Antiquity, Biblical Studies, Hillel, Image of God, Pharisee

Made in the Image of God: Hillel’s Teaching on Caring for the Body and Loving Others



As a near contemporary with Jesus, Hillel was considered the most important figure in pre-70 c.e. Pharisaism. Hillel was born in Babylonia around the first century b.c.e., during the time of Roman occupation and control in Israel. During this time four major religious sects or parties were present in Israel: the Essenes, Herodians, and the two prominent parties, the Pharisees and Sadducees. Pharisees were the major of the two prominent parties focusing on the primacy of the Torah and their leaders offering expertise in interpreting the Torah. As a Pharisee, Hillel contributed to the transformation of the Pharisees from a political party to what Jacob Neusner describes as a “table-fellowship sect.” As a pioneer for the Pharisaic tradition, Hillel is attributed with particular interpretations of the Law pertaining to the image of God and the human body.

In this post I explore Hillel’s teachings on caring for the body and loving others as they are directed from his view of humans being made in the image of God. Furthermore, I hope to accentuate that Hillel derived his instructions from the book of Genesis that sees the human body as reflecting the goodness of God in creation. This study is presented in three parts: 1) Hillel’s predecessors and background, 2) Hillel’s teachings on caring for the body and loving others based on the image of God, and 3) Hillel’s influence and differences in interpretation.


I. Hillel’s Predecessors and Background 

Desiring to continue his study of the Torah, Hillel moved from Babylonia to Jerusalem around 60 b.c.e. and studied under two Pharisee sages, Shemaya and Avtalyon. Shemaya the Nasi (“the Prince”) and Avtalyon the Av Beit-din (the Head of the Supreme Religious Court) were considered the two great interpreters of the Torah during this time, dual leaders of the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees, and over the popular religious community.

According to legend, Hillel studied under Shemaya and Avtalyon for a period of forty years then returned to Babylonia for a period of time. Upon Hillel’s return to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, there was controversy over interpreting the Torah because the festival of Passover fell on the Sabbath that year. Through the prestige of studying under the two sages, Shemaya and Avtalyon, Hillel was elevated to Nasi because he interpreted the Torah to solve the dilemma asserting that precedence of the festival of Passover was to be practiced over the Sabbath.


II. Hillel’s Teachings on Caring for the Body and Loving Others Based on the Image of God

Having considered Hillel’s predecessors and background, I now turn to Hillel’s teachings on caring for the body and loving others based on the image of God.

Hillel viewed the human body as a sacred gift from God. Jonathan Schofer notes in his work Confronting Vulnerability: The Body and the Divine in Rabbinic Ethics that, “Hillel’s teachings center on humans being in the image of God, a highly influential motif that builds on Genesis 1:26-28 and 9:5-7.” Israel Knohl, in his book The Messiah before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls, notes Hillel’s appreciation for human dignity and equality based on humans being in the image of God. Knohls says,  “the source of Hillel’s spiritual audacity was his awareness of the religious implications of the creation of human beings in the image of God.”

For Hillel, humanity being created in the image of God necessitates his love for others. Yitzhak Buxbaum, in his book The Life and Teachings of Hillel, details Hillel’s view in saying, “love of neighbor is itself derived from an even greater principle: that man is made in the image of God; and a religiously inspired love of man flows from the more fundamental love of God.” Buxbaum says, “That Hillel considered the commandment to love people as based on their being made in God’s image can be seen in two ways: first, by his use, in his theme-saying, of ‘loving the creatures(briyot), rather than other possibilities, to refer to people in general. This Hebrew word briyot directly suggests that man is created in the image of God.” The second reason Buxbaum identifies is Hillel’s teaching that a person should lovingly treat and care for their own body since they are made in the image of God. With these two reasons Buxbaum concludes, “If he [Hillel] taught about the image of God in connection with this somewhat unusual duty of love, it seems certain that he based the more straightforward obligation to love one’s neighbor on his being made in God’s image.” Buxbaum’s rational is seen and developed through two different accounts in Hillel’s teachings on humans being made in the image of God.

“The Story of the Bathroom and the Bathhouse” 

In his story of going to the bathroom to wash his hair and the bathhouse to bathe in preparation for the coming Sabbath, Hillel expresses his concern for the body as representing the image of God. Paul Patterson notes in his book Visions of Christ: The Anthropomorphite Controversy of 399 Ce that, “when asked why he regarded bathing a religious duty, Hillel refers to the imago Dei: ‘If the statues of kings are scoured and washed by the man appointed to look after them …[and who as a result] is exalted in the company of the great – how much more shall I, who have been created in the image and likeness; as it is written, “For the image of God made he man.’” Buxbaum notes, “Hillel considered attention to body cleanliness as being a part of one’s service of God and as showing honor to the image of God. As an old Rabbinic teaching states: ‘A person should wash his face hands and feet everyday for the honor due to his Creator, as it says: ‘For his own sake did the Lord create every thing.’ (Proverbs 6:14).’” Buxbaum notes that cleanliness has spiritual aspects and that Hillel’s motives were probably complex; nevertheless, Hillel’s motive was his understanding that he was to care for his own body because it did not belong to him, but to God.

“The Parable of the Statues”

In his “parable of the statues,” Hillel reflects on the reimbursement of those who maintain statues and relates their care for the statues to caring for the human body that is the “seat” of the human soul.  Buxbaum explains this idea of the body being the “seat” of the human soul in saying, “Hillel’s point was not that the body itself is in the image of God (who is incorporeal), but that a person’s soul is in God’s image, and the body must be honored because it is the ‘seat’ of the soul. Essentially, the concepts of the image of God and the human soul are referring to the same thing.” Hillel referred to his soul as a “house guest.” Buxbaum acknowledges that, “when Hillel said each time that he was ‘going to do a kindness (hesed) for the house guest,’ his soul, what that was in any particular instance is not stated, but his intention was exactly the same as when he said at other times: ‘I am going to do a mitzvah.’ Every deed should be a mitzvah, and every mitvah is a kindness to the soul and benefits the soul (and sometimes also the body).” Hillel’s view of the body differed from the Essenes who viewed the body as a prison for the soul. Buxbaum says, “The more moderate and life-affirming Pharisee Hillel saw it [the body] as a ‘temporary home’ where the soul is somewhat an uncomfortable ‘guest.’ When Hillel spoke of the ‘poor’ soul, he probably meant that, although the body provided poor ‘lodging,’ the heavenly soul is still able to receive ‘good hospitality’ if a person is righteous and cares for it properly.”

For Hillel, “the story of the bathroom and the bathhouse” and “the parable of the statues” exemplifies his understanding and teaching that humans were created in the image of God and because of this, care for the body is essential. Buxbaum notes that, “Hillel’s parable about the statues and his lesson show his appreciation for the teaching that humans are made in the image of God. The Torah says, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’ –a person must love himself, since he too is made in the image of God.” Hillel’s understanding of his own body being made in the image of God influenced how he treated Gentiles. Hillel viewed all of humanity as sharing the status of equality and commonality in being made in the image of God. Joseph Telushkin notes in his book Hillel: If Not Now, When? that, “[Hillel’s] justification—that we are made in the image of God—is also of course a key to understanding the basis of his treatment of outsiders. He reasoned from his own body outward—the opposite of narcissist—and recognized that caring for others is also caring for God.”


III. Hillel’s Influence and Differences in Interpretation

Having explored Hillel’s teachings on caring for the body and loving others that derives from his view of humans being made in the image of God, I now turn to Hillel’s influence and differences in interpretation concerning care for the human body and others.

An individual that represented a different interpretation of the Torah than Hillel was Shammai. According to Stephen Wylen, “Shammai was the strict constructionist of the Pharisees while Hillel was the loose constructionist.” Hillel and Shammai had different views concerning the human body. In the story of the bathhouse, Hillel was concerned with caring for his body, while Shammai was concerned with fulfilling his duty. Buxbaum details this difference in saying that, “Hillel was pious from love of God and was kind even to his own body. Shammai was pious from fear of God and his excessive fear of sin made him wary of the body’s attraction to sense-pleasures.” Wylan explains that, “The Mishnah contains many disagreements between beit Hillel and beit Shammai. In almost every instance, the Hillelites give a lenient interpretation to the Torah law, and the Shammaites give a stringent interpretation.”

Other differences of interpretation extended beyond the Pharisees and involved other religious parties. In regards to slave ownership and liability of the owner if one’s slave were to damage someone else’s property, the Pharisees and Sadducees had varied interpretations of rights and responsibilities. Louis Finkelstein details that the Pharisees “respect for the dignity of man as homo sapiens made it impossible for them to countenance a law which made one man answerable to another’s deeds. To compare the slave to an ox or an ass was in itself a judicial insult: the one was human, the other a chattel.” In contrast to the Pharisees, the Sadducees were in favor of holding a slave’s owner responsible for damages and were unsympathetic to the principle of human equality. Another concern connected to human reverence was allocating work during the Sabbath to Gentiles. The Shammaites would not appropriate work to a Gentile on behalf of themselves during Sabbath. Their view was that if a Gentile worked on behalf of a Jew on the Sabbath, it was like the Jew was breaking the law to rest on that holy day.


IV. Conclusions

In this post I have explored Hillel’s teachings on caring for the body and loving others as they are directed from his view of humans being made in the image of God. Hillel taught that by loving humanity one was expressing love towards God. This teaching reflects Hillel’s view of humans being created in the image of God. By caring for his own body in the examples given above, Hillel taught his disciples that they should love their bodies so that they may also love others.

Hillel is known for the saying, “What is hateful for you, don’t do to your fellow man – that’s the whole Torah and the rest … is just a commentary on it. Go then and learn it!” Although Hillel is known for particular sayings such as this, there has been scholarly research done tracking the tradition of Hillel and Pharisaic presence prior to 70 c.e. In Neusner’s work The Rabbinic Traditions about the Pharisees Before 70 Part I: The Masters, he offers a detailed description of texts attributed to Hillel and evaluates Hillel’s teachings. Neusner says, “Despite the rich and impressive Hillel-tradition, however, we can hardly conclude that with Hillel the pre-70 Pharisees enter the pages of history. The traditions on Hillel do not lay considerable claim to historical accuracy about the life and sayings of Hillel himself. They provide an accurate account of what later generations thought it important to say about, or in the name of, Hillel.” Neusner continues, “If Hillel is the first Pharisee to emerge in the model of the later first-century Pharisees and later rabbis, that is because the rabbis adopted him and made him their own, not because in his day he managed effectively to transmit his sayings in the way in which later masters did.”

Although we do not know specifically the sayings of Hillel, we do recognize truth in the sayings that have been passed down through teachers who have been influenced by the Pharisaic tradition. Hillel’s teachings instruct us that to love and care for our bodies is to love and cherish the gift that God has given to all of us. To desecrate or defame another human being through violence or slander is to desecrate or defame someone who shares the image of God. If we truly care for our bodies like they are gifts from God that reflect his image, then it will not only affect how we treat our own bodies, it will also affect how we care for others.


Works Cited

Belford, Annie. A Teachers Guide To A Taste of the Text: An Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash. New York, NY:UAHC Press, 2003.

Buxbaum, Yitzhak. The Life and Teachings of Hillel. Lamhym, MD: Rowan & Littlefield Publisher, Inc., 2008.

Finkelstein, Louis. The Pharisees: The Sociological Background of Their Faith. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962.

Knohls, Israel. The Messiah before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 2000.

Neusner, Jacob. From Politics to Piety: The Emergence of Pharisaic Judaism. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973.

——. The Rabbinic Traditions about the Pharisees Before 70 Part I: The Masters. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1971.

Patterson, Paul. Visions of Christ: The Anthropomorphite Controversy of 399 Ce. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Seibeck, 2012.

Schofer, Jonathan. Confronting Vulnerability: The Body and the Divine in Rabbinic Ethics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Telushkin, Joseph. Hillel: If Not Now, When?. New York, NY: Schocken Books, 2010.

Wylen, Stephen. The Seventy Faces of Torah: The Jewish Way of Reading the Scriptures. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2005.

Biblical Studies

An Exegesis on Romans 4

Paul associates Abraham as their ancestor “according to the flesh.” He asks his readers “what is to be obtained by Abraham?” Even if Abraham was justified by works he would have something to boast about, but not before God (Rom 4:2). Paul begins his discourse by asking the reader a question, “For what does the scripture say?” Paul refers to Gen 15:6 where Abraham believes God and because he believes God, it was credited to him as righteousness.

For Paul, if one is considered righteous because of their works, then righteousness would not be a gift but something that is owed to one because of their deeds. He says that “to the one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.” It is interesting that Paul uses the same word for “justifies” here, referring to the ungodly, that he uses in Rom 4:2 to refer to Abraham. Is Paul considering Abraham ungodly? This idea seems to be countered in Rom 4:20 when Abraham is depicted as giving “glory to God.”

What works did Abraham have prior to believing God’s promise to him that he would have many descendants? God gave the promise to Abraham while Abraham had nothing to offer God in return. Abraham was, so to speak, bankrupt. God calls the promise with Abraham into existence and is able to keep it (referring to God as the one who “calls into existence the things that do not exist.” – Rom 4:17).

Paul quotes Psalm 32:1-2 LXX to use David as an example of one who speaks of the “blessedness” of those “to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works.” Righteousness is not mentioned in this Psalm, nevertheless, Paul associates “blessedness” with the forgiveness of sins. Paul presents a second question, “Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised?” Paul seems to use Socratic Method to present his argument to his readers in Rome. He acknowledges that those in Rome attest to the same interpretation of Gen 15:6 as he does. Paul affirms his readers that this is what “we” say in our interpretation of Gen 15:6.

In Rom 4:9b, Paul shifts his argument briefly to demonstrate that Abraham received “Faith” before he was circumcised. The main question is how and when did Abraham receive Faith? Did Abraham receive faith when it was reckoned to him as righteousness, before he was circumcised? Paul refers to circumcision as a “sign” of a seal that Abraham was considered righteous because of faith. For Paul, the purpose for Abraham receiving faith before he was circumcised was “to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them” (Rom 4:11b). Paul adds that Abraham is also “the ancestor of the circumcised” whose circumcision is a sign of their following the example of faith that Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Since Paul has shown through scripture that Abraham received faith and therefore righteousness before circumcision, his argument now moves to “the promise” (Rom 4:13). For Paul, God’s promise (What does it mean to “inherit” the world? – following the argument from Gal 3, “the promise” is the Holy Spirit) did not come through the law (Mosaic or circumcision) but through “the righteousness of Faith.”

Paul argues that if those who keep the law are the ones who will inherit the world (the promise), then faith is nothing and the promise is “void” since the promise came before the law (Mosaic and circumcision) (Rom 4:14). It seems that Paul is arguing that the law brings “wrath” because no one is able to keep it fully, and that without a law there is no violation. Therefore, since there is a law and a violation of that law, then the promise depends on faith so that the promise rests on grace (Rom 4:16). Paul acknowledges that the promise is guaranteed to all “his” descendants, “not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham.” Interestingly, Paul equates those who would receive the promise by adhering to the law being the same as those who share the faith of Abraham. Is Paul referring to being united to Jesus Christ, the offspring of Abraham, that he mentions in Gal 3 as taking place in baptism? Paul speaks of those who “share the Faith of Abraham” in the presence of God. If Paul is referring to being united to Jesus Christ, then it is only because Jesus Christ has been given life from death that mortals would be able to exist in the presence of God in heaven.

“Hoping against hope” seems to stress the point that Abraham believed without seeing. Paul appeals to Abraham’s faith in God’s promise to him that he would become “the father of many nations” by highlighting Abraham’s inability to do anything on his own. Paul does this by directing attention to Abraham’s age (“as good as dead”) and Sarah’s barrenness. Paul portrays Abraham as completely trusting God’s ability “to do” what he had promised. God is doing, and Abraham is having faith that God is able to do what he promised. Therefore, Abraham received  righteousness through faith.

Paul is saying that Jesus was put to death for our violation (trespasses) of the law and was “raised to life for our justification.” Jesus’ resurrection along with his death together are necessary for our justification. Our justification comes through Faith, who is Jesus Christ. Paul is associating the faith of Abraham, by which he was justified, with Jesus Christ who was raised from death fulfilling the promise of God’s eternal covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Jesus Christ is reckoned to us as righteousness.

Paul’s words in Rom 4:

1. Flesh (4:1)

2. Justify/Justification (4:2, 5, 25)

3. Works (4:2, 4, 5, 6)

4. Do (4:21) [God is the one “doing” work]

5. Reckoned (4:3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24)

6. Scripture (4:3)

7. Faith (4:5, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 19, 20, 22)

8. Ungodly/Glory to God (4:5, 20)

9. Believe (4:3, 11, 17, 18, 24)  [“being fully convinced” – 4:21]

10. Righteousness (4:3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13, 22)

11. Gift (4:4)

12. Trust/Distrust (4:5, 20)

13. Blessedness (4:6, 7, 8, 9)

14. Circumcision (4:9, 10, 11, 12)

15. Sign-Seal (4:11)

16. Uncircumcision (4:9, 11)

17. Inherit/ heirs (4:13, 14)

18. Promise (4:13, 14, 16, 20, 21)

19. Law (4:13, 14, 15, 16)

20. Violation/Trespass (4:15, 25)

21. Wrath (4:15)

22. Grace (4:16)

23. Hope (4:18)

24. “Barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (4:19)

25. Dead/Death (4:17, 19, 24, 25)

26. Life, raised from death (4:17, 24, 25)

Biblical Studies

An Exegesis On Galatians 3

ImageFollowing his rebuke of the Galatians in Gal 3:1, Paul begins constructing an argument against the Judaizers in Galatia who would have the Gentiles follow the law and become circumcised. The question posed by Paul in Gal 3:2 seems rhetorical and provides the thesis for Paul’s argument that the Gentile Galatians received the Spirit by believing what they heard and not by doing the works of the law. The question is posed and left up to the Galatians to answer based on Paul’s argument. If this is a rhetorical question then it can be presumed that the Galatians already understand that they received the Spirit “by believing” what they heard before there were any demands on them to become circumcised in order to keep the law.

Paul constructs his argument on the foundation that Abraham believed God, and God credited to him as righteousness. Following his quotation of Gen 15:6 LXX in Gal 3:6, Paul reveals that the descendants of Abraham are “those who believe” (οἱ ἐκ πίστεως). Furthermore, Paul argues that God planned to justify the Gentiles by faith before the law was written. Paul claims this in God’s declaration to Abraham that “all the Gentiles (τὰ ἔθνη) will be blessed in you (ἐν σοὶ).” Paul quotes part of Gen 22:18 LXX, but he does not mention right away that it is in Abraham’s seed (ἐν τῷ σπέρματι) that all the nations will be blessed. Paul later reveals that it is through Jesus Christ, the only “offspring” of Abraham, that the promise of God’s covenant, the Spirit, would come to all nations through faith (Gal 3:14-18). Paul closes his opening argument for belief over doing the works of the law by associating those who believe as being “blessed with Abraham who believed” (σὺν τῷ πιστῷ Ἀβραάμ).

The next progression in Paul’s argument is to reveal the role of Jesus Christ in redeeming all from the curse of the law. Paul asserts that through Jesus Christ the blessing of Abraham has come to the Gentiles so that God’s promise to Abraham, the Spirit, might be received by all through faith.

Paul states that “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse.” Interpreting Deut 27:36, Paul argues that no one is able to “observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” He points out what is “evident” for everyone, that is, “no one is justified before God by the law,” because if they were they would live. In saying that “the righteous will live by faith,” Paul negates the possibility that there will be some who will be made righteous and alive through the law.

Furthermore, Paul insists that the law is separate from faith. He says, “the law does not rest on faith.” As evidence for this Paul quotes Lev 18:5 LXX asserting that if anyone was able to “do the works of the law,” then they would live by them. As Paul’s argument progresses, he will make this distinction between the law and faith once again (Gal 3:13-16). This is important for Paul’s argument that Jesus became a curse to alleviate the curse of the law for everyone. It seems evident that, for Paul, Jesus Christ’s resurrection is proof that life comes through faith and not through the law. He quotes and interprets Deut 21:23 LXX as evidence that according to the law Jesus is cursed because of the manner in which he was put to death. Paul interprets Jesus’ death on the cross to meet the criteria of Deut 21:23 LXX of one who is cursed. The curse of the law is broken for all because Jesus Christ was crucified to death and nevertheless lives.

Paul recalls two words (δικαιοσύνη and πιστεύουσιν) in Gal 3:21-22 that he used previously in Gal 3:6 when he quoted from Gen 15:6 LXX. Interestingly, Gal 3:6 and Gal 3:21-22 are the only two places in Galatians 3 that Paul specifically employs these words in reference to Gen 15:6 LXX. Paul’s use of δικαιοσύνη in Gal 3:21 calls the readers attention back to Gal 3:6 in order to conclude his argument that “if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) would indeed come through the law.” Paul maintains that righteousness is not possible through the law, since no one could do all the works of the law because of sin (“scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin”). Therefore, Paul insists that righteousness and life only come through the Spirit, which is what was promised to Abraham through the faith of Jesus Christ so that it might be given to those who believe (πιστεύουσιν).

Throughout his argument, Paul associates Jesus Christ with faith itself. Furthermore, Paul denotes the revelation and coming of faith in Jesus Christ’ faith (Gal 3:14, 22-26). In Gal 3:22, I prefer the translation of πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as “faith of Jesus Christ” rather than as “faith in Jesus Christ.” I think that “faith of Jesus Christ” conveys the importance of the faith of Abraham’s “offspring,” Jesus. Given the context of Paul’s argument in Gal 3:15-18 that Jesus Christ is the “offspring” of Abraham, it is probable that Paul wants the Galatians to understand that the faith of Abraham’s “offspring” has enabled faith for all people. Through Jesus Christ’s faith all may receive God’s promise to Abraham and thereby fulfill God’s blessing of “all the nations” in Abraham.  Therefore, what was promised (the Spirit) through the faith of Abraham’s “offspring” (Jesus Christ) might be given to all who believe (πιστεύουσιν), just as righteousness was credited to Abraham because he believed God. Jesus’ faith has enabled anyone to become a part of “the offspring” (Jesus Christ) of Abraham by believing the Word about Jesus’ death and resurrection and receiving God’s promise (the Spirit) through faith. We are “heirs to the promise” by becoming a part of the “offspring” of Abraham by faith, just like it was Abraham’s “offspring” who brought about the promise through faith. (see Acts 2 = the promise (Holy Spirit) was given to Jesus and Jesus pours out the promise to everyone!)

Paul cites several scriptural texts throughout Galatians 3 including: Gen 12:3, 7; 15:5-6; 17:8; 18:18; 22:17-18; Ex 12:40; Lev 18:5; 26:46; Num 36:13; Deut 21:23; 27:36; 33:2; Hab 2:4.  Paul signals these citations of scripture either through example (e.g., Abraham in Gal 3:6), God speaking (e.g., Gal 3:8), by referring to the law as “it is written” (e.g., Gal 3:10, 13), historical interpretation of Gen 15:6 (e.g., Gal 3:11), or by correcting a false claim (Gal 3:12, 16).

Paul’s use of the future, passive, indicative, ἐνευλογηθήσονται, in his citation of Gen 12:3, 18:18, and 22:18 LXX, may signify his understanding that the extension of the blessing of Abraham to the Gentiles has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  In his citation of Deut 27:26 LXX, Paul changes “all the words of this law” (πᾶσιν τοῖς λόγοις τοῦ νόμου τούτου) to “all the things written in the book of the law” (πᾶσιν τοῖς γεγραμμένοις ἐν τῷ βιβλίῳ τοῦ νόμου). This change may reflect Paul’s argument against the Mosaic law as whole. Everyone who does not obey and observe the whole Torah is cursed.

In Gal 3:11-12, Paul quotes Hab 2:4 and Lev 18:5. These two verses share a common word, ζήσεται (“live”). This is significant for the structure of Paul’s argument. Paul asserts throughout his argument that faith brings life through the Spirit. The law cannot bring life because no one can do all the works of law.

Paul interprets Deut 21:23 LXX in light of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Although ὅτι κεκατηραμένος ὑπὸ θεοῦ πᾶς κρεμάμενος ἐπὶ ξύλου (“for anyone who is hanged on a tree is cursed by God”) in the context of Deuteronomy probably refers to one who is hanged from the neck or in the sun, Paul interprets Jesus Christ’s crucifixion to meet the requirements of a curse according to the law. In his citation of Deut 21:23 LXX, Paul leaves out “by God.” Paul may have omitted the words, “by God,” so that the Galatians would know that Jesus Christ was obedient to God in his death on the cross. Furthermore, that Jesus Christ’s faith freed them from the curse of the law to live through the Spirit by faith. Interestingly, Paul’s citations of Deut 21:23 and Deut 27:26 share a common term, ἐπικατάρατος (“cursed”).

According to BDAG, the range of meanings of διαθήκη include: “last will and testament,” “a will that has been ratified” (when used with κεκυρωμένην like in Gal 3:15),  “covenant” (used as a translation only when the thought communicates that it is God alone who sets the conditions – “a declaration of his purpose”), and “compact, contract.” The operative meaning in Gal 3:15 seems to be “a will that has been ratified,” since Paul is referring to God’s covenant with Abraham and his offspring. Paul does, however, seem to use διαθήκη to mean “covenant” in Gal 3:17. Translating διαθήκη as “covenant” in Gal 3:17 seems appropriate since Paul asserts that it is God who has set the conditions of the promise and ratified the covenant. Paul is recalling the condition in which God initiated a relationship with humans and more specifically, God’s covenant with Abraham. The covenant was not established with the law which came much later, but the covenant was established through God’s promise to Abraham.

In Gal 3:17, Paul makes the point that “the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.” This passage and the timeframe in which Paul places the giving of the law is further evidence that Paul is using the Septuagint and not the Hebrew text. By calculating the four hundred thirty years, Paul is including the Israelite sojourn in Egypt and the earlier period in Canaan within this time period. This makes Paul’s argument that the inheritance comes through God’s promise to Abraham and not through the law even more justifiable, since the law was given so much later than the promise. He asserts that the law was a “disciplinarian” (Gal 3:25 – παιδαγωγόν can also mean “tutor” or “guide”) “until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made (Gal 3:19b).”

Based on Paul’s argument, it would be interesting to know whether or not Paul and Philo reflect a rational and appreciation for Abraham’s life that was common during the first century.  Did Paul understand the life of Abraham to be a model on which the law was written? Philo asserts that the written laws are “nothing more than a memorial of the life of the ancients (On Abraham).”  Furthermore, it seems that both Philo and Paul revere God’s response to Abraham’s belief to be a significant model on how to know and love God.

1]Michael Coogan, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd Ed. with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 315 New Testament.

Christian Community, Worship

“Why We Do What We Do.”

You may have asked yourself before, “Why do we do what we do in worship services?” or perhaps, “Who plans the order of the services?” or maybe even, “What are the requirements for leading any given part of the worship services?”

Different aspects of the worship services are purposefully planned for each Sunday morning
service. Those who lead the different aspects are essential in communicating our unity as
the body of Christ and our purposefulness in gathering to worship. If you won’t think me
irreverent, perhaps you will permit me to use the analogy of getting your car washed to illus-
trate designing and leading a worship service. Let’s imagine that our participation in a wor-
ship service is like getting our car cleaned by a professional business. Some of you may pre-
fer to wash your own car, but for the analogy’s sake let’s imagine that a full team is required for the job. Picture your unwashed car as an unplanned worship service that requires a team effort in order to plan, prepare, and achieve the goal of producing a clean car (ie. an intentional worship service). It is helpful to picture a worship service as a “vehicle” that provides for us an opportunity to give fully to God what He has already given to us, everything!

So, here is a quick comparison between the service of a professional car-washing business and the service needed during a Sunday morning worship service. The car-washing business provides: Welcome > Hospitality (ie. vacuum, a place to wait, etc.) > Rinse > Wash > Scrub > Rinse > Dry > Detail > Send Off. When compared with a Sunday morning service, the car-washing business’ order of service provides insight into the team effort and unity that is needed when participating in a worship service. Worship services may constitute: Welcome > Hospitality (ie. coffee, information, etc.) > Gathering Song > Prayer > Greeting (Passing of Christ’s Peace) > Scripture Reading > Songs of Response > Prayer > Sermon (Scripture Reflection and Application) > Prayer > Response to God’s Word (Individual and Congregational response) > Prayer > Offering > Announcements (ways to get involved and apply God’s Word in our lives together) > Benediction (Blessing/Sending).

Just as there are many different stations that require many people to work them in order to get your car cleaned, there are many different aspects to serving and leading in a worship service. We need you! We are all different parts of the same body, and each part offers something unique.
May God empower us through His Holy Spirit to be examples of Christ’ love, service, and leadership! Let us love, serve, and lead one another even as Christ leads us in worshiping our living God whose kingdom is among us!

Christian Community

“Eat, Pray, Live…Together”

Where Two or three

“In Their Midst”
by Burden Studio (”Where two or three are gathered
in my Name, there I am in the midst of them.”
(Matthew 18:19) 

“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer says that “whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ. What does this mean? It means first that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.”

Bonhoeffer’s definition of Christian community reminds me that we all individually find our identity in Jesus Christ, and because of that we Christians are only connected through and in him. We need each other. We cannot say to the weaker believers in our congregation, “you must leave,” or “we don’t need you,” or “things would be so much better without you,” for in doing so we would be casting out Jesus Christ. Just like the rest of us, their identity is in Jesus Christ, and he alone is our hope and salvation. As a community of Christians, we are united solely through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ now and forevermore!

Unity is important because our story of salvation is in God’s story of salvation through Jesus Christ. This is the reason we gather together in worship, gather together for Bible study, and gather together to share a meal. Bonhoeffer recognized that “our salvation is external to ourselves.” He said, “I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ.” This is true for all of us.

So, anytime we are gathered together let us remember that we gather and fellowship solely because of, through and in Jesus Christ.

“All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” – Jude 1:25 (NLT)

Christian Community

Humanity in the “Imago Dei”

Imago-Arts-IMG_1518Do not allow your view of humanity to be skewed by the image of evil, rather view all of humanity through the image of God. We see the best of humanity in Jesus Christ who teaches us what it means to be human. For he alone restores the “likeness” of God to those who are being restored by, through, and in him.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” – John 13:34

Christian Community

An Evaluation of “For Whom Were Gospels Written?” by Richard Bauckham and “Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels Were Written for All Christians’” by Margaret M. Mitchell


Bauckham begins his argument introducing two questions: 1) Were Gospels written for Christians or for non-Christians? 2) Were the Gospels written for a specific Christian audience or for a general Christian audience? The first of these questions he answers according to the scholarly consensus that all of the Gospels were written for a Christian audience. In answering the second question, Bauckham addresses whether or not the gospels were written for specific local churches or for the purpose of circulation to every late first century Christian community.


Bauckham constructs his argument by confronting the assumption on which arguments concerning the Gospels have been based, particularly, the view that the Gospels were written to specific Christian communities. He says, “The unargued assumption in every case is that each Gospel addresses a localized community in its own, quite specific context and character.”[1] Bauckham proposes an alternative to this view. The alternative consists of the Gospel writers writing for the purpose of reaching an audience in any church to which the Gospel might circulate and the Greek language understood. Bauckham’s purpose for arguing this alternative view is to open discussion that has not taken place, and to propose this view as more plausible than the localized view that the Gospel writer’s wrote for specific communities.

Bauckham makes some good points that require further investigation, but he makes certain assumptions regarding the Gospel writer’s intentions, especially in the Synoptic relationship. He says, “Most likely Matthew and Luke each expected his own Gospel to replace Mark’s.”[2] Although this is a possibility, Bauckham does not address the probability of Matthew and Luke adapting Mark’s story and style to meet specific needs for a specific purpose. While he does acknowledge that the churches in the first and second centuries were connected and diverse, Bauckham does not acknowledge the effect that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70ce would have had on the Gospel writers. The possibility of Jewish-Christian sectarian groups (groups that consisted of Jew and Gentile Christians that lived in isolation)  arising outside of Jerusalem immediately following its destruction in 70ce is not mentioned.


Bauckham argues that redaction criticism in the late 1960s attempted to claim that the Gospel writers were writing for specific situations within a Christian community. He says that redaction criticism developed an allegorical reading of the Gospels in hopes of “reconstructing not only the character but the history of the community behind the Gospel.” In her article, “Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels Were Written for All Christians’,” Margaret M. Mitchell responds to Bauckam’s essay by examining patristic evidence for a pre 1960s interpretation of the Gospels being written for a localized community. Mitchell agrees with Bauckham, in that, redaction-critical readings can use allegory to the point of projecting onto the life of Jesus the concerns of a “hypothetically reconstructed local church community.[3]” However, Mitchell argues against Bauckham’s view that “all readers without exception before the mid-twentieth century missed the (alleged) hermeneutical relevance of the Matthean community to the interpreter of Matthew.”[4] Mitchell insists that the interpretation of gospels is more complex and ancient than what is presented in Bauckham’s essay.[5]

Reading Strategy:

Bauckham’s argument against a particular ‘reading strategy’ would be strong if every Gospel contained the same accounts. In using the example of J. Louis Martyn’s proposal for interpreting John 9 as a narrative of the Johannine community’s expulsion from its local synagogue[6], Bauckham argues for a general process that was taking place throughout the Diaspora. A question for this proposal is that if it really were a general process, then how come the other Gospel writers do not address it?

Another argument made by Bauckham is that everything that was written in the Gospels did not necessarily need to be pertinent to everyone who read them. One example he uses is Mark 15:21, where Mark mentions Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Matthew and Luke do not mention Alexander and Rufus in their Gospels. This raises the question of why they were important enough for Mark to mention them in his gospel. Bauckham makes the observation that Matthew and Luke’s exclusion of Alexander and Rufus could be another example of how the latter of the Synoptic Gospels would abbreviate Mark’s texts.[7] Another possibility that Bauckham offers for Alexander and Rufus’ exclusion from Matthew and Luke is that they may have been alive when Mark wrote and dead by the time Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels. But if Alexander and Rufus were such important figures that most of the first century Christian communities would have known them (if Mark truly wrote for all the churches), then it seems that Matthew and Luke, having been recipients of Mark’s Gospel, would have known of their importance also.[8]

Gospels and Letters:

Bauckham makes a good observation concerning the Greco-Roman bios in asking, “Why should he [the Gospel writer] go to the considerable trouble of writing a Gospel for a community to which he was regularly preaching?”[9] Bauckham defines the genres of letters and Gospels in order to illustrate their use in the context of the writer’s absence. He says, “The obvious function of writing was its capacity to communicate widely with readers unable to be present at its author’s oral teaching.”[10]

Bauckham does not address the possibility of the Gospel writers writing for the sake of permanence and distinction. David C. Sim in his book, Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Gospel of Matthew, argues for reading the Gospel of Matthew as a work to an apocalyptic-eschatological Jewish Christian sect who has broken ties with Jerusalem and ‘formative Judaism’. Sim goes on to say that Matthew’s community was affected by a combination of factors stemming from the aftermath of the events from 66-70 CE. These factors included conflict with Jews, Gentiles, and the wider world of Christians. Matthew’s community was considered to be withdrawn from society as an alienated group.[11] If an apocalyptic-eschatological sectarian group of Christians were experiencing persecution from the rest of world around them, then a leader of the community may have seen the need for writing a Gospel that would distinguish those on the inside from those on the outside. A Gospel written in this context could have been used to promote group solidarity and social control within the sectarian group.[12]

Patristic Evidence:

Mitchell notes that although Bauckham uses the patristic sources from the second century to illustrate the travel patterns of the church leaders during the first century, he does not cite second century patristic sources regarding the origin and interpretation of the original readers of the gospels.[13] She says a possible obstacle for Bauckam’s argument is that early traditions associated each of the gospel writers with a specific locale: Mark with Rome (and/or Alexandria)(or Syria[14]), Matthew with Judea, Luke with Achaia, and John with Ephesus (and/or Patmos).[15] Bauckham dismisses the influence of Clement’s statement as proof that patristic sources thought of the gospel writers as writing locally, and says that it does not “strictly require this conclusion.”[16] Mitchell illustrates that Bauckham’s interpretation of Clement of Alexandria concerning Mark’s Gospel is incorrect. In her translation of Clement of Alexandria, Mitchell shows that in the tradition about Mark’s gospel there was no “‘envision[ing] of a gospel beginning to circulate’; here Mark’s gospel (singular – the text says nothing about ‘copies’) does not move beyond the Roman Christians who asked him to write it, who are presented as a rather specific group who in turn receive the document from him.”[17]

In another instance, Mitchell recalls Papias’s tradition about Matthew’s peculiar language, particularly about Matthew composing “the sayings” in the Hebrew language, which Bauckham does not discuss.[18] Mitchell makes the point that “for Papias language of composition differentiated Matthew’s readers from Mark’s readers.”[19] This would seem evident since not every Christian in the late first century spoke or read Hebrew. Mitchell notes that, “this presumption about the Semitic original of Matthew was to be a constant in patristic and medieval gospel interpretation, and from it considerable inferences about Matthew’s local community were made.”[20] In the third century, Origen inferred that Matthew’s gospel was written specifically for Jewish Christians.[21] Furthermore, Mitchell explains that this tradition “depends upon the assumption – held already in antiquity by such scholars as Origen and Jerome – that language, place and addressees of the gospels can be correlated with one another.”


Bauckam states in his essay that reconstructing the historical situation of the Gospel writer’s community has “no hermeneutical value since the Gospels were not addressed to or intended to be understood solely by such a community.”[22]  Contrary to Bauckham, Mitchell notes the importance of recognizing the historical situation of the gospels before encountering the text.[23] This is important for Mitchell’s argument because she illustrates that early Christian biblical interpreters were concerned with historical validation of apostolic or sub-apostolic authorship.[24] Bauckam makes the statement that only modern redaction critics “simply assum[e] that the question about the context in which a Gospel was written and the question about the audience for which a Gospel was written are the same question.”[25] Mitchell counters this statement with examples of Christian commentators who combine these two questions in their writing gospel prologues in medieval manuscripts, “which are based on complex histories that extend back to late antiquity.”[26]


Mitchell provides significant evidence from the patristic writings to show the plausibility that the thought of the Gospel writers writing for a localized community did not originate in the 1960s, as Bauckham proposes. According to Mitchell’s research, “patristic interpreters of the gospel thought it important to ask where when and to whom each of the four gospel was originally written.”[27]

Mitchell’s conclusion calls for movement beyond extreme dichotomies (“either the gospels were written for ‘relatively isolated, introverted communities’ or for ‘any and every Christian community’”).[28] Furthermore, Mitchell utilizes the works of Irenaeus and Origen to argue for a both/and theological approach to interpreting the audience of the gospel writers as local and universal.[29] I agree with Mitchell in her assessment that modern scholars should strive for “methodological flexibility” as we encounter questions that require different approaches.[30] Mitchell’s illustration of “universality and particularity in a deliberate theological and rhetorical tension”[31] in John Chrysostom’s work provides insight for modern biblical scholars to leave room for the mystery of God’s work and revelation.

[1] Richard Bauckham, ‘For Whom Were Gospels Writen?’, in The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 11.

[2] The assumption here is that since Matthew and Luke utilized Mark’s Gospel in their own works, they must have anticipated that their own Gospels were going to be circulated also (Bauckham, 13).

[3] Margaret M. Mitchell, “Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels Were Written for All Christians’”, New Testament Studies, Vol. 51, Issue 01, January 2005, (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 37.

[4] Bauckham, 47.

[5] Mitchell, 46.

[6] Bauckham, 23.

[7] Bauckham, 25.

[8] Joel Marcus makes this rebuttal also (Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [The Anchor Bible; New York, NY: Doubleday, 2002], 27-8).

[9] Bauckham, 29.

[10] Ibid.

[11] David C. Sim, Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Gospel of Matthew [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001], 182.

[12] Sim identifies the specific functions of apocalyptic eschatology in five distinct groups that may overlap on certain points: 1. Identification and legitimation, 2. Explanation of current circumstances, 3. Encouragement and hope for the future, 4. Vengeance and consolation, 5. Group solidarity and social control (Ibid, 64).

[13] Mitchell, 47.

[14] Marcus, 36.

[15] Mitchell, 47.

[16] Mitchell, 48.

[17] Ibid, 49-50.

[18] Ibid, 53.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Bauckam, 45.

[23] Mitchell, 55.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Bauckam, 16.

[26] Mitchell, 57.

[27] Mitchell, 77.

[28] Ibid., 78.

[29] Ibid., 61-67.

[30] Ibid., 78.

[31] Ibid., 74.