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The Birth of Jesus, Part VIII. The Fourth Woman in Matthew’s genealogy: The Wife of Uriah

17 January 2013: 1 Comment »

The fourth and final woman included in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus with which he opens his gospel and simultaneously introduces into the Christian tradition the story of the virgin birth, is the best known of them all. Matthew in this genealogy, however, does not ever call her by her name. He refers to her rather …

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Question & Answer

John McKee from Texas, writes:

Question:

I am a retired United Methodist minister of the Central Texas Conference of the UMC and am most interested in your writings. I have not only read, but have copied your articles and used them as a teaching guide for persons I know are interested in a more authentic understanding of Holy Scripture. A question rose in my mind as to the worship practices of the Followers of the Way whom you state remained in those early years (some eighty) as part of synagogue worship. I am aware that Paul had a meeting of the minds, so to speak, with Peter concerning the practice of circumcision of those Gentiles who wished to be part of this new movement. If so, were the Gentile members of the “Way” welcomed into the synagogue to worship (without being circumcised)? You may have already made a comment about this, but I must not have incorporated it into my thinking. Being in my 82nd year, I am not as alert as I was in my seminary days…Lo!! With appreciation for your ministry, I am a joyous follower of your philosophy.

 

Answer:

Dear John,

Thank you for your questions and for your years of service in the Methodist ministry.

The issue about the early Church is complex and I have probably had to make it seem simpler than it really was. There were a variety of Christian groups in the early years of the Christian Church. Almost all of them were first associated with and shaped by the synagogue. As the movement began to grow beyond the boundaries of Judaism in the 6th decade, they began to attract Gentile attention. Paul was a key figure in this. Some of the more orthodox Jews led by James, the Lord’s brother, and by Peter, at least at the beginning, were insistent that the only way into Christianity was through Judaism and that meant circumcision, kosher laws and Sabbath Day observances. Paul was the champion of those Gentiles who were drawn to theology and liturgy, but not cultic practices. In the early years, there were people who agreed to the orthodox requirements and people who did not. This tension divided the early church rather fiercely. Much of this conflict is reflected in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, written in the early 50’s. I have just finished reading a book by Dr. James D., Tabor, who is chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who offers a fresh, provocative and insightful perspective on the early years of the Christian movement. His book is entitled Paul and Jesus. I commend that book to you and to all my readers.

The meeting of minds with Peter, to which you refer in your letter, was described in the book of Acts (chapter 15), but be warned that Acts is probably a 10th decade piece of work at the earliest, and it specifically champions Paul’s perspective. Furthermore, by the time the book of Acts was written, the battle was over and Christianity was well on its way to becoming a Gentile movement.

My emphasis in the article to which you are referring is that long before the church and the synagogue split, which historians choose 88 CE as the most likely year, the Christian faith had become so deeply shaped by synagogue worship and synagogue liturgy, to say nothing of having wrapped Jesus so tightly in both the Jewish Scriptures and Jewish messianic expectation, that the only way we can discover the original meaning of the Jesus story is by recovering that Jewish background and reading the gospels with well-informed Jewish eyes.

That is what I sought to do when I wrote what is still my favorite book, Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes, where this material is spelled out more fully than I can do in a question and answer format.

I send you my best.

~John Shelby Spong

 

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