoration of a first century family. The continuation of a family in the Old Testament, as well as in the times of Christ, was considered nearly sacred. The significance and the sacredness of the family as portrayed in the Old and New Testaments appear to be without parallel in modern English or in Western culture.


Because of the extremely high view of the family in the Bible, when a young man got married he was exempt from military obligations in his first year of marriage.  He was given the opportunity to see his firstborn and, hence, the continuation of his family.  Therefore, this miracle not only touched upon the core of a broken heart in the most dire of times, but also upon the most sacred of all institutions.


News of the profound miracle at Nain spread like wildfire and quickly captured the attention of everyone including the temple elite. It was the first of three death-to-life miracles performed by Jesus.[2] When Jesus saw the funeral procession, as was the custom, they expected Him to join the family in mourning. According to the Talmud,


Rahaba said in the name of Rabbi Judah: “Whoever sees a corpse on the way to burial and does not accompany it comes under the head of he that mocks the poor and blasphemes his Maker” (cf. Prov. 19:17).


            Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 18a-b  


Jesus shared in the sorrow of the family. As stated, proper protocol required a passer-by to join the grieving family in their loss, even if they were unknown to him. Therefore, culturally speaking, for Jesus to have avoided the grieving procession would have been considered a supreme insult.  But He was not about to see the son get buried or a family destroyed.


“Gate of the town.” Some students have concluded that because there was a gate, there must have been a city wall.  Not so.  The phrase simply means the entrance of the village. An example is found in Deuteronomy 22:22-24. The context of the Mosaic passage pertains to the punishment of an adulterous couple where verse 24 states they must be stoned to death at the town gate. At the time Moses wrote this passage, the Hebrew children (later called “Jews”) were wandering nomads living in tents and obviously did not have fortified stone walls around their camps. Furthermore, no archaeological evidence of a protective wall has ever been found at the archaeological site of Nain.  Therefore, obviously Luke referred to the entrance of the village.


“Touched the open coffin.”  The “bier” or “coffin,” was not a closed wooden box as is common in western culture today, but a litter (similar to a platform) upon which the shrouded body was laid.[3]  This custom has not changed. In the Palestinian communities today this custom continues and has been occasionally shown on Western television.  Jews in the first century had very strict laws concerning ritual purity.  At the time of Jesus, if anyone touched the litter (coffin), that person would have been considered defiled and would have had to undergo the ritual purification.[4] However, Jesus came along, touched the coffin, and was not defiled but the dead boy was returned to life.  Jesus demonstrated His authority over death and life, and that action was a demonstration of His Deity![5]


The miracle at Nain had a clear resemblance to the miracle of Elijah (1 Kg. 17:17-24), who raised the son of a Shutamite woman from the dead. That event took place at ancient Shutam, or Shunem, today known as Solani. Some scholars believe ancient Shutam was on the opposite side of the same hill, while others believe Nain was in the same general location as Shutam.  Regardless, the imagery was noticed by everybody. This demonstrated the equality of Jesus with Elijah, and eventually, He would perform miracles greater than all previous prophets combined.[6]


There is an observation to be considered concerning the miracles of centuries past and those of Jesus. The prophets of old were instruments of God’s miracles only after agonies of supplication, wrestling in prayer, and finally, laying prostrate upon the dead body.  Jesus, in contrast, calmly and with authority spoke only a few words.  This miracle would identify Him as being the Messiah and a report of the account would be passed on to John the Baptist.   It is interesting to note that, while the Baptist was functioning as Elijah, he did not raise anyone from the dead. However, Jesus did so with a reflection upon Elijah’s miracle and with unheard of power unlike anyone else in Jewish history. Could these people judge for themselves that “God had visited His people?”


“A great prophet has risen among us,” What the crowd really said was “A great prophet has again risen among us.” News of this event spread like wildfire prompting people to bring their sick to be healed by Jesus.  This in turn gave opportunity for Jesus to teach them in the ways of the Kingdom of God – that is, God’s rule in their lives.


However, the term “great prophet” has a significant implication beyond its literal translation, implying Jesus was the greatest prophet (Gk. prophetes) of all time and who came after four centuries of prophetic silence.[7]  The Jewish people had long been waiting for a messiah, and it was believed that he would identify himself by the performance of three kinds of miracles that eluded the rabbis over the centuries.[8] These became known as “messianic miracles.”[9]  When these were first performed by Jesus, the people were stunned and referred to Him as a “great prophet,” as they could not believe that their expectation had been fulfilled. Their problem was that Jesus looked like an ordinary person and did not match their preconceived idea of what the messiah would look like.

[1]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:112.


[2]. The other two were the daughter of Jairus before her funeral (Mk. 5:35-43), and in Bethany when Jesus raised Lazarus four days after his funeral (Jn. 11:11-44).


[3]. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:899.

[4]. Halakah, SBK 1:479ff. See Appendix 26.

[5]. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. (Video “C”).

[6]. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:899.

[7]. Brown, “Prophet.” 3:74-92; But prophetic silence does not mean that God was not influential among His people.


[8]. For a description of the three messianic miracles, see 06.03.08.Q1, 06.03.08.Q2, 06.01.03, John 4:25 as well as the related video link 06.03.08.V. See also Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Miracles. 4.


[9]. Research on the “Messianic Miracles” is credited to Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, a Messianic scholar and director of Ariel Ministries of San Antonio, Texas. For further study, see Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum,  Messianic Miracles. Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1983. See also http://ariel.org/. Retrieved September 26, 2013. See also 06.03.08.V, 06.01.03 as well as the comparison of Dead Sea Scroll fragments 4Q278 and 4Q521 with Luke 4:16-30 at 06.02.02; Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 10, Session 2.



Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 06, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.05.04 QUESTIONS BY JOHN THE BAPTIST

08.05.04 Lk. 7:18-23 (See also Mt. 11:2-6)




18 Then John’s disciples told him about all these things. So John summoned two of his disciples 19 and sent them to the Lord, asking, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we look for someone else?”


20 When the men reached Him, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to ask You, ‘Are You the One who is to come, or should we look for someone else?’”


21 At that time Jesus healed many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and He granted sight to many blind people. 22 He replied to them, “Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. 23 And anyone who is not offended because of Me is blessed.”


Herod Antipas had arrested John the Baptizer, who was now sitting in the Machaerus Fortress prison wondering if he would ever be released or face martyrdom.  John had been certain that Jesus was that messiah, but now he was in the dungeon with no end in sight. Understandably, he was beginning to question if his perception of Jesus was correct.  He never hesitated in preaching the truth; his was the proverbial “fire and brimstone” message, but there was a serious problem.

John was probably expecting Jesus to declare His messiahship or discuss the replacement of the corrupt temple Sadducees. But there were no less than three issues that were problematic for him:


  1. Jesus made no preparations for the triumph of Israel or an overthrow of the oppressive Roman Empire.


  1. Jesus made no suggestions of the wrath of God coming upon sinners who refused to repent.


  1. Jesus made no mention of the encroaching paganism from the Greeks that had plagued the Jews for more than three centuries.


“Or should we expect someone else?” Since John’s message was not being confirmed by Jesus he questioned if Jesus really was the Messiah or if he had been wrong.[1] The Baptist, like most people of today, would have appreciated a simple “yes” or “no” answer.  Instead, the Master Teacher responded in such a manner whereby the prophet had to think through the answer for himself.  For more than four centuries, the people of Israel had been expecting their political-messiah who would restore their national pride in the form of an empire like King David’s.

A major theme of John was, “Repent, judgment is near.”  Jesus was extremely compassionate toward the poor, the crippled, the common folk of the land, and even to the common Pharisees in the community synagogues.  Jesus was, however, extremely judgmental of the corrupt religious leaders of the temple in Jerusalem.  Since John’s anticipated image of the Messiah did not reconcile with the person Jesus, he essentially asked, “Are you the Messiah who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”[2] The point isn’t that John was wrong in his statements, but that his perspective of time was confused. The apocalyptic and judgment prophecies that John was expecting will occur in their fulfilled time when Christ returns, a point that John may not have understood very well. Possibly, the most significant question that John had was that if Jesus was truly the Messiah, why was he still sitting in prison when Isaiah 61:1 clearly states that the Messiah would release all captives (prisoners)?  Furthermore, John knew he was not an ordinary prisoner!  He knew from childhood that he had a divine appointment to call the Jewish people to repentance for the coming of the Messiah. He was faithfully executing his duty and expecting the true Messiah to have him released from his prison chains. Consequently, it was important to ask why he was sitting in a fortress dungeon east of the Dead Sea. Jesus answered by identifying six signs that the Messiah would demonstrate, that are as follows:


  1. He will make the blind see (Isa. 29:18; 35:5)


  1. He will make the lame walk (Isa. 35:6; 61:1)


  1. He will cleanse the lepers (Isa. 61:1)


  1. He would make the deaf hear (Isa. 29:18; 35:5)


  1. He would raise the dead (implied in Isa. 11:1-2, although not specific)


  1. He would evangelize the poor (Isa. 61:1-2)


Essentially what Jesus told John’s disciples was, “Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard.”  Jesus was not about to make a public or private statement to the Jewish community indicating that He was the Messiah.  Rather, He simply fulfilled the prophetic words of Isaiah to let them determine for themselves that He is their Messiah. The answer Jesus proposed was essentially this: “Listen to what I say and do, then decide.” But what John so passionately wanted to hear, Jesus did not mention.


When to proclaim liberty to the captives
and freedom to the prisoners.

 Isaiah 61:1b   


One can only imagine what John thought of when his disciples told to him the response by Jesus, and that the portion of Isaiah’s prophecy about being a released prisoner was not mentioned.

“Jesus healed many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits.” Luke, a professional medical doctor, noted the differences between diseases and demonic possession.[3]    

“The blind receive their sight … those with skin diseases are healed … the dead are raised.”

Not only did Jesus refer to His ability to fulfill prophecies about Himself, but He specifically pointed to the messianic miracles that first century Jewish people expected that their Messiah would be able to perform.  Therefore, He clearly but indirectly said that He was their Messiah.[4]

While Bible scholars often compare the expectations of John with the reality of Jesus, there were a number of differences between the two that most certainly must have entered the mind of John. Notice the following couplets:


John wore a rough garment and a prayer shawl (mantle) [5]

Jesus wore simple dress and a prayer shawl like any other rabbi


John preached repentance within the bounds of the Old Testament

Jesus preached repentance and full life within the bounds of the Kingdom of God.


John preached nationalism for Israel

Jesus preached the Kingdom of God for the whole world


John had taken the Nazarite vow

Jesus enjoyed feasting


John upheld the traditions of the rabbis in fasting, prayers, and washings

Jesus honored Torah traditions, not rabbinic traditions


The people loved John and believed he was a prophet

The people loved Jesus and some believed in Him


John was discredited and the religious leaders insinuated that he was a devil

Jesus was discredited and the religious leaders said He used the power of the devil.


John did not give a prophetic utterance or perform a miracle

Jesus gave numerous prophecies and performed many miracles


John was martyred and was buried

Jesus was martyred, was buried, but rose again on the third day!


These differences, except for the last set, might make anyone question if they were on the path God assigned them.


08.05.04.Q1 What is the miracle or mystery of Dead Sea Scroll 4Q521?

There is literary evidence that suggests the Essenes believed that an anointed figure or person would come and bring sight to the blind.[6]  Among the hundreds of scroll fragments found in cave 4, one is most interesting. Fragment no. 521 (4Q521), often called the Messianic Apocalypse, has a reading that is similar to, but not identical to, Isaiah 61:1-5.[7]  Both the words of Jesus and those recorded on the 4Q521 fragment contain an insertion of one phrase not found in Isaiah – that is that the dead shall be raised to life. It clearly demonstrates the Essene writers did not quote the biblical text, but wrote to declare that this prophetic passage would be a messianic miracle.[8] The mystery of 4Q521 is how did the Essenes know that would happen?  What was their source of information?  In both Jesus’ teaching and 4Q521 this statement is immediately before the reference to preaching good news to the poor. Scholars believe this scroll fragment is a clear indication that the Essene community expected the messiah to perform at least one “messianic prophecy.”[9]  This presents two significant questions for scholars today:


  1. How did the Essenes, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, know that the messiah would raise the dead to life long before Jesus was born?


  1. And when Jesus did raise the dead to life, how did the news affect them?




08.05.04.A. DEAD SEA SCROLL 4Q521 WITH PHRASE “THE ANOINTED ONEA record of the first century B.C. era of Isaiah 61, provides ample evidence that some first century Jews, the Essenes, understood this to be a Messianic passage.  Photograph courtesy of the Israel Museum.


When Jesus responded to John’s disciples, he combined segments from two passages written by the prophet Isaiah: verses 61:1 and 35:5-6. They understood the messiah would rise the dead, even though this was not in the Isaiah passage.[10]  It is a classic example of ipsissima verba and ipsissima vox that was previously described.[11]  This fragment was written about three decades before the birth of Jesus and, therefore, is worth citing.  It begins by announcing the coming of “the anointed one,” meaning the Messiah.


1 [for the heav]ens and the earth will listen to his Messiah, 2 [and all] that is in them will not turn away from the holy precepts.  3 Be encouraged, you who are seeking the Lord in his service! (Blank space) 4 Will you not, perhaps, encounter the Lord in it, all those who hope in their heart? 5 For the Lord will observe the devout, and call the just by name, 6 and upon the poor he will place his spirit, and the faithful he will renew with his strength.  7 For he will honor the devout upon the throne of eternal royalty, 8 freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twisted. 9 Ever shall I cling to those who hope.  In his mercy he will jud[ge,] 10 and from one shall the fruit [of] good [deeds] be delayed, 11and the Lord shall perform marvelous acts such as have not existed, just as he sa[id] 12for he will heal the badly wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the meek, 13 give lavishly [to the need]y, lead the exiled and enrich the hungry.

Dead Sea Scroll Fragment, 4Q521.1-13[12]


The words of the Essene writer (above) and the words of Jesus were drawn from two passages from the prophet Isaiah.


The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners.

Isaiah 61:1

5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy,
for water will gush in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.

            Isaiah 35:5-6


Jesus responded to John by stating, in essence, that the prophetic messianic events (listed in Isa. 61) were being fulfilled.  In all likelihood since John was very familiar with the Essenes near Damascus and those living on the edge of the Dead Sea (Qumran), he was familiar with this interpretation of Isaiah 61.  Recall that his parents were of the same clan as the Essenes, and those near Damascus most likely raised him after his parents passed on.[13]  When he preached in the Judean Wilderness and ate the proverbial “honey and locust,” he was in Essene territory. So the forerunner of the Messiah and the Essenes may have had more in common that what scholars believe today.

Finally, the perspective that John the Baptist had was limited to the calling that was upon his life.  He had no concept of the cross; that Jesus would die and rise again; and that through Him all humanity could find salvation and eternal life. As important as John’s ministry was, the irony is that he pointed men to the light which he himself did not see.



[1]. The proverbial “fire and brimstone” imagery,” was not fulfilled by Jesus in His first coming, but will be upon His return.


[2]. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. (Video “C”).

[3]. These same distinctions were made in Lk. 6:18; 8:2; 13:32.


[4].  For a description of the three messianic miracles, see 06.03.08.Q1, 06.03.08.Q2, 06.01.03, John 4:25 as well as the related video link 06.03.08.V and 06.01.03. See also the comparison of Dead Sea Scroll fragments 4Q278 and 4Q521 with Luke 4:16-30 at 06.02.02; See also Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Miracles. 4; Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 10, Session 2.

[5]. W. E. Vine is typical of many scholars who have made minimal reference to the Jewish characteristics of Scripture. For example, every Jew knows that the “mantle” was a prayer shawl, but it is not mentioned (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:105-06). Another example is the Hebrew term “Torah” which is translated as “law.”  Yet every Jew knows that it also means “instruction,” a definition that is missing from Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:354-56.



[6]. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 161; Eisenmann and Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered. 237.


[7]. Wilkins, “Peter’s Declaration concerning Jesus’ Identity in Caesarea Philippi.” 325.


[8]. Miller, “The War of the Scrolls.” 44; Wilkins, “Peter’s Declaration concerning Jesus’ Identity in Caesarea Philippi.”  324-326.


[9]. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 156.

[10]. It is important to note that the Essenes had great difficulty reconciling the prophetic passage of the suffering servant with the prophetic passages of the victorious king.  Therefore, they concluded there would be two messiahs.


[11]. See 08.03.04.Q4.


[12]. Martinez. The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated. 394.  Letters within the square brackets are either unreadable or missing in the original scroll.


[13]. See section on the Birth of John the Baptist.



Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 06, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.05.05 JESUS PRAISES JOHN

08.05.05 Lk. 7:24-28; Mt. 11:12-15; Lk. 7:29-30



Lk. 24 After John’s messengers left, He began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft robes? Look, those who are splendidly dressed and live in luxury are in royal palaces. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and far more than a prophet. 27 This is the one it is written about:


Look, I am sending My messenger
ahead of You;
he will prepare Your way before You. (Mal. 3:1)


28 I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John, but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”


Mt. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John; 14 if you’re willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who is to come. 15 Anyone who has ears should listen!


Lk 29(And when all the people, including the tax collectors, heard this, they acknowledged God’s way of righteousness, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30 But since the Pharisees and experts in the law had not been baptized by him, they rejected the plan of God for themselves.)


These passages also demonstrate that John was a historical, transitional figure, who had a foot in both the old and new ages.  It is his proclamation of the coming king and kingdom that served as a bridge between the Old Testament Period of salvation history and the fulfillment inaugurated by the Christ event.  Yet one of the difficulties in the passages of Matthew 11:13-14 and Mark 9:13 pertains to his identity because he clearly said that he was not Elijah (Jn. 1:21).  The explanation of this apparent conflict is explained in 05.03.01.Q1.


“The kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force.”  It seems difficult to believe that men of violence would conquer the peaceful message of Christ and His kingdom. But the phrase “seizing it by force” literally means, to snatch away (Gk. harpazo 726) or to carry off by force.[1] This passage is one that undoubtedly has challenged scholars for centuries and three interpretations are presented.

  1. It has been suggested these men of violence are identified as such in their absolute determination to rid themselves of sin, satanic powers, and influences of the pagan culture.[2]


  1. Another suggestion is that now is the time for courageous souls to be forceful and take

hold of the Kingdom of God.[3]


  1. Yet another interpretation is based upon an old rabbinic interpretation of Micah 2:12-13 in

the Midrash.  Note the following,


I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob;

   I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel.


I will bring them together like sheep in a pen;

   like a flock in its pasture,

    the place will throng with people.


One who breaks open the way will go up before them;

   They will break through the gate and go out.


Their king will pass through before them,

the Lord at their head.


Midrash on Micah 2:12-13


In this Midrash, the House of Israel was “gathered” when the Jews returned to Israel after the Babylonian exile, a return that lingered in duration for several centuries.  In the second stanza, the shepherd leads the sheep out in the morning, but after being penned up all night, they forcefully escape to freedom to enjoy the green grass with the morning dew.


  1. However, the most likely interpretation is that the leading Pharisees, elders, and all the Sadducees were opposing the message of John the Baptist and Jesus. In fact, the message of John and Jesus would not be accepted and violent men within Israel would assault it. [4] St. John Cassian (360-435) and St. Augustine (354-430) made the following comments concerning this:


The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force….Who then are the violent?  Surely, they are those who show splendid violence not to others, but to their own soul, who by a laudable force deprive it of all delights in the things present, and are declared by the Lord’s mouth to be splendid plunderers, and by rapine of this kind, violently seize upon the Kingdom of Heaven.


John Cassian, Conference of Abbot Abraham[5]


The publicans and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you.  They go before because they do violence; they push their way by faith, and to faith a way is made or can any resist, since they who are violent take it by force.


Augustine, Psalms[6]


Embrace the love of God and by love embrace God.


Augustine, On the Trinity[7]


All attempts to block the Jewish people from believing in Jesus were failing. Consequently, the religious leaders increased their level of violence and planned the death of Jesus.


An explanation from a cultural context is this: the sheep were gathered in a sheepfold for the night, as explained previously in the Midrash on Micah 2:12-13. It was a common practice that many herds of sheep were sheltered in a community pen overnight.  Pens consisted of walls made with mud bricks or stones that often faced a cliff or cave as this provided added protection.[8] Large barns did not exist at this time. Today, as in centuries past, when the shepherds come in the morning, the sheep anticipate freedom to graze in the grassy fields.  Knowing this, they gather tightly in front of the pen door waiting for their shepherd to open it.  As the gate opens they jump forth and “break through the gate and go out” to freedom.  The Hebrew word for “break through” has the same parallel meaning as “forcefully advancing” in Matthew’s gospel.[9] Likewise, when Jesus said that forceful men laying hold on it take the Kingdom of God, He was referring to a military term, but referred to the sheep jumping out the gate to acquire all the blessings that await them.   


“For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John.” Everything the prophets and the Law prophesied in centuries past was future and distant.  However, those divine words from the past were now being fulfilled beginning with John and culminating with Jesus.



08.05.05.Q1 In Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28, what is meant by the question, “There is none greater than John?”


What would appear to be a problem with this phrase is actually easily resolved, when placed into perspective in relation to the ministries of John and Jesus.  John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was making the declaration of the coming Messiah and the new age in history which was about to dawn. Regardless of John’s stature and importance in his generation, he would be among the least significant, when compared to the New Testament believers who would be the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-27, 32).

[1]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:64; Vine, “Force.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:248.


[2]. Dake, Footnote on Mt. 11:12.

[3]. Carson, “Matthew.” 8:267.

[4]. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 199.

[5]. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 154.

[6]. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 154-55.

[7]. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 163.

[8]. Tenney, The Gospel of John. 108-09.


[9]. Bivin and Blizzard, authors of Understanding the Difficult Words (85-87) credit the late Professor David Flusser of Hebrew University for this interpretation.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 06, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.05.06 JESUS REPROVES REJECTION

08.05.06 Lk. 7:31-35 (See also Mt. 11:16-19)




31 “To what then should I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to each other:


A         We played the flute for you,

B                    and you didn’t dance;

A’        we sang a lament,

B                    and you didn’t weep.


33 For John the Baptist did not come eating bread or drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!35 Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”


This short poem (note similarities of lines A and A’ and B and B’ of verse 32), is essentially a comparison of the adults of “this generation” and children who follow the patterns of life established by their parents.


“We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance;[1] we sang a lament, and you didn’t weep.” The explanation of this unique cultural phrase is a follows: Flute players (Gk. auletes 834)[2] performed at weddings, funerals, and other festive occasions. In fact, there were usually several flute players at weddings and everyone danced and celebrated the creation of a new family. When there was a funeral, there had to be a minimum of two flute players who played songs[3] while professional mourners, called sappedans,[4] sang elegant songs of lament. This cultural practice was not only among the Jewish people, but in neighboring communities as well. Mourning was and continues to be expressed loudly in public with the beating of the chest.[5] For example, in the Roman world, when Emperor Claudius died, the wailing of the flute players and professional mourners were so loud that Seneca said that the emperor, although dead, probably heard them.[6] This writer has heard the eerie sounds of uncontrollable wailing and emotionally charged shrieks by professional mourners. This hysterical atmosphere will never be forgotten.


The historian Josephus recorded an account of how people expressed their sorrow over the loss of a beloved leader. In the year A.D. 68 the Romans conquered the city of Jotapata.  During the conflict, rumors spread that the city’s leader, also named Josephus, was killed. When the news of the tragedy reached Jerusalem, the people mourned for him.  The historian recorded the following.

But all mourned for Josephus, insomuch that the lamentation did not cease in the city before the thirtieth day, and a great many hired mourners, with their pipes (flutes), who should begin the melancholy ditties (song and dance) for them.

Josephus, Wars 3.9.5 (436b-437)[7]


What Josephus reported was the pattern of life; it was what people were expected to do at such times. In ancient times, when mothers went shopping, they usually took their children along. Somewhere along the Cardo Maximus[8] or in the marketplace there generally was a flute player or other musician who sat on a mat on which passersby would toss a coin or two. As soon as he played his flute, the children danced and played as children normally do. Whether at funerals, weddings, or other celebrations, the children imitated their parents by dancing and playacting. It is human nature that children imitate what they learn from their parents and Jesus used this social pattern for His lesson. He said that the Jewish leaders were not following this basic social pattern of life; this generation of leaders had their own religious agenda. Therefore, they are like disobedient children who do not dance and play in the market place; who do not mourn and lament at a funeral; who do not weep and comfort families who have lost a loved one. Jesus said that the Pharisees rebelled like disobedient spoiled little children.[9]



08.05.06.A RELIEF OF MOURNERS BESIDE A DECEASED PERSON. This relief carving was found in a tomb, in Rome, and depicts a dead woman laying on her bier, while women sing or wail dirges behind her, a musician plays a flute (lower right), and the family receives condolences.[10]   Wikipedia Commons.


“He has a demon!” The ancients believed that one of the three places where evil spirits lived was in the desert.  Since John obviously did not live an ordinary lifestyle but came from a remote area of the Judean desert, some concluded that he had become demon possessed.[11]


Jesus utterly shattered the prevailing opinions of how holy and righteous men ought to act. Leading Pharisees and Sadducees believed there was no place for tax collectors in heaven, because they were Jews who betrayed their own people by becoming agents of the hated Romans.  There was absolutely no love lost on tax collectors. In fact, the Oral Law permitted the common people to lie to them, even under oath.


Men may vow to murderers, robbers, or tax collectors that what they have is heave offering even though it is not heave offering; or that they belong to the king’s household even though they do not belong to the king’s household.  The School of Shammai says: “They may so vow in any form of words except in the form of an oath.”  And the School of Hillel says: “Even in the form of an oath.”


Mishnah, Nedarim 3.4


None may take change for money from the counter of excise men or from the wallet of tax collectors, or take any alms from them; but it may be taken from them at their own house or in the market.


If tax collectors took a man’s donkey and gave him another, or if robbers robbed a man of his coat and gave him another, they became his own, since the owner cherishes no hope of recovering them.


Mishnah, Baba Kamma 10.1b – 2a


If tax collectors entered a house [all that is within it][12] becomes unclean, even if a Gentile was with them they may be believed if they say [“We did not enter,” but they may not be believed if they say:][13] “We entered but touched nothing.”  If thieves entered a house, only that part is unclean that was trodden by the feet of the thieves.  What do they render unclean?  Foodstuffs and liquids and open earthenware vessels; but couches and seats and earthenware vessels having a tightly stopped-up cover remain clean.  If a Gentile or a woman was with them all becomes unclean.


Mishnah, Tohoroth 7.6a


“A friend of tax collectors and sinners!”  While these words were said sarcastically, they were in fact, among the most accurate and compassionate descriptions of Him.

[1]. It is interesting that dancing is the only kind of expression of praise and prayer that is not in the New Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, there are eleven Hebrew verb roots related to dancing.  For example, the verb hul, means to whirl, to dance, or to writhe, is found in Psalm 87:7. The fact, that there are so many expressions of dance has led some scholars to conclude that the Israelites may have developed an advanced stage of choreography. Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. 124-25.


[2]. Vine, “Flute-Players.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:244.


[3]. Mishnah, Ketuboth 4.4; Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 168.


[4]. Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 2:629-30.


[5]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:66.


[6]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:344.


[7]. Inserts by this writer for clarification.


[8]. The main street of a Roman city that had shops on either side.


[9]. Fruchtenbaum, Life of the Messiah. Tape 7, Side A.


[10]. While this practice depicts an event that occurred in Rome, the custom was popular thoughout the Middle East, and is mentioned in the Mishnah Shabbat 23:4 Baba Meziah 6:1; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:330.


[11]. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:854.

[12]. Clarification in brackets by Danby, ed., Mishnah.

[13]. Not all ancient texts contain the bracketed phrase.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 06, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.05.07 ANOINTING BY A SINFUL WOMAN

08.05.07 Lk. 7:36-50



36 Then one of the Pharisees invited Him to eat with him. He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of fragrant oil 38 and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with the hair of her head, kissing them and anointing them with the fragrant oil.


39 When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him — she’s a sinner!”


40 Jesus replied to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”


“Teacher,” he said, “say it.”


41 “A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. 42 Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?”


43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.”


You have judged correctly,” He told him. 44 Turning to the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she, with her tears, has washed My feet and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing My feet since I came in. 46 You didn’t anoint My head with olive oil, but she has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”


49 Those who were at the table with Him began to say among themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”


50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

“He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.”  When Jesus entered the home of the Pharisee, He reclined on cushions at a table to eat with His host. When people “reclined,” they did so around a “U” shaped table known as a triclinium. It was the same type of table Jesus and the disciples reclined at during their Last Passover Supper.  In earlier times, people sat on floor mats with legs crossed to eat meals. The custom of reclining on cushions appears to have been adapted by the Jews as early as the days of Amos. (See 6:4, 7). The custom was long in use among the Persians, Greeks and Romans.  However, it also appears that, among the poor Jewish peasant farmers, sitting on mats at mealtime continued to be a first century custom.


A woman in the town who was a sinner.”  The phrase “sinner,” when applied to a woman, could have three possible meanings.

  1. Any person who broke the moral laws of the written Scriptures. Quite often the word sinners was a euphemism for prostitutes. In fact, prostitution was the only kind of “occupation” she could have had that would have given her that social stigma.[1]
  1. The term was applied to women who had their hair uncovered in public.[2]
  1. It should be noted, however, that the Pharisees defined a sinner as anyone who did not conform any one of their legalistic rituals – the Oral Laws – which included numerous prayers and washings throughout the day. For example, the ultra-strict Pharisees even considered anyone who touched a Roman or Greek coin as filthy because he violated the command against graven images.[3] These coins had graven images of an emperor and/or a pagan deity.

The earliest tradition identifies her to have been Mary Magdalene from the village of Magdala, located along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Amazingly, the self-righteous Pharisee, who made certain that no one would ever see him with an impure person did not objected to having a “sinner” in his house. Rather, he focused on Jesus.  Scholars have considered two possible reasons she may have been there.

  1. She may have been invited, not by Jesus, but by the Pharisee so he could condemn Jesus; in essence, she was a set-up. But, such a person would probably not have been so emotionally affected by His presence.
  1. She walked in uninvited, honored Jesus and worshiped Him as her Lord.


08.05.07.A. THE RUINS OF MAGDALA. The village and watch tower ruins (left side with flag), south of Capernaum, as seen in 2010, has been suspected to be Magdala, the village home of Mary Magdalene (meaning Mary from Magdala). Photograph by the author.


The Hebrew name for Magdala is Migdol, meaning tower, and the lower portion of an ancient tower still stands from where watchmen once were stationed, looking for those who might steal fish and nets. To the founders of the ancient village, the name Magdala, or Migdal-El, meant the Tower of God.[4] As to the village of Magdala, it was an important commercial fishing center where fish was salted and sold to traveling caravans.  It is believed to have had the Aramaic nickname of Dalmanutha, which means the harbor. Today a few scholars believe that the village may also have been the home of a first century synagogue-church, but that opinion is based more on speculation than solid archaeological or literary evidence. However, that might change in the future.



08.05.07.B. THE RUINS OF MAGDALA FISH MARKET.  Archaeologists uncovered three buildings that had masonry tubs which functioned as aquariums. Customers could purchase live fish for dinner or salted fish for traveling caravans. Photograph by the author.

In 2009 archaeologists unearthed a synagogue that is amazing well-preserved, and substantially more ornate than many of the other synagogues from the first century found in the area. They noted that the synagogue was located on the outskirts of what were then the city limits of Migdal (known in the New Testament as Magdala), rather than in the center of the city as in other communities. Its small size would accommodate only about 120 people, but the population of Magdala at the time was several thousand. All this likely means that the synagogue belonged to a small “outsider” sect that placed great value in its spiritual community life.[5]


08.05.07.D. FIRST CENTURY MAGDALA SYNAGOGUE STONE. In 2009 archaeologists uncovered a small ornate stone in the ruins of a small synagogue near the edge of Magdala. The unusual stone has carvings reflective of the temple design but its purpose remains unknown. It is also a mystery as to why the synagogue was built for less than a hundred people when several thousand lived in the community. Some have suggested the facility may have served an “outside group,” such as a messianic congregation, since groups of believers were too large for home churches but too small for regular synagogue building. Photo by the author.

The Pharisees sent their spies out to see if they could entrap Jesus.  Rarely did a Pharisee invite Jesus to his home, but when such an invitation was given, Jesus accepted.  It was at the banquet table,[6] where the guests reclined around a low Greco-Roman table to eat. Then a woman of “low reputation” appeared in this pious household and met with Jesus.  An early tradition of the church identified her as being Mary Magdalene.


“Alabaster jar of fragrant oil.”  Alabaster, a/k/a Egyptian alabaster, or Oriental alabaster.[7] Alabaster jars and vessels were manufactured in Egypt, often shipped by boat across the sea to India and, by caravan shipped to the Indus River Valley and mountains in northern India, Nepal and the Himalaya Mountains.[8] It was there that spikenard perfume was made from rare plants, placed in alabaster vessels, and returned to the western Indian coast to be shipped throughout the world. Because it was one of the costliest perfumes, it was often passed from generation to generation. The woman in this passage brought her most precious and expensive possession, Indian spikenard, and anointed Jesus with it.[9]  It was the best she could offer him. Visitors and tourists who purchase “Spike perfume” in Israel today do not purchase the authentic perfume, but a synthetic imitation.

The fact that she anointed the feet of Jesus with it speaks volumes of her love. As stated previously, throughout the Middle East, in ancient times and today, feet are considered defiled.[10] Throughout most of history, wherever anyone walked, livestock did likewise and, therefore, stepping into animal dung was unavoidable. Sandals and shoes were, and still are, removed when entering a home and feet are washed. Only the lowest of servants or slaves untied sandals for visitors, and if there were no servants or slaves, then it was the woman’s responsibility to do so. The anointing of fragrant oil was more than the cultural washing of the feet – it was the most she could do.


08.05.07.C. A FIRST CENTURY ALABASTER BOTTLE. Alabaster is stone that was mined and sculptured in Egypt, then shipped to India where the vessel was filled with perfume, and then shipped throughout the known world, including Israel. Artifact and photograph by the author.

“Kissing them.”  Hospitality was a sacred duty in the Middle East. Whenever a traveler entered a village, it was not his responsibility to find a place to stay, but it was the duty of the villagers to invite him for the night. The kindest and most gracious gift of hospitality of the biblical period was a social dynamic that is difficult for Westerners today to comprehend. Therefore, when Jesus arrived at the house of the Pharisee, the host did not extend the three customary signs of hospitality to Jesus.

  1. No water was given for His feet.
  1. Jesus was not greeted with the customary kiss.
  1. No oil was placed upon His head.

The Oral Law so strongly condemned these acts of hospitality violations that it said if one committed any one of these acts, he would be condemned to hell.[11]  Then came the “sinful woman,” who honored Jesus. Her actions were as follows:

  1. She shed her tears on His feet, kissed them, and
  1. She poured her expensive perfume instead of oil on Him.
  1. It would have been inappropriate for her to kiss Him, and she didn’t.

The Pharisee had not demonstrated any religious or cultural courtesies, yet this woman, who previously had broken every religious and cultural rule, displayed repentance and courtesies. Clearly, in this moving scene there was a great polarization between the repentant woman and the insulting Pharisee. Jesus, however, forgave her of past sins and remained calm with His insulter.[12] Jesus is not a respecter of persons, but a respecter of attitudes and motives.

Men’s opinions of women were not always very good. For example, Josephus and Nicholaus of Damascus seldom mention then names of women.[13]  On the positive side, the book of Proverbs has the well-known description of a wife of noble character (31:10-31).  In a book of the Apocrypha, the position of a good wife is honored.  Notice the Hebraic poetry:

Happy is the husband of a good wife,

the number of his days will be doubled.

A loyal wife rejoices her husband,

and he will complete his years in peace.

A good wife is a great blessing,

she will be granted among the blessings of the man who fears the Lord

Whether rich or poor, his heart will be glad,

and at all times his face is cheerful.


Ben Sirach 26:1-4[14]

On the negative side, there are several writings concerning the evilness of womanhood.  These refer to women in general, not to sinful women such as the one Jesus encountered.  Josephus refused to admit the testimony of a woman, because of the boldness of her sex.[15]  In the Oral Law, women were at times considered to have the same status as slaves and minors.[16]  Their curiosity was considered evil and, therefore, unclean.[17] Several other writings are equally negative as a general attitude. Note the following from the Oral Law:

He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the Law and at last will inherit Gehenna.

Mishnah, Aboth 1.5

With the religious community and the common people rejecting her, she could easily have totally given up on any kind of reconciliation with God. But then came Jesus!

“If He were a prophet.” The Pharisees were so angry that they failed to think logically. They questioned if Jesus was really a prophet, and failed to realize that as a prophet, He could read their thoughts.


“You have judged correctly.”  This was one of the highest compliments any rabbi could receive. It was always a challenge to correctly apply Scripture to the daily events of life.


“Washed My feet and wiped them with her hair.” This phrase, and the differences in the parallel accounts, has always given Bible students difficulty.  In Luke 7:38 and John 12:3 she washed or anointed His feet, but according to Mark 14:3 and Matthew 26: 7 she poured it on his head, Luke and John indicate that she wiped His feet with her hair, but Mark and Matthew do not mention this. Furthermore, there is a Mary, who may not be the same woman as in this narrative, in John 11:2 who also anointed the feet of Jesus. This difference cannot be explained. As is so often the case, what can easily be perceived as an error is clarified when additional details are presented. This has been the case repeatedly with other biblical difficulties. Therefore, whenever additional information is available, these passages will be clarified.

The fact that this woman took her head covering off and wiped the feet of Jesus with her hair is absolutely stunning. It was against all cultural courtesies, which reflects her passionate love of Jesus. To properly understand the cultural context behind her action, a brief study of a woman’s hair and her head covering is warranted.

Pious women always had their hair covered in the ancient Middle East.  That cultural tradition was significant in many other cultures as well. In the Jewish communities it was for both physical protection from the sun as well as symbolic that she was under the protection of her husband, brother, or father.[18]  Even today in conservative Muslim communities, women have their heads covered – a tradition that dates back to the Old Testament Period.  Those women who did not cover their heads in public were often deemed to be prostitutes or “temple virgins” in pagan temples (a/k/a “clerical prostitutes”).  However, in some Greco-Roman cities the cultural taboo was dropped.  This may be why the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the church in the very sexually promiscuous city of Corinth, that a woman should have her head covered (1 Cor. 11:5-6).[19]

In the Jewish community, a virgin had her hair covered and her soon-to-be husband did not see her hair until their wedding night. Some did not even have their heads uncovered at home.  For a Jewish woman to go out in public with her hair uncovered was a reason for divorce.[20] According to the Mishnah divorce was possible if she went out,

With her hair unbound, or spins in the street, or speaks to any man.

Mishnah, Ketuboth 6.6  

It is a point of interest that in Hebrew the word Ketuboth or ketuvah, that means marriage deed.[21] In light of the cultural regulations and traditions, when Mary unbound her hair to wipe the feet of Jesus, this action was not missed by anyone. The cultural imagery in this statement suggests something more serious than lack of washing or praying.  Since a bride put her hair down only on her wedding night, Mary’s action clearly underscored her love for Jesus. No greater contrast of the leading Pharisee’s behavior could have been given. By the fact that Jesus accepted and complimented Mary, and that this event was recorded in the Bible, helped elevate the status of women in the church, and eventually in Western civilization.  However, the inherent problem with saying that Mary unbound her hair for Jesus as “a bride on her wedding night,” is that it suggests a number of implications to the modern reader that simply did not exist in first century Judaism. This clearly illustrates the cultural divide between first century Israel and modern Western society.



“Your sins are forgiven.” As stated previously, the key idea clearly is about forgiveness. Through Jesus we are forgiven, Greek aphiesthai, from whatever sin separates us from God.  The term has a wide variety of meanings, including an undeserved release of obligation, punishment, and other penalties that could be required.  It is by His love, grace, and mercy that we are forgiven if we are repentant.[22]

With the statement “your sins are forgiven,” Jesus declared that He was God – an absolute declaration of divinity.[23]  Since the Jews believed only God could forgive sins, they were faced with the decision of what to do with Jesus.  Clearly, He set Himself as equal with God. Furthermore, He not only forgave others as a man, but also as God.  This account is full of interesting irony. The Pharisee invited Jesus into his home to insult Him and prove that He was not a prophet, while the sinful woman honored Jesus and worshiped Him as Lord.

[1]. Blomberg, “The Authenticity and Significance of Jesus’ Table Fellowship with Sinners.” 232-33.

[2]. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 249-51; Compare with Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.23, and the complete section of Mishnah, Ketubbat, 6.6.

[3]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 248; See also 02.01.14 “Pharisees.”     

[4]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:488.

[5]. “First Century Synagogue Found.” Israel Today E-Newsletter. January 15, 2013.

[6]. See 14.02.04.A. An illustration of a triclinium table.

[7]. Scientifically, it is known as carbonate of Calcium.

[8]. Dayagi-Mendels, Perfumes and Cosmetics in the Ancient World. 116.

[9]. Farrar, Life of Christ. 137.

[10]. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 246 n16.

[11]. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 504.

[12]. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 203.

[13].  For further study on the various opinions concerning the status and influence of women in the Second Temple Period, see the excellent work by Tal Ilan, Integrating Women into Second Temple History, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999. Take note of Chapter 3 on the discussions of two first century historians, Josephus and Nicholaus of Damascus, and their comments about women. Nicholaus was the personal historian for Herod the Great.

[14]. Cited by Metzger, ed., The Apocrypha of the Old Testament. 161; Ben Sirach and Tobit belong to a classification of extra-biblical books known as the Apocrypha. These two literary works reflect the opinions of many Jewish people. See 02.02.03 “Apocrypha” for more information. The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives. See 01.02.04.

[15]. Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.15.

[16]. Mishnah, Zeraim Berakoth 7.2.

[17]. Mishnah, Tohoroth Tohoroth 7.9

[18]. Wilson, “Should Women Wear Head Coverings?” 442-62.

[19]. Mishnah, Ketuboth 2.1; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 359-61. For further study, see Chapter 18 “The Social Position of Women” in Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus;  See also Wilson, “Should Women Wear Head Coverings?” 442-62.

[20]. For related divorce issues, see Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.23.

[21]. Danby, ed., Mishnah ix.

[22]. Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook. 53-55.

[23]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 253.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 06, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.05.08 WOMEN PROVIDE SUPPORT

08.05.08 Lk. 8:1-3 Galilee




After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God.  The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others.  These women were helping to support them out of their own means.


The gospels clearly illustrate that when it came to ministry to women; Jesus ignored many of the cultural taboos and politely presented the Kingdom of God. He conversed with the Samaritan woman and with other women in all levels of society.  In this short narrative, a number of women supported Jesus and His disciples financially. While this was not common, it was not unprecedented either. The first century historian wrote of other women who supported their religious leaders.[1]

“Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household … and many others … were helping to support them.”  It is most interesting irony that wealthy women from the royal court of Herod Antipas, including his chief financial officer (steward), were supporting Jesus by giving of their own personal finances. It was Herod’s father, Herod the Great, who had attempted to kill the Christ Child.  Furthermore, some scholars believe that Cuza is a name found in Haman’s genealogy from centuries past.[2] Now some financial support was flowing from Herod’s descendants and their servants. Clearly the message was going to and support was coming from the highest echelons of society.

Herod Antipas lived in Sepphoris, the regional capital of Galilee that was later moved to Tiberias.  So he was close to the areas where Jesus was ministering.  All this leads to questions of mystery.


  1. Did Antipas believe Jesus was the babe of Bethlehem who escaped his father’s sword?


  1. Could his father’s horrific action have haunted the minds of his sons?


  1. In light of his murderous action against John the Baptist and what he knew of Jesus, why didn’t he take a proactive role in saving the life of Jesus during the Passion Week? Some questions remain mysteries.



[1]. Josephus, Antiquities 17.2.4 (41-44).


[2]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:87.


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