Thursday, February 23, 2006

Jesus in the Wilderness

New Testament scholar Michael Bird, a Reformed Baptist and Professor of New Testament at Highland Theological College in Scotland, has been posting on the account of Jesus' forty days and nights of testing in the wilderness. Apparently, he is working on a journal article on the topic. He recently posted on the typological aspects of the narrative. Here is what he has to say:

In the temptation stories (Mark 1.12-13; Matthew 4.1-11/Luke 4.1-13)
various examples and typologies emerge:

1. Jesus as the New Adam. That Jesus was with the wild beasts may recall Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and their temptation. Also, it may recall a Jewish tradition that Adam and Eve were ministered to by Angels in the garden (Adam and Eve 4.1-2; b.Sanh. 59b).

2. Jesus as Faithful Israel. The three temptations recall elements of the Exodus story: wandering in the wilderness (Exod 16:35), hunger (Exod 16:2-8), testing God (Exod 17:1-3), and idolatry (Exodus 32).

3. Jesus as Elijah-like prophet. Elijah spent 40 days on Mt. Horeb (1 Kgs 19:8).4. Jesus as the New Moses. Jesus was “fasting” like Moses did (Exod 24:18; 34:28).
Jesus' sojourn in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights again
comports iwht Moses on the mountain (Deut 9:9; Exod 34:28).

As I mentioned earlier, one of the most exciting things I get to be a part of is the work of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. One of the main themes you'll find throughout the works put out by the Center is the importance of reading the New Testament in light of the Old and the Old Testament in light of the New. St. Augustine had a great saying, "The Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament, and the New Testament is concealed in the Old."

In fact, most of the books of the Bible are found in the Old Testament! Disregarding the Old was the message of the heretic Marcion - the Church has always valued both Testaments. You can especially see this in the new lectionary - one of the great triumphs of the Second Vatican Council. Prior to Vatican II, Catholics read very little from the Old Testament at Mass. In fact, they read a lot less of Scripture at Mass overall because the Church used an annual reading cycle. Each year the same readings were read over and over. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council established a beautiful three year lectionary cycle. This new lectionary established for every Sunday Mass readings from both the Old Testament (the First Reading and a Psalm) and from the New Testament (the Second Reading and the Gospel).

Furthermore, the lectionary readings were carefully chosen to reveal the way Christ in the New Testament fulfills what we find in the Old. So, for example, in cycle A, in the first week of Lent, before we read about Jesus' temptation in the wilderness we read about the testing of Adam and Eve in the Garden. In cycle C, Jesus' temptation is paired with Moses' speech in Deuteronomy 26, in which he describes the way the Lord led Israel through the wilderness. In the liturgy we learn how to read the Bible properly - always reading the New in light of the Old.

Incidentally, the new lectionary was so beautiful many non-Catholic denominations such as the Anglican community adopted it for use in their own worship. I really believe that such a reading of Scripture will help re-unite Christians - not divide them further. Thanks again to Michael Bird for his excellent post.

For more see:
"Interpreteting Texts in the Context of the Whole Bible," by David L. Baker.
"Neo-Patristic Exegesis: Its Approach and Its Method," by Msgr. John F. McCarthy.
"The Sacraments and the History of Salvation," by Cardinal Jean Daneilou.

These articles and many more can be found at

1 comment:

Steve Bogner said...

Michael - First of all, welcome to blogging! It's an interesting endeavor, or so I've found.

The three-year cycle of scripture readings really is a wonderful thing. As a post-V2 Catholic, it's all I've ever known.

Once a month I take part in an informal faith-sharing group - it's comprised of six Protestant Pentecostal guys, and then me as the sole Catholic. I met these guys via blogging, by the way. A couple meetings ago I mentioned that in the Catholic church we hear four Bible readings each Sunday, and if you go to mass on a weekday you'll hear at least three. Their jaws dropped, because their stereotype about Catholics was that we don't have much to do with the Bible. I love busting stereotypes.