Describe the Key Features of the Early Christian Mission According to Acts. In what ways, if any, does the nature of mission in Acts challenge normal missionary or evangelistic activity in the Western Church today?

Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, writes that the risen Jesus told the apostles “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”[1] Jesus thus commissioned his disciples to take the good news of all that he had done throughout the world. This mission was undertaken by the early church and its nature is recorded in Acts.

The restoration of Israel

Luke begins the Acts narrative in Jerusalem, the city at the heart of Israel, where Jesus ended his earthly ministry and where the disciples begin their mission, and ends his account in Rome, which was viewed as ‘the end of the earth’ in Jewish texts, (e.g. Ps. Sol. 8:15).[2] Crispin Fletcher-Louis calls Acts ‘missionary historiography’ and says “it tells the fulfilment of Israel’s hopes and expectations in the life of the earliest (Jewish) disciples of Jesus and then proceeds to describe the completion of the basic Jewish metanarrative with the mission of the disciples to the wider Jewish and then Gentile world.”[3]

The apostles first task is to replace Judas Iscariot and in so doing restore the number of apostles to twelve. Eckhard Schnabel writes “that the restoration of Israel expected for the last days is now beginning.”[4] In appointing twelve apostles, Jesus was redefining the true-Israel, with the apostles representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The following Jewish texts reveal expectations that a restored Israel would lead to mission to the rest of the world.

13 11    A bright light will shine to all the ends of the earth;
many nations will come to you from far away,
the inhabitants of the remotest parts of the earth to your holy name,
bearing gifts in their hands for the King of heaven.
Generation after generation will give joyful praise in you;
the name of the chosen city will endure forever.

          16        For Jerusalem will be built as his house for all ages.
How happy I will be if a remnant of my descendants should survive
to see your glory and acknowledge the King of heaven.
The gates of Jerusalem will be built with sapphire and emerald,
and all your walls with precious stones.

The towers of Jerusalem will be built with gold,
and their battlements with pure gold.
The streets of Jerusalem will be paved
with ruby and with stones of Ophir.

Tobit 13:9-17, NRSV

14 5 “But God will again have mercy on them, and God will bring them back into the land of Israel; and they will rebuild the temple of God, but not like the first one until the period when the times of fulfilment shall come. After this they all will return from their exile and will rebuild Jerusalem in splendour; and in it the temple of God will be rebuilt, just as the prophets of Israel have said concerning it. 6 Then the nations in the whole world will all be converted and worship God in truth. They will all abandon their idols, which deceitfully have led them into their error; 7 and in righteousness they will praise the eternal God. All the Israelites who are saved in those days and are truly mindful of God will be gathered together; they will go to Jerusalem and live in safety forever in the land of Abraham, and it will be given over to them. Those who sincerely love God will rejoice, but those who commit sin and injustice will vanish from all the earth.

Tobit 14:5-7, NRSV

17 21    See, Lord, and raise up for them their king,
the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel
in the time known to you, O God.

          26     He will gather a holy people
whom he will lead in righteousness;
and he will judge the tribes of the people
that have been made holy by the Lord their God.

          30     And he will purge Jerusalem
(and make it) holy as it was even from the beginning.

          31     (for) nations to come from the ends of the earth to see his glory,
to bring as gifts for her children who have been driven out,
and to see the glory of the Lord
with which God has glorified her.

Psalms of Solomon 17:21-31

There are similar references in the Sibylline Oracles, Book 3 (Sib. Or. 3:702-709, 710-720, 772-777). Jesus, the Davidic messiah, was restoring Israel and it was therefore necessary for the apostles to replace Judas. They selected Matthias, who had been with the disciples in the “beginning from the baptism of John until the day when [Jesus] was taken up” and was “a witness to his resurrection.”[5] Schnabel explains “the early church claims to represent the eschatological gathering of all Israel by reconstituting the circle of the Twelve as the beginning of the restoration of Israel.”  He goes on to describe the twelve as “the eschatological, true Israel” which “witnesses before the entire people of Israel gathered together in Jerusalem for Pentecost, and indirectly before all nations.”[6] Israel is being restored and therefore the mission to the Gentile world is to begin.


The Feast of Pentecost was fifty days after Passover and was also known as the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Harvest. Schnabel explains that Pentecost was “the celebration at the conclusion of the wheat harvest,” and was connected with the giving of the law at Mount Sinai.[7] At Pentecost, the disciples received the Holy Spirit, as Jesus had promised (Acts 2:1-13). The “sound like a mighty rushing wind” and the “tongues of fire” show a connection with the events at the giving of the law at Sinai. The law was given as the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, and now the Spirit is given as the followers of Jesus, the eschatological, true-Israel, are about to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Schnabel calls the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost “the kairos at which Jesus’ disciples … began their missionary activity.”[8] Jews from “every nation” are gathered in Jerusalem and hear the disciples speaking in their native languages. Peter addresses the crowd, quoting the prophet Joel, and telling them about Jesus. The Holy Spirit had given power and authority to Peter for preaching, and three thousand were added to their number. Many signs and wonders followed. The lame were healed, the sick were brought to the apostles and Luke records that “they were all healed.”[9] As a result many more became believers, and were filled with the Spirit.

The disciples are scattered

In Acts 8, following the stoning of Stephen, Luke records that “a great persecution [arose] against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”[10] As they were scattered, the disciples continued to preach the good news about the kingdom of God and Jesus.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:14-17, ESV

Peter and John went to Samaria to bring the Holy Spirit to the new believers and the church continued to grow. The Spirit prompted a disciple called Philip to head south, where he met an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official, who was returning from Jerusalem. Philip, guided by the Spirit, was able to interpret the passage from Isaiah that the eunuch was reading. Philip led the eunuch to Christ and baptized him. Christopher Wright explains that it is uncertain whether the Ethiopian was a convert to Judaism or a god-fearing Gentile.

Wright says that “Luke undoubtedly saw in this event a fulfilment of the promise of God to eunuchs and foreigners in Isaiah 56.” Wright also notes the significance that “with this man’s conversion, the gospel reaches south into Africa, the land of Ham. It was already reaching the lands of Shem. And soon, under Paul, it would go north and west to the lands of Japheth.”[11]

The effect of the persecution was that the gospel message was taken out from the centre in Jerusalem. Wright suggests “that Luke indicates the steady progression of the gospel, from Jerusalem Jews to Samaritans to a proselyte Gentile (the Ethiopian), then to a god-fearer Gentile (Cornelius)[12] and finally to the real Gentile world of Greeks and other nationalities (Antioch)[13].”[14]

Proclaiming Israel’s God

Following the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, Paul, as he was now known, took the gospel message further afield, away from Judea and Samaria, to other regions of the Roman Empire. The good news preached by the apostles and disciples was that the God of Israel was king and there was no other god. This was in direct contrast and challenge to the message that Caesar was king and god. N. T. Wright adds that the gospel “is this Jewish message now crystallized as the news about Jesus, the Messiah, whom Paul announced as kyrios, Lord. And this subversive message could be proclaimed boldly and without hindrance.”[15]

The message was not entirely without hindrance. In Thessalonica the Jews raised a mob against the believers with the charge that they were “acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”[16] Paul travelled to Athens, where he preached about the “God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth.”[17] Ultimately, Paul would take the gospel to Rome. N. T. Wright comments “for Luke, Christianity has taken on the traditional role of Judaism: it is the divine answer to paganism.”[18]

The destruction of idols and false gods

In proclaiming Jesus as Lord, the one true God, it naturally follows that all other gods are false and their images are idols. In Acts 16, Luke describes how Paul delivered a slave girl from a spirit of divination. Paul spoke against idols and false gods in Athens[19], and in Ephesus he caused a riot when he spoke against the craftsmen who made shrines for Artemis. The temple of Artemis (also known as Diana) at Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and the centre of a fertility-cult of the mother-goddess of Asia Minor.[20]

In Lystra, Barnabus was called Zeus and Paul was called Hermes by the locals who said “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Paul and Barnabus protested, claiming they were just men and called the locals to turn from such “vain things.”[21] Their preaching turned people away from idolatry. Fletcher-Louis comments that Rome’s power is undone, not by the sword, but by the word.[22]

Creating a new Jewish and Gentile community

Paul travelled extensively through the eastern regions of the empire. Luke records in the narrative what Philip Towner calls “unique developments in mission practice and theology”. Towner writes that “for the first time we read of extended periods of mission work, which lead to the establishment of churches in two significant cities, Corinth and Ephesus.”[23] Acts 18 records that when Paul arrived in Corinth, he first preached in the synagogue, but he tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. He stayed in Corinth for eighteen months, and many “Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.”[24]

Paul began to face opposition and soon afterwards moved on and continued to travel around the region. When he returned to Ephesus he brought the Holy Spirit to the believers who had only received John’s baptism. He again began to teach in the synagogue for three months, but after facing opposition he preached to Jews and Greeks for a further two years. Jews and Gentiles became followers of Jesus and joined the community of believers in each city. Fletcher-Louis states the key issue between Jew and Gentile was table-fellowship.[25] Would Gentile believers need to convert to Judaism in order that they may live together in community, or do the Mosaic laws no longer apply? In Acts 10, Peter had a vision that he should eat with Cornelius, a centurion and a God-fearing Gentile. Peter preached the gospel to his household and “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.”[26]

As more Gentiles became believers in Jesus debate raged about whether or not they should be circumcised. A council of apostles and elders met in Jerusalem, and heard from Peter, Paul and Barnabus about the signs and wonders God had performed among the Gentile believers. The council decided to require the Gentiles to follow four regulations relating to food and sexual immorality. Joseph Fitzmyer writes that the reason for these rules was not to retain the Law in practice or symbolically, but so that “it enables Jewish Christians to have contact with Gentile Christians.”[27]

The challenge for missionary and evangelistic activity in the Western Church

The missionary commission given by Jesus in Acts 1:8, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” is still applicable today. Any evangelistic or missionary activity should begin with a call from Jesus to be a witness to his life, death and resurrection. This is the general call for all who believe in his name.

The follower of Jesus needs to be filled with the Holy Spirit for power, so that God can work signs and wonders through him or her, and for proclamation, to declare what Jesus has done and to announce the kingdom of God. It is the Holy Spirit who gives the follower of Jesus the specific call for where to evangelise and to whom.

The proclamation is the uniqueness of God and the good news that Jesus made atonement for the sins of the world. This uniqueness will inevitably lead to the destruction of false gods and idols. Persecution is to be expected, but not to be feared. The gospel message is a challenge to the world, but God can work through every circumstance. Persecution in the early church meant that the gospel was taken further afield and reached more people.

Paul demonstrated that mission based in a city for an extended period, built relationships and birthed a community of believers. Mission can see results from incarnational living among the people you serve and to whom you minister. This will require an understanding of the culture that is being reached, so as not to be divisive to the community of new believers.


In Acts, Luke records how the gospel message spread throughout the known world, and ultimately to the seat of power in Rome. The early Christian mission recorded in Acts has much to challenge the way missionary or evangelistic activity is carried out by the Western Church. The call remains for the follower of Jesus to be his witnesses to the end of the earth, going in the power of the Holy Spirit.




Fitzmyer, Joseph A., The Acts of the Apostles, (Anchor Yale Bible 31; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).

Schnabel, Eckhard J., Early Christian Mission, (Leicester: Apollos, 2004).

Towner, P. H., ‘Mission Practice and Theology under Construction (Acts 18-20),’ in Witness to the Gospel: The Theology of Acts, (eds. I. H. Marshall and D. Peterson; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), pp. 417-435.

Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H., New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, (1996).

Wright, Christopher J. H., The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006).

Wright, N. T., The New Testament and the People of God, (Christian Origins and the Question of God; London: SPCK, 1992).

[1] Acts 1:8, ESV.

[2] C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, course notes, ‘Acts Mission Historiography’, Acts, slide 9.

[3] C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, course notes, ‘Purpose of Acts: Missionary Historiography’, Acts, slide 2.

[4] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, (Leicester: Apollos, 2004), p. 391.

[5] Acts 1:22, ESV.

[6] Schnabel, p. 394.

[7] Ibid., p. 398.

[8] Ibid., p. 398.

[9] Acts 5:16, ESV.

[10] Acts 8:1b, ESV.

[11] Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), p. 516.

[12] Acts 10:1-33.

[13] Acts 11:19-30.

[14] C. J. H. Wright, p. 516.

[15] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, (Christian Origins and the Question of God; London: SPCK, 1992), p. 375.

[16] Acts 17:7, ESV.

[17] Acts 17:24, ESV.

[18] N. T. Wright, p. 375.

[19] Acts 17:22-34.

[20] D. R. W. Wood & I. H. Marshall, New Bible dictionary, (3rd ed.; Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, (1996).

[21] Acts 14:11b, ESV.

[22] C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, ‘Acts Mission Historiography’, slide 16.

[23] P. H. Towner, ‘Mission Practice and Theology under Construction (Acts 18-20),’ in Witness to the Gospel: The Theology of Acts, (eds. I. H. Marshall and D. Peterson; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 418.

[24] Acts 18:8, ESV.

[25] C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, ‘Acts Mission Historiography’, slide 18.

[26] Acts 10:44, ESV.

[27] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles, (Anchor Yale Bible 31; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 557.

Drawing from Jesus’ ministry as portrayed in the Gospels and contemporary practices, what is the place of healing and deliverance in advancing the Kingdom of God through missions?

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the prophet Isaiah:

      4 18      “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19      to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Luke 4:18-19, ESV

Jesus told those gathered in the synagogue that this prophecy was now fulfilled, and in so doing, he defined the course that his ministry would take. Jesus healed the sick and delivered those oppressed by demons as he travelled announcing the kingdom of God. This was also the ministry of the early church and is being rediscovered in contemporary times.

The heart of Jesus Christ’s mission

Francis MacNutt writes “miraculous healing – with its twin, the casting out of evil spirits – lay at the very heart of Jesus Christ’s mission.”[1] MacNutt traces the reason for Jesus’ mission back to the Fall.[2] The Genesis 1 account of creation tells us that God saw his creation was good (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25); in fact in verse 31 God saw “it was very good.” However, in Genesis 3, the serpent, who is identified as the devil or Satan, tempted the woman and the man, who was with her, to sin. MacNutt explains that “whether we view [Genesis 3] literally or allegorically, the basic point is that, through pride, the human race sinned and fell from fellowship with its Creator.”[3]

MacNutt describes four consequences of the Fall. Firstly, that mankind became separated from God after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden.[4] Secondly, the world became “under the dominion of Satan.”[5] 1 John 5:19 “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”[6]

Thirdly, human beings became “inclined to sin.”[7] Paul struggles with this in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”[8] Bob Ekblad calls this “the microforces that assault people in forms such as anger, jealousy, lust, and greed, labelled by the early church fathers as ‘passions’ or ‘demons.’”[9] MacNutt says sin has brought sickness in our bodies, and ultimately death.[10]

Finally there are the macro effects of sin, described by Ekblad as “the larger macro powers such as legalism, nationalism, discrimination, and the like, labelled by social prophetic writers according to the biblical vocabulary surrounding ‘principalities and powers.’”[11]

But God was not satisfied to leave his creation in this state. The good news is that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world, to restore the relationship between God and man, to redeem us by paying the price for our sin, defeating the work of the devil, and to restore our inheritance in the kingdom of God.

Jesus healed every disease and affliction

All the Gospels include accounts of Jesus’ healing ministry. The writer of the Gospel of Matthew describes the ministry of Jesus as follows:

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.

Matthew 4:23–24, ESV

Matthew goes on to record that Jesus healed lepers, raised the dead to life, gave sight to the blind, opened the ears of the death and opened the mouths of the mute. He restored withered hands and enabled the lame to walk. Some of the diseases and afflictions may not be known in the same terms today. Leprosy, for example, could cover a variety of skin diseases and not necessarily the chronic disease also known as Hansen’s disease. Before the invention of spectacles, poor eyesight would have meant effective blindness. However, many of the sicknesses and conditions that Jesus healed were debilitating to the sufferer and to be healed of them would be transformational.

Matthew states that Jesus healed “all who were sick,”[12] (emphasis added). At Gennesaret the sick touched the fringe of Jesus’ garment, “And as many as touched it were made well.”[13] Jesus also healed a Centurion’s servant from a distance. In every recorded account Jesus healed those who came to him for help. MacNutt notes that choosing to heal on the Sabbath, at risk of punishment from the religious leaders showed how determined Jesus was to heal and that “healing and deliverance were not merely ‘signs and wonders’; [but] together with preaching, they were the central focus of His Kingdom message.”[14]

Jesus demonstrated who he was and why he had come by what he did. When John the Baptist in prison heard about what was happening and sent messengers to ask if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus replied:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Matthew 11:4-6, ESV

The message Jesus sent to John the Baptist was the same fulfilment of the Isaiah prophecy recorded in Luke 4.

Jesus cast out demons

The Synoptic Gospels accounts of Jesus healing the sick also record that he delivered those oppressed by demons. The kingdom of God is in direct opposition to Satan’s dominion. MacNutt quotes 1 John 3:8 to illustrate this: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”[15] [16] When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, in what is known as the Lord’s Prayer, he prayed “deliver us from evil,”[17] or in some translations, “deliver us from the evil one.” MacNutt argues that, “delivering people from evil spirits is, along with forgiving sins and healing the sick, an essential part of the Gospel.”[18]

Before Jesus began his public ministry he was baptised by John in the Jordan. Then the Holy Spirit led him to the wilderness where, after fasting forty days, he was tempted by the devil. The devil tried three ways to tempt Jesus; with food, by using Scripture, and by offering power and glory. Jesus resisted the devil each time and commanded him to leave. MacNutt cites the third temptation as further evidence that the world is “under the dominion of Satan.”[19] That the devil left Jesus when he ordered him, also demonstrates that the devil must leave at Jesus’ command.

Ekblad comments that “Jesus re-enters the land as the true Son of God and returning king to undo the devil’s works manifested in the anti-life passions and powers occupying the land.”[20] Jesus is now able to commence his public ministry. Ekblad continues, “Jesus’ successful resistance to the devil’s temptations in the wilderness is followed by aggressive confrontations with invisible spiritual enemies like demons, sickness, and legalism as he announces the kingdom of God and demonstrates constant love to human beings, including his opponents.”[21]

Ekblad draws the parallel between Jesus starting his public ministry and the Israelites conquest of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. The name Jesus in Hebrew is Jeshua, which is a form of Joshua.[22] Ekblad notes that “the Greek term most used for Jesus’ deliverance ministry [is] ekballo (ἐκβάλλω), ‘to cast out.’”[23] In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, ekballo is the word used to describe how the nations are cast out of Canaan. Ekblad writes that, “Forces like sickness, demons, sin, principalities, and powers are severely confronted by Jesus and the apostles much as enemies were violently attacked in the Old Testament.”[24]

Healing and deliverance in the early church

Healing and deliverance drew people to follow Jesus. Along with proclaiming the kingdom of God, they were at the heart of Jesus’ mission. Jesus also instructed his disciples to do the same when he sent them out.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.”

Matthew 10:5-8, ESV

The writer of the Gospel of Luke records that Jesus “gave [the twelve] power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases.”[25] Similarly, Jesus sent out the seventy-two and commissioned them to “Heal the sick.”[26] The seventy-two returned filled with joy and reported to Jesus that “even the demons are subject to us in your name!”[27] Jesus told them:

And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.

Luke 10:18-19, ESV

The early church continued to practice healing and deliverance in Jesus’ name. The Acts of the Apostles records how, following the receiving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, first the apostles and then later other believers healed the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits. Peter healed a lame beggar in Acts 3:1-10. Philip preached in Samaria and “unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.”[28] Paul also ministered in this way as he preached the Gospel message on his missionary journeys.

MacNutt explains that the reason why the early church continued to practice healing and deliverance was that “it was a natural part of the incoming kingdom of God. Jesus taught his disciples to move in power to help spread the Good News.”[29] MacNutt notes that Christians continued to pray for the sick and cast out demons for the next three hundred years.[30]

After Constantine’s conversion the church moved from being under persecution to general acceptance. The miraculous also declined over the centuries and became the preserve of only a few. In the Middle Ages healings would take place at shrines containing relics of the saints. MacNutt writes that following the Reformation most Protestant churches rejected such devotion as idolatry.[31] He explains that “Calvin also taught ‘Cessationism,’ the belief that supernatural healing ended with the death of the last apostle.”[32]

Healing and deliverance in the church today

With the advance of medical science any talk of healing and deliverance from evil spirits sounds like superstition. MacNutt writes that this is the view held by many educated Christian scholars.[33] He says, “The established wisdom of mainline theologians and Scripture commentators is that demon possession and exorcism come out of a primitive, superstitious worldview that we have fortunately escaped, but which Jesus, a man of his day, accepted.”[34]

Yet the experiences of those working with the poor and the needy suggest that there are other powers at work. Ekblad writes, “While this cosmology may seem archaic to some, my work with people struggling with addictions and mainstream people in emotional and spiritual turmoil is convincing me that our battle is not merely against flesh and blood.”[35] Inmates explain how spells are placed over batches of drugs which make the addicts take on a particular characteristic.[36]

In Bible studies, prisoners can identify “a ‘thief’ who robs, kills, and destroys or a power like this ‘ruler of this world’ who comes to you to mess with you.”[37] Ekblad continues, “I am convinced that a robust and clear-eyed view of evil helps us better differentiate God’s good works and people’s deepest desires from the works of the Enemy, so we can invite people to choose resistance and freedom over collusion and bondage.”[38]

From the birth of Pentecostal churches at the start of the twentieth-century, to the charismatic renewal of the last four decades, Spirit-filled churches have begun to rediscover the value of healing and deliverance in their mission. The purpose remains the same – to advance the kingdom of God. This is not to replace the medical profession, but working with it to help restore wholeness to people with physical, emotional and mental illnesses and conditions.

An approach provided by Chester and Betsy Kylstra prays into four problem areas. Firstly, generational sins and curses which pass down a family line, such as alcoholism, drugs or sexual abuse. This is taken from Exodus 20:3-6, “where the sin of idolatry results in the curse of “the iniquities of the fathers being visited upon the children unto the third and the fourth generations.””[39] Secondly ungodly beliefs, which are the “untruths and half-truths” we pick up from our upbringing, circumstances and life experience that shape our worldview.[40]

The third area for prayer is soul or spirit hurts, which are “the pain of past hurts [that] rule many lives.”[41] These are the bitterness of unforgiveness from past hurts that can fester and the ties that are made from unhealthy relationships. Finally, there is demonic oppression. Peter warns believers to, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”[42]

F.F. Bosworth poses the question, “Is it still the will of God, as in the past, to heal all who have need of healing?”[43] As we have seen, Jesus healed all who came to him, and the early church in the power of the Holy Spirit continued to work healing and deliverance. Bosworth points to the nature of God’s compassion to demonstrate his willingness to heal.[44]

      The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.

Psalm 145:8-9, ESV

However, it is a mystery why not everyone receives a healing when prayed for today; although the reasons would require a longer discussion. MacNutt concludes that, “Without the twin ministries of healing and deliverance, our preaching that God’s kingdom is here and that Satan’s dominium is being destroyed is hollow.”[45]


Healing and deliverance were central to the mission of Jesus. He taught his followers to practice these ministries and the early church continued to do so as they preached the Gospel message. Healing and deliverance are about undoing the effects of the Fall and reclaiming the world from the dominion of Satan. As people are restored and set free, the works of the devil are rolled back and the kingdom of God is advanced. Following centuries of neglect, the church is beginning again to move in the power of the Holy Spirit. Healing and deliverance are not an end in themselves. Rather they point to the God whose kingdom advances as he heals people and sets captives free.




Bosworth, F.F., Christ the Healer, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2008).

Ekblad, Bob, A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2008).

Goll, James W., Deliverance from Darkness, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2010).

Hammond, Frank D., Demons and Deliverance in the Ministry of Jesus, (Kirkwood, MO: Impact Christian Books, 1991).

Kylstra, Chester and Betsy, An Integrated Approach to Biblical Healing Ministry, (Lancaster: Sovereign Word, 2003).

Lozano, Neil, Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2003).

MacNutt, Francis, Deliverance from Evil Spirits, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2009).

MacNutt, Francis, The Healing Reawakening: Reclaiming our lost inheritance,(Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2005).

[1] Francis MacNutt, The Healing Reawakening: Reclaiming our lost inheritance, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2005), p. 16.

[2] Ibid., p. 27.

[3] Ibid., p. 28.

[4] Ibid., p. 29.

[5] Ibid., p. 29.

[6] 1 John 5:19, ESV.

[7] MacNutt, Healing, p. 30.

[8] Romans 7:15, ESV.

[9] Bob Ekblad, A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2008), p. 68.

[10] MacNutt, Healing, p. 30.

[11] Ekblad, p. 68.

[12] Matthew 8:16, ESV.

[13] Matthew 14:36, ESV.

[14] MacNutt, Healing, p. 51.

[15] 1 John 3:8, ESV.

[16] Francis MacNutt, Deliverance from Evil Spirits, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2009), p. 38.

[17] Matthew 6:13, ESV.

[18] MacNutt, Deliverance, p. 39.

[19] MacNutt, Healing, p. 39.

[20] Ekblad, p. 69.

[21] Ibid., p. 69.

[22] MacNutt, Healing, p. 41.

[23] Ekblad, p. 80.

[24] Ibid., p. 81.

[25] Luke 9:1, ESV.

[26] Luke 10:9, ESV.

[27] Luke 10:17, ESV.

[28] Acts 8:7, ESV.

[29] MacNutt, Healing, p. 84.

[30] Ibid., p. 84.

[31] Ibid., p. 130.

[32] Ibid., p. 131.

[33] MacNutt, Deliverance, p. 47.

[34] MacNutt, Deliverance, p. 47.

[35] Ekblad, p. 71.

[36] Ibid., p. 73.

[37] Ibid., p. 76.

[38] Ibid., p. 76.

[39] Chester and Betsy Kylstra, An Integrated Approach to Biblical Healing Ministry, (Lancaster: Sovereign Word, 2003), pp. 15-16.

[40] Ibid., p. 16.

[41] Ibid., p. 150.

[42] 1 Peter 5:8, ESV.

[43] F.F. Bosworth, Christ the Healer, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2008), p. 49.

[44] Ibid., p. 73.

[45] MacNutt, Healing, p. 213.

Describe the notion of a missional community as a site for engaging in outreach, ministry of presence and liberation today. Draw from Paul’s Epistles, the Pastoral Epistles and contemporary literature to describe Biblical and current strategic approaches to ministry.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”[1] Thus the writer of the Gospel of John records how God became incarnate, that is he took on human form, as Jesus Christ, and began a ministry of reconciliation between God and man. Jesus, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, explained that his purpose was “to proclaim good news to the poor … to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”[2] The incarnation and ministry of Jesus is perhaps the ultimate example of missional community.

The examples of the early church and the church today

Alan Hirsch asks the question, how did the church grow from as few as 25,000 Christians in AD100 to nearly 20 million only two centuries later? This was despite Christianity being an “illegal religion,” and not having “any church buildings as we know them,” nor the Scriptures in their finalised form and without the institutions and methods that are present in the church today. [3] To counter a claim that this may have been an historical aberration, Hirsch further illustrates the point by drawing parallels with the present day church in China. Despite the efforts of Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution with the explicit aim “to obliterate Christianity (and all religion) from China,” Christianity actually “flourished beyond all imagination,” growing from an estimated two million believers at the start of the purges to over 60 million and counting when the “Bamboo Curtain” was raised in the eighties.[4]

Hirsch explains that the common theme between these movements, and others, such as the spread of Methodism in the eighteenth-century and Pentecostalism in the twentieth-century, is that “persecution forced them away from … reliance on any form of centralized religious institution and caused them to live closer to … their primal message, namely the gospel.”[5] In other words, the primary focus of each of these Christian communities was mission; fulfilling the Great Commission as Jesus had instructed his disciples at the end of his ministry. The Rutba House, a missional community in the USA, describe how throughout church history, new monastic movements have risen up to form community in “the abandoned places of society.”[6] It is in these abandoned places that numerous expressions of missional community have been established over the last few decades.

Hirsch claims the origins of the terms “missional and missional church” are “in the work of a group of North American practitioners, missiologists, and theorists called the Gospel and Our Culture Network (GOCN), who came together to try and work out some of the implications of the work of … Leslie Newbigin.”[7] However, an alternative claim is made by Mike Breen, of 3D Ministries, who formed missional communities out of St Thomas’ Church in Sheffield during the nineties, which have spread throughout the UK and Europe.[8]


The presence of God, Hirsch writes, identifies with the people Jesus came to save, and it also calls those people to “respond in repentance and faith.” He says that God “initiates the gospel invitation, which is active to this very day.”[9] Charles Mellis argues that “for a truly Christian community, the only authentic foundation is personal commitment to Jesus Christ.” He calls this commitment an “indispensable foundation.”[10] The distinguishing mark of a missional community is that it shares the good news of Jesus Christ to the people it serves.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the young church leader Timothy, urges that, “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people … This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”[11] Scott Bessenecker calls mission “looking outside ourselves.”[12]

Hirsch outlines the problem with what he calls “the contemporary church growth model” that is subscribed to by the majority of evangelical churches.[13] This model uses contemporary forms of worship with “seeker-friendly language and middle-of-the-road music forms.” It appeals to a mainly middle class section of society and market research in Australia has shown that the model attracts only about 12 percent of the population. The main problem with this approach is that although these churches are very successful in “reaching non-Christian people fitting the same demographic description,”[14] they do not have the same success in reaching across cultural barriers to the “vast majority of the population (in Australia’s case, 85 percent; in the United States, about 65 percent) [who] report alienation from precisely that form of church.”[15]

Hirsch was the leader of a church in Melbourne, Australia. He discerned the need to “engage [with] our culture on its own turf (missional), rather than expecting them to come to ours (attractional).” He reached this conclusion by asking these two questions: “What is good news for this people group?” and “what would the church look and feel like among this people group?”[16] Hirsch describes a missional church as “a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organises its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world.” He says the church is mission and not just the product of mission and it is “obligated and destined to extend it by whatever means possible.”[17]

The ministry of presence

Bessenecker writes that “Church leaders and missionaries lose touch when their realities differ greatly from the people they serve.” He quotes Ash Barker, a missionary working in Thailand, who found that “few foreign Christian workers in Bangkok today live in the same neighbourhoods as those they are serving, never mind learning and seeking transformation from within the community.”[18] Incarnational living means becoming like the people you serve. As Jesus lived among those he came to save, so too a missional community needs to live in and around the people they serve.

The Apostle Paul calls on the early church to be imitators of Christ in order to be an example to those around them. Paul, writing to the church at Philippi, explains how although Jesus Christ “was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”[19] He also writes to Timothy about the incarnation by reminding him “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”[20] He calls on Timothy to “set the believers an example” in his behaviour. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul commends them because they “became imitators of us and of the Lord” when they “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”[21]

A contemporary example of a missional community is provided by Thomas Rausch.  The community of Taizé in the Burgundy region of France was founded by Roger Schutz in the closing years of the Second World War.[22] Under German occupation, Brother Roger cared for refugees, including many Jews, who were fleeing the Nazis. After the war, he and the other brothers of the community ministered to the German prisoners of war.[23] The community outgrew the small church in the village of Taizé and so the larger Church of Reconciliation was built in 1962.[24] The community lead a simple monastic life described in the Rule of Taizé.[25]

It has continued to grow and attracts many thousands of, mainly young, people throughout the year, who make a pilgrimage to spend a week sharing in the life of the community. There are now over a hundred brothers from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds who live in the community. Brother Roger was killed at evening prayer in 2005 and Brother Alois became the new prior.[26]

Rausch notes that not all the brothers live in Taizé. He writes that “part of the community lives in small groups, known as ‘fraternities,’ in places such as the northeast of Brazil, Kenya, Korea, and Bangladesh.” One of the fraternities is located in the “Hell’s Kitchen” area of New York – a largely Hispanic neighbourhood in central Manhattan.[27] The fraternities work with those at the margins of society. These are the people that Bessenecker says are too “peripheral to mainstream church life.” He continues that “most of the historic mission orders found themselves bound to people at the margins: desperately poor, the ‘uncivilised,’ plague victims, lepers, slaves, outcasts – people whom nobody else really want to be around.”[28]


Hirsch comments that in “the study of the history of missions, one can even be formulaic about asserting that all great missionary movements begin at the fringes of the church, among the poor and marginalised, and seldom, if ever, at the centre.”[29] It was for these captives and oppressed that Jesus came to proclaim liberty. However, Hirsch adds, “in becoming ‘one of us’, God takes the form of a servant and not that of someone who rules over us.” Jesus did not rule as an earthly king, instead he grew up in the home of a carpenter, far from royal cities or palaces. Hirsch explains that “in acting thus he shuns all normal notions of coercive power and demonstrates for us how love and humility (powerlessness) reflect the true nature of God and of the key means to transform human society.”[30]

The Apostle Paul urges the church to be a transforming power for the people they serve. They should do this by being a fragrance or aroma. He writes to the Corinthian church: “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”[31] Liberation is not brought from a position of worldly power, but of seemingly powerlessness. Bessenecker argues that the Genesis command to subjugate the earth finds its meaning when men and women “oppose evil and all the works of God’s enemy.” He adds that “Paul says that God’s people have power to destroy strongholds and ‘every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God’ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). His kingdom is one of righteousness and justice, and that is always a double edge sword. It is good news to some and bad news to others. It means bending our world back into the shape God intends, and involves both demolition and construction.”[32]

Rausch has provided another contemporary example. The Canadian Jean Vanier founded the l’Arche community in 1964, when he “invited two mentally handicapped men to live with him in a small house in Trosly-Breuil,” a village north of Paris. Rausch explains the name l’Arche is the French word for the Ark, and the house was intended to be a place of refuge like Noah’s ark. The community attracted young men and women and has continued to grow rapidly.[33] As of June 2010, there are 137 l’Arche communities in 40 countries around the world caring for men and women with mental health and physical disabilities.[34] Rausch describes how Vanier had been “deeply moved by the dismal life of the handicapped people he encountered.”[35] He continues by adding that “life at l’Arche is centred around prayer and the Eucharist.”[36] In these communities, some of the more vulnerable people in society are given “the common human need to be loved and cherished,”[37] and, although held captives by their bodies, are given liberty.


Hirsch concludes, “If God’s central way of reaching his world was to incarnate himself in Jesus, then our way of reaching the world should likewise be incarnational.”[38] A missional community reaches out to the fringes of society, which the rest of the world has ignored. It has to inhabit the same neighbourhoods and identify with the people it wants to reach. Finally, it will preach the gospel in order to fulfil the Isaiah 61 prophecy of proclaiming liberty to captives.


3D Ministries, ‘About’,, November 2010.

Bessenecker, Scott A., The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World’s Poor, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006).

Claiborne, Shane, The Irresistible Revolution, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006).

Hayes, John B., Sub-merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World, (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2006).

Hirsch, Alan, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006).

Mellis, Charles J., Committed Communities: Fresh Streams for World Missions, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1976).

Rausch, Thomas P., Radical Christian Communities, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002).

Rutba House, The, School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism, (New Monastic Library: Resources for Radical Discipleship; Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2005).

Taizé Community, The, ‘About Taizé’,, November 2010.

Wikipedia, ‘L’Arche’,’Arche, November 2010.

[1] John 1:14, ESV.

[2] Luke 4:18–19, ESV.

[3] Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), p. 18.

[4] Ibid., p. 19.

[5] Ibid., p. 20.

[6] The Rutba House, School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism, (New Monastic Library: Resources for Radical Discipleship; Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2005), p. ix.

[7] Hirsch, p. 81.

[8] 3D Ministries, ‘About’,, November 2010.

[9] Hirsch, p. 132.

[10] Charles J. Mellis, Committed Communities: Fresh Streams for World Missions, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1976), p. 81.

[11] 1 Timothy 2:1–4, ESV.

[12] Scott A. Bessenecker, The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World’s Poor, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), p. 172.

[13] Hirsch, p. 36.

[14] Ibid., pp. 34-35.

[15] Hirsch, pp. 36-37.

[16] Ibid., p. 37.

[17] Ibid., p. 82.

[18] Bessenecker, p. 125.

[19] Philippians 2:6–7, ESV.

[20] 1 Timothy 1:15, ESV.

[21] 1 Thessalonians 1:6–7, ESV.

[22] Thomas P. Rausch, Radical Christian Communities, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002), p. 118.

[23] Ibid., pp. 119-120.

[24] Ibid., p. 121

[25] Ibid., p. 120.

[26] The Taizé Community, ‘About Taizé’,, November 2010.

[27] Rausche, p. 123.

[28] Bessenecker, p. 137.

[29] Hirsch, p. 30.

[30] Ibid., p. 133.

[31] 2 Corinthians 2:14–16, ESV.

[32] Bessenecker, p. 123.

[33] Rausch, pp. 157-158.

[34] Wikipedia, ‘L’Arche’,’Arche, November 2010.

[35] Rausch, p. 159.

[36] Ibid., p. 161.

[37] Ibid., p. 160.

[38] Hirsch, p. 133.

How far and in what ways is it possible to read OT narrative texts as Christian Scripture? Illustrate your discussion with reference to a specific text.

Numbers 20:1-13 describes an episode in the life of Moses, while he was leading the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, during their forty year journey. As a consequence of his actions at Kadesh, Moses, the man of God[1] and faithful servant, who spoke with God face to face[2], was not permitted to enter the Promised Land. This story, as part of the Old Testament narrative, had meaning for its original Israelite audience. However, how this text is significant to a Christian audience will serve to illustrate whether Old Testament narratives may also be read as Christian Scripture.

Text and Translation

The Death of Miriam

20 And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there.

The Waters of Meribah

2 Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people quarrelled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” 6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, 7 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.

Moses Strikes the Rock

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarrelled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

Numbers 20:1–13 (ESV)

Philip Budd notes that in verse 4 the LXX[3] has “to kill us” rather than “that we should die here,” which accentuates “the tension between Moses and the people.”[4] Budd also records that in verse 8b “you” and “drink” are both singular in the MT[5] referring to Moses, but are plural in the LXX which involves “Aaron more directly.”[6]

Form and Structure

The passage is a prose type, being an historical narrative explaining the popular history of why Moses and Aaron did not enter the Promised Land.[7]

The structure of the passage is arranged as follows:

A)    Chronology and location (v. 1)
B)     The people quarrel with Moses (vv. 2-5)
C)    Moses and Aaron enquire of YHWH (vv. 6-8)
D)    Moses’ and Aaron’s actions (vv. 9-11)
E)     The consequences of their actions (vv. 12-13)

It begins with the death of Miriam as the Israelites reach Kadesh קָדֵשׁ in verse 1. Kadesh in Hebrew means sacred and comes from the Hebrew word for holy קֹדֶשׁ (vv. 12 & 13). Often a place name is derived from something that happened there (e.g. Num. 11:34), although that is not certain in this instance. Verses 2 to 5 show the people quarrelling with Moses over the lack of drinking water. Moses and Aaron go to the tent of meeting, or tabernacle, to enquire of YHWH in verse 6. In verses 7 to 8, YHWH instructs Moses to take the staff – it is unclear whether this is Moses’ staff or Aaron’s – and speak to the rock. Verses 9 to 11 reveal how Moses instead strikes the rock, twice, with the staff. The passage concludes with YHWH passing judgement on Moses and Aaron in verses 12 to 13.

Historical and Literary Context

The book of Numbers is traditionally known as the fourth book of Moses. Kent Sparks explains that it covers a period “stretching from the second to the fortieth year after the exodus,”[8] and is an account of Israel’s journey from Mount Sinai to the border of the Promised Land. The book details the duties of priests and Levites and takes its name from the two censuses it records.[9] The book also relates the grumbling and complaints of the Israelites to Moses about the conditions they experienced. The people looked back to life in Egypt[10] and they rebelled against Moses’ leadership.[11] The generation that left Egypt were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, but because of unfavourable reports from all but two of the twelve spies who had been sent into Canaan, they refused to invade. Sparks writes that it is because of this rebellion that “God forbids that generation of Israelites from entering the land and condemns them to death in the wilderness.”[12]

The passage under discussion describes events towards the end of the forty years in the desert, although the text does not indicate the year, and is similar to an earlier episode in Exodus 17:1-7 at Rephidim in the wilderness of Sin. There was no water to drink and the people again quarrelled with Moses. On that occasion YHWH told Moses to take his staff and to strike a rock. Water came out of the rock and the place was named Massah מַסָּה (which means testing) and Meribah מְרִיבָה (which means quarrelling).

Sparks explains that the consensus of modern Biblical scholarship is that Moses was not the author of Numbers, but instead there were “several authors and editors working over a lengthy period of time and at some remove from the so-called Mosaic period.” He continues that there were “at least two major writers, the preexilic or exilic Yahwist (J) and the postexilic priestly writer (P).” And that “the basic narrative contours of Numbers were laid down by J.”[13] Budd further argues that this passage is actually the Yahwist’s account of Exodus 17:1-7 which has been rewritten by the priestly writer in order to explain “the exclusion of Moses and Aaron from the land.”[14]

Biblical Context

James Kugel describes how ancient interpreters believed that the rock Moses struck at Rephidim had not stayed there because of the two separate accounts from Exodus and Numbers. Kugel explains that as Exodus 17:7 and Numbers 20:13 both refer to “the waters of Meribah” they must “somehow have moved from Rephidim to Kadesh.” The interpreters had concluded that “the gushing rock had travelled with the Israelites from Rephidim to Kadesh, indeed, that it went on to accompany them during all the subsequent wanderings – a travelling water supply.”[15] Kugel explains that this conclusion was “reinforced by the observation that, although the Israelites were in the desert for forty years, from the time of that first incident at Rephidim, shortly after they left Egypt, until near the end of their travels at the end of the book of Numbers, there is no mention of the people lacking water to drink.”[16]

Kugel illustrates this point with reference to these quotations:[17]

Now He led His people out into the wilderness; for forty years He rained down for them bread from Heaven, and brought quail to them from the sea and brought forth a well of water to follow them.

And it [the water] followed them in the wilderness forty years and went up to the mountains with them and went down into the plains.

 – Pseudo-Philo, Book of Biblical Antiquities 10:7, 11:15

And so the well that was with Israel in the desert was like a rock the size of a large container, gushing upwards as if from a narrow-neck flask, going up with them to the mountains and going down with them to the valleys.

– Tosefta Sukkah 3:11

Kugel writes that the ancient interpreters had noticed that the water supply had stopped immediately following the death of Moses’ sister Miriam (Num. 20:1). They drew the conclusion that the water had continued to flow for all these years because of Miriam and so it “came to be known as the Well of Miriam.” Kugel again provides these quotations:[18]

And these are the three things that God gave to his people on account of three persons; that is, the well of the water of Marah for Miriam and the pillar of cloud for Aaron and the manna for Moses. And when these came to their end [i.e. died], these three things were taken away from them.

– Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities 20:8

And the king of Arad heard … that Miriam the prophetess had died, thanks to whose merit the well had sprung up, and that the well was hidden away.

Targum Neophyti Num. 21:1

And there was no water there for the people of the assembly, because Miriam the prophetess had died and the well had been hidden away.

Fragment Targum Num. 20:1

Theological Context

Budd writes that “the nature of the sin committed by Moses and Aaron has caused much debate.” It was serious enough that it prevented their entry into the Promised Land. In verse 8, Moses was told by YHWH to speak to the rock, but in verse 11 he strikes it twice. Budd lists the possibilities as unbelief, unwillingness, haste or ill-temper and disobedience.[19]

M. Margaliot argues that Moses, who is acting in anger as a reaction to the rebellion by the people, desecrates the name of YHWH by asking the rhetorical question “shall we” in verse 10. This in effect was questioning whether or not YHWH would be able to produce water for the people. Striking the rock twice was a further expression of Moses’ anger.[20] Aaron is also guilty because, from Moses’ return to Egypt early in the book of Exodus, it was he who spoke Moses’ words to the people.[21] Margaliot continues to argue that the punishment given for Moses’ and Aaron’s transgression was according to the nature of their transgression, and is the same punishment that was given to the generation of the exodus.[22]

In verse 12, YHWH makes it clear that Moses and Aaron are being punished because they “did not believe in me [YHWH], to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel.” There are further references to this episode in the books of Numbers[23] and Deuteronomy[24] which demonstrate that Moses and Aaron were punished for their rebellion. Joseph Blenkinsopp, commenting on the passages from Deuteronomy, says “the D author understands Moses to have taken on himself the sin of the people, and therefore absolves himself of any wrongdoing.”[25] Moses was provoked into anger by the rebellion of the people, and so the theme of rebellion in this passage reflects one of the themes that run through the book of Numbers.

Application for the contemporary reader

The passage under discussion may cause problems for the contemporary reader, because it presents a harsh view of God in the way that Moses and Aaron were punished. After all that Moses has been through with the people of Israel and how he had faithfully served YHWH, this one outburst of anger was the cause of him missing out on the completion of his mission.

For the Old Testament narrative texts to be read as Christian Scripture, they must be read as a witness to Jesus Christ. Christopher Wright comments that the Old Testament is “a store house which provides images, precedents, patterns and ideas to help us understand who Jesus was.” Wright further argues that “it was the Old Testament which helped Jesus to understand Jesus.” He says the “rich tapestry of figures, historical persons, prophetic pictures and symbols of worship,” provided Jesus with the shape for his identity.[26]

Wright suggests typology as one possible way to understand the relationship between the Old Testament and Jesus. He explains that “the images, patterns and models that the Old Testament provides for understanding [Jesus] are called types. The New Testament equivalents or parallels are then called antitypes.”[27] So the events in Israel’s history become examples or warnings to heed.

Wright continues to say it is therefore possible to see analogies between the life and ministry of Jesus and events portrayed by Old Testament writers.[28] However, he also warns that “it is not the exclusive way to understand the full meaning of the Old Testament itself.” Not all events recorded are directly related to Jesus himself, but do still have meaning for the contemporary reader.[29]

Wright also looks at the way metaphor is used in the Old Testament which helps our understanding of Jesus. He gives the example of the relationship between YHWH as Father and Israel as Son (e.g. Ex. 4:22; Deut. 32:6), which Wright argues is a metaphor for how Jesus understands his relationship as the Son of his Father God.[30]

The New Testament writers used these ways of seeing Jesus in the stories from the Old Testament. Returning to the passage from Numbers, the Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, describes Jesus as the rock that travelled with the Israelites providing them with spiritual water.

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:1–4 (ESV)

This idea of spiritual water is also in the Gospel according to John. Jesus has a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well and tells her of living water that “will become … a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”[31] Jesus goes on to indicate that this living water is the Holy Spirit, when, later in the same Gospel, he refers to “rivers of living water.”[32] This is also the image that the writer of Revelation uses when he describes the Lamb, who is Jesus, guiding the great multitude to “springs of living water.”[33]

Another image from the Numbers passage is that in taking on the sin of the people following their rebellion, Moses is a type of Christ who took on the sin of the world. Moses died in the wilderness in place of the generation who would enter the Promised Land. The instruction to Moses in verse 8 to “tell the rock” to yield water evokes the Genesis 1 account of God speaking creation into existence. Finally, that YHWH, in verse 11, produced water “abundantly,” is a demonstration of God’s character to the Israelite’s that Jesus ascribes for himself in John 10:10: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”[34]


The Old Testament narrative texts are significant to the ancient Israelites. They are the source material for their nation’s history and tell the story of the relationship between God and his people and how he has fulfilled his promises to them. As has been seen from this exegesis of Numbers 20:1-13, there is also much in this text, about Moses and the waters of Meribah, which would enable the contemporary reader to regard the Old Testament as providing meaning for an understanding of who Jesus Christ was and is. Therefore, based on the exegesis of this passage, it is possible to say that the Old Testament narratives may be read as Christian Scripture.




Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (Anglicized Edition, London: Harper Collins, 2002).

Blenkinsopp, Joseph, The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible, (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992).

Budd, Phillip J., ‘The Exclusion of Moses and Aaron (20:1–13),’ Word Biblical Commentary: Vol. 5, Numbers, In Logos Bible Software 4, (Dallas, TX: Word, Incorporated, 2002).

Kugel, James L., How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now, (New York, NY: Free Press, 2007).

Kugel, James L., Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible As It Was at the Start of the Common Era, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

Leithart, Peter J., Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009).

Margaliot, M., ‘The Transgression of Moses and Aaron – Num. 20:1-13,’ Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 74, No. 2 (October 1983) pp. 196-228.

Sparks, Kent L., ‘Numbers,’ Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament: A Book-by-Book Survey, (Ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Craig G. Bartholomew, & Daniel J. Treier London: SPCK, 2005) pp. 59-66.

Stuart, Douglas, Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Know Press, 2009).

Wright, Christopher J. H., Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2005).


[1] Deuteronomy 33:1.

[2] Numbers 12:6-8; Deut. 34:10.

[3] LXX – Septuagint: Greek Translation of the Old Testament.

[4] Phillip J. Budd, ‘The Exclusion of Moses and Aaron (20:1–13)’, Word Biblical Commentary: Vol. 5, Numbers, In Logos Bible Software 4, (Dallas, TX: Word, Incorporated, 2002).

[5] MT – The Masoretic Text of the Old Testament.

[6] Budd, WBC.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Kent L. Sparks, ‘Numbers,’ Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament: A Book-by-Book Survey, (Ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Craig G. Bartholomew, & Daniel J. Treier London: SPCK, 2005) p. 59.

[9] ESV, p.129.

[10] Numbers 11.

[11] Numbers 14; 16-17.

[12] Sparks, p. 60.

[13] Ibid., p. 63.

[14] Budd, WBC.

[15] James L. Kugel, Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible As It Was at the Start of the Common Era, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 620.

[16] Kugel, Traditions, p. 621.

[17] Ibid., p. 620.

[18] Ibid., p. 621.

[19] Budd, WBC.

[20] Margaliot, M., ‘The Transgression of Moses and Aaron – Num. 20:1-13,’ Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 74, No. 2 (October 1983) pp. 219-220.

[21] Exodus 4:10-16.

[22] Margaliot, pp. 221-224.

[23] Numbers 20:24; 27:14.

[24] Deuteronomy 1:37; 3:26; 4:21; 32:51.

[25] Joseph Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible, (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992), p. 165.

[26] Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2005), p. 108.

[27] Ibid., pp. 110-111.

[28] Ibid., p. 113.

[29] Ibid., p. 116.

[30] Ibid., p. 135.

[31] John 4:14, ESV.

[32] John 7:38, ESV.

[33] Revelation 7:17, ESV.

[34] John 10:10, ESV.

In the synoptic gospels Jesus speaks repeatedly of the ‘Kingdom of God’. What does he mean by this expression?

The writer of the Gospel of Mark introduces the ministry of Jesus by describing how “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”[1] The phrase the ‘kingdom of God’ (which in Greek is hē basileia tou theou), or sometimes in Matthew, the ‘kingdom of heaven’ (hē basileia tōn ouranōn), is central to Jesus’ message. Robert Stein writes that these two expressions occur “in sixty-one separate sayings of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels.”[2] Stein explains that as the Gospel of Matthew was written for a Jewish audience, heaven was used instead of God as no devout Jew would want to risk breaking the Third Commandment and say the sacred name of God.[3]

Scholars have debated what kind of kingdom Jesus meant, how and when it would come and what role Jesus had in this kingdom. Stein makes the point that “Jesus never defined exactly what he meant by the kingdom of God/heaven” and he “assumed that his listeners would understand, and the evangelists assumed that their readers would understand as well.”[4]

What kind of kingdom is it?

James Dunn poses the question “is ‘the kingdom of God’ a concept or a symbol?”[5] Was Jesus talking about an historical kingdom, a political kingdom, one based beyond physical spatial realities, or one at the end of history? Stein notes that the word ‘kingdom’ itself can lead to a presumption of meaning, and it is important to know what it meant to Jesus and those who heard him. He illustrates this by giving the example of a medieval fiefdom with a castle that has control of a territory or realm. This is the image that forms in a Western mind when thinking of a kingdom.[6] However, in the Synoptic Gospels, the term ‘kingdom’ or basileia can often “only be understood in a dynamic way as referring to a ‘reign.’”[7] There are times when it could refer to a territory or realm, but the primary sense of kingdom of God relates to the reign of God in a dynamic sense.[8]

Stein explains the view that a political kingdom where “Jesus sought to re-establish a Davidic-like kingdom whose centre would be the city of Jerusalem” is evidenced by Jesus including a Zealot as one of his disciples, by challenging Roman authority in his triumphal entry to Jerusalem as Israel’s king on Palm Sunday and by being crucified “on political charges.” Stein adds that “there are too many teachings of Jesus which have powerful claims to authenticity that refute such a view.”[9]

A mystical kingdom is hinted at in the Wisdom of Solomon 10:10, where Wisdom shows the righteous man the ‘Kingdom of God.’[10] During the nineteenth-century, liberal theologians emphasised the “inward moral ethic”[11] of Jesus’ teaching. Stein explains that “the kingdom of God involved the present reign of God in the heart of the believer.” This view is noneschatological and Stein says “any apocalyptic or eschatological elements present in [Jesus’] teaching … were either discarded or interpreted symbolically.”[12]

Johannes Weiß and Albert Schweitzer writing at the turn of the twentieth-century held a view now known as “consistent eschatology.” Stein explains that “the kingdom of God refers to a future reign of God that Jesus believed was to be inaugurated in the near future.”[13]History would come to an end and “the Son of Man would come to judge the world and the kingdom of God would be inaugurated.”

C. H. Dodd writing in 1961 coined the phrase “realised eschatology”[14] when he argued that the kingdom had already arrived. Dodd interpreted “drawn near” from Mark 1:15 and Luke 10:9 as meaning present. The kingdom of God was present in Jesus teaching and ministry and there was no future aspect yet to come.[15] Crispin Fletcher-Louis argues that Dodd was wrong about the Greek, and this interpretation is due to a mistranslation.[16]

How does the kingdom come?

There have been attempts to bring in a political kingdom of God by means of revolution. In the second-century BC, Israel was under the rule of the Seleucid Empire, a remnant of Alexander the Great’s Macedonian Empire. Interference in the appointment of High Priests and the Hellenization of Jews led to a revolt against the Seleucids by Judah Maccabee and his followers.[17] Josephus records the rebellion led by Judas the Galilean in around AD 6. Judas, with a Pharisee named Zadok, founded the Zealots, which Josephus called the “fourth of the philosophies” in first-century Judaism.[18] After the time of Jesus there were further rebellions against Roman rule in Jerusalem in AD 66, north Africa in AD 115-117 and Palestine in AD 132-135.[19]

One of the other philosophies of the second-century BC to the first-century AD was the Essenes. From their community in Qumran, they saw the kingdom of God in mysticism. In the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, they “worship in the heavenly Temple with the angels.”[20] In Song VII it says “for in the splendour of praises is the Glory of His Kingdom.”[21]

A third way of seeing the kingdom come was in the keeping of Torah. The study and practice of Torah instead of Temple sacrifice had developed during the Babylonian exile when Temple worship was not possible. Jews in the first-century who lived outside of Israel and the Pharisees developed this practice, and Rabbinic Judaism continued it after the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70.

How did Jesus say the kingdom would come?

In many ways Jesus acted as though he was bringing in a political kingdom. He called the twelve disciples, who symbolically replaced the twelve tribes of Israel. Further, he called the seventy-two disciples, as a symbolic replacement of the Jewish council called the Sanhedrin. Jesus accepted the title of ‘Son of David’ in Mark 10:47 and was hailed as ‘Son of David’ on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.[22] Parallels to David’s life can be seen by Jesus spending much of his ministry wandering the countryside around Galilee. In Mark 6:34, Jesus acts like Israel’s true king by being the good shepherd, evoking Numbers 27:17 and 1 Kings 22:17.[23]

In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus affirms the Torah by saying the Law would remain until heaven and earth passes away, and that anyone who “relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” And that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[24] Jesus therefore links practice of Torah with entry to the kingdom.[25]

When does the kingdom come?

Parts of the Old Testament would suggest that the kingdom is a reality that is always present. Many Psalms speak of God as King of creation and of history (e.g. Psalms 24, 47, 89, 93, 97-99). Tobit 13:1 records that God’s “kingdom lasts throughout all ages.”[26] Additionally, Psalm of Solomon 17:3 states “the Kingdom of our God is forever over the nations in judgement.”[27] [28] However, the reality was that many Jews still lived in exile away from the land of Israel, and those who did live in the land were under the Gentile rule of Rome.

Scot McKnight writes that the presence of the kingdom would fulfil Jewish hopes of “the end of the exile, the defeat of Rome, the return of the scattered tribes to the promised land, the restoration of pure worship in the temple, and the coming of God in full glory to Zion.”It would be the fulfilment of prophecies dating back to Isaiah, and “would usher the people of God into a new era of jubilee, peace, justice, and righteousness.”[29]

There are passages in the Synoptic Gospels which suggest that in Jesus the kingdom had already come and was a present reality in his ministry. McKnight cites the stories of Simeon and Anna from Luke 2:25-35, 36-38 as examples that the restoration was happening.[30] Stein refers to the story of Jesus healing a mute from Luke 11:14-22 where he was accused of casting out demons by Beelzebul. Jesus answered by saying that “the kingdom of God has come upon you.”[31] Stein comments that some scholars interpret this as meaning “is near” but argues that it should be read as “has arrived” or “has come.” In this, Stein says, Jesus “saw in his healing of the demoniacs a proof that the kingdom of God had in fact come in his ministry.”[32]

McKnight also suggests the parable of the sower from Mark 4:1-9 as evidence of the kingdom as present reality, saying “here the kingdom of God is being sown (in the present), and already both rejection and fruitfulness are evident.”[33] In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus is asked by some Pharisees when the kingdom would come. He replies by saying that “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”[34] McKnight notes that this phrase can be translated as “within you” or “within your grasp” and so “the saying describes the kingdom as present and capable of being experienced.”[35] George Beasley-Murray includes these and other passages where the sayings and parables of Jesus indicate a coming of the kingdom in the present.[36]

Stein writes that there are more numerous passages describing the kingdom as a future reality. In Luke 11:2, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray saying “your kingdom come.”[37] McKnight says “Jesus saw in the unfolding events associated with the coming destruction of Jerusalem a harbinger of the imminent kingdom of God,” and so “Jesus viewed the kingdom of God as a future reality.”[38] Stein mentions passages where the future coming of the kingdom is linked to the final judgement, such as Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 13:22-30. He writes that, “the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30) likens the kingdom of God to the gathering of the weeds and their destruction at harvest time.”[39]

Again, Beasley-Murray has a comprehensive list of sayings and parables of Jesus that refer to the kingdom as a future reality.[40] Fletcher-Louis categorises the future sayings as those which clearly refer to the events of AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple, those which possibly refer to AD 70 and others which refer to a post-resurrection kingdom reality.[41]

There appears to be a contradiction in what Jesus is saying here, between the present reality of the kingdom and a future reality of the kingdom. Stein attempts to solve this when he says “the kingdom has not come as most people in the time of Jesus expected, that is, in its fullness. It has come only in part. Its fullness awaits the consummation when the Son of Man returns to judge the world.” This “now and not yet” of the kingdom has been likened by Oscar Cullman to the D-Day landings which decided the outcome of World War II and VE-Day when the war finally ended in Europe.[42] Stein says that Jesus fully expected an interval between his ministry and the future coming of the kingdom, quoting Mark 2:18-20 where Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom who will be taken away.[43]

What is the relationship between Jesus himself and the kingdom?

McKnight calls Jesus “the agent of the kingdom” who firmly believed it was God’s kingdom, i.e. the Father’s kingdom.[44] He writes that “Jesus thought he was the one through whom the kingdom was being manifested.”[45] It was Jesus through his ministry who would answer the Jewish hope and bring in the kingdom. Jesus speaks of gathering in Luke 11:23. Fletcher-Louis highlights parallels in Old Testament and contemporary Jewish writings where God will gather Israel.[46]

Drawing on the parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32, Fletcher-Louis describes how this is a picture of the kingdom. The parable is told in the context of Jesus’ table fellowship with sinners and tax collectors in Galilee. At one level the son who returns can refer to these sinners, but at another level the son can also refer to Israel in exile. Fletcher-Louis explains “the Prodigal Son retells the metanarrative of sin, exile and restoration, claiming that return from exile and full restoration is happening now for sinners welcomed by Jesus.”[47] McKnight adds that the table fellowship of Jesus, eating with sinners, redefines the true Israel.[48]


There was clear Jewish expectation of the kingdom of God when Jesus began his ministry. Jesus spoke about a kingdom which at times was political in nature and which could be experienced by keeping Torah perfectly. There are examples where the kingdom was realised; a present reality in Jesus’ ministry through healings and exorcisms. But there is also an expectation of more to come in a future reality of the kingdom. Jesus saw himself as the agent bringing in God’s kingdom and in so doing bringing to completion the Jewish metanarrative, in which the true Israel is gathered and restored in the kingdom of God.




Beasley-Murray, George R., Jesus and the kingdom of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986).

Becker, Jürgen, Jesus of Nazareth, (Translated by James E. Crouch; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1998).

Chilton, Bruce D., Pure Kingdom: Jesus’ Vision of God, (Studying the Historical Jesus; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996).

Chilton, Bruce D., “God in Strength,” The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus, (ed. B. Chilton; Issues in Religion and Theology 5; SPCK: London, 1984).

Dunn, James D. G., “The Kingdom of God,” Jesus Remembered, (Christianity in the Making: Volume 1; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003).

Jeremias, J., New Testament Theology: Volume One: The Proclamation of Jesus, (Translated by John Bowden; London: SCM, 1971).

de Jonge, Marinus, God’s Final Envoy: Early Christology and Jesus’ Own View of His Mission, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998).

Kelber, Werner H., The Kingdom in Mark: A New Place and a New Time, (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1974).

McKnight, Scot, A new vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999).

Sanders, E. P., Jesus and Judaism, (London: SCM, 1985).

Stein, Robert H., The method and message of Jesus’ teachings, (Revised edition; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994).

Wikipedia, ‘Maccabees’,, July 2010

Wright, N. T., Jesus and the Victory of God, (London: SPCK, 1996).

[1] Mark 1:14-15, ESV.

[2] Robert H. Stein, The method and message of Jesus’ teachings, (Revised edition; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), p.60.

[3] Ibid., p.63.

[4] Ibid., p.61.

[5] James D. G. Dunn, “The Kingdom of God,” Jesus Remembered, (Christianity in the Making: Volume 1; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), p.401.

[6] Stein, p.76.

[7] Ibid., p.77.

[8] Ibid., p.78.

[9] Stein, p.66.

[10] C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, course notes, ‘The Kingdom of God Part 1’, New Testament: Jesus and the Gospels, slide 9.

[11] Stein, p.66.

[12] Ibid., p.67.

[13] Ibid., p.68.

[14] Fletcher-Louis, ‘The Kingdom of God Part 1’, slide 22.

[15] Stein, p.68.

[16] Fletcher-Louis, ‘The Kingdom of God Part 1’, slide 25.

[17] Wikipedia, ‘Maccabees’,, July 2010

[18] Ibid.

[19] Fletcher-Louis, ‘The Kingdom of God Part 1’, slide 11.

[20] Fletcher-Louis, ‘The Kingdom of God Part 1’, slide 12.

[21] Ibid., slide 13.

[22] Ibid., slide 15.

[23] Ibid., slide 16.

[24] Matthew 5:19, ESV.

[25] Fletcher-Louis, ‘The Kingdom of God Part 1’, slide 17.

[26] Tobit 13:1, NRSV.

[27] Ps. Sol. 17:3.

[28] Fletcher-Louis, ‘The Kingdom of God Part 1’, slide 5.

[29] Scot McKnight, A new vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), pp.84-86.

[30] Ibid., p.85.

[31] Luke 11:20b, ESV.

[32] Stein, pp.69-70.

[33] McKnight, p.86.

[34] Luke 17:21b, ESV.

[35] McKnight, pp.87-88.

[36] George R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the kingdom of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), p.71ff.

[37] Stein, p.74.

[38] McKnight, p.125.

[39] Stein, pp.74-75.

[40] Beasley-Murray, p.147ff.

[41] C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, course notes, ‘The Kingdom of God Part 2’, New Testament: Jesus and the Gospels, slide 31.

[42] Stein, p.78.

[43] Ibid., p.79.

[44] McKnight, p.78.

[45]Ibid. p.89.

[46] C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, course notes, ‘The Kingdom of God Part 1b’, New Testament: Jesus and the Gospels, slide 4.

[47] Ibid., slide 13.

[48] McKnight, p.91.

In what ways do Jesus and his followers affirm and/or redefine the symbols or cardinal tenets of Jewish faith during his ministry?

Jewish faith in the first-century was defined by belief in one god (monotheism), Yahweh, whose presence was in the Temple, which was surrounded by the Land that had been promised to Israel. N.T. Wright explains, “Temple and Land were regulated by the Torah, which formed the covenant charter for all that Israel was and hoped for.”[1]  Wright continues, “Israel’s belief in one god… was held in close conjunction with her belief that she was, in a unique sense, the people of this god.”[2] This doctrine is known as election.[3]

James Dunn states “that there was no single, uniform type of Judaism” at the time of Jesus’ ministry. These five symbols: monotheism, election, Land, Torah and Temple, were however “a common and a unifying core for second Temple Judaism.”[4]


Monotheism marked out Israel as distinct from other nations. As Dunn explains, it was “absolutely fundamental for the Jew of Jesus’ day. Every day every Jew had been taught to say the Shema’: ’Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord’: or, ‘… the Lord our God, the Lord is one’; indeed, on the basis of Deuteronomy 6:7 a devout Jew would say the Shema’ twice a day.”[5]

It was creational monotheism; the one god alone is the creator[6] and all other “gods” are, as Wright describes, “not ‘real’ gods [but] are idols.”[7] It was ethical monotheism; the one god is angry at wrong behaviour and “expresses his anger in concrete acts of ecological and socio-political ‘judgement’.”[8] It was covenantal monotheism; this god had chosen a people and made a covenant with Abraham and his descendents.[9] Crispin Fletcher-Louis argues that it was also incarnational monotheism; “the perfect human, the image of God, is to be worshipped.”[10]

When asked by a Pharisee which was the greatest commandment in the Torah, Jesus affirmed monotheism by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5; which is the second verse of the Shema’:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”[11]


Racial identity as the chosen people of God was, according to Wright, “one of the largest issues among those who returned from Babylon.”[12] They feared losing their identity could result in another exile. Ezra’s reforms, banning inter-marriage with non-Israelites and prohibiting foreigners from the assembly of God, helped re-establish the Jewish state and protect them from Samaritan and other foreign influence. [13]  In the second-century BC, this was defended by the Maccabean resistance against, as Dunn describes, “cultural and national assimilation.”[14]

During his ministry, Jesus begins to redefine the meaning of election. In Matthew 8:11-12, he says:

“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.”[15]

Jesus warns of a coming judgement on Israel and speaks in parables redefining who the true Israel is. In the parable of the weeds,[16] the parable of the net,[17] the parable of the wedding feast,[18] the parable of the tenants[19] and others, Jesus redraws the boundaries of Israel, as Wright describes, “to include those who ‘repented’ according to his own redefinition, but to exclude those who did not.”[20]

In Matthew 21:32, Jesus says it is “the tax collectors and the prostitutes [who] believed him.”[21] Wright explains that, “throughout the teaching, story-telling and career of Jesus, this message rang out again and again, in word and deed. Israel was being redefined; and those who fail to heed Jesus’ warnings would discover themselves in the position that they had thought was reserved for the pagans.”[22]

Jesus symbolically demonstrated the redefinition of Israel in appointing the twelve apostles and placing them over the twelve tribes, as can be seen in Matthew 19:28:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”[23]

Markus Bockmuehl adds that “the early Jesus movement evidently continued to focus upon the restoration of Israel’s twelve tribes in a new messianic kingdom, whose promised biblical boundaries extended to all the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel.”[24]


The meta-narrative of the Jewish story was that of exile from and restoration to the Land.[25] As well as being one of the symbols of Jewish faith, Wright describes the Land as “the source of bread and wine, the place to graze sheep and goats, grow olives and figs.”In other words, the place of blessing, a new Eden where Israel would experience shalom.[26] Jerusalem was the focal point of the Land, which included ten zones of concentric holiness spreading out from “the Holy of Holies to the rest of the Temple (itself divided into concentric areas), thence to the rest of Jerusalem, and thence to the whole Land.”[27]

In the first-century, however, the majority of Jews still lived outside the Land. It was polluted by the Greco-Roman culture that occupied the Land and, arguably as a result, it was not the Edenic paradise it was supposed to be, as it was prone to plague and famine. Israel did not rule herself, but was under Roman control.

Jesus conducted much of his ministry in and around Galilee, one of the outer zones of holiness, rather than in Jerusalem.  Wright describes Galilee as being “surrounded by pagans” and “suspected to be under pagan influence.”[28]

Jesus neither affirms nor redefines the symbol of Land. When Peter says about having left everything to follow him, Jesus does make mention of land in Mark 10:29-30:

“Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.’”[29]

At the end of his ministry, again in Galilee, Jesus commissions his disciples:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”[30]

Jesus extends the meta-narrative to include all nations and reaffirms the Abrahamic blessing “on all the families of the earth” from Genesis 12:3.


Wright describes Torah as “the covenant charter of Israel as the people of the covenant god.”[31] The Torah contained the promises relating to the Land, the instructions for the Jewish people and the blessings they would inherit if they followed Torah. Torah prescribed the ritual for the Temple, which was “the practical focal point of the observance of Torah.”[32] Observance of Torah was one of the identity markers that defined Israel as a nation.[33]

The study and practice of Torah had become an end in itself during the exile to Babylon as there was no Temple. Wright says that, “the study and practice of Torah increasingly became the focal point of Jewishness. For millions of ordinary Jews, Torah became a portable Land, a movable Temple.”[34]

In the first-century, many could not worship in the Temple as they were outside the Land. Also, some groups, such as the Essenes saw the Temple and the priesthood as imperfect, and so relied on study and practice of Torah. Wright explains that “the Pharisees in particular, in conjunction with the burgeoning synagogue movement, developed the theory that study and practice of Torah could take the place of Temple worship.”[35]

In the late second-Temple period, there was a tendency to have an increasingly strict interpretation and observance or Torah. “Putting a hedge about the Torah” so that it would not inadvertently be broken.[36]

Jesus continually affirmed Torah. In Matthew 5:17-18 he said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”[37]

Jesus actually intensifies the Law in relation to murder[38] and adultery,[39] where he says those who display the emotions of anger and lust are as guilty of breaking the Law. Jesus also intensifies the Law with regard to divorce.[40]

Where Jesus criticises the Law, it is in relation to ritual commandments, such as observance of the Sabbath,[41] hand-washing,[42] and tithing.[43] According to Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz this is because “justice, mercy and faith, i.e. social obligations, are more important than the command to tithe.”[44]

Theissen and Merz explain that “for Jesus an intensification of norms relates to ethical commands… while a relaxation of norms relates to ritual and cultic norms. Ethical commandments tend to be universal. In all cultures, aggression and the striving for power and possessions have to be given a form that can be lived with, and that happens in comparable ways. Ritual commandments are far more the characteristic of specific cultures.”[45]


The Temple was at the heart of first-century Jewish life. It was the political, economic, social and religious centre of the nation. Here the chosen people worshiped the one God by observing Torah. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians when Judah was taken into exile.[46] A second Temple, not as grandiose as the first,[47] was built by the returning exiles under the leadership of Ezra. This was substantially enlarged by Herod the Great.

The Temple had many symbolic functions. It was the place where God lives, a restored Eden, a microcosm of the universe, the cosmic centre. It was the story of creation in stone and a bulwark against chaos. The Temple was the Kingdom of God in miniature. God was enthroned in the Holy of Holies surrounded by angels.[48] Gregory Beale likens the Temple to an architect’s model of a new building: “It was but a small replica of what was to be built on a much larger scale… when the Israelites looked at and thought of their temple,… they were to be reminded of the great goal of spreading the light of God’s presence throughout the earth until the entire world was under God’s tabernacle presence.”[49]

As previously mentioned, there was dissatisfaction with the second Temple. Herod was not a messianic king; he was a convert to Judaism. The Essenes at Qumran rejected it completely. Wright says the Pharisees objected to the priesthood “but were prepared to tolerate it for the sake of being able to continue with the prescribed Temple rituals.”[50] Dunn describes two alternative Temples which had been built by other Jewish sects; one in a Jewish colony at Elephantine on the Nile, and the other at Leontopolis in Egypt.[51]

Dunn presents evidence that Jesus was a devout Jew who “had a very positive attitude to the Temple.”[52] He attended Temple many times,[53] paid the Temple tax,[54] and regularly attended synagogue.[55] However, Wright makes it clear that Jesus believed the Temple was under judgement and that he “was inviting his hearers to join him in the establishment of the true Temple.”[56] This is evidenced in Matthew 7:24-27, where Jesus talks about the wise man building a house on the rock. Wright argues that the word ‘house’ would indicate the Temple, and ‘rock’ the foundation stone. This is also demonstrated in the parable of the tenants where Jesus quotes Psalm 118:

“Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes’?”[57]

Fletcher-Louis summarises Wright’s view, “that throughout the gospel material Jesus claims that he and his movement are now what the Temple was always supposed to be. Jesus, for example, in his forgiving of people’s sins claims for himself the divine prerogatives and presence otherwise reserved for the Temple, and its sacrificial service.”[58]

Further, if the Temple was a microcosm of the universe, and if Jesus and his followers believed they were the true Temple, Fletcher-Louis concludes, “that might also mean that they thought of themselves as a new heaven and a new earth, a new cosmology.”[59] The implication of this is that when Jesus predicts “heaven and earth shall pass away”[60] he expected the Jerusalem Temple to end and “he believed the physical world would then be sustained by himself, his words, and his people, who would embody the new Temple, and the new heaven and the new earth.”[61]


Jesus redefined the Jewish symbols because he believed that Jewish history was reaching a climax and that those symbols which had identified Israel were in danger of bringing catastrophe. Wright concludes, “The danger lay in Israel’s obsession with her national existence and liberation, and in the symbols which identified and reinforced it.”[62]

Jesus offered instead an opportunity for Israel to fulfil its call to be a blessing to all nations, to bring in a new heaven and a new earth.




Beale, Gregory K., The Temple and the Church’s Mission: a Biblical Theology of the Temple, (Downers-Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004).

Bockmuehl, Markus, Jewish Law in Gentile Churches: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000).

Davies, W. D. & Dale C. Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Commentary, (ed. Dale C. Allison; London: T&T Clark, 2004).

Dunn, James D. G., The Parting of the Ways Between Christianity and Judaism and Their Significance for the Character of Christianity, (London: SCM, 2006).

Fletcher-Louis, Crispin H. T., “The Destruction of the Temple and the Revitalization of the Old Covenant: Mark 13:31 and Matthew 5:18,” ‘The Reader Must Understand’. Eschatology in Bible and Theology, (eds. K. E. Brower and M. W. Elliott; Leicester: Apollos, 1997), pp.145-169.

Fletcher-Louis, Crispin H. T., “Jesus, the Temple, and the Dissolution of Heaven and Earth,” Apocalyptic in History and Tradition, (eds. C. Rowland and J. Barton; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), pp.117-141.

Hengel, Martin, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Collection and Origin of the Canonical Gospels, (Translated by John Bowden; London: SCM, 2000).

Loader, William R. G., Jesus’ Attitude towards the Law: A Study of the Gospels, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002).

Meyer, Ben F., Christus Faber: The Master Builder and The House of God, (Allison Park, PA.: Pickwick Publications, 1992).

Sanders, E. P., Jesus & Judaism, (London: SCM, 1985).

Theissen, Gerd & Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide, (Translated by John Bowden; London: SCM, 1998).

Wright, N. T., The New Testament and the People of God, (London: SPCK, 1992).

Wright, N. T., Jesus and the Victory of God, (London: SPCK, 1996).


[1] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, (London: SPCK, 1992), p.224

[2] Ibid., p.259

[3] Ibid., p.260

[4] J. D. G. Dunn, The Parting of the Ways Between Christianity and Judaism and Their Significance for the Character of Christianity, (London: SCM, 2006), p.24

[5] Ibid., p.26

[6] C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, course notes, ‘Monotheism’, New Testament: Context and Methods, slide 3

[7] Wright, New Testament, p.249

[8] Fletcher-Louis, ‘Monotheism’, slide 9

[9] Genesis 15

[10] Fletcher-Louis, ‘Monotheism’, slide 28

[11] Deuteronomy 6:5, ESV

[12] Wright, New Testament, p.230

[13] Ibid., p.231

[14] Dunn, p.30

[15] Matthew 8:11-12, ESV

[16] Matthew 13:24-30

[17] Matthew 13:47-50

[18] Matthew 22:1-14

[19] Matthew 21:33-42

[20] N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, (London: SPCK, 1996), p.329

[21] Matthew 21:32, ESV

[22] Wright, Jesus, p.329

[23] Matthew 19:28, ESV

[24] Markus Bockmuehl, Jewish Law in Gentile Churches: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), p.xi

[25] C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, course notes, ‘The Story’, New Testament: Context and Methods, slides 7-11

[26] Wright, New Testament, p.226

[27] Ibid., p.227

[28] Ibid., p.227

[29] Mark 10:29-30, ESV

[30] Matthew 28:19-20, ESV

[31] Wright, New Testament, p.228

[32] Ibid., p.228

[33]C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, course notes, ‘Torah’, New Testament: Context and Methods, slide 6

[34] Wright, New Testament, p.228

[35] Ibid., p.228

[36] Fletcher-Louis, ‘Torah’, slide 4

[37] Matthew 5:17-18, ESV

[38] Matthew 5:22

[39] Matthew 5:28

[40] Matthew 5:31

[41] Matthew 12:1-8

[42] Matthew 15:1-20

[43] Matthew 23:23

[44] G. Theissen & A. Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide, (Translated by John Bowden; London: SCM, 1998), p.364

[45] Ibid., p.371

[46] 2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36

[47] Ezra 3:12

[48] C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, course notes, ‘The Temple’, New Testament: Context and Methods, slides 15-19

[49] G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: a Biblical Theology of the Temple, (Downers-Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004), p.170

[50] Wright, New Testament, p.225

[51] Dunn, p.46

[52] Ibid., p.49

[53] Luke 2:41-51; John 5:1; 7:10

[54] Matthew 17:24-27

[55] Luke 4:16

[56] Wright, Jesus, p.334

[57] Matthew 21:42

[58] Fletcher-Louis, Crispin H. T., “Jesus, the Temple, and the Dissolution of Heaven and Earth,” Apocalyptic in History and Tradition, (eds. C. Rowland and J. Barton; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), p.140

[59] Ibid., p.141

[60] Mark 13:31a, ESV

[61] Fletcher-Louis, Jesus, p.141

[62] Wright, Jesus, p.390

What sort of saviour or messiah was Israel expecting according to diverse Old Testament traditions?

Every king of Israel and Judah was known as “anointed one”, which in Hebrew is “messiah”, because the prophet or high priest anointed him, usually with olive oil, at the time of his enthronement. The anointing symbolised being set apart and made holy so that the king would represent his people before Yahweh, their God.[1] The line of kings came to an end with the exile of Judah to Babylon. Over time the name “anointed one” gradually took on a new meaning, that of a future agent of God who would save Israel. However, the Old Testament writers had different ideas as to what sort of saviour this messiah would be.


Joseph Fitzmyer quotes the dictionary definition of “Messiah” as “the expected king and deliverer of the Jews.” He goes on to describe how the English word “Messiah” is derived from the Greek μεσσίας which is a form of the Aramaic ﬡמשיח (mӗšîḥā’), and is related to the Hebrew משיחﬣ (ham-māšîă), “the Messiah”.[2] Although, Donald Juel notes that “the absolute “the Messiah” never appears in the Old Testament.  The noun is always followed by a modifier (“his messiah,” “my messiah,” “the Lord’s messiah,” etc.).”[3] The idea of a Messiah משיח who would save Israel and herald in a “messianic age” develops over time. There are clues as to who this Messiah would be and the scope of his mission scattered through the Old Testament.

The kings of Israel and Judah

After Israel escaped slavery in Egypt and started to become a nation in Canaan, it did not have a king. Instead the people were governed by a series of men and women called Judges, raised up by God, who delivered them from the surrounding nations. Fitzmyer calls Israel a “theocratic people”;[4] God was their king rather than a man. Eventually the people demanded a king, as recorded in 1 Samuel 8, to rule over them in the same way as the other nations around them. Saul became the first king of Israel and he was anointed by the prophet Samuel.[5] Fitzmyer explains that “the custom of anointing a king was apparently inherited, from a Hittite or Canaanite practice and was used for kings in Israel for many centuries.”[6]

When Saul turned away from God, the Lord rejected him and in his place raised up a new king, David, who was anointed by Samuel.[7] After Saul’s death, the men of Judah anointed David as their king,[8] and eventually he was anointed as king over all Israel by the elders of Israel.[9] Thus started a dynasty of kings from the line of David who were to rule Israel, and later, after the northern tribes rebelled under Jeroboam, Judah until the final king, Zedekiah, was carried off to exile in Babylon.

However, it was not only kings who were anointed. Maurice Casey explains that priests and prophets could be anointed as well. He provides examples: “at 1 Kings 19:16 Elijah is instructed by God to anoint Elisha as a prophet instead of himself; at Leviticus 4:3 the high priest is called “the anointed priest”; and at Isaiah 45:1 the Persian king Cyrus is referred to as “his anointed”, that is God’s anointed.”[10] Fitzmyer adds that eventually, after the deportation to Babylon, “משיח was applied to the High Priest of the time.”[11]

Fitzmyer lists seventeen Old Testament passages where משיח is applied to the reigning king of Israel without “even hinting at a “Messiah” or a “messianic expectation.”” He gives a further fourteen examples from postexilic passages and the Psalms where משיח is used in the same manner. Fitzmyer is making the point that in each of these examples משיח should be translated as “Anointed One” rather than “Messiah” as they refer to historical figures acting as God’s agents who served His people.[12]

Messianic prophecies

There are other passages in the Old Testament that have been described as messianic prophecies. Fitzmyer splits these into two categories; those from before the monarchy which do not strictly describe a “Messiah” and those which talk of a continuation of the Davidic dynasty and begin to reveal the future hope of a Messiah. He argues that it is later Jewish and Christian tradition that has interpreted the former passages as referring to a coming Messiah. Examples include reference to Judah rising above the other tribes from Genesis 49:10 and Numbers 24:17 and God’s promise to Moses to raise up a prophet like him from Deuteronomy 18:15-18.[13]

The line of David

Fitzmyer’s second category of Old Testament passages build on the idea of a dynasty beginning with David. In 2 Samuel 7, the prophet Nathan delivers a message to David from the Lord that He “will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and [the Lord] will establish his kingdom … and [the Lord] will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”[14] Fitzmyer continues to list other passages which refer to the continuation of the Davidic monarchy, including Isaiah 7:1-9; 8:23-9:6; 11:1-10,[15] and Psalms 21, 45, 72, 101, 110 and144:1-11.[16]

Fitzmyer makes reference to the Servant Songs in Isaiah, especially from Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Here he argues that it is unclear from the text whether the servant represents the people of Israel, or an individual, or both. He also notes that משיח is not in the passage, and so should not be used to refer to a messianic figure.[17] Christopher Wright disagrees, adding that “the figure of a suffering servant was understood messianically” by the first century BC; the servant who would not only suffer, but be rejected and brutally killed.[18]

The idea of a restored monarchy from the line of David, and a reunified kingdom, emerges in Hosea 3:4-5, which was written about the time of the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to Assyria. Hosea says “the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king.” The suggestion of a future David is continued by Jeremiah writing to those in exile in Babylon in Jeremiah 30:8-9 and by Ezekiel, writing at the same time, in Ezekiel 34:23-24.[19] Both passages refer to a David of the future as being the king or prince.

Writing after the exile, Micah 5:2 describes the place of birth of the future king and Malachi 4:5-6 refers to the “great and awesome day of the Lord” before which the prophet Elijah would return. Fitzmyer explains that Elijah’s return was seen as “a precursor of the Messiah, because the coming of the Messiah depends on whether Israel repents and reforms; so Elijah was thought to come first to bring about repentance and reformation.”[20] It is evident that there was the expectation that the line of David as kings of Israel, or “anointed ones”, would be restored, but this does not yet necessarily refer to a Messiah figure.

The coming Messiah

N.T. Wright states that after the exile most Jews were hoping for a turn in Israel’s fortunes; that God would restore her fortunes. He writes “the symbols of covenantal life will be restored, because the covenant will be renewed: the Temple will be rebuilt, the Land cleansed, the Torah kept perfectly by a new covenant people with renewed hearts.”[21] Hope was placed in this “age to come”, sometimes described as “the messianic age.” N.T. Wright describes “the ‘salvation’ spoken of in the Jewish sources of this period has to do with rescue from the national enemies, restoration of the national symbols, and a state of shalom in which every man will sit under his vine or fig tree.”[22]

N.T. Wright and Fitzmyer both identify the book of Daniel as where the idea of a Messiah figure, who will restore the fortunes of Israel, begins to take shape.[23] [24] In chapter 7, Daniel sees a vision of four beasts which refers to four kingdoms (Babylon, Media, Persia and Greece) that would be replaced by the kingdom of God. In verses 9-14 there is the description of what Fitzmyer calls a “heavenly court of judgement”[25] where God is called “the Ancient of Days”[26] and there is identified “one like a son of man.”[27] Fitzmyer describes the four interpretations of who this character is. One interpretation is that the “son of man” is a human individual identified as the Messiah, although C. J. H. Wright says “most scholars are agreed that the “Son of Man” was not a messianic title or figure in the inter-testamental Jewish writings.”[28]

Later on in Daniel 9:24-27 there is a prophecy about seventy weeks, which refers to a period of 490 years, after which Judah would be restored. Verse 25 mentions “the coming of an anointed one”[29] which Fitzmyer notes is “the first occurrence in the Old Testament itself of משיח used for an awaited Anointed One.”[30] C. J. H. Wright adds that this “‘anointed one’ will come and will bring a climax to God’s purpose.”[31] N.T. Wright says that this passage “was a favourite of revolutionary minded Jews in the first century, since they reinterpreted it so that it spoke of a kingdom to be set up against the present Roman oppression.”[32]

A priest like Melchizedek

Margaret Barker has a different interpretation of the prophecy in Daniel 9, although she draws a similar conclusion. Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He blessed Abram in Genesis 14:18-20 and is referenced in Psalm 110: “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”[33] As previously mentioned this is one of the Psalms prophesying to the Davidic dynasty. Barker argues that there were those in the second temple period who “complained that they were still in exile, and that for them there had been no glorious return in the time of Joshua and Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah.” They were “cherishing the memory of an older faith, that of the anointed kings in Jerusalem and their lost temple.”[34]

Cross-referencing non-biblical Jewish texts found at Qumran to Daniel 9:24-27, Barker states that the 490 years is equal to ten Jubilee[35] periods. She continues “This is linked to Isaiah 61:1, another Jubilee text: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me…  to proclaim liberty to the captives.”[36] Barker argues that a “divine high priest Melchizedek was expected to appear and proclaim the great Jubilee, to forgive sins, to rescue his own from the power of the evil spirits, to make the great atonement sacrifice and sit in judgment on the evil angels.”[37] In other words, the expected Messiah was an anointed High Priest.


From a Christian perspective, it is possible to retrospectively look back over the Old Testament and interpret a wider selection of passages that would be fulfilled by identifying Jesus Christ as the Messiah. However, when trying to understand the mindset of pre-Christian Jewish expectation, there is a progression of thought evidenced in Old Testament writings of first a continuation of the Davidic dynasty, of anointed kings, who would rule over Israel. This then develops at a time of national crisis, during the exile to Babylon, into an expected Messiah figure who would lead Israel into period of restoration, with the Temple rebuilt, the land cleansed and a messianic age of shalom, worshiping the true God.


M. Barker, Temple Theology: An Introduction, London: SPCK, 2004.

M. Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God: The Origins and Development of New Testament Christology, Cambridge: James Clarke & Co, 1991.

J. A. Fitzmyer, The One Who is to Come, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.

D. Juel, Messianic Exegesis: Christological Interpretation of the Old Testament in Early Christianity, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.

C. C. Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible, Chicago: Moody Press, 1985.

F. C. Thompson, The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1988.

C. J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, Oxford: Monarch Books, 2005.

N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God: Volume 1, London: SPCK, 1992.



[1] J. A. Fitzmyer, The One Who is to Come, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), p.8

[2] Ibid., p.1

[3] D. Juel, Messianic Exegesis: Christological Interpretation of the Old Testament in Early Christianity, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), p.11

[4] Fitzmyer, p.10

[5] 1 Samuel 10:1

[6] Fitzmyer, p.8

[7] 1 Samuel 16:13

[8] 2 Samuel 2:4

[9] 2 Samuel 5:3

[10] M. Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God: The Origins and Development of New Testament Christology, (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co, 1991), p.42

[11] Fitzmyer, p.11

[12] Ibid., pp.13-25

[13] Ibid., pp.26-32

[14] 2 Samuel 7:12-13, ESV

[15] Fitzmyer, p.35

[16] Ibid., p.43

[17] Ibid., p.40

[18] C. J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2005), p.154

[19] Fitzmyer, pp.47-49

[20] Ibid., pp.53-54

[21] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God: Volume 1, (London: SPCK, 1992), p.280

[22] Ibid., p.300

[23] Ibid., p.304

[24] Fitzmyer, p. 57

[25] Ibid., p.57

[26] Daniel 7:9, ESV

[27] Daniel 7:13, ESV

[28] C. J. H. Wright, p.149

[29] Daniel 9:25, ESV

[30] Fitzmyer, p.62

[31] C. J. H. Wright, p.143

[32] N.T. Wright, p.304

[33] Psalm 110:4, ESV

[34] M. Barker, Temple Theology: An Introduction, (London: SPCK, 2004), p.3

[35] A Jubilee is a Sabbath rest for the land defined in Leviticus 25, being a period of seven times seven, i.e. 49, years.

[36] Barker, p.71

[37] Ibid., p.72

Describe and evaluate the influence of the Emperor Constantine on the subsequent development of Christianity

“Constantine [was] as an emperor born of an emperor, the pious son of a most pious and virtuous father, and Licinius next to him, were both in great esteem for their moderation and piety.”[1] This is how Eusebius of Caesarea describes the emperor Constantine in his history of the church. Constantine was the first Roman emperor to be baptized as a Christian.[2] The story of how he converted to Christianity and the impact that this had on Christianity has provided much debate ever since.

Before Constantine

Christianity had been in conflict with Rome for much of the first three centuries with Christians suffering persecution by imperial decree culminating in Constantine’s predecessor Diocletian’s edicts.[3] This situation was not directly a result of the teachings of Jesus or Paul, but possibly an inevitable consequence. When Jesus was tested by the Pharisees and Herodians over paying taxes to Caesar he replied, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”[4] Neuhaus’ analysis is that God is the power over all things and that Caesar’s role is temporary.[5]

Neuhaus refers to Paul in Romans 13 where he says that those in authority have been “instituted by God” and “every person should submit to the governing authorities.”[6] Neuhaus also points to Paul writing to the Corinthians[7] where he “makes clear that Christians should as much as possible steer clear of Caesar’s jurisdiction and should not, for example, take their disputes to the secular courts.”[8] Christians were to respect those in authority, obeying the law, but acknowledge that God was superior.

Christians were considered by Romans to be cannibals, incestuous and atheist. They refused to worship Caesar or the Roman gods. Jews were exempt and so this had not been a problem as long as Christians were seen as Jews. But in time Christians were seen as distinct and they seemed arrogant for not bowing down to the gods. Roman attitude hardened and waves of persecution began[9] with many Christians martyred. Despite this, Christianity continued to grow until Christians were approximately 5-15% of the population of the empire by the start of Constantine’s reign.[10]

Constantine’s Conversion

Eusebius was a bishop from the fourth-century who wrote the first history of the church[11] and about Constantine shortly after his death in 337[12]. Eusebius tells the story of the “Vision of the Cross” that Constantine had in October 312 after which he defeated his rival Maxentius and became emperor in the west. Eusebius records “that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, [Constantine] saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, CONQUER BY THIS.”[13] This vision had a profound effect on Constantine.

In his writing Eusebius uses phrases like “excited by God,” “invoking the God of heaven,” and “divine assistance” to demonstrate that he saw Constantine as the instrument of God. Eusebius draws a parallel with God defeating Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea, as Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, when he describes how Maxentius and his army were defeated fleeing “before the power of God that was with Constantine” and coming to a similar fate crossing a river outside Rome.[14]

Eusebius records that after this victory Constantine had a dream in which Christ appeared to him “commanding him to make a likeness of the sign he had seen and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies.”[15] This symbol, known as Chi Rho, being the first two letters of the name Christ in Greek, is still used in churches today. Eusebius had no doubt that Constantine was God’s agent and that there was, as Neuhaus records, “a providential convergence between the history of Christianity and that of the Roman Empire.”[16]

Constantine and Licinius

Constantine was allied to Licinius who, following their victory, would rule the empire in the east. In 313 they issued what became known as the “Edict of Milan” on the occasion of Licinius’ marriage to Constantine’s half sister Constantia. The edict gave legal standing to Christianity and, for the first time in the Western world, recognized the principal of the freedom of belief.[17] Eusebius describes the events as God the protector of the pious removing a tyrant and favour being given to Christians by the emperor with the restoration of churches.[18]

In 324 Constantine came into conflict with Licinius and invaded the eastern empire. According to Eusebius this was because it was necessary to protect Christians from persecution, the majority of whom lived in the eastern provinces.[19] Drake suggests it is possible that Licinius’ “persecution” was his intervention in a Christian theological disagreement that became known as the Arian heresy. [20] [21] Eusebius describes Licinius as plotting treachery against his benefactor Constantine. He calls God “the friend and vigilant protector and guardian of the emperor.”[22] Constantine defeated Licinius and had him killed; as a result becoming the sole emperor of a unified empire.

Constantine and the church

Constantine’s subsequent attitude towards Christians is similar to the way Cyrus King of Persia had acted towards the Jews when he released them from captivity in Babylon and commissioned them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.[23] God had brought to power a ruler who would show favour to His people. The difference in this case is that Constantine had converted to Christianity, whereas Cyrus had not converted to Judaism.

The church experienced increased favour by Constantine in the period that followed. He built many important churches, including St Peter’s in Rome, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. At the same time Constantine diverted the control of state resources into the hands of Christian bishops. He also gave the bishops “unprecedented legal and juridical privileges.” Drake writes “by one simple act – ordering that Sunday be observed as a day of rest and prayer – he gave a new rhythm and feel to the pace of ancient life.”[24]

Sacrifices stopped and temples were closed and spoiled. Brown portrays this period in terms of power shifting from cities, with their identity linked to local gods and temples, to an “empire-wide patriotism” that was “centred on the person and mission of a God-given, universal ruler, whose vast and profoundly abstract care for the empire as a whole made the older loyalties to individual cities … seem parochial and trivial.”[25]

This shift in power adds weight to the premise that Constantine was a skilled politician who used Christianity for his own ends. Not only had he unified the empire under his rule, but he had taken power from the cities and created a new power base by promoting the role of bishops in civic life.

Drake refers to Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt writing 150 years ago who found “that at the same time that Constantine was lavishing favour on the Christian Church, the emperor continued to support pagan rites.”[26] Burckhardt describes Constantine as “a calculating politician who shrewdly employed all available physical resources and spiritual powers to the one end of maintaining himself and his rule without surrendering himself wholly to any party.” [27]

Drake counters this argument by saying Burckhardt had applied a nineteenth-century worldview to support his thesis which could not fairly be applied to Constantine’s own time. He adds that Eusebius wrote, “[Constantine] wanted to find a god who would not only protect him from magical arts but also give him a secure and successful reign.”[28]

The Council of Nicaea

After Constantine had defeated Licinius he became involved in the Arian dispute. This was not the first time Constantine had involved himself in such matters. He had intervened in an earlier heresy after a group from North Africa known as Donatists[29] had appealed to him. [30] The emperor called a council at Arles in 314 and found against the Donatists.[31]

In order to resolve the Arian heresy, Constantine called a council in Nicaea in 325 which was attended by over three hundred bishops,[32] the majority of whom came from provinces in the empire.[33] Constantine was in attendance for much of the Council which lasted for over a month.[34] Many decisions came out of the Council of Nicaea including a statement of faith known as the Nicene Creed,[35] an agreement on the date of Easter, possibly at the suggestion of Constantine himself,[36] and twenty church laws called canons.[37]

Drake describes the Council of Nicaea as “a watershed in the development of Christian theology.”[38] Up until this point there was not one single church, but a number of churches, each led by their own bishop. There was no universal authority to which the bishops reported, and there was not always unity between the churches. Drake writes that “only subsequent to Constantine’s reign, and in large part as a reaction to it, do such mechanisms come into being.”[39]

Constantine had decided to take a leading role in the development of the church. Barnes notes that “Constantine’s presence in Nicaea drew attention away from the events with Licinius.”[40] He also says that Constantine participated in debates even though he had not been baptized.[41] The Council of Nicaea had not resolved all disputes in the church and Constantine did not always impose his will. Barnes writes this was because he “believed the bishops spoke with divine authority.” [42]

After Constantine

Constantine was baptized by Eusebius of Nicomedia in May 337 shortly before his death.[43] He left a much changed empire and Christianity had a new found confidence. Christianity had not completed routed paganism, Brown details accounts of polytheism continuing beyond the end of the sixth-century;[44] but it was in the ascendant and had never exercised so much influence. Drake refers to Edward Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire who suggests that Christianity, and in particular Christian organisation is inherently intolerant due to the exclusive nature of the Gospel message. This intolerance led to the coercion that was seen in the years after Christianity gained legal status in the empire.[45]

Brown writes that in the last decades of the fourth-century, “Christian spokesmen, representing the needs of Christian congregations in the cities, began to intervene in the politics of the empire.”[46] Emperors listened to bishops as they had previously listened to philosophers.[47] Bishops became more powerful and gave voice to their congregations at the heart of empire.[48] Brown adds that “by the fifth-century a Christian emperor could be taken for granted.”[49]

Many philosophers became bishops,[50] and arguably the system changed in name but not in method. Brown writes that Bishops were accused of spending money intended for the poor on the construction of “grandiose new churches,” and “the food of the poor was eaten up by stone, by the multicoloured marbles and gold mosaic of new basilicas.”[51] This was a far cry from the first-century church and further evidence that Constantine had compromised Christianity.


Christianity took a different path because of Constantine. The history of Christianity became inexorably linked to that of the Roman Empire and its successors, giving it the platform to evangelize the Western world. At times this did compromise the mission and the power of the church. When Thomas Aquinas visited Innocent IV in Rome, he was amazed at the wealth he saw. The pope said to him “you see, Thomas, we cannot say as did St. Peter of old, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” “No,” said Aquinas, “neither can you command, as did he, the lame man to arise and walk.”[52]

Constantine was a man of faith who God used to save the church from persecution and the catalyst to begin the transformation of it from disparate local communities to a worldwide movement.




T. D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006)

Biblos Bible Commentaries, ‘People’s New Testament’,, December 2009

P. Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992)

C. F. Cruse, trans., Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998)

H. A. Drake, Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000)

R. J. Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986)

Wikipedia, ‘First Council of Nicaea’,, December 2009

[1] C. F. Cruse, trans., Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), p.343

[2] H. A. Drake, Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000), p.393

[3] Ibid., p.113

[4] Mark 12:17, ESV

[5] R. J. Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986), p.170

[6] Romans 13:1, ESV

[7] 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

[8] Neuhaus, p.170

[9] Peter Fitch, Course Notes: Church History and Spirituality Module, Residential Week

[10] Drake, p.109

[11] Drake, p.9

[12] Ibid., p.10

[13] Ibid., p.10

[14] Cruse, p.343

[15] Drake, p.10

[16] Neuhaus, p.171

[17] Drake, p.194

[18] Cruse, p.356

[19] Drake, p.235

[20] A priest in Alexandria named Arius held an unorthodox view on the nature of Jesus in relation to the Father in the Trinity.

[21] Drake, p.237

[22] Cruse, p.379

[23] Ezra 1

[24] Drake, p.11

[25] P. Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), p.19

[26] Drake, p.12

[27] Drake, p.13

[28] Ibid., p.15

[29] Donatists believed that sacraments administered by clergy, known as traditores, who had handed over copies of Scriptures during persecution under Diocletian, were not valid.

[30] Drake, p.213

[31] Ibid., p.219

[32] Ibid., p.3

[33] T. D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), p.214

[34] Ibid., p.215

[35] Drake, p.8

[36] Barnes, p.215

[37] Wikipedia, ‘First Council of Nicaea’,, December 2009

[38] Drake, p.238

[39] Ibid., p.28

[40] Barnes, p.214

[41] Barnes, p.215

[42] Ibid., p.225

[43] Drake, p.393

[44] Brown, p.129

[45] Drake, p.74

[46] Brown, p.34

[47] Ibid., p.5

[48] Ibid., p.77

[49] Ibid., p.135

[50] Ibid., p.136

[51] Ibid., p.120

[52] Biblos Bible Commentaries, ‘People’s New Testament’,, December 2009

Describe and evaluate Benedictine monasticism

Monasticism can be traced back to the fourth century[1] and over the centuries there were several attempts to write a Rule by which the lives of monks would be ordered. In the sixth century Benedict took one such Rule by an Italian monk known as the Master[2] and developed it into, as Carolinne White comments, “the gold standard against which all later forms of western monasticism measured themselves.”[3]

Benedict’s birth and early life

Benedict was born in the region of Nursia[4] around 480 and was sent to Rome for his education.[5] Because he was shocked by the liberal nature of life there he chose to withdraw and take the life of solitude in a cave at Subiaco. Monks from a nearby monastery asked Benedict to be their abbot after theirs had died, but they wouldn’t submit to his leadership and tried to poison him. Their efforts failed and Benedict withdrew again.

Before long Benedict attracted more followers and established twelve monasteries in the area, each of twelve monks and an abbot. He moved to Casinum, now known as Monte Cassino, in about 530 and founded a new monastery on the site of a pagan temple to Apollo. It was at Monte Cassino that Benedict wrote the Rule.

The Rule of Benedict

As Esther de Waal describes, “[The Rule] is clearly set out, divided into seventy-three chapters, which look in turn at all the essentials of worship, work, study, hospitality, authority, possessions demanded by a life lived out in community following the three Benedictine vows of obedience, stability and conversatio morum.”[6] Conversatio morum means continuing fidelity to the monastic life.[7] Obedience was to each other, to the abbot, to the Rule and to God. By obedience they were accountable to the other monks and to the abbot.

The life of a monk under the Rule consisted of opus Dei, the work of God, which was communal times of prayer at regular hours or offices during the day; communal work, typically linked to agriculture and studying Scripture, or lectio divina. The Rule prescribed eight offices a day which consisted of singing Psalms, readings from Scripture and prayer. Columba Stewart remarks that “Benedict expected his monks to spend up to three hours a day in lectio.”[8] There was also time for private prayer either at work or in the oratory.

Monks were not allowed to keep their own possessions but all their needs were provided for by the community. The monks took it in turns to perform the duties in the monastery, although in some monasteries certain monks were allowed to specialise, for example being in the choir.

Stewart goes on to say that “Two fundamental insights govern all that Benedict writes of the monastic life, … the divine presence is everywhere, and Christ is to be met in other people.”[9] The Rule instructed Benedictines to serve the sick as if serving Christ,[10] to show humility to guests as if they were before Christ and to welcome guests with hospitality as if welcoming Christ.[11]

Was this, is this, a reasonable way to serve God in the world?

Monks joining a monastery felt a call to live in community with others seeking to serve God in this way. Gerald Sittser states that “The goal of his [Benedict’s] monasteries was to help facilitate the restoration of the image of God in sinful humans.”[12] By living together and sharing the ascetic life Benedict believed the community would serve God and help each other. Stewart says “The genius of Benedict was to situate the individual search for God within a communal context that shaped as well as supported the quest.”[13]

This was also the example of the early church, who “…were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”[14] The main difference was that Benedictine monasteries were single sex communities, predominantly male, although there were and are Benedictine orders for women, as opposed to the early church communities which were in the context of family units.

Seeing Christ in others echoes Jesus’ words from Matthew 25, “’For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ … ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”[15]

Sharing life in community with others is the way God intended from the beginning. God saw “it is not good that the man should be alone.”[16] Living with others we become aware of our own faults and short comings. If we are prepared to learn from these encounters then we become richer and more rounded people as a result. Living in a closed community such as a monastery brings an added spiritual dimension to these relationships.

Scriptural basis for the Rule

The Rule relies heavily on Scripture taking slightly more from the New Testament than the Old Testament. De Waal estimates over 300 references in total, although as Benedict didn’t provide any Scripture references it is hard to give an exact figure.[17] Benedict’s use of Scripture and the sense and meaning of Scripture certainly adds weight to the Rule. Within the Rule also, the lectio divina or divine reading of Scripture and other works of Christian literature, ensure the monk’s life was steeped in the Word of God; as did the singing of Psalms during the offices.

Stewart quotes Bernard of Monte Cassino writing in the thirteenth century that “in psalmody we speak to God; in lectio God speaks to us through the Scriptures. In the first we ask him about things; in the second, we understand his answer.”[18] This desire to know God, to follow him and more importantly to be changed by him is one of the blessings of following the Rule. Throughout Scripture God yearns to be in such a relationship with his people. It is a recurring theme through the Old and New Testaments.

Stability and humility

Benedict’s emphasis on stability and fidelity to the monastic life was a good remedy to coping with life in a changing world and the affliction known as accidie. This is where the days seem to drag and the monk yearns for a different life because anything would be better than this.[19] The longest chapter in the Rule is on humility, a trait which is not highly regarded in our time, but which helps the monk to serve those he comes into contact with. Benedict saw humility in this life as a way to ascend to heaven in the next.[20]

The missionary work of monasticism

Gregory tells of a village near the monastery at Monte Cassino where Benedict and his monks converted a large number of inhabitants.[21] Indeed much of England and northern Europe was evangelised by monks from Benedictine monasteries. The traditional view is that both Pope Gregory and Augustine of Canterbury, who Gregory had sent as a missionary to England, were Benedictine monks. [22] Augustine is known as the “Apostle to the English” for bringing Christianity to England, and monks from Benedictine monasteries continued to evangelise the rest of England where they met with Celtic Monasticism which had been successful in Scotland and northern England.

Sittser describes how “Benedictine monasticism excelled in doing missionary work. Monks developed an effective method of Christianising tribal groups that had invaded Europe. They would travel to some remote corner of Europe, build a monastery there, make contact with local tribal groups, learn the language and over time introduce them to the Christian faith.”[23] So the mission of the monasteries was not just a personal walk with God but also life changing to their neighbours.

The influence of monasticism in society

As the need for missionary work diminished, some monasteries became centres of education and academic study. Monks from a privileged background would prefer study to manual labour and it couldn’t be presumed that monks from poorer backgrounds could read and write so education became important. According to Anthony Meisel and M. L. del Mastro monasteries were influential in “theology, philosophy, art, architecture, music, science, history – all were marked and some were reshaped by the contributions of the monks.”[24]

As monasteries prospered they became wealthy landowners and abbots would become important figures in local politics. Bishops, writers and artists came from monasteries and de Waal notes that “In the Middle Ages half of the cathedrals in England were under Benedictine control.”[25] In agriculture the expertise built up by monasteries over the centuries was shared to the benefit of other farmers. This influence meant that society could be shaped by Christian communities so that they were honouring to God.

However with wealth and power came corruption in some parts. Stewart notes that by the end of the Middle Ages some monasteries had abandoned the daily office and became more interested in worldly power.[26] The influence and status of some abbots meant they had lost their original ascetic life and were more interested in the comforts they enjoyed. As Meisel and del Mastro put it, “they lost the power of the Spirit as they turned to worldly power.”[27]

Some monastic communities tried to reform themselves and return to a stricter interpretation on the Rule. One example is the Cistercian Order which was founded by Robert of Molesme in 1098 with the intent of following the Rule as Benedict would have in his day.[28] In order to serve God they preferred to turn back from the way Benedictine monasticism had developed and put a greater emphasis on manual labour.

Alternative forms of monasticism

Benedictine monasticism had developed from Rome and spread over western and northern Europe. Other forms of monasticism had developed in the Eastern Church and after Patrick had brought Christianity to Ireland a Celtic monasticism had flourished in the fifth and sixth centuries.

George Hunter argues that the Celtic model of monasticism, which was replaced by the Benedictine Rule following the Synods of Whitby in 664 and Autun in 670, was more able to evangelise the different tribal groups of Ireland, Scotland and northern England. They did this by adapting to the cultures of the people groups they met as opposed to bringing in a model from Rome and instructing people on the Roman way of doing things which included worship in Latin rather than in the local language.[29]

Hunter quotes a study by John Finney which came to the conclusion that the Celtic way of mission is more effective in the post modern West than Roman ways such as Benedictine monasticism due to its effectiveness in people having a sense of belonging before they believe.[30]


Benedictine monasticism was a reasonable way to serve God from its beginnings in the sixth century to its height of influence in the twelfth century. The Rule was not excessively arduous to follow and its flexibility meant it was adopted or adapted widely. There are still Benedictine monasteries today attracting men and women who still aspire to follow the Rule set by Benedict. There are also its spiritual heirs like the Taizé Community which has attracted hundreds of thousands of young people from around the world who wish to spend a week sharing the simple life of community in their small village in France or at the annual events in major European cities.

Sittser says “the monastery emerged as a force for good in a world that seemed to be falling apart.”[31] And de Waal adds that the Benedictine moderation in all things is perhaps a good model for those in the twenty first century seeking to lead a life considerate of the diminishing resources in the world caused by consumer society.[32]




T. Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages: and the Beginning of the Modern World (New York: Anchor Books, 2006)

G. G. Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000)

A. C. Meisel and M. L. del Mastro, trans., The Rule of Saint Benedict (New York: Image Book, Doubleday, 1975)

Oblate Spring, ‘Conversatio Morum’,, October 2009

G. L. Sittser, ‘Rhythm’, Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007).

C. Stewart, Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition (London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 1998)

E. de Waal, Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1999)

C. White, ed., ‘Life of Benedict by Gregory the Great’, Early Christian Lives (London: Penguin, 1998)

Wikipedia, ‘Rule of Saint Benedict’,, October 2009


[1] G. L. Sittser, ‘Rhythm’, Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007), p.101

[2] C. Stewart, Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition (London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 1998), p.19

[3] C. White, ed., ‘Life of Benedict by Gregory the Great’, Early Christian Lives (London: Penguin, 1998), p.xi

[4] Nursia is now known as Norcia and is north east of Rome

[5] Stewart, p.22

[6] E. de Waal, Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1999), p.13

[7] Oblate Spring, ‘Conversatio Morum’,, October 2009

[8] Stewart, p.36

[9] Stewart, p.27

[10] A. C. Meisel and M. L. del Mastro, trans., Chapter 36, The Rule of Saint Benedict (New York: Image Book, Doubleday, 1975), p.78

[11] Ibid., Chapter 53, p.89

[12] Sittser, p.103

[13] Stewart, p.15

[14] Acts 4:32, ESV

[15] Matthew 25:35-40, ESV

[16] Genesis 2:18, ESV

[17] de Waal, p.17

[18] Stewart, p.34

[19] Ibid., p.76

[20] Ibid., p.56

[21] White, p.187

[22] Meisel and del Mastro, p.34

[23] Sittser, p.112

[24] Meisel and del Mastro, p.9

[25] de Waal, p.7

[26] Stewart, p.35

[27] Meisel and del Mastro, p.37

[28] Sittser, p.113

[29] G. G. Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), p.40

[30] Ibid., p.54

[31] Sittser, p.106

[32] de Waal, p.74

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...