• Life of Christ Comments Off on The Mystery of Godliness Hymn

    By Gordon Franz

    (I Tim. 3:14-16)


    At the beginning of the second century AD, during the reign of Emperor Trajan, Christians were being persecuted for their faith. Pliny the Younger, the imperial representative in Bithynia and Pontus (just below the Black Sea in northern Turkey) from AD 111-113, wrote a letter back to the emperor asking for advice on what to do about the number of Christians being executed for their faith. In one of the letters he wrote that the Christians met “regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honour of Christ as if to be a god” ( Letters 10:96:7; LCL 2:289). Eusebius of Caesarea, an early church historian, wrote about this incident in AD 325. He quoted Pliny as saying “they rose at dawn to sing to Christ as though a God” ( Ecclesiastical History 3:33; LCL 1:277). Pliny’s perception of Jesus was not accurate because Jesus is God manifest in human flesh!

    More than likely, one of the hymns that they chanted or sang in their services was I Timothy 3:16.

    God was manifest in the flesh,

    Justified in the Spirit,

    Seen by angels,

    Preached among the Gentiles,

    Believed on in the world,

    Received up in glory.

    This hymn summarizes in six lines the earthly life and ministry of the Lord Jesus from His Incarnation to the Ascension.

    The Context of First Timothy

    Paul has been released from his first imprisonment in Rome (ca. AD 62) and is on his fourth missionary journey. He wrote his son in the faith, Timothy, from Macedonia (I Tim. 1:3) advising him to stay in Ephesus and await his arrival (2:14). In his first epistle to Timothy, he instructs him on how to conduct himself ” in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (3:15). Paul warns Timothy about heresy that has crept into the church (1:3-11). He also instructs him about the importance of prayer and the role of women in the church (2:1-15). Leadership in the church was of utmost importance in dealing with these situations, so he sets forth the qualification of the only two church officers: elders and deacons (3:1-13).

    Paul stated that the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (3:15). One of those truths is the ” mystery of godliness” (3:16a), which Paul conveyed in the form of a hymn.

    In the beginning of chapter 4, Paul gives a warning from the Spirit that in the latter times “some will depart from the faith” (4:1) which involves the “mystery of godliness” concerning the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    The Apostle Paul penned these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and said they were “without controversy.” In other words, these were foundational truths that everyone should agree on.

    What is the Mystery of Godliness?

    The Apostle Paul, when he described the ” mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4), also set forth a definition of a mystery. He wrote that it is a truth ” which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (3:5). In other words, it is a Biblical truth that is revealed for the first time by the Holy Spirit.

    One scholar commented: “The mystery of godliness is Christ Himself; that godliness, hidden in ages past, has now been revealed, and is seen not to be an abstract ideal, a mere attribute of a personality, but actually a person, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Massinger 1939: 481). He went on to say that: “The mystery of godliness was manifested in the flesh, not a burning bush, not in a pillar of cloud alone, but in actual human flesh” (1939: 483).

    This mystery is put in the form of a hymn so people can sing it and remember it. Let us examine each of the six lines of this powerful hymn proclaiming the Person, earthly life and work of the Lord Jesus.

    God was Manifested in the Flesh

    The Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ is one of the foundational doctrinal truths of the Christian Church. This song begins, ” God was manifested in the flesh.”

    There is a discussion among textual critics whether the word “God” is in the original text of I Tim. 3:16, or if it’s the Greek word “Who” or “He”. The overwhelming testimony of the Early Church Fathers, based on the manuscripts that they had in their possession, is that the word “Theos” (God) was the word originally penned by the Apostle Paul (Miller 1979: 137).

    Even if the word “Who” was in the original manuscript, to whom is the pronoun referring too? In the preceding verse, there are three nouns: “the church,” “the Living God,” and “the truth.” Which one is in grammatical agreement with the masculine pronoun “Who”? The nouns “church” and “truth” can be ruled out because they are feminine. Thus leaving the masculine noun “living God” to be in grammatical agreement with the masculine pronoun “Who.” “Thus, it can be safely concluded that ‘the living God’ is the direct antecedent of the ‘who,’ and could read, ‘The living God … who was manifest in flesh'” (Rowell 1957: 76). Either way, God was manifested in the flesh!

    In one line, the Apostle Paul sets forth the great doctrinal truth of the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ – God took on human flesh. Theologians call this the “Hypostatic Union” because perfect humanity was united with undiminished deity, and joined in one Person forever. This is a truth our finite minds might find hard to grasp, yet it is clearly taught in the Scriptures.

    The dual nature of Christ – fully God and fully man, is attested to in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament. The prophet Zechariah describes the return of the LORD (Yahweh) to the earth at the end of the Tribulation period. In chapter 12, he predicted that the LORD would fight for Jerusalem. In verse 10, he says, ” And I [the LORD, Yahweh] will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication [the Holy Spirit]; then they will look upon Me [the LORD, Yahweh] whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” When was the LORD (Yahweh) pierced? The piercing of the LORD was outside the walls of Jerusalem in AD 30 when the Lord Jesus was crucified on Calvary’s cross in order to pay for all our sins (John 19:33-37). The Apostle John wrote at the beginning of the Revelation of Jesus Christ: ” Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen” (1:7). John confirmed the words of Zechariah that one day, the people of Israel will recognize their Messiah when He returns to earth.

    The Eighth century BC prophet Isaiah sets forth the dual nature of the Messiah in the “Immanuel section” of his book (Isaiah 7-12). He predicted that Messiah, the Lord Jesus, would be born of a virgin in Isaiah 7:14. The Gospel writer Matthew quotes this passage in the account of the birth of the Lord Jesus and said: ” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel ,’ which is translated, ‘God with us'” (1:22, 23). This was fulfilled when Jesus dwelt among men and walked upon the earth (John 1:14; I John 1:1-2).

    A few chapters later, Isaiah predicted, ” For unto us a Child is born [His temporal humanity] , Unto us a Son is given [His eternal deity]” (9:6a). A few lines later, Immanuel is called the Mighty God. The Apostle John begins his gospel, ” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [His deity]. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us [His humanity], and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:1, 14).

    The dual nature of the Lord Jesus is seen in John chapter 4. In His deity, His omniscience knew all that the Samaritan women had done (4:16-18, 29), yet in His humanity, He thirsted for water (4:7). In chapter 11, it was His omnipotence that raised Lazarus from the dead, yet in His humanity, He wept over the death of His friend (11:30).

    The Book of Hebrews demonstrates the superiority of the Lord Jesus, and His sacrifice for sins, over the sacrificial system of the Temple in Jerusalem. In chapter 1, the deity of the Lord Jesus is set forth and in chapter 2, His humanity. In chapter 1, it is written; ” But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever'” (1:8, quoting from Psalm 45:6). Yet in chapter 2, a commentary on the humanity of the Lord Jesus from Psalm 8 is given: ” But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (2:9).

    The Scriptures set forth at least eight reasons why God became a man in the Person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The first reason is to reveal God to man (John 1:1, 14, 18). The second, is to reveal a Perfect Man as an example for believers to follow when going through persecution (I Peter. 2:21). The third reason is to provide a sacrifice for sins (Heb. 10:1-10). The fourth reason is that He destroyed the work of Satan (John 16:11; Col. 2:13-15; Heb. 2:14; I John 3:8). The fifth reason was to fulfill the Davidic Covenant (II Samuel 7:10-16; Luke 1:31-33; Rev. 19:16). The sixth and sevenths reasons are so that He could be both a Prophet (Deut. 18:15-18) and High Priest (Heb. 2:16, 17; 7:1-8:1; 9:11, 12, 24). The final reason is so that He could shed His blood for the remission of sins (Heb. 9:22). For a full discussion of some of these points, see Thiessen 1974: 289-294.

    The third reason (a sacrifice for sins) and last reason (shed His blood for the remission of sins) are why Christians remember the Lord Jesus at the Lord’s Supper. Only God manifest in human flesh could be the perfect, sinless sacrifice for all our sins and offer us the free gift of eternal life when we put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Sin-Bearer Savior (I Peter 1:18,19; John 3:16; Eph. 2:8,9; I John 5:13). Have you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who died to pay for all your sins and rose again from the dead three days later in order to prove that sin had been paid for?

    Justified in the Spirit

    The second line of the Mystery of Godliness Hymn is that He was ” justified in the Spirit.” Martin Massinger comments: “The justification referred to here is obviously not theological justification such as Paul discusses in the epistle of Romans. The Lord Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God, God Himself, needs not to be justified. He is ‘holy, guileless, undefiled, separate from sinners’ (Heb. 7:26). But His holiness, His absolute sinlessness, He deity needed to be vindicated” (Massinger 1939: 483). He was vindicated by the Spirit at His baptism, temptation in the Wilderness, during His public ministry and Resurrection from the dead.

    At the baptism of the Lord Jesus, John the Baptizer (he was a Jew, not a Baptist!), was telling the people they need to repent (change their minds) for the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. When Jesus saw John baptizing in the Jordan River, probably near Jericho, He too was baptized in order to ” fulfill all righteousness”, i.e. to be identified with His people Israel (Matt. 3:15). As He was immersed into the water’s of the Jordan River, the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended in the form of a dove and a voice from Heaven said, ” This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21, 22). The entire Triune God was present at the baptism of the Lord Jesus at the beginning of His earthly ministry and He was vindicated by the voice of the Father and the sign of the Holy Spirit.

    Immediately after His baptism He was led by the Holy Spirit into the Wilderness (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1) where He was tested for forty days by the Devil. Theses tests were not to see if the Lord Jesus would sin, but to demonstrate that the Lord Jesus could not sin, would not sin, and did not sin, because in Him was no sin (James 1:13; Heb. 4:15; II Cor. 5:21). During His public ministry ” God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).

    The ultimate vindication was at the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote that the Lord Jesus was “born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness [the Holy Spirit], by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:3-4). The entire Triune God was involved in the resurrection of Jesus: the Father (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12), the Son (John 10:17, 18), and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11; I Pet. 3:18).

    Seen by Angels

    The third line of the Mystery of Godliness Hymn is that He was ” seen by angels.” Paul wrote to the church at Colossae that the Lord Jesus is the Head of all principalities and power, which included the angelic beings (Col. 2:10).

    They beheld Him even before the Incarnation. Isaiah records that in the year that King Uzziah died, he saw the LORD sitting on His throne. Above Him were seraphim (angelic beings) that were saying to one another: ” Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:1-3). The Apostle John comments on this event and said, ” These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him [the Lord Jesus]” (John 12:41).

    The angelic beings worship the Lord Jesus (Rev. 5:11, 12; Heb. 1:6; Phil. 2:9-11), yet Peter points out that angels desired to look into His sufferings and glories, but they could never appropriate it for themselves (I Pet. 1:12).

    They are also the silent spectators in the Church as they observe the different roles of the men and women (I Cor. 11:10), yet one day believers will judge the angels (I Cor. 6:3).

    The book of Hebrews declared that the Lord Jesus was made a little lower than the angels while He walked among men (Heb. 2:9). Even then, the angels observed Him.

    The Angel Gabriel informed Mary that she would have a Child by the Holy Spirit and He would be the Savior of the world (Luke 1:26-38). An angel confirmed to Joseph that the Child that Mary was carrying was of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20). At the birth of the Lord Jesus, the angels announced the glad tidings of His birth. The heavenly hosts praised God by saying: ” Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:8-14).

    After the Lord Jesus was tested by the Devil for forty days, to prove that He could not sin, did not sin, and would not sin, the Devil departed from Him and the angels came and ministered to Him (Matt. 4:11).

    As the Lord Jesus agonized in Gethsemane, He prayed: ” Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” An angel came from heaven to strengthen Him in this trying time (Matt. 22:42, 43). Yet at the crucifixion, there were no angels to strengthen Him. This event He had to bear alone. Just prior to going to Golgotha, Jesus had said to the chief priests that the time had come for the power of darkness. This seems to imply that Satan and his hoards were at the crucifixion (Luke 22:53). Yet it was at the Cross where Jesus triumphed over them and they were defeated (Col. 2:15).

    An earthquake occurred at the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an angel of the Lord rolled back the stone that covered the entrance to the tomb. As he sat on it, the women appeared at the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. The angel reassured them that Jesus was not there because ” He is raised as He said. Come; see the place where the Lord lay” (Matt. 28:2-6; Luke 24:1-6).

    Forty days after the resurrection, the Lord Jesus took His disciples to the backside of the Mount of Olives and there He ascended into Heaven. As He went up, two men in white apparel (apparently angels) said: ” Men of Galilee, why do you stand here gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into Heaven” (Acts 1:9-11). When the Lord Jesus returns to the Mount of Olives at His second advent after the seven year period of Tribulation (Zech. 14:4, 5), He will come with His saints (the Church) and the angels who will gather His elect (the believing remnant of Israel that survives the Great Tribulation) from the four corners of the earth (Matt. 24:31; 25:31; II Thess. 1:7).

    He was seen by angels and they had an important role in His earthy life and ministry.

    Preached Among the Gentiles

    The fourth line of the Mystery of Godliness Hymn was that He was ” preached among the Gentiles.” Jesus’ primary ministry was to the ” lost sheep of the House of Israel”, i.e a Jewish ministry (Matt. 10:6; Matt. 15:24). Yet He did have a ministry to Gentiles in order to teach His kosher Jewish disciples that God loved the world and that salvation was for all, Jew and Gentile alike.

    Over the forty days between the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and His Ascension, He gave the “Great Commission” (to go into all the world) on at least four occasions (Matt. 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15, 16; Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:8). After Pentecost, these kosher disciples started in Jerusalem, then over time went to Judea and Samaria, and eventually spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth reaching three distinctive ethnic groups: Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles.

    Early in Jesus’ ministry He had a visit from Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This very learned man knew Jesus was a teacher sent from God. Jesus explained to him how he could be “born again” (from above) and then made a very profound statement for a Jewish mind. He said: ” For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God’s love was not just for one nation, but for all people in the entire world.

    This was true in the Hebrew Scriptures as well. Jonah and the salvation of the people of Nineveh is a good example. God sent Jonah to preach to the wicked people of Nineveh, but instead, Jonah went in the opposite direction in order to get as far away from God as possible (or so he thought!, cf. Ps. 139:7-9). After being swallowed by a great fish, Jonah came to his senses and went to Nineveh. His message was short and to the point: ” Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). The king repented and issued a decree for all in the city to do the same. Thus God relented from His planned destruction. Jonah protested and said to God: ” I know You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm” (4:2). Jonah went outside the city to wait for the fireworks. He wanted to see God zap the city! But because the people repented, God relented. Jonah could not rejoice in God’s love for those wicked people who turned to Him.

    Israel was to be a light unto the Gentiles (Isa. 49:6), a task that they failed at many times. From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, His heart was set on the evangelization of the world! His strategy was to start with Israel, because they knew the Scriptures, and then go from there to the Gentiles.

    In His public and private ministry, the Lord Jesus came in contact with individual Gentiles. According to Eusebius, one of the church Fathers, the women with the issue of blood twelve years was a pagan from Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48; Eccl. Hist.7:18; LCL 2: 175-177). The centurion in Capernaum was a Gentile (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). The Syro-Phonecian woman from Tyre was also a Gentile (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30).

    In the travels of the Lord Jesus, He left Jewish territory on at least three occasions in order to minister in Gentile territory. The first recorded trip is after the rejection by the religious leaders and the (false) accusation that He did His miracles by the power of Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15). He gave the parables of the Kingdom from a boat just off shore of the Sea of Galilee to the west of Capernaum (Matt. 13; Mark 4; Luke 8). That evening, He took His disciples to “the other side” (a code name for Gentile territory). This is a major refocus in Jesus’s ministry. He there institutes the Gentile phase of His ministry. On the way over, they encounter a violent windstorm, but eventually land at the harbor of the Decapolis city of Gadera (Kibbutz Ha’on; Franz 1991:114-116). The welcome reception was lead by two demoniacs from Gadera (Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). Jesus casts the demons out of these individuals and into a herd of swine. The Gentiles of the Decapolis ask Jesus to leave their territory. Before He does, one of the demoniacs “sits at the feet of Jesus,” in essence, asking Him if He will make him one of His disciple (Luke 8:35). He instructs the demoniac to go tell the people in the Decapolis what great things the “Lord” (Mark 5:19) and “God” (Luke 8:39) had done for him. The born-again demoniac had a correct Christology because He went and told everybody what great things JESUS had done for him (Mark 5:20; Luke 8:39)! The demoniac’s ministry in the Decapolis would lay the foundation for Jesus ministry in the Decapolis later on.

    After this, Jesus sends His twelve disciples ” to the lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Matt. 10). He instructs them not to go via the roads of the Gentiles, nor enter Samaritans cities. His purpose for limiting the disciples activities to Jewish people was so He could set forth a principle that Paul would state years later in Romans 1:16. The gospel should go “to the Jews first, and then the Gentiles.” After this mission, the disciples returned to Capernaum before Passover and Jesus “debriefed” them in a deserted place near Bethsaida. The crowds follow and Jesus ended up feeding 5,000 men plus women and children (Matt. 14:15-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14).

    At this point there is another subtle refocus in Jesus ministry. From this point on, He tried to avoid the crowds. He knew His “hour had not yet come”, but He also knew that He had one year to train the Twelve before His death and resurrection. He spends time with them privately in order to prepare them for their mission to the world after His ascension.

    His second trip to Gentile territory was sometime after Passover of AD 29. Jesus took His disciples to the region of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30). While in Tyre, a Syro-Phoenician woman begs Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. The conversation that follows is interesting. At the beginning, Jesus is silent. He wanted to see what His disciples would do. They in turn wanted Jesus to send her away. He finally says, ” I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The woman then worshiped Him. Jesus turns to her and says, ” O woman, great is your faith” (Matt. 15:28).

    Jesus kept silent and then said what He said to this woman in order to get her to express her faith in Him in front of the disciples. He even commends her for her faith. Jesus deliberately does this so the disciples could see that salvation was for the Gentiles as well. After this encounter, He immediately took His disciples back to the Decapolis region (Gentile territory) and ministered there.

    The visit to the Decapolis is the third time Jesus visits Gentile territory. This event, in my understanding, took place at the “Kursi church” on the east side of the Sea of Galilee and on the southern side of the Wadi Samek (Franz 1991:117-120). During the Second Temple period, this was the border between the Decapolis to the south and Phillips territory of Gaulanitus to the north.

    In the Decapolis, the demoniac from Gadera had faithfully proclaimed what Jesus had done for him. When Jesus arrived, He healed many Gentiles who were lame, blind, mute, and maimed (Matt. 15:29-31; Mark 7:31-37). Interestingly, Matthew points out that these Gentiles “glorified the God of Israel” (Matt. 15:31). [Mark does not mention this]. Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience, demonstrating that Jesus was the fulfillment of the all that the prophets spoke and wrote about in the Hebrew Scriptures, wanting to “provoke Israel to jealousy”. Paul had the same thought in Romans 11:11-14. Jesus instructed the Gentiles of the Decapolis to “tell no one” of the incident, yet they proclaimed the message of the Lord Jesus widely (Mark 7:35), presumably among the Gentiles!

    He then had compassion on the multitude after hearing Him for three days, so He fed them from seven loaves of bread and some sardines (Matt. 15:32-39; Mark 9:1-9). The demoniac of Gadera, the first Gentile missionary to the Gentiles in the New Testament, had been a very effective evangelist.

    Jesus may not have had an extensive ministry among the Gentiles, but He did have a ministry to them and they continued it. He was trying to get His “kosher” disciples to see that salvation was for the entire world, including the Gentiles.

    Believed on in the world

    The fifth line of the Mystery of Godliness Hymn is that He was ” believed on in the world.” God’s only condition for salvation is to “believe.” The concept of “belief” in the New Testament is to trust in, rely upon, or depend upon the Lord Jesus Christ, as God manifest in human flesh, who died for sin and rose again from the dead three days later, all according to the Scriptures (I Cor. 15:3, 4). During the Old Testament period, a person received salvation “with a credit card”, i.e., one would trust now and someone else would pay for it later. In other words, a person would trust that God would provide the sacrifice that would take away their sins. The One who eventually paid for sin completely was the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. After the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, a person gets a “gift certificate” for salvation. The Lord Jesus has already paid for all sin, so all a person has to do is to accept a “gift certificate” salvation, i.e., put their trust in the Lord Jesus as Savior (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8, 9; Rom. 4:5; I John 5:13).

    The Apostle John tells us why he wrote his gospel. “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:30, 31). The purpose was to bring people to faith in the Lord Jesus. John does that by recording a number of miracles that Jesus did and the reaction of the people who saw these signs.

    Jesus’s disciples (students) believed on Him after they saw Him turn the water into wine (or grape juice, depending on your theology!) at a wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:11). Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, apparently came to faith when he met Jesus at night in Jerusalem (John 3:1-21), but keeps it a secret until after the death of the Lord Jesus (7:50-52; 19:39).

    A Samaritan woman from the village of Sychar came to faith near a well dug by the Patriarch Jacob, and then she went to tell all her friends in the village about Jesus. Many of them trusted Christ as the Savior of the world (John 4:5-45). A nobleman’s son was sick in Capernaum. He traveled to Cana of Galilee to seek the help of the Lord Jesus. He believed as well (John 4:46-54).

    Gentiles also came to faith. One could tell of the centurion who built the synagogue of Capernaum for the people of the city (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10) and the Syro-Phonecian woman (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30).

    Many people believed on Him in the Temple during the Feast of Succoth (Tabernacles) in AD 29 (John 8:30). Many people who saw and heard of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, believed (John 11:45). Secretly, some rulers of the Jewish people trusted Jesus as their Messiah (John 14:42).

    The purpose of God being manifest in human flesh was so that He could ” give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) and bring many to faith in Himself. He was believed on in the world.

    Received up in Glory

    The final line of the Mystery of Godliness Hymn is that he was ” received up in glory.” The Lord Jesus left the glories and splendors of Heaven and lived among sinful human beings in a corrupt and fallen world. After His death on the Cross in order to pay for the sins of all humanity, He returned to Heaven. His being “received up in glory” refers to His ascension into Heaven.

    Dr. Luke records that ” when the time had come for Him to be received up, that he steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Dr. David Gooding, a noted Septuagint scholar, commented on this verse. “We should at once notice carefully what the goal of the journey is said to be. It is sometimes stated on the basis of 9:51 that our Lord’s goal on this journey was Jerusalem. But that is not so. Our Lord’s journey certainly lay via Jerusalem; but the goal of the journey was what Luke here describes as ‘being received up’. The phrase has the sense as that given it by the early Christians hymn quoted by Paul (I Tim. 3:16) which says that Christ ‘was believed on in the world, received up in glory’. In other words by ‘being received up’ Luke is referring to Christ’s ascension into heaven. That and no less was the goal of the journey” (1987:179).

    The Ascension of the Lord Jesus from the back side of the Mount of Olives, near Bethany, is recorded by John Mark and Dr. Luke (Mark 16:19, 20; Luke 24:49-53; Acts 1:6-11). This was the grand seal to His work of redemption.

    The ascension was important because the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus, gave gifted individuals to the Church, His Body. The book of Ephesians arrived in Ephesus a year or so before Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, so he and the church at Ephesus were well familiar with the practical importance of this doctrinal truth. ” But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men ‘ [a quotation from Ps. 68:18]. (Now this, ‘He ascended’ – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying [building up, spiritually and numerically] of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:7-12).

    A psalm that has been attributed to the ascension of the Lord Jesus to Heaven is Psalm 24. The last few verses state: “Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is the King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah” (24: 7-10).

    At His ascension, the Lord Jesus returned to the glories of Heaven as the Conquering King of Glory and the LORD of Hosts because of His death on the Cross. There on the Cross, He paid for all sin, vanquished death and defeated Satan.

    In the Upper Room Discourse (John 12-14), the Lord Jesus said to His disciples: ” Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31). Later, on the Temple Mount, He said that the Spirit was going to ” convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. … Of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16: 8, 11).

    On the Cross, He made His last triumphant cry: ” It is finished” (John 19:30). The cry was actually one word in Greek and it was a legal term for a bill, or debt that had been fully paid. All the sin of the entire world had been laid upon Him and paid in full (I John 2:2). The death of the Lord Jesus satisfied the justice of a holy God so any and all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus would be given God’s righteousness, the forgiveness of sins, a home in Heaven and the free gift of eternal life (Romans 3:25; I John 2:2).

    The Apostle John wrote: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the Devil” (I John 3:8), which He did on the Cross. To the Colossian believers, Paul wrote: “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (2:15). Satan and his dominion were defeated at the Cross. In Hebrews chapter 2, it is stated: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the Devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (2:14, 15). Thus the Lord, mighty in battle, could enter the gates of Heaven a Conquering Victor because sin, death and Satan were defeated.

    The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, some of whom questioned the importance of the resurrection, that ” the last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (I Cor. 15:26). Because of His death and resurrection, the believer in the Lord Jesus has the same hope of ultimate victory over death and this should motive believers to faithful service. Paul continued: ” So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ [A quotation from Isa. 25:8]. ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ [A quotation of Hosea 13:14]. The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15: 54-58).


    Why does Paul include this hymn in his epistle to Timothy? I believe he included it for three reasons. The first reason is directed at unbelievers who have not trusted the Lord Jesus as Savior. The second reason is so that believers can be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus. The final reason is to encourage the church to sing Christo-centric hymns.

    First, the church, the pillar and ground of the truth, was entrusted with the hymn of the mystery of godliness which describes the Person, life, and work of the Lord Jesus. This hymn gave the purpose of His coming to earth. He was manifested in the flesh so that He could die and pay for sin and then be believed on in the world. The church was to share with a lost and dying world how they can be certain that their sins were forgiven, they could receive the righteousness of God, a home in Heaven and the free gift of eternal life. If a person would believe in (put their trust in) the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who died for their sins and rose again from the dead, God would be faithful to His promise to save that person and make them a child of God and Christ would dwell in them.

    The second reason he included this hymn is to make the mystery of godliness practical in the life of the believer. The mystery of godliness is the Lord Jesus Himself. When a person comes to faith in the Lord Jesus, that individual is indwelt by the Godhead, including the Lord Jesus. Paul wrote to the Philippian believers, ” For me to live is Christ” (1:21). To the Colossian believers he stated, ” Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27).

    One person observed: “Godliness is not being like God, or following our Great Example, or observing the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount. Godliness is Christ in the life of a believer; or, to present a different angle, it is the Holy Spirit working His blessed fruit” (Massinger 1939: 485). Sometimes the manifestation of that godliness is hindered in the life of the believer because of the sin nature that causes believers to sin. Fortunately, we have an Advocate with the Father, the Lord Jesus, and we can confess our sins to Him and he will forgive us our sins (I John 1:5-2:2).

    The believer has the indwelling Spirit of God that enables him/her to live a godly life, but Massinger goes on to observe, “Insofar as [the] gracious work of the Spirit is permitted to go unhindered by sin, the mystery of godliness is reveled in the experience of the believer. But this manifestation is never perfect, and the process is never complete in this life because of the presence and the opposition of the sinful nature” (1939: 489).

    One day, at the redemption of our bodies, the believer in the Lord Jesus will be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:23, 29). This will occur when the Lord Jesus reveals Himself the second time, but until then, the hope of His return should led to godly living. The Apostle John wrote: ” Beloved, now are we the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I John 3:2, 3).

    The third reason he includes this hymn is to give the church an example of a Christo-centric hymn that they may pattern their singing after in the worship meeting. Paul admonishes the believers in Ephesus to be filled with the Spirit. The fruit of that is ” speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (5:19). To the Colossian church he said: ” Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one anther in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (3:16). Are the hymns we sing in church “Christo-centric” or are they human-centered? Are they honoring to the Lord or glorifying human achievements? Are they doctrinally based or are they the touchy-feely, make me feel good kind of songs? A beautiful example of a Christo-centric hymn was composed by a publisher and book seller (not a theologian), Josiah Conder (1789-1855):

    Thou art the Everlasting Word,

    The Father’s only Son;

    God manifestly seen and heard,

    And heaven’s beloved One:

    Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou

    That every knee to Thee should bow,

    In Thee most perfectly expressed

    The Father’s glories shine;

    Of the full Deity possessed,

    Eternally divine:

    Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou

    That every knee to Thee should bow.

    True image of the Infinite,

    Whose essence is concealed;

    Brightness of uncreated light;

    The heart of God revealed:

    Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou

    That every knee to Thee should bow.

    But the high mysteries of Thy Name

    An angel’s grasp transcend;

    The Father only – glorious claim! –

    The son can comprehend:

    Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou

    That every knee to Thee should bow.

    Throughout the universe of bliss,

    The center Thou, and sun;

    Th’ eternal theme of praise of this,

    To Heav’n’s beloved one:

    Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou

    That every knee to Thee should bow.



    1980a Ecclesiastical History. Vol. 1. Trans. by K. Lake. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 153.

    1980b Ecclesiastical History. Vol. 2. Trans. by J. E. L. Oulton. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 265.

    Fowl, Stephen E.

    The Story of Christ in the Ethics of Paul. An Analysis of the Function of the Hymnic Material in the Pauline Corpus. Sheffield: Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Sup. Series 36.

    Franz, Gordon

    Ancient Harbors of the Sea of Galilee. Archaeology and Biblical Research 4/4: 111-121.

    Gooding, David

    According to Luke. A New Exposition of the Third Gospel. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity and Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

    Gundry, Robert H.

    The Form, Meaning and Background of the Hymn Quoted in I Timothy 3:16. Pp. 203-222 in Apostolic History and the Gospel. Edited by W. W. Gasque and R. Martin. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

    Hanson, Anthony T.

    Studies in the Pastoral Epistles. London: SPCK.

    Marshall, I. Howard

    A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

    Massinger, Martin O.

    The Mystery of Godliness. Bibliotheca Sacra 96: 479-489.

    Micou, R. W.

    On ‘seen by angels’, I Tim. 3:16. Journal of Biblical Literature 11/2: 201-205.

    Miller, Edward

    A Guide to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament. Collingswood, NJ: Dean Burgon Society. Reprint of 1886 edition.

    Mounce, William D.

    Word Biblical Commentary. Pastoral Epistles. Vol. 46. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

    Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome

    Redactional Angels in I Tim. 3:16. Revue Biblique 91: 178-187.

    Pliny, the Younger

    Letters, Books 8-10. Panegyricus. Vol. 2. Trans. by B. Radice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 59.

    Rowell, J. B.

    The Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ Vindicated. Bibliotheca Sacra 114: 70-77.

    Sanders, Jack T.

    1971 The New Testament Christological Hymns. Their Historical Religious Background. Cambridge: At the University.

    Schweizer, Eduard

    Faith and Order in the New Testament. Two New Testament Creeds Compared. I Corinthians 15:3-5 and I Timothy 3:16. Pp. 166-177 in Current Issues in New Testament Interpretation. Edited by W. Klassen and G. F. Snyder.

    Sterrett, T. Norton

    The Mystery of God, Even Christ. Bibliotheca Sacra 95: 157-171.

    Thiessen, Henry

    Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

    Wilson, T. Ernest

    God’s Sacred Secrets. Mystery Doctrines of the New Testament. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers.

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on The Luke Travel Narrative (Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:47)

    By Gordon Franz


    Some critical scholars have suggested that the “Luke Travel Narrative” (Luke 9:51-19:47) are not historically and geographically correct. This paper will propose a chronological and historical reconstruction of the last six months of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ based on a harmonization of the “Luke Travel Narrative” and the Gospel of John. If this harmonization / chronology is accepted, the parables and discourses that the Lord Jesus gives during this last six months of His life takes on a new meaning. He uses the surrounding topography, flora and fauna and material culture to illustrate the word-pictures in His discourses and parables.

    The Historicity of the “Luke Travel Narrative”

    Biblical scholars have long been puzzled by Luke’s travel narrative, or “central section” as it is sometimes called. Luke begins this section by stating that Jesus is traveling toward Jerusalem (9:51, 53; 13:22, 33; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11, 28). However, the Biblical geographer has problems tracing the route because Jesus begins by going through Samaria (9:52), is later found in Bethany (10:38-42), then “between Samaria and Galilee” (17:11) and finally at Jericho (19:11). If He is going to Jerusalem, this is not the most direct way!

    Critical scholars have picked up on this erratic itinerary and questioned the accuracy of this section. For example, J. A. Robertson wrote: “There is no portion of the writings of Luke which presents a more forbidding obstacle to our acceptance of the claims of the evangelist to be an accurate and orderly historian than the section of the Third Gospel which is sometimes called ‘the Travel Narrative.’ It is the happy hunting ground of the detractors of the historian. And his defenders have sought to gloss over the difficulties that confront us here by suggesting that the ‘order’ in which Luke declares he has arranged his material is logical rather than chronological” (1919:54-55). C. C. McCown suggests that the geography of the Luke travel Narrative contains omissions, inexactitudes, and positive errors. He states, “… for Luke geography and topography serve merely as literary devices. He is not interested in itineraries as were travelers, both Christian and non-Christians, at a slightly later time … His geographical settings were intended to give life and color to the pictures he was drawing. They are a literary artifice like the pastoral scenes of Hellenistic and Roman poets” (1938:56, see also 1932).

    I have a problem squaring these statements of the critical scholars with the opening words of Luke’s gospel. Luke states: “In as much as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seems good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (1:1-4, all Scripture quotes are from the New King James Version).

    The problem can be resolved if a careful examination of the beginning of the Luke Travel Narrative is made. Luke 9:51 says: ” Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him [the Lord Jesus] to be received up, that He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem …” Professor David Gooding, in his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, puts this verse in proper perspective. He says: “We should at once notice carefully what the goal of the journey is said to be. It is sometimes stated on the basis of 9:51 that our Lord’s goal on this journey was Jerusalem. But this is not so. Our Lord’s journey certainly lay via Jerusalem; but the goal of the journey was what Luke describes as ‘being received up’. The phrase has the same sense as that given by the early Christian hymn quoted by Paul (I Tim. 3:16) which says that Christ ‘ was believed on in the world, received up in glory’. In other words by ‘being received up’ Luke is referring to Christ’s ascension into heaven. That and no less was the goal of the journey” (1987:179). If Dr. Gooding is correct, and I believe he is, then the Lord Jesus could take three of four journeys to Jerusalem and Luke would be perfectly correct in his chronology and geography.

    A Proposed Reconstruction

    Harmonies of the gospels are not in vogue in scholarly circles today. I believe they are still valid tools, and therefore, I will attempt to harmonize the Luke Travel Narrative with the Gospel of John, chapters 7-12.

    The Pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles via Samaria (Luke 9:51-10:16; Fall AD 29)

    The Lord Jesus went secretly up to Jerusalem via Samaria for the Feast of Succoth (Tabernacles) in the Fall of AD 29. [I am assuming an AD 30 crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem]. This was the fastest, yet potentially more dangerous route to Jerusalem from Galilee. Josephus describes the route via Samaria as being “for rapid travel, it was essential to take that route, by which Jerusalem may be reached in three days from Galilee” ( Life 269; LCL 1:101). The route was dangerous because of the hatred between the Jews and Samaritans. Josephus records elsewhere: “Hatred also arose between the Samaritans and the Jews for the following reason. It was the custom of the Galileans at the time of a festival to pass through the Samaritan territory on their way to the Holy City. On one occasion, while they were passing through, certain inhabitants of a village called Ginae, which was situated on the border between Samaria and the Great Plain, joined battle with the Galileans and slew a great number of them” ( Antiquities 20:118; LCL 10:63. In Wars 2:232; LCL 2:415, only one Galilean was killed at Gema). The site of Ginae / Gema was known in the Bible as Ein-Gannin (Josh. 19:21) and it situated at modern day Jenin on the edge of the Plain of Esdraelon.

    More than likely the Lord Jesus took advantage of the locale to remind His disciples of past Israelite history. As they crossed the Plain of Esdraelon, He pointed westward to the Carmel Range and recounted the encounter between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (II Kings 18). After being rejected in the first Samaritan village (Jenin), two disciples, James and John (“the sons of thunder”), recalled the lesson and said, ” Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” (Luke 9:54). The disciples had heard the lesson, but failed to grasp the true meaning and application for their lives.

    A little further on the road, the Lord Jesus instructed His disciples on the cost of discipleship. One disciple volunteered to follow the Lord wherever He went, but requested to first say farewell to his family. The Lord Jesus responded, ” No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God” (9:62). In September, one would notice the Samaritan farmer out plowing his field in order to get it ready for the fall planting.

    As they walked further on the road, Jesus noticed only a small number of farmers out in the olive groves harvesting the olives. Jesus made an analogy to a spiritual harvest when He said, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (10:2). The chronology is important at this point. The grain harvest is in May and June and is the one Jesus refers to in John 4:35. But the harvest Jesus had in mind is in the fall, thus the olive harvest. He also reiterates the woes against Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum (10:13-16) to the Galilean pilgrims that were in the caravan heading for Jerusalem. Jesus had given these same woes more than a year earlier in Capernaum (Matt. 11:20-24).

    The Feast of Succoth (Tabernacles) in Jerusalem (John 7:14-10:21)

    The Lord Jesus arrived in Jerusalem about the middle of the Feast of Succoth. It was during this time He taught in the Temple and had a heated discussion with the Pharisees. He forgave the woman taken in adultery and well as healed a man who was born blind. Lord records nothing of the events that transpired in Jerusalem for the Feast of Succoth.

    After the Feast of Succoth in Jerusalem / Bethany (Luke 10:17-11:13, or 12:53)

    Jesus, along with His twelve disciples, probably enjoyed the hospitality of Lazarus, Mary and Martha in Bethany while awaiting the return of the seventy disciples that Jesus had sent out to Peraea just prior to Succoth (Luke 10:1). When they did return, they rejoiced that the demons were subject to them. Jesus had to put things in proper perspective and admonished them to not rejoice in the demons being subject to them, but rather, that their names were written in heaven (10:17-20).

    The parable of the Good Samaritan (10:23-37) was probably given in the Temple area, maybe even on the “Rabbinic stairs” at the southern entrance of the Temple enclosure. Jesus used the Roman road from Jerusalem to Jericho to illustrate the answer to the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” A certain man was going down to Jericho (a 1,000 meter elevation change) and fell among robbers. The rugged terrain of the Wilderness of Judea would be an ideal place for bandits to hide in order to ambush unsuspecting travelers. The priests and Levites would be on this road because they were either going to, or coming from their Temple duties. The rabbinic sources indicate that Jericho was largely inhabited by priests during the Second Temple period.

    The “certain village” (10:32) where Mary and Martha resided was Bethany (cf. John 11). The Lord Jesus was praying in a “certain place” when His disciples asked Him to instruct them in prayer (11:1). There is an early church tradition that Jesus instructed His disciples His disciples on the Mount of Olives. Today, the Pater Noster Church preserves this tradition with over 65 tiled panels with the Lord’s Prayer in different languages. It should be pointed out that this instruction is different than the Lord’s Prayer given in the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 6 more than a year and a half earlier. That may be a reflection of the disciple’s short memory!

    The First Peraean Ministry (Luke 11:14, or 12:54 – 13:33, note 13:22)

    Professor M. Avi-Yonah describes Peraea, the territory east of the Jordan River, as a “long and comparatively narrow stretch of land, extending from Amathus in the north to Machaerus and the River Arnon in the south. Narrow at its northern and southern ends, it widened in the middle where it bordered with Philadelphia. … The fertility of the Jordan Valley meant that settlements were close to each other and hence the units of administration were fairly small. Peraea faced the district of Jericho and parts of Samaria on the west. … Its importance was that it provided a strip of Jewish territory east of the Jordan which could be regarded as being almost in touch with Jewish Galilee. Consequently Jews who wished to avoid the ‘contamination’ of passing through the country of the Samaritans were able to approach Jerusalem by way of Peraea, crossing opposite Jericho and then going up to Jerusalem …” (1974:1:96-97).

    In the first phase of Jesus’ Peraean ministry there are a few chronological and geographical indicators that should be pointed out. Jesus instructs the multitudes regarding the “signs of the times” when He says, ” When you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is” (12:54). This is a reference to the “former (or early) rains” that begin soon after the Feast of Succoth. Probably at the northern most point of Peraea , Jesus turned around and headed back towards Jerusalem, thus the statement: “And He went through the cities and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem” (13:22). As this phase of His Peraean ministry drew to a close, some Pharisees warned Jesus, probably opposite Jericho in Peraea, that Herod Antipas wanted to kill Him (13:31). This statement could only have been made in the territory controlled by Herod Antipas, i.e. Galilee or Peraea. Galilee should be ruled out because He sets His location as two and a half days from Jerusalem (13:33).

    The Festival of Hanukkah in Jerusalem (Luke 13:34-14:33; John 10:22-39; December AD 29)

    The Lord Jesus visited Jerusalem for the Festival of Hanukkah during the winter of AD 29. This feast was a memorial to the purification and rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus on Kislev 25, 165 BC (Franz 1998:91, 92).

    In John’s Gospel, Jesus walked into the Temple, in Solomon’s porch on the outer fringes of the Temple enclosure. Here, the religious leaders surrounded the Lord Jesus and asked Him to tell them plainly whether He was the Messiah or not (10:24). Jesus answered, ” I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (10:25-27). Luke describes what takes place after this rejection. Jesus said, ” O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD’!” (13:34, 35). This was the last time Jesus would be in Jerusalem until He returned for His “Final Week”. On “Palm Sunday” of Passion Week, the crowed quoted Psalm 118:26, ” Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” in fulfillment of Jesus’ words four months prior (Matt. 21:9; Mark 11:10; Luke 19:38; John 12:13).

    While in Jerusalem for Hanukkah, Jesus gives two parables concerning banquets. One concerns the taking of the lowly place (Luke 14:7-14) and the second is the parable of the Great Supper. The setting or backdrop for these parables could be any of the palatial structures in the Upper City of Jerusalem, some excavated by Nahman Avigad in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City (1980:95-120). After Hanukkah John records that Jesus went ” beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first and there He stayed” (10:40). This began the second phase of His Peraean ministry.

    The Second Peraean Ministry (Luke 14:34-17:10; John 10:40-42; Winter AD 30)

    The Lord Jesus went to Peraea via Jericho. This route is reflected in the reference to salt (Luke 14:34, 35) which would be in abundance in the area because of the Dead Sea. Also the reference to the audience of the three parables that followed: the parable of the lost sheep, coin and sons. Jesus was addressing tax-collectors that would be living in border cities. Jericho was the first city one came to as they entered Judea from Peraea. This locale also provides the setting for the parable of the lost sheep. In this parable, Jesus states, ” What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” (15:4). The Judean Wilderness, which Jesus and His disciples passed through on the way to Jericho, would be fresh in the minds of His disciples and well known to the audience of tax-collectors in Jericho. Jesus had told a similar story several months earlier in Capernaum (Matt. 18:11-14). In the Galilean setting He talked about the sheep being lost in the mountains. Jesus used the same illustration but adapted it to fit the locale where He was speaking.

    From this vantage point in Jericho, the Lord Jesus could also point south toward the community that resided at Qumran when He gave the parable of the unjust steward (16:1-13). In this parable, Jesus makes reference to the “sons of light” (16:8) which, according to the sectarian literature from Qumran, was one of the designations of the inhabitants of Qumran (Flusser 1988: 150-168).

    Jesus could also point to Macherus, the summer palace of Herod Antipas in Peraea, when He spoke about divorce (16:18). Within the past year, Herod Antipas had divorced his Nabatean wife and married another divorcee, Herodias. It was here John the Baptizer [Remember, John was not a Baptist, he was a Jews] was beheaded for standing for the truth and condemning Herod for his actions (Mark 6:18; Hoehner 1980: 110-171).

    In the account of the rich man and Lazarus, Jericho would be the ideal setting for this event (Luke 16:19-31). Lazarus was begging near the palatial structures that were near Herodian Jericho (2001:40-63).

    The Raising of Lazarus in Bethany (John 11:1-53)

    After hearing the news of the sickness of His friend Lazarus, [a different Lazarus than the one mentioned in Luke 16], Jesus waited two days before returning to Judea. His disciples warned Him of the possible impending danger that waited Him if He went to Jerusalem. On this occasion, Jesus goes to Bethany, on the back side of the Mount of Olives, and raises Lazarus from the dead. As a result, the religious establishment plotted to put Jesus to death (11:53).

    The Retreat to Ephraim (John 11:54-57)

    Jesus withdrew to Ephraim, modern day Taiyibeh, some 20 miles (according to Eusebius, but 12 ½ miles as the crow flies) north of Jerusalem to remain in seclusion with His disciples. From Taiyibeh, one could see the range of the Mount of Olives and any movement toward Ephraim if the religious establishment wanted to find Jesus in order to do Him harm. Situated on the edge of the Wilderness of Ephraim sometimes afforded the Lord Jesus the opportunity of solitude and preparation for the Passion Week to follow.

    The Last Journey to Jerusalem for the Passover via the Jezreel Valley and Peraea (Luke 17:11-19:27; Matt. 19:1-20:34; Mark 10:1-52)

    Rather than going directly into Jerusalem from Ephraim, Jesus went through Samaria to join up with the Galilean pilgrims, probably near Scythopolis (ancient Beth Shan) heading to Jerusalem via Peraea. Luke 17:11 is the pivotal passage in this regards. It states: ” Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.” Plummer grasps the geographical significance of this passage. He states, “It means ‘through what lies between.’ i.e. along the frontier, or simply, ‘between .’ … ‘Through the midst of Samaria and Galilee’ would imply that Jesus was moving from Jerusalem, whereas we are expressly told that He was journeying towards it. Samaria, being on the right, would naturally be mentioned first if He was going eastward along the frontier between Samaria and Galilee possibly by the route which ends at Bethshean, near the Jordan” (1981:403). Somewhere in the Jezreel Valley was a “certain village” where ten lepers begged the Lord Jesus to heal them. One of these lepers was a Samaritan who returned and thanked the Lord Jesus for healing him (Luke 17:11-19).

    At this point the Synoptic gospels pick up each other and follow the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem. One “apparent contradiction”, concerning the healing of the blind man (men) near Jericho, should be discussed at this point (Matt. 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-32; Luke 18:35-43). Matthew records that two blind men were healed as they left Jericho. Mark mentions only one as they left Jericho. Luke seems to contradict this by saying there was only one who was healed as Jesus entered Jericho. If there were two men healed, then there is at least one man who was healed. Matthew, for his purposes, mentions that there were two. The real problem lies with “leaving” and “entering” Jericho. Edersheim in his monumental Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah comments on this problem with these words, “But, in regards to the other divergence, as trifling as it is, that St. Luke places the incident at the arrival, the other two evangelists at the departure of Jesus from Jericho, it is better to admit our inability to conciliate these differing notes of time, than to make the clumsy attempts at harmonizing them. We can readily believe that there may have been circumstances unknown to us, which might show these statements to be not really diverging” (1976:II:355). I believe the solution to the problem is now at hand. Based on what we know about Jericho in the Second Temple period we can conclude there were two Jericho’s, one which was populated by Jews and the other by Romans. The Jewish city of Jericho was under the modern town of Jericho, near the city square. Herodian Jericho is situated 1 ½ kilometers to the west on the Roman road leading up to Jerusalem. This was the royal winter place of Herod the Great and was surrounded by villas of the wealthy. The event which follows the healing of the blind man in Luke’s gospel is Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus. He lived in Herodian Jericho because he was a very wealthy man as well as a tax collector. He would not have lived in Jewish Jericho.

    The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-44; Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; John 12:12-19; Sunday, April 2, AD 30)

    All four gospels record the triumphal entry into Jerusalem by the Lord Jesus on “Palm Sunday”, thus ended His “Final Journey” to Jerusalem. This week was the most important week in the history of humanity, for it was in this week that the Lord Jesus suffered for the sins of the entire world and rose triumphantly from the grave three days later. It was because of this cross work that He could offer salvation, a home in heaven, His righteousness to any and all who would put their trust in Him alone as their Savior (John 3:16; Eph. 3:8, 9; Phil. 3:9).

    Concluding Thoughts

    I have attempted to harmonize the last six months in the Life of the Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in the accounts in the Luke “travel narrative” as well as the Gospel of John. The critics failed to understand the importance of Luke 9:51, thinking that the final destination intended was Jerusalem. As a result of this misunderstanding they saw geographical problems in the narrative. If we correctly understand the phrase “received up” to refer to the ascension of the Lord Jesus to heaven, the text would allow three or four journeys to Jerusalem that finally ended in the Passion Week and Luke ends his gospel with the ascension of the Lord Jesus from Bethany into Heaven. That, and only that, was the final goal of His journey!


    Avigad, Nahman

    1980 Discovering Jerusalem. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

    Avi-Yonah, Michael

    1974 Historical Geography of Palestine. Pp. 78-116 in The Jewish People in the First Century. Vol. 1. Edited by S. Safrai and M. Stern. Assen: Van Gorcum, and Philadelphia, PA: Fortress.

    Edersheim, Alfred

    1976 The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 2 vols. In one. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans. 5th printing.

    Flusser, David

    1988 Judaism and the Origins of Christianity. Jerusalem: Magnes and Hebrew University.

    Franz, Gordon

    1998 Hanukkah: The Festival of Light. Bible and Spade 11/4: 91, 92.

    Gooding, David

    1987 According to Luke. A New Exposition of the Third Gospel. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

    Hoehner, Harold

    1980 Herod Antipas. A Contemporary of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


    1926 The Life. Against Apion. Vol. 1. Trans. by H. Thackeray. Cambridge, MA; Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 186. Reprinted 1976.

    1927 The Jewish Wars. Vol. 2. Trans. by H. Thackeray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 203. Reprinted in 1976.

    1965 Jewish Antiquities. Vol. 10. Trans. by L. Feldman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 456. Reprinted in 1981.

    McCown, C. C.

    1932 The Geography of Jesus’ Last Journey to Jerusalem. Journal of Biblical Literature 51:107-129.

    1938 The Geography of Luke’s Central Section. Journal of Biblical Literature 57:51-66.

    Netzer, Ehud

    2001 The Palaces of the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great. Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi and Israel Exploration Society.

    Plummer, Alfred

    1981 A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Luke. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

    Robertson, J. A.

    1919 The Passion Journey. Expositor. 8th series, 17: 54-55.

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on Let The Dead Bury Their Own Dead

    By Gordon Franz

    There are two incidents recorded in the Gospels when a disciple requested a “leave of absence” in order to “bury” his father (Matt. 8:21-22; Luke 9:59-60). Although the requests appear reasonable, Jesus gave a seemingly harsh reply in each case: “Follow Me, let the dead bury their own dead.”

    This statement is often considered a “hard saying” of Jesus (Bruce 1983: 161-163). Some critical scholars suggest that Jesus was encouraging His disciples to break the fifth commandment (honor your father and mother) by not giving their fathers a proper burial (Sanders 1985: 252-255). Is He really demanding this? Most commentaries suggest Jesus meant, “Leave the (spiritual) dead to bury the (physical) dead” (Fitzmyer 1981: 836; Liefeld 1984: 935). This interpretation, though common (Fitzmyer calls it the “majority interpretation”), is not consistent with the text and with Jewish burial practices of the first century AD.

    Problems with the “Majority Interpretation”

    Byron McCane, of Duke University, points out three problems with the “majority interpretation” (hereafter MI; 1990:38-39). First, it does not give an adequate explanation of the disciples’ request, “Let me first go and bury my father.” The MI sees the request as a conflict of loyalties between the disciples’ responsibilities to their dead fathers and their commitment to follow Jesus. This minimizes the importance of the adverb “first.” In each case, a disciple was requesting time to fulfill his family obligation regarding the burial of his father. Once this was discharged, the disciple would return and follow Jesus. Thus the MI does not explain the disciples’ request for time.

    Secondly, those who follow the MI generally omit the words “their own dead,” because they want to distinguish between two meanings of the word “dead.” “Let the spiritually deal bury the physically dead.” However, the text says, “their own dead,” indicating that both occurrences of “dead” are connected in a reflexive possessive relation. There is no need to spiritualize the text regarding the dead; both are physically dead!

    Finally, the MI goes against first-century Jewish burial customs. In the first century, when a person died, they normally were taken and buried immediately in the family burial cave that had been hewn out of bedrock. [For the archaeology of Jewish tombs during the New Testament period, see Rahmani 1958, 1961, 1982a]. This custom is based on the injunction found in the Mosaic Law, not to leave the corpse on an executed person on the tree overnight (Deut. 21:22-23). Two examples of immediate burials are found in the New Testament: Jesus (John 19:31) and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:6-10).

    Immediately after the burial, the family would separate itself and mourn for seven days. This mourning period was called shiv’ah. It would have been impossible for the disciples to make their request if their father had just died. If they were the eldest sons, they were obligated by custom to immediately bury their fathers. If the MI is correct, the disciples would have been acting contrary to normal first-century Jewish burial practices.

    An Interpretation Based on First-Century Jewish Burial Practices

    McCane suggests an interpretation that is consistent with first-century Jewish burial practices (1990:40-41). After a body was placed in a burial cave, it was left to decompose. The family mourned for seven days. This initial mourning period was followed by a less intense 30-day period of mourning, called shloshim. However, the entire mourning period was not fully over until the flesh of the deceased had decomposed, usually about a year later. The Jerusalem Talmud states: When the flesh had wasted away, the bones were collected and placed in chests (ossuaries). On that day (the son) mourned, but the following day he was glad, because his forebears rested from judgment ( Moed Qatan 1:5).

    The final act of mourning, the gathering of the bones into a bone box called an ossuary, was called “ossilegium,” or “secondary burial.” It is this act, I believe, that is in view in our Lord’s response. [For a good discussion of secondary burials, see Meyers 1971; Rahmani 1981. On ossuaries, see Rahmani 1982b]. The disciples’ request and Jesus’ response makes good sense in light of the Jewish custom of secondary burial. When the disciples requested time to bury their fathers they were actually asking for time to finish the rite of secondary burial. Their father had died, been placed in the family burial cave, and the sons had sat shiv’ah and most likely shloshim. They had requested anywhere from a few weeks to up to 11 months to finish the ritual of ossilegium before they returned to Jesus.

    Jesus’ sharp answer also fits well with secondary burial. The fathers had been buried in the family burial caves and their bodies were slowly decomposing. In the tombs, along with the fathers, were other family members who had died, some awaiting secondary burial, others already placed in ossuaries. When Jesus stated: “Let the dead bury their own dead,” He was referring to two different kinds of dead in the tomb: the bones of the deceased which had already been neatly placed in ossuaries and the fathers who had yet to be reburied. The phrase “own dead” indicates that the fathers were included among the dead.

    The Setting of This Saying

    The Gospels record two incidents where disciples approached the Lord to request a “leave of absence” from following Him. The first request is recorded in Matthew 8. Jesus was about to take the Twelve across the Sea of Galilee to the Decapolis city of Gadara. Chronologically, this trip is the first recorded journey of Jesus to minister in Gentile territory. One of His disciples hesitated, probably because he did not want to go to those unclean, non-kosher pagan Gentiles.

    So he made an excuse, “Let me first go and bury my father.” He most likely appealed to the Jewish burial practice of ossilegium, or secondary burial, which would remove him from following the Lord for up to eleven months. Jesus saw this as an excuse not to minister to the Gentiles. As a result He rebuked him with a statement of irony and challenged the disciple to follow Him. Quite possibly this was Peter because he is known to have had a problem associating with Gentiles (Acts 10:9-22; Gal. 2:11-12).

    The second incident is recorded in Luke 9:59-60. Another disciple, possibly one of the 70 (Luke 10:1, 17) was going to Jerusalem for the Feast of Succoth (Tabernacles) during the fall of AD 29. He asked to be excused for the same reason. It may be that this disciple was taking advantage of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to rebury the bones of his father in the Holy City (cf. Meyers 1971-72: 98, 99; Avigad 1962). If so, Jesus felt it was more pressing for him to go with the 70 to Perea than to rebury the bones of his father in Jerusalem.

    In each case, the father had died more than a month prior and the Lord rebuked the disciples with the same stern statement.

    The Reason for Jesus’ Response

    Why would Jesus respond in a seemingly harsh manner? The purpose of His response may have been twofold. The first purpose was to encourage the disciples to faithfully follow Him. The second purpose and perhaps more importantly, was to teach correct theology.

    The concept of gathering the bones of one’s ancestors is deeply embedded in the Hebrew Scriptures and reflected in Israelite burial practices (Gen. 49:29; Judges 2:10; 16:31; I Kings 11:21, 43, etc.). However, by New Testament times, the concept had taken on a new meaning. According to the Rabbinic sources, the decomposition of the flesh atoned for the sins of the dead person (a kind of purgatory) and the final stage of this process was gathering the bones and placing them in an ossuary (Meyers 1971: 80-85). Jesus confronts this contrary theology. Only faith in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross can atone for sin, not rotting flesh or any other work or merit of our own (Heb. 9:22, 26; Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:8, 9). Jesus may have rebuked these two disciples rather harshly because they were following the corrupted practice of secondary burial.


    An amplified (interpretive) rendering of this statement might be: Look, you have already honored your father by giving him a proper burial in the family sepulcher. Now, instead of waiting for the flesh to decompose, this can never atone for sin, go and preach the Kingdom of God and tell of the only true means of atonement, faith alone in Christ. Let the bones of you dead father’s ancestors gather his bones and place them in an ossuary. You follow me! This interpretation allows for Jesus to have upheld the fifth commandment, takes the text at face value, and does justice to the Jewish burial practices of the first century. The interpretation is therefore consistent theologically, Biblically, and historically, and answers the critics accurately.


    Avigad, Nahman

    1962 A Depository of Inscribed Ossuaries in the Kidron Valley. Israel Exploration Journal 12:1-12.

    Bruce, F. F.

    1983 The Hard Sayings of Jesus. Downers Grove, IL: IVP.

    Fitzmyer, Joseph

    1981 The Anchor Bible. The Gospel According to Luke I – IX. New York: Doubleday.

    Liefeld, Walter

    1984 Luke. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

    McCane, B.

    1990 “Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead”: Secondary Burial and Matt. 8:21-22. Harvard Theological Review 83:31-43.

    Meyers, Eric

    1971 Jewish Ossuaries: Reburial and Rebirth. Rome: Biblical Institute.

    1971-1972 The Theological Implications of an Ancient Jewish Burial Custom. Jewish Quarterly Review 62: 95-119.

    Rahmani, Levi

    1958 A Jewish Tomb on Shahin Hill, Jerusalem. Israel Exploration Journal 8: 101-105.

    1961 Jewish Rock-Cut Tombs in Jerusalem. ‘Atiqot 3: 93-120.

    1981 Ancient Jerusalem’s Funerary Customs and Tombs – Part One. Biblical Archaeologist 44: 171-177.

    1982a Ancient Jerusalem’s Funerary Customs and Tombs – Part Three. Biblical Archaeologist 45: 43-53.

    1982b Ancient Jerusalem’s Funerary Customs and Tombs – Part Four. Biblical Archaeologist 45: 109-119.

    Sanders, E.

    1985 Jesus and Judaism. Philadelphia, PA: fortress.

    Zlotnick, D.

    1966 The Tractate “Mourning” (Semahot). Regulations relating to Death, Burial and Mourning. New Haven, CT: Yale University.

    This article was first published in Archaeology and Biblical Research 5/2 (1992) 54-58.

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on The Demoniacs Of Gadara

    By Gordon Franz

    The account in the Synoptic gospels of the demoniacs of Gadara is a pivotal event in the Galilean ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. This event is recorded in all three Synoptic gospels (Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). This paper will examine several “problems” relating to this account and then an attempt will be made to place it in proper perspective in relation to the whole of the Lord Jesus’ ministry.

    The first issue to be examined is the textual problem of the passage. Does the text read the region of the Gergesenes, Gadarenes or Gerasenes? The conclusion of this textual problem will determine the outcome of the second “problem”, which is the identification of the site where this event took place. Did it take place in the region of Gergesa, Gadara, or Jerash? The text is clear that this event took place on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Two (maybe three) possible sites have been proposed for the setting of the casting of the demons into the swine. The first possibility, which is now a National Park, is the Byzantine Kursi church on the southern banks of the Wadi Samek. The other possibility is Tel Samra, situated under the campground of Kibbutz Ha’on. The third issue, a moral one, is why did the Lord Jesus allow the herd of swine to be destroyed? After all, they were part of God’s creation! Is it because they were not kosher, or did they have some cultic connections? If these issues can be successfully resolved, then it will give us a clearer perspective on the ministry of the Lord Jesus and the message that each gospel writer is trying to set forth.

    The Textual Problem

    I believe that the Textus Receptus has the better reading concerning this textual problem. The proper reading of the text should be the region of the “Gergesenes” in Matthew’s gospel (8:28), and the region of the “Gadarenes” in Mark’s (5:1) and Luke’s (8:26) gospels. If this is the case, is this a contradiction? Were they two separate regions, or different names for the same region? I would like to propose that they were two different names for the same region. One must keep in mind the audience to whom each gospel is addressed. Matthew, the former tax collector from Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, is writing primarily to a Jewish audience, probably in the Land of Israel. Mark appears to be addressing a Jewish audience in the Diaspora, possibly Rome. Luke is writing to a Gentile audience somewhere in the Roman world.

    If the reading in Matthew’s gospel is “Gergasenes”, then there are two possible interpretations of the name (Lightfoot 1859:II:166, 409, 410). The first is it stands for an “old Gergashite family.” Unfortunately, of the seven references to the nation of the Girgashites that were in the Land when the Israelites entered, none of them give any geographical hints as to where the nation was located (Gen. 10:16; 15:21; Deut. 7:1; Josh. 3:10; 24:11; I Chron. 1:14; Neh. 9:8). There is supposedly a Talmudic reference which places them in the region of Gilead or the Golan Heights, but I have not been able to confirm this. Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, would refer to the region by its old Semitic name. This phenomenon can be illustrated by the city of Beth-Shean, another Decapolis city. During the Hellenistic period, the name of the city was changed to Scythopolis, yet “the Jews there continued to call the place by its old name. A bilingual ossuary inscription found in Jerusalem has the Semitic inscription ‘Ammyiah ha-Beshanit’ and ‘Hanin ha-Beshani’ which corresponds in the Greek part of the inscription to ‘Ammia Skuthopolitissa’ and ‘Anin Skuthpoleites’. Josephus makes a point of saying that the ‘Greeks’ called the place Scythopolis ( Antiq. 12:348; 13:188 [LCL 7:181, 321]) and the Talmudic sources always call the place by the shortened form ‘Beishan’ (which is preserved in the Arabic ‘Beisan’)” (Rainey 1973). There is another bilingual ossuary from Jerusalem with the name “Papias, / the Be(t)shanite” in Hebrew and “Papias and Salomich (!) / the Scythopolitans” in Greek (Rahmani 1994:112, no. 139). Another possibility is that it refers to “the muddy and clayey nature of the soil which is called ‘gergishta’ by the Jews” (Lightfoot 1859:II: 410). If this is the case, then Matthew reflects the local conditions which he was aware of from living across the Lake, perhaps this was a nickname for the region. Mark and Luke, writing to audiences that might not be acquainted with the geography of the region refers to the place by its Greek name, Gadara, one of the Decapolis cities.

    Two or One Demoniacs?

    I find it interesting that Matthew records two demoniacs in his account, and I think he does so with a purpose in mind. There is no contradiction between Matthew and the other two Synoptic gospel writers. If there are two demoniacs, then there is obviously at least one. Mark and Luke are emphasizing the leader of the two, but why does Matthew mention two? In the Hebrew mindset, a fact is established in a court of law by two or more witnesses (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15). The Spirit of God had Matthew emphasize the second demoniac because He was pointing out to the Jewish mindset, that the gospel was for the Gentiles as well as the Jewish people and the Kingdom of Heaven was to include Gentiles! Yet Matthew confirmed this concept by two Gentile demoniacs being healed on the first trip the Lord Jesus and His disciples took to Gentile territory.

    The Location of the Event

    All geographers of the Bible place the event of the demoniac on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Yet there is a difference of opinions as to where on the east side. Tourists visiting Israel today are shown the remains of the Byzantine church / monastery complex at Kursi, now a National Park, on the southern banks of Wadi Samek. Just to the south of the site is a sharp decline that might fit the geographical requirements for the place where the swine went into the sea. The site of Kursi was excavated in the early 1970’s and identified by the excavators with the demoniac event (Tzaferis 1983: 43-48). Yet if one reads the excavation report carefully, there is no archaeological support for this identification. Unfortunately, only the western part of the mosaic floor in the nave (central aisle) of the church was left intact, while the eastern part was badly damaged. If there were any inscriptions identifying to whom or what this church was dedicated to in the eastern end of the nave, it was destroyed (1983:23). One scholar suggested there was possibly a scene of pigs on the floor (Nun 1989b: 25). However, this is wishful thinking on his part based on his assumption that this church commemorated the place where Jesus exorcised the demons into the swine. Those who hold to the Kursi site as the place of the demoniac event also argue that Mark and Luke would use the familiar Greek name “Gadara” because the readers would be familiar with this name. However, this conclusion fails to take into account the other Decapolis city between Kursi and Gadara, namely Hippos (or Susita). Their Gentile readers would be familiar with this city as well.

    I have proposed elsewhere that the Kursi church should be identified with the feeding of the 4,000 recorded in the gospel narratives (Matt. 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-10; Franz 1991: 117-120). I was intrigued to find that C. J. Ellicott (1874:205, 206, note 3) proposed this identification in 1874 yet he gave no reason for it, nor was he aware of the Byzantine church.

    I have also proposed that the casting of the demons into the swine took place at the ancient harbor located just south of Tel Samra, now the campground of Kibbutz Ha’on (Franz 1991:114-116). Some textual critics have objected to the reading of Gadara, located at Umm Qeis, south of the Yarmuk River, because it is to far from the Sea of Galilee (10 Kilometers as the crow flies) and had no control over any part of the Lake. In 1985, however, as a result of the low water level, a harbor was discovered south of Tel Samra. This harbor is the largest harbor on the east side of the lake, larger than Hippos (Susita), the other Decapolis city bordering the lake. Its outer breakwater measures some 250 meters long and has a 5 meter wide base. The quay, or landing place for the boats, is some 200 meters long. There is also a 500 meter pier along the shore (Nun 1989a: 16-18). Mendel Nun, a fisherman from Kibbutz Ein Gev and a noted authority on the Sea of Galilee surmised: “One can only assume that a splendid harbor such as this did not serve a small population. It is much more likely that it once had been the harbor of Gadara, located on the heights of Gilead above the Yarmuk River – the largest and most magnificent of the Hellenistic towns that encircled the Sea of Galilee” (1989a: 17).

    Coins from Gadara were discovered which depict boats commemorating the “Naumachia,” or naval battles reenacted by the people of Gadara. Several scholars have suggested that these battles took place on the Yarmuk River (Dalman n.d.: 178, 179). But along the shore of the Sea of Galilee is now a more defendable conclusion. The “shore” conclusion would allow for the comfortable seating of the spectators along the 500 meter pier as they watched the sea battles.

    Another interesting observation is the discovery of a Byzantine “chapel / church” unearthed in the excavations of Tel Samra adjacent to the harbor (Nun 1989a:16). To whom or what was this church dedicated? Did it commemorate the demoniac event? We do not know for sure because the excavations have never been properly published.

    Assuming the location of this event is the harbor of Gadara, how does the geography fit the Biblical text? The Lord Jesus and His disciples landed in the harbor and got out of the boat and were met by a demon possessed man (men) who lived in tombs (Mark 5:2; Luke 8:27). There were tombs in the area as attested to by three sarcophagi that were found in the area. The demons requested to be thrown into the herd of swine which were “a good way off”, “on / near the mountain (s)” (the Golan Heights – Matt. 8:32; Mark 5:13; Luke 8:33).

    There are two possibilities as to where this event took place. The first possibility is just behind Kibbutz Ha’on. There is a ridge there that comes down from the Golan Heights that would allow the swine to run down from the top of the heights. The second possibility, suggested by Michael Avi-Yonah, is in on the grounds of Kibbutz Ma’agan ( CBA 233; 2002:172, 173). This location is the only one in the southern part of the lake with a cliff that drops off into the lake. However, it should be pointed out that text does not demand a cliff. After the swine were destroyed, the predominately Gentile population of the Decapolis pleaded with the Lord Jesus to leave their territory. Apparently He was disrupting their economy and culinary delights, i.e. pork chops and ham!

    Why Were the Swine Destroyed?

    Some critics have objected to this story because it seems like a senseless waste of a herd of pigs. Again, the audience of each gospel is to be kept in mind. Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, wanted to emphasize that the Lord Jesus was upholding the Mosaic Law concerning the prohibition of eating pork (Lev. 11:7; Deut. 14:8; Isa. 65:4; 66:3, 17) and His words, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). Mark and Luke had another purpose in mind. Dr. Earl S. Johnson, Jr., in a paper delivered at the 1989 AAR / SBL meeting in Los Angeles, CA, pointed out that: “Since Mark’s gospel was written to Christians living somewhere in the Roman Empire, possibly even in Rome itself, it is not unlikely that this miracle narrative could be better understood if it were examined from a Gentile or Roman perspective. Information about the nature of Geresa [his suggestion, although it also holds true for Gadara – GF] as a Roman city, evidence about the practice of the Roman soldiers to memorialize themselves in provincial necropolis, and the Roman use of pigs for sacrifice, especially for atonement, all indicate that Mark’s narrative clearly has a Roman perspective in mind and that it serves a function much like the temple cleansing scene in chapter 11: Jew and Roman alike must abandon former practices of sacrifice in order to follow Jesus Christ, the one whose death and resurrection make all these rituals superfluous” (1989:49, 50).

    Theological Implications of the Event

    This event is pivotal in the Galilean ministry of the Lord Jesus. In order to appreciate this significance, a review of the events leading up to it will be given. The time setting for this event is around November of AD 28. Apparently, the day before (according to Jewish reckoning) the Lord Jesus was having an evening meal with His disciples (Mark 3:20), but was interrupted by one who was brought to Him demon possessed, blind and mute (Matt. 12:22). The Lord Jesus healed him and the multitudes began to wonder if He was not the Son of David (Matt. 12:23). The scribes from Jerusalem (Mark 3:22) and Pharisees (Matt. 12:24) attributed His power to Beelzebub / Satan. The Lord Jesus then gave the parable of the kingdom that was divided against itself (Matt. 12:25-30; Mark 3:23-27) and pronounced the “unpardonable sin” (Matt. 12:31, 32; Mark 3:26-30).

    Later, some Scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign (Matt. 12:38-42). The Lord Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah the Prophet”. This sign has a two-fold meaning. First, it was a prophecy concerning the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and second, an illusion to the salvation of the Gentiles. He gives two cases of Gentile salvation to prove His point, first, the men of Nineveh rising up in judgment because they repented, and second, the Queen of Sheba because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Interestingly, Matthew, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, quotes Isaiah 42:1-3 just before this section (Matt. 123:18-20). He concluded with the interpretative statement, “And in His name Gentiles will trust” (Matt. 12:21).

    On the next morning (Matt. 13:1, but still the same day according to Jewish reckoning), the Lord Jesus took the multitudes outside Capernaum to a little cove just west of the city and gives the parables of the Sower and the Four Fields, the Wheat and the Tares, Light under a Basket, Growing Seed, Mustard Seed, and Leaven (Matt. 13:2-35; Mark 4:1-34; Luke 8:4-18; Crisler 1976:134-138). Before dismissing the crowd, He gave a command to His disciples to depart with Him to the “other side” (Matt. 8:18-22). The Lord Jesus dismissed the crowd and went back to Peter’s house in Capernaum and explained the parable of the Wheat and the Tares as well as gave four more parables, i.e. the Hidden Treasure, Pearl of Great Price, Dragnet and Householder to His disciples (Matt. 13:36-52).

    The demoniac event is the first recorded time in Jesus’ public ministry where He takes His disciples to Gentile territory. The response of His disciples was interesting. One disciple was over excited and said he would follow Jesus wherever He went. The Lord Jesus pointed out that “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” This response is probably an allusion to the rejection that occurred the night before by the Scribes and Pharisees and in preparation by the Gentiles of Gadara on the next day. Another disciple, possibly Peter, gave a lame excuse about reburying his father because he did not want to go over to those unclean, catfish and swine eating pagans in the Decapolis. The Lord rebuked him and said, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:21, 22; Franz 1992: 54-58). As it turned out, all the disciples embarked into the boat and “crossed over to the other side” to Gentile territory. On the way over, there was a violent winter windstorm that the Lord Jesus, the Master of the Sea, rebuked and the disciples marveled and wondered, “Who is this Man that even the winds and waves obey Him?”

    This review was given to show that the Demoniac event was pivotal in the ministry of the Lord Jesus. He had been rejected by the Scribes from Jerusalem and the Pharisees, and now began to change the focus of His ministry to include the Gentiles. It should be pointed out, however, that the nation as a whole did not reject Him at this time. Six months later there is still a large multitude following Him, in fact, they wanted to make Him King! (See John 6 and the feeding of the 5,000).

    The response of one of the demoniacs is quite interesting. After their salvation experience, according to Luke’s gospel, one of the demoniacs was “sitting at the feet of Jesus” (8:35). Sitting at the feet of a person is a rabbinic term for “I want to be your disciple!” How quickly he grasped the matchless grace of God in his life and wanted to study and be used by his new Master. The Lord Jesus sent him back to his family and friends to be the first Gentile missionary to the Gentiles recorded in the Gospels. He commanded the delivered demoniac to return to his house and tell his family and friends what great things the Lord ( Kurious – Mark 5:19) and God ( Theos – Luke 8:39) had done for him. Interestingly, this Gentile had a high Christology of Jesus because he went back to his city and throughout the Decapolis to tell everyone what great things JESUS had done for him! He clearly understood who delivered him from the demons and provided his salvation, Jesus, who is both Lord and God. For the next year and a half he shared the good news of Jesus in the Decapolis. The next time Jesus came to the region of the Decapolis, there were 4,000 Gentiles waiting to greet Him and hear His words (Matt. 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-10).

    Also note, Jesus commanded him to return to his house, yet he went throughout the Decapolis proclaiming the good news of Christ. The grace of God in his life motivated him to do more than what was required or commanded. Should not that be true of each and every one of us who know the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior?


    This portion of God’s Word is fascinating when understood in the historical, geographical and theological context in which it was written and has some very practical lessons for believers in the Lord Jesus today.

    We have suggested that the proper reading of the text in Matthew is “Gergesene” and in Mark and Luke, “Gadarenes.” Thus the demoniac is from the region of Gadara or Gergesa. These two names are different names for the same city / region. If this is the case, than the casting of the demons into the herd of swine took place near the newly discovered harbor of Gadara, now located near Tel Samra, or the campground for Kibbutz Ha’on. The reason the Lord Jesus allowed the demons to go into the herd of swine and be destroyed was to show the Roman reading audience that salvation is to be found by faith alone in the lord Jesus Christ and not in the atonement of pigs.

    If this account is placed in its proper chronological setting it has some interesting theological implications as well as practical applications. The trip to Gadara was the first time in the ministry of the Lord Jesus where He went to Gentile territory. This occurred after the religious establishment rejected Him. Now, the Lord Jesus changed the focus of His ministry toward the Gentiles.

    While He had stated on a prior occasion that God loved the world (John 3:16), only now does He actively begin to proclaim that message to the Gentiles. This upset at least one disciple who made an excuse to avoid the trip to Gentile territory. The Lord Jesus rebuked him and he went anyway. By this, the Lord Jesus was beginning to break down the prejudicial barriers of His Jewish disciples toward the unkosher, pagan Gentiles. Well might we learn this lesson: The Kingdom of God is for all, even those who are not like ourselves. As the Sunday School song goes, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”


    Aharoni, Yohanan; Avi-Yonah, Michael; Rainey, Anson; and Safrai, Ze’ev

    2002 The Carta Bible Atlas. 4th edition. Jerusalem: Carta. Abbreviated CBA.

    Crisler, B. Cobbey

    1976 The Acoustics and Crowd Capacity of Natural Theaters in Palestine. Biblical Archaeologist 39/4: 128-141.

    Dalman, G.

    n.d. Sacred Sites and Ways. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

    Ellicott, C. J.

    1874 Historical Lectures on the Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Boston: Gould and Lincoln.

    Franz, Gordon

    1991 Ancient Harbors of the Sea of Galilee. Archaeology and Biblical Research 4/4: 111-121.

    1992 Let the dead Bury Their Own Dead (Matthew 8:22; Luke 9:60). Archaeology and Biblical Research 5/2: 54-58.

    Johnson, Earl

    1989 Mark 5:1-20: The Other Side. Abstract. AAR / SBL 1989. Atlanta: Scholars.


    1986 Jewish Antiquities. Books 12-13. Vol. 7. Trans. by R. Marcus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 365.

    Laney, J. Carl

    1986 Geographical Aspects of the Gospel. Pp. 75-88 in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost. Chicago: Moody.

    Lightfoot, J.

    1859 A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    Nun, Mendel

    1989a Sea of Galilee. Newly Discovered Harbours From the New Testament Days. Kibbutz Ein Gev: Kinnereth Sailing.

    1989b Gergesea (Kursi). Site of a Miracle, Church and Fishing Village. Kibbutz Ein Gev: Kinnereth Sailing.

    Rahmani, Levi

    1994 A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

    Rainey, Anson

    1973 Unpublished notes for Sources For Historical Geography. Jerusalem: American Institute of Holy land Studies.

    Tzaferis, Vassilios

    1983 The Excavations of Kersi-Gergesa. ‘Atiqot 16. Jerusalem: Department of Antiquities and Museums.

    This paper was first read at the Eastern Region Evangelical Theological Society meeting held at Westminster Theological Seminary in PA on April 5, 1991.

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on The Parable Of The Two Builders

    By Gordon Franz

    When Jesus preached a sermon, told a parable, or gave a discourse, He always used object lessons that were familiar to His hearers in order to illustrate His point. The archaeology and geography of Bethsaida provides the background for two of His parables. These parables, referred to as the “parable of the two builders,” are recorded in Matthew 7:24-27 (Sermon on the Mount) and Luke 6:47-49 (Sermon on the Plain). The evidence suggests that these were two different sermons that were given at different times, several months apart.

    As I understand the chronology of the life of Christ; Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior at the wedding at Cana of Galilee during the summer of AD 26 (John 2:11). In the spring of AD 28, Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to become “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20).

    As Jesus trained His disciples in the art of “fishing for men” they visited the synagogues of Galilee. At one point, He sat down on the slopes of a mountain overlooking the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and addressed His disciples – those who had already trusted Him as Savior and decided to follow Him – yet He also allowed the crowd that had gathered to listen in on His sermon (Matt. 5:1). His primary audience, however, was His disciples. This sermon, delivered in the Spring of AD 28, is known today as the Sermon on the Mount.

    The next day, Peter was “recalled” after catching a miraculous draught of fish and realizing the Lord Jesus could be trusted to provide his daily needs. At this point in his walk with the Lord, Peter “forsook all and followed Him” (Luke 5:11). Later that summer, Jesus again addressed His disciples on the Plains of Bethsaida (Luke 6:20-49). This sermon, commonly called the Sermon on the Plain, reflects a deeper commitment to the call of discipleship. Yet Jesus ends both sermons with similar parables. For a discussion of this chronology and its spiritual implications, see Franz 1993: 92-96.

    These parables conclude two sermons that lay “down the standards of conduct appropriate to a disciple of Jesus as he lives in anticipation of the coming Kingdom of God” (Hodges 1985: 21). Jesus contrasted two examples of disciples: one hears the words of the sermon and does what is instructed, while the other hears the words but does not act on what was heard. Jesus likened the first disciple to a wise builder who built his house on the rock and the second disciple to a foolish builder who built his house on the sand. The house that withstood the rains, flood and winds was the one which had a deep foundation down to bedrock (Luke 6:48).

    Where was the sand to which Jesus pointed as an object lesson in these parables? It must be by the Sea of Galilee because that is where Jesus gave the parable. Also, Josephus the First Century AD Jewish historian described the “Lake of Gennesar [as] … everywhere ending in pebbly or sandy beaches” ( Wars 3: 506, 507; LCL 2:719). K. E. Wilken, a German traveler who visited the site of Tel el-Araj, the site of Bethsaida in Galilee, observed two strata of human occupation sandwiched between “alluvial sand” when a cistern at the site collapsed (Kraeling 1956: 388, 389). A casual visit to the site reveals the same alluvial sand today. For a discussion of the location of Bethsaida, see Franz 1995: 6-11.

    I think this alluvial sand is the background to the parables of the two builders, and something with which the disciples were well familiar. Bethsaida in Galilee was the birthplace of Philip, Andrew and Peter (John 1:44; 12:21). They knew that the alluvial sand was very hard in the summertime. Perhaps they recalled “Uncle Akiva” or “Cousin Ezra” building their houses on this hard alluvial sand. One may have dug a foundation down to bedrock while the other did not. When the early rains and the winter rains came, the Jordan River overflowed its banks. This, along with the winter windstorms caused the house that was not built with a foundation to collapse.

    Interestingly, on February 21, 1978, the Israel Water Systems put in a channel for some pipes in the area of Tel el-Araj. At a depth of three meters under the water table, carved basalt stones of different sizes were observed. They appeared to be part of the foundation of a building (Sharavani 1978). Unfortunately, no pottery was collected that would help date the structure. This would reflect the building method described in the parables.

    If the hard alluvial sand of Bethsaida is the background for these parables, then the issue is not where the houses were built, i.e. on sand or rock, because both houses were built on the hard alluvial sand during the summer months. The important point is how the houses were built, i.e. with or without a foundation that was dug down to bedrock. The contrast is obvious. The wise builder looked to the future and knew the early rains would come and the Jordan River would overflow its banks and loosen up the hard alluvial sand and make it unstable. If the house had no foundation, it would collapse. The foolish builder, on the other hand, thought only of the present and thought the hard alluvial sand would remain in that state throughout the winter months. Much to his surprise, it did not. The wise builder was concerned that the house would remain standing when the sand became loose and soft, so he dug a deep foundation down to bedrock. On the other hand, the foolish builder was only concerned with the outward appearance of his house so he did not dig a foundation for his house. The wise builder counted the cost and put time, energy and effort into building a foundation for his house, while the foolish builder took shortcuts and ignored the need for a foundation.

    The application of these two parables is also quite obvious. Jesus intended His disciples to hear His words of these two sermons and obey them. The wise builder dug a foundation and built his house on top if it, so when the winds, rains and floods came the house remained standing. Likewise, the serious disciple of the Lord Jesus must put time, energy and effort into living the Christian life as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain. Paul, in the same vein, said those believers who successfully lived the Christian life will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:10-15). On the other hand, the foolish builder did not dig a foundation for his house so it collapsed. Jesus likened this to a disciple who only heard the words of the Sermons and did nothing about them. Paul described this manifestation of the believer’s works as being burned with fire at the Judgment Seat of Christ. That believer would suffer loss, yet he himself would be saved, yet so as through the fire (I Cor. 3:15). This believer would also be ashamed at the coming of the Lord Jesus (I John 2:28).

    May we follow the admonition of James, the Son of Zebedee, an “ear-witness” to the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain, when he instructs us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).


    Franz, Gordon

    1993 The Greatest Fish Story Ever Told. Bible and Spade 6/3: 92-96.

    1995 Text and Tell: The Excavations at Bethsaida. Archaeology in the Biblical World 3/1: 6-11.

    Hodges, Zane

    1985 Grace in Eclipse. A Study on Eternal Rewards. Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva.


    1976 Jewish Wars. Books 1-3. Trans. by H. Thackeray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 203.

    Kraeling, E.

    1956 Rand McNally Bible Atlas. New York: Rand McNally.

    Sharavani, M.

    1978 Personal letter to Mendel Nun, Kibbutz Ein Gev. March 20, 1978.

    This article first appeared in Archaeology in the Biblical World, (1995) 3/1: 6-11. It was revised and updated on November 9, 2007.

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on Ancient Harbors Of The Sea Of Galilee

    By Gordon Franz

    Jesus spent much time on and around the Sea of Galilee with His fishermen-disciples. These disciples, who gave up all to follow Him (Luke 5:11), were good sailors. They knew the lake and its harbors well. The Gospels often refer to their maritime activities and the harbors they used. Now, for the first time in recent history, information on the harbors used by Jesus and His disciples is coming to light. Sixteen harbors and anchorages have been identified and surveyed by Mendel Nun, a fisherman from Kibbutz Ein Gev (Nun 1989a). I am deeply indebted to him for sharing his wealth of knowledge concerning the lake and its history.

    In this article I will discuss some of the lake’s ancient harbors and their implications for gospel geography. Five geographical “problems” will be examined. First, the location of the calling of the disciples (Tabgha, the fishing suburbs of Capernaum – Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; John 21:1-17). Second, the location of the casting of the demons into the swine (Gadara, the Kibbutz Ha’on harbor – Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-40). Third, the location of the feeding of the 5,000 (near the Aish Harbor, the probable fishing suburbs of Bethsaida-in-Galilee – Matt. 14:15-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-14). Fourth, the feeding of the 4,000 (Kursi – Matt. 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-9). And finally, the location of Magdala / Dalmanutha (Matt. 15:38; Mark 8:10).

    The History of Research

    In the past, explorers have searched in vain for Sea of Galilee harbors from the New Testament period. They have been unsuccessful because two millennia of wind and wave action have eroded the harbor superstructures. Only the foundations remain, and they were, until recently, hidden beneath the water.

    Mendel Nun has determined that the water level of the lake varied between 209.5 and 210.5 meters below sea level in antiquity. In 1932, a dam was built at the southern outlet of the Jordan River allowing the maximum level to be controlled. It is normally maintained at -209 meters. With the recent drought, however, the level has dropped to a dangerously low -213 meters (Nun 1991: 10). Since one-third of all the drinking water for modern Israel comes from the Sea of Galilee, this is a serious problem. There could be adverse ecological effects as well. For those doing research on the antiquities of the lake, however, the drop has proven to be a boon. Many ancient harbors are now exposed for the first time in the modern era.

    The first ancient harbor to be found was at Kursi, on the eastern shore of the lake. Excavations were conducted here by the Department of Antiquities in the early 1970’s. The harbor was discovered in an underwater survey carried out by S. Shapira and A. Raban of the Society for Underwater Archaeological Research. During the ensuing summer, the water level dropped and the harbors became visible from shore (Tzaferis 1983; Nun 1989c). Nun has since surveyed the entire lake, documenting 15 additional ancient harbors and anchorages. We will consider several of these harbors as they relate to geographical “problems” in the gospel narratives.

    Geographical Problems in the Gospel Narrative

    The Calling of the Disciples

    The first stop on our excursion around the Sea of Galilee is the “harbor of St. Peter” [as Mendel Nun has labeled it (1989a:22, 23)]. It is located just northeast of the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter in the area of Tabgha, on the northwest side of the lake. Visible only when the water level falls to -211.50 meters, the harbor is comprised of two breakwaters. The first, 60 meters long, is parallel to the shore and curves to the entrance on the east side. The second, perpendicular to shore, is 40 meters long.

    Tabgha, the corrupted form of Heptategon, means “seven springs.” It is the winter fishing ground for fishermen from Capernaum (Pixner 1985:196-206). During the winter months its seven warm springs attract musht, commonly called “St. Peter’s fish,” to its shores. This would be the logical place for Peter and Andrew to have been throwing their cast nets during the winter of AD 28 when Jesus called them to become fishers of men (Matt. 4:19; Mark 1:17), more than a year after believing in Him as Savior (John 2:11).

    Several months later, after the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord had to “recall” Peter while he was washing his nets along the shore in the morning after a long, unproductive night of fishing. The springs would be an ideal place for this activity. Jesus got Peter’s attention by a miraculous draught of fish. This was indeed a miracle because the net Jesus commanded Peter to let down was a trammel net. This type of net is used only at night and close to shore (Luke 5:1-11; Nun 1989b:28-40). The goodness of God led Peter to repentance. He confessed, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Following this experience, the disciples “left all to follow Him” (Luke 5:11).

    An early church tradition places Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples here at Tabgha (John 21; Nun 1989b:41-44).

    Casting the Demons onto the Swine

    In Matthew 8, Mark 5 and Luke 8 we have the account of Jesus exorcising demons from a man (or two men – Matt. 8:28) who lived in a cemetery near the Sea of Galilee. The location of this event has been uncertain (Nun 1989c). There is disagreement as to whether the text should read “Gergesa”, “Gerasa”, or “Gadara.” Personally, I believe Mark 5:1 and Luke 8:26 should read Gadarenes and Matt. 8:28 should be Gergesenes. Some have objected to these readings because Gadara, located at Umm Qeis about 6 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, is too far away to have a harbor on the lake. In 1985, as a result of the low water level, a harbor was discovered south of Tel Samra, now the campground of Kibbutz Ha’on. It is the closest point along the lake shore relative to Umm Qeis.

    What is more, the Kibbutz Ha’on harbor is the largest on the east side of the lake. Its outer breakwater is about 250 meters long, with a 5 meter wide base. The quay, or landing area, is approximately 200 meters long. There is also a 500 meter pier along the shore (Nun 1989a:16-18). Nun surmises: “One can only assume that a splendid harbor such as this did not serve a small population. It is much more likely that it once had been the harbor of Gadara, located on the heights of Gilead above the Yarmuk River – the largest and most magnificent of the Hellenistic towns that encircled the Sea of Galilee” (1989a: 17).

    Coins from Gadara depict boats commemorating the “Naumachia,” or naval battles reenacted by the people of Gadara. Several scholars have suggested that these battles took place on the Yarmuk River (Dalman n.d.: 178, 179). A more plausible setting is the Kibbutz Ha’on harbor. Here, there is sufficient room for maneuvering and the long pier would provide seating for spectators.

    Recently, a Byzantine church was discovered at Tel Samra adjacent to the harbor (Nun 1989a:16). To whom or what was this church dedicated? Did it commemorate the demoniac event?

    Assuming that the demoniac event took place at the harbor of Gadara, how does the geography fit the Biblical text? Jesus and His disciples landed at the harbor and were met by a demon possessed man who lived in tombs (Mark 5:2; Luke 8:27; Matt. 8:28 says there were two demoniacs). That there were tombs here is attested by the discovery of three sarcophagi in the area. The demons requested that they be thrown into a herd of swine which were “a good way off,” “on / near the mountain(s)” (the Golan Heights – Matt. 8:30; Mark 5:11; Luke 8:32). The swine then ran down a “steep place into the sea and drowned” (Matt. 8:32; Mark 5:13; Luke 8:33).

    There are two possibilities as to where this event took place. The first is just behind Kibbutz Ha’on where a ridge coming down from the Golan Heights fits the description. The second is on the grounds of Kibbutz Ma’agan, about a mile to the southwest. Located here is the only cliff which drops directly into the sea.

    After the demise of the swine, the predominantly Gentile population of the Decapolis pleaded with Jesus to leave their territory. One scholar has suggested that killing the pigs could have been an attack on the cultic practices of the Decapolis cities (Johnson 1989:49, 50). Jesus departed, but He left the delivered demoniac to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him (Mark 5:20; Luke 8:39).

    Feeding the 5,000

    In the spring of AD 29, just before Passover, Jesus performed the miracle of feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children with five barley loaves and two small sardines. At Tabgha there is a mosaic commemorating this miracle. In addition, an early church tradition places the event at Tabgha (Shenhav 1984; Pixner 1985). But, does Tabgha fit the geographical data in the Gospels?

    The Twelve were sent out to preach the gospel to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Upon their return (probably to Capernaum), Jesus took them by boat to a “deserted place” (Matt. 14:13; Mark 6:32) which “belonged to the city of Bethsaida” (Luke 9:10). The problem here is that there are two towns named Bethsaida. I believe this text refers to Bethsaida-in-Galilee, located at Tel el-Araj on the north shore of the lake (Laney 1986:81-82). The other Bethsaida is Bethsaida Julias, one of the capitals of Gaulanitis, which I believe, to be located at el-Mes’adiyeh, to the southeast of Tel el-Araj.

    The multitude ran before the boat and arrived at the site of the feeding before Jesus and His disciples. There is no indication that they crossed the Jordan River, which would have been high due to the spring rains. Thus, the feeding of the 5,000 should be placed in Galilee, to the west of the Jordan River. I suggest it took place in the area of Moshav Almagor, between Capernaum and Bethsaida-in-Galilee, within the district of Bethsaida.

    After feeding the multitudes, Jesus sent His disciples by boat to Bethsaida (probably Julias). Just below Moshav Almagor, to the east of Ammun Bay, which is rich in sweet water springs, is an anchorage at Aish, or Khirbet Osheh. It is located about one mile northeast of Capernaum and a little over one mile west of Bethsaida-in-Galilee. It had a 100 meter long promenade built of large stones and two parallel breakwaters, 20 meters apart, extending into the lake (Nun 1989a:23). It is likely that this was where the disciples’ boat was moored during the feeding of the 5,000 and where they departed to the “other side.” Possibly Jesus was concerned for their safety. Herod Antipas would not have been pleased with the idea of making Jesus “King of Israel” (John 6:15).

    The area of Moshav Almagor and the Aish anchorage nicely fits the Gospel descriptions of the feeding of the 5,000. Placing the miracle at Tabgha was no doubt for the convenience of early pilgrims.

    As the disciples were crossing the lake, a violent winter wind storm swept down from the Golan Heights. It was on this occasion that Jesus walked upon the sea and calmed the wind (Matt. 14:25-32; Mark 6:48-51; John 6:19-21). Eventually they landed on the west side of the lake at the “land of Gennesaret,” where they anchored in the harbor of Gennesar (Nun 1989a:23). The next day Jesus went to the synagogue of Capernaum about 3 miles away and gave His discourse on the “Bread of Life” (John 6:22-71).

    Feeding the 4,000

    The focus of Jesus’ ministry changed after the feeding of the 5,000. Now, He wanted to spend time alone with His disciples. They traveled to Tyre and Sidon where they spent much time together. After ministering to the Syro-Phoenician woman, they departed from the region and came to the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31). There Jesus healed many, primarily Gentiles, for three days. As a result, they “glorified the God of Israel” (Matt. 15:29-31; Mark 7:31-37). Toward the end of the third day the multitudes were fed with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. Although we can be certain that the event took place on the east side of the lake, exactly where is another matter.

    Father Bargil Pixner places the event at Tel Hadar on the northeast shore of the lake. He has even set up a marker to commemorate the event. Tel Hadar, however, is in the region of Gaulanitis, north of the area of the Decapolis. The border between the Decapolis and Gaulanitis apparently was the Wadi Samak (Dalman n.d.:170). I suggest that the feeding of the 4,000 took place at the Kursi Church, excavated in the 1970’s, just south of the Wadi Samak. In fact, I believe the church was built to commemorate this event, rather than the casting of the demons into the swine as the excavators propose (Tzaferis 1983:43-48; 1989:44-51; Nun 1989c).

    There are several reasons for this suggestion. First, as argued earlier, I believe the demoniac event took place at Gadara eight miles to the south. Second, there is no indication from the mosaics on the floor of the church that it commemorated the demoniac event. Third, early church sources and pilgrim accounts, while stating that the demoniac event took place on the east side of the lake, do not give a specific location. Fourth, the mosaic provides a hint that this is where Jesus fed the 4,000.

    The church was built in the late fifth, or early sixth, century AD and lasted until the Persian invasion of AD 614 when it was destroyed. Approximately 60% of the mosaic floor survived the destruction. The central nave suffered the most. Except for some birds and animal medallions which were destroyed during an Islamic iconoclastic movement, the two side aisles are relatively intact.

    The side aisles were made up of 296 medallions containing various depictions. Vassilios Tzaferis, the excavcator, describes them as follows: “[they] contained a variety of exotic and common birds, different types of fish, stylized flowers, plants, vegetables, harvest symbols and ceremonial objects. Within the row each motif was repeated four times. For the most part, the arrangement of the motifs alternated between rows of images such as birds, fish, everyday objects, or plant motifs” (1983:24).

    What interests me the most are the fish (1983:Plate XI:1). Although they have been partially destroyed, Nun has identified them as barbel fish (1989c:24). The Gospel narratives state that the fish involved in this miracle were “small fish,” possibly the sardines for which the Wadi Samak is noted. There are also baskets in the mosaics (Tzaferis 1983:Plate X:5). They have handles as did those in the Gospel account. One basket is similar to the one on the mosaic floor at Tabgha.

    To the southeast of the church, on the slopes of Wadi Samak, is an ancient tower. According to the excavator, this is the “chapel of the miracle of the swine” (Tzaferis 1983:49-51). Some have suggested it was built over the tombs in which the demoniac(s) lived. Nothing in the chapel, however, indicates to whom or what it was dedicated. It could just as well have been dedicated to the healing events which took place prior to the feeding of the 4,000. Matthew tells us that Jesus “went up on the mountain and sat down there” (15:29). Kursi, interestingly enough, means “chair,” a place for sitting down. For the convenience of pilgrims, the chapel was placed only a little ways up the slope of the mountain.

    After feeding the 4,000 people, Jesus and His disciples went to Dalmanutha / Magdala on the west side of the lake. Some 300 meters to the west of the church is a small, 2.5 acre, site named Tel Kursi. North of Tel Kursi are the remains of an ancient harbor. Its breakwater curves for 150 meters and has a holding tank for fish, with an aqueduct for bringing fresh water from the Wadi Samak (Nun 1989a:20-21). This would have been the barbor from which Jesus left to go to Magdala.

    Location of Magdala / Dalmanutha

    Magdala is located about 3 miles northwest of modern Tiberias. Remains of a harbor have surfaced here (Nun 1989a:20-21). It consisted of two parts; an open dock for loading and unloading during the summer, and a basin, within a 70 meter breakwater to protect the ships from the winter storms. Mark’s Gospel calls the area the “region of Dalmanutha.” How is this to be understood?

    It has been suggested that Dalmanutha is a transliteration of the Syriac word for “harbor” (Laney 1986:85). Magdala, also known as Tarichea, was noted as a place for salting fish. Possibly it got its nickname, “the harbor,” because fishermen brought their sardines here for salting. Josephus records that there were many ships at Magdala (230 or 330 depending on which account you read, Wars 2:635-637) during the battle of the First Jewish Revolt. He also hints that one of the other industries in the area was shipbuilding. The nickname could also derive from this activity.

    In recent years, two important discoveries have been made at Magdala. In February 1986, the now famous first century AD boat was found in the harbor. The boat has been variously called “The Jesus Boat,” the “Disciples’ Boat,” or the “Josephus Boat.” It is now on display at Kibbutz Ginossar (Wachsmann 1988:18-33; 1990). Secondly, a first century AD synagogue has been excavated near the town square by the Franciscans (Corbo 1983:355-378; Strange and Shanks 1983:29). Perhaps this is the place where the Pharisees and Sadducees came to seek a “sign from heaven” from Jesus (Matt. 16:1-4; Mark 8:11-13).


    Jesus and His disciples traveled the Sea of Galilee by boat, going from one harbor to another. Recent climatic conditions have resulted in the exposure of many ancient harbors around the lake. This has given scholars fresh data with which to resolve old problems.

    The harbor at Tabgha confirms that fishermen from Capernaum fished there during the winter months. The harbor at Gadara (Kibbutz Ha’on) adds credibility to the reading of “Gadara” in the gospel narratives. Light is shed on the term “Dalmanutha” (“harbor”) as a result of new finds at Magdala. Finally, I have set forth two new proposals. First, the feeding of the 5,000 took place near Moshav Almagor with the disciples departing from the Aish harbor. Second, the Kursi church has been misidentified. Rather than being the place where Jesus cast the demons into the swine, I believe it to be the place where Jesus fed the 4,000.

    For the last 2,000 years, pilgrims and tourists have been attracted to the Sea of Galilee to worship, understand and appreciate the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. I trust these ideas will serve to draw us closer to Him, encourage us to walk in His footsteps and be more like Him, day by day.


    Corbo, V.

    1983 La Citte Romana di Magdala. Studia Hiersolymitana 22. Jerusalem: Franciscan.

    Dalman, G.

    n.d. Sacred Sites and Ways. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

    Johnson, E.

    1989 Mark 5:1-20: The Other Side. Abstracts, American Academy of Religion, Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting. Atlanta: Scholars.

    Laney, J. Carl

    1986 Geographical Aspects of the Gospels. Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost. Chicago: Moody.

    Nun, Mendel

    1989a Sea of Galilee: Newly Discovered Harbours from New Testament Days. Kibbutz Ein Gev: Kinnereth Sailing.

    1989b The Sea of Galilee and Its Fishermen in the New Testament. Kibbutz Ein Gev: Kinnereth Sailing.

    1989c Gergesa (Kursi), Site of a Miracle, Church and Fishing Village. Kibbutz Ein Gev: Kinnereth Sailing.

    1991 The Sea of Galilee. Water Levels, Past and Present. Kibbutz Ein Gev: Kinnereth Sailing.

    Pixner, Bargil

    1985 The Miracle Church of Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee. Biblical Archaeologist 48:196-206.

    Shenhav, J.

    1984 Loaves and Fishes Mosaic Near Sea of Galilee Restored. Biblical Archaeology Review 10/3: 22-31.

    Strange, James; and Shanks, Hershel

    1983 Synagogue Where Jesus Preached Found in Capernaum. Biblical Archaeology Review 9/6: 24-31.

    Tzaferis, Vassilios

    1983 The Excavations of Kersi-Gergesa. ‘Atiqot 16. Jerusalem: Department of Antiquities and museums.

    1989 A Pilgrimage to the Site of the Swine Miracle. Biblical Archaeology Review 15/2: 44-51.

    Wachsmann, S.

    1988 The Galilee Boat – 2,000 Year Old Hull Recovered Intact. Biblical Archaeology Review 14/5: 18-33.

    1990 The Excavations of an Ancient Boat in the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret). ‘Atiqot 19. Jerusalem: The Israel Antiquities Authority.

    This paper was first read at the Near East Archaeological Society meeting held at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans LA, November 16, 1990.

    The article was published in Archaeology and Biblical Research, 4/4 (1991) 111-121.

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on Text and Tell: The Excavations at Bethsaida

    By Gordon Franz

    Where is Bethsaida?

    Bethsaida is mentioned more times in the gospels than any other city with the exception of Jerusalem and Capernaum, yet scholars still are debating the exact location of this site.

    The name “Bethsaida” means either “house of the fisherman” or “house of the hunter.” Both names fit well the geographical context. Bethsaida was the birthplace of at least three of Jesus’ early disciples – Peter, Andrew and Philip – and Philip apparently still lived there while a disciple (John 1:44; 12:21). Bethsaida was one point of what Bargil Pixner calls the “Evangelical Triangle” (1992: 34-35). Korazin and Tabgha were the other two points of the triangle and Capernaum was the midpoint of the triangle’s base. Jesus did most of His mighty works and miracles of His Galilean ministry within these three points (Matt. 11:21; Luke 9:10). Two recorded miracles are the healing of the blind man outside the city of Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26) and the feeding of the 5,000 men, plus women and children in a “deserted place” within the region of Bethsaida (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:11-17; John 6:1-13). Prior to this miracle, Jesus turned to Philip and asked him where they should buy bread. Philip, whose hometown was just down the hill, would have known where all the bakeries were.

    Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, recounts three incidents relating to Bethsaida. First, Herod Philip expanded the city to a polis and named it after Julia, the daughter of Caesar [Augustus] ( Antiquities 18:28; LCL 9:25). However, the excavator of Et-Tell, Rami Arav, has suggested, based on some coins, that it was “the wife of Caesar Augustus and mother of Tiberias Caesar [who was] … accepted into the Julian family is 14 CE and then officially took on the name Julia Augusta …” M. Avi-Yonah concurred (Kuhn and Arav 1991: 88). Josephus’ second point regarding Bethsaida is that Herod Philip died in Julias and was buried in a sepulcher there after a costly funeral ( Antiquities 18: 108; LCL 9: 77). Josephus also relates his own experience during the First Jewish Revolt. A battle took place between the Jewish forces under Josephus and the Roman legion commanded by Sulla in the fall of AD 66 ( Life 398-406; LCL 1:147-149). Josephus includes a geographical reference when he says that the Jordan River flows into the Sea of Galilee “after passing the city of Julias” ( Wars 3: 515; LCL 2: 721).

    In spite of all these literary sources, the site of Bethsaida has not been positively identified. Where was the city? Was there one, or were there two Bethsaidas? Is Bethsaida Julias different from Bethsaida in Galilee?

    The Site Identification

    One of the earliest explorers to visit the Holy land, Edward Robinson, identified Bethsaida Julias with Et-Tell, 2 kilometers from the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and to the east of the Jordan River. He also maintained there was a second Bethsaida in Galilee, based on the passage in John 12:21. Since the territory of Galilee was to the west of the Jordan River, he identified Bethsaida in Galilee with Tabgha, to the west of Capernaum (1977: 289, 290, 295, 308, 309).

    Ever since the days of Robinson the site of Bethsaida has been hotly debated. Today, four different scholars argue for three different locations of the site. Dr. Rami Arav, the excavator of Et-Tell, maintains that the site of Bethsaida is only at Et-Tell and concluded that Tel el-Araj has no Herodian remains and can not be Biblical Bethsaida. Another scholar, Mendel Nun, a fisherman from Kibbutz Ein Gev and an expert on the Sea of Galilee, believes there are Herodian remains at Tel el-Araj and that is Biblical Bethsaida (1997; 1998). Bargil Pixner (1982: 165-170; 1985: 204-216) and an Israeli archaeologist Dan Urman (1985: 121) have suggested that Bethsaida had two parts. Tel el-Araj was the Jewish fishing village to be identified with Bethsaida in Galilee, whole Et-Tell was the acropolis of the city and identified with the Hellenistic Bethsaida Julias. They suggest that the Jordan River ran a course to the east of Tel el-Araj in antiquity, today known as the es-Saki lagoon, putting it in Galilee (Inbar 1974). G. Schumacher, the early surveyor of the Golan Heights, suggested el-Mes’adiyeh was Bethsaida Julias and Tel el-Araj was the fishing village. Et-Tell appeared to him to be too far inland to be the fishing village of Bethsaida (1888: 93, 94, 221, 245, 246).

    The Excavations and Surveys

    In 1987, Rami Arav of the Golan Research Institute and the University of Haifa began a regional study of the Plain of Bethsaida. One of his objectives was to positively identify the site of Biblical Bethsaida. Arav wanted to change the question marks in the Bible atlases to exclamation marks! To meet his objectives, he conducted excavations at Et-Tell and Tel el-Araj. At Et-Tell, he uncovered remains from the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods (second century BC to AD 65/66). These remains from the Early Roman period were sufficient evidence, according to Arav, to identify Et-tell with Bethsaida of the Biblical narrative (1991: 104). Among other finds, he discovered a private residence with a courtyard from the late Hellenistic-Early Roman period. “The finds in the house, such as fishing net weights (lead), hooks (iron), and a needle (bronze) for repairing nets and sails, indicate that a fisherman owned the house” (Arav 1991: 104). One important find was a clay seal depicting a scene with two people standing in a boat and fish underneath (1991: 102, 103).

    Jim Strange conducted a survey at el-Mesadiyeh in 1982. He did not find conclusive early Roman pottery (1982: 255, cf. Kuhn and Arav 1991: 86). However, Dan Urman and Mendel Nun did find some while conducting a survey in the fall of 1974 (Urman 1985: 201, site 128). In a survey conducted in the fall of 1990 by Yosef Stepansky, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine remains were found (1992: 87).

    Arav put in one 4 x 4 meter square at Tel el-Araj in 1987 and discovered “a floor and two walls forming a corner” (1991: 94). He noted that there was a “sterile level” underneath this Byzantine building. The pottery from this square dated to the Byzantine 2 period (AD 419-640). Based on this limited probe, Arav concluded that there were no Hellenistic or Roman remains, and thus the site could not be identified with Biblical Bethsaida (Arav 1988: 187, 188; Kuhn and Arav 1991: 93, 94). In a personal correspondence, Dr. Arav noted he could not excavate further down because the water table was high.

    In Rami Arav justified in making the claim that there is no Early Roman occupation at this site? A German traveler, K. E. Wilken, sometime before 1956, visited the site of Tel el-Araj. A cistern was being constructed while he was there. During construction, the walls collapsed and Wilken observed the stratification. He noted that “there was an upper layer of about twenty inches composed of alluvial sand; below that was a layer of about six inches with sherds of the Roman period down to about AD 250. He mentioned the typical red-colored sherds and painted jar-handles. Another layer of alluvial sand of twelve to fourteen inches, which lay above the next layer, he assigns to the time of Christ, for from it he was able to extract four lamps and eleven small coins showing three ears of grain on one side; these, he asserts, were minted in the time of Pilate (AD 26-36). The coins with the three ears of grain are either from the time of Pontius Pilate (Kindler 1974: 102) or Agrippa I (Kindler 1974: 42). He notes that the stratum in question was destroyed by fire (Kraeling 1956: 388, 389). If this report is accurate (Rami has serious questions about it), then Wilken was able to observe another level because of a low water table.

    A heart-shaped column can be seen protruding from the surface of the site. This column belongs to a synagogue or some other monumental building. Mosaics were also discovered in the area.

    In the fall of 1990, Y. Stepansky conducted a survey at the site as part of the Archaeological Survey of Israel project. He found Early Roman and Late Roman remains on the site, including a Herodian lamp and an eastern terra sigillata bowl. These finds led the surveyor to conclude that “the continuing identification of the site with Bethsaida cannot be excluded” (1992: 87).

    Unfortunately, the fluctuating water level of the Sea of Galilee has made excavating at Tel el-Araj more difficult because of its high water table. If there is another drought like the one from 1989-1991, and the water table drops again, then it would behoove someone to excavate Tel el-Araj.

    I think the jury is still out on the identification of Bethsaida. There are Early Roman remains at Tel el-Araj and the nature of that settlement should be ascertained before ruling out the site as Bethsaida. Mendel Nun suggested that since the water level of the Sea of Galilee was lower in antiquity, the city was much larger than previously assumed. The fluctuation level in antiquity was from 209.25 meters below sea level down to 210.75 meters below sea level. It is higher today because the water level of the lake is regulated by the National Water Carrier (Nun 1991).

    This observation was confirmed by Stepansky’s survey in the fall of 1990. He observed that “additional lines of building remains can be traced along 200-300 meters of the 25-30 meter wide strip of beach exposed by the receding waters. Visible next to the hill on the south are the foundations of a round structure (about 5 meters diameter), similar to a building located about 30 meters west of the hill, above the exposed beach. The ancient site probably extended over an area of some tens of dunams, encompassing the hill, the center of which probably contained remains of a public building” (1992: 87).

    Further excavations are required to give a definitive answer to the identification of the site of Biblical Bethsaida.


    Arav, Rami

    1988 Et-Tell and el-Araj. Israel Exploration Journal 38/3: 187-188.

    1989 Et-Tell, 1988. Israel Exploration Journal 39/1-2: 99, 100.

    1991 Bethsaida, 1989. Israel Exploration Journal 41/1-3: 184-186.

    1992 Bethsaida, 1992. Israel Exploration Journal 42/3-4: 252-254.

    Dalman, G.

    1935 Sacred Sites and Ways. London: SPCK.

    Inbar, M.

    1974 River Delta on Lake Kinneret Caused by Recent Changes in the Drainage Basin. Pp. 197-207 in Geomorphologische Prozesse und Prozebkom-binationen in der Gegenwart unter verschiedenen Klimabedingungen. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.


    1976 The Life. Against Apion. Vol. 1. Trans. by H. Thackeray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 186.

    1976 Jewish Wars. Books 1-3. Vol. 2. Trans. by H. Thackeray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 203.

    1981 Antiquities of the Jews. Books 18-19. Vol. 9. Trans. by L. Feldman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 433.

    Kindler, A.

    1974 Coins of the Land of Israel. Jerusalem: Keter.

    Kraeling, E.

    1956 Rand McNally Bible Atlas. New York: Rand McNally.

    Kuhn, H.; and Arav, Rami

    1991 The Bethsaida Excavations: Historical and Archaeological Approaches. Pp. 77-106 in The Future of Early Christianity. Edited by B. Pearson. Minneapolis: Fortress.

    McCown, C.

    1930 The Problem of the Site of Bethsaida. Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society 10:32-58.

    Nun, Mendel

    1991 The Sea of Galilee, Water Levels, Past and Present. Kibbutz Ein Gev: Tourist Department and Kinnereth Sailing Company.

    1992 Sea of Galilee, Newly Discovered Harbours From New Testament Days. Kibbutz Ein Gev: Tourist Department and Kinnereth Sailing Company.

    1997 The “Desert” of Bethsaida. Jerusalem Perspective 53: 16, 17, 37.

    1998 Has Bethsaida Finally Been Found? Jerusalem Perspective 54: 12-31.

    Pixner, Bargil

    1982 Putting Bethsaida-Julias on the Map. Christian News from Israel 27: 165-170.

    1985 Searching for the New Testament Site of Bethsaida. Biblical Archaeologist 48/4: 207-216.

    1992 With Jesus Through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel. Rosh Pina: Corazin.

    Robinson, E.

    1977 Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petrea. Vol. 3. New York: Arno.

    Schumacher, G.

    1888 The Julian. London: Richard Bentley and Son.

    Stepansky, Yosi

    1992 Kefar Nahum Map Survey. Excavations and Surveys in Israel 1991 10: 87-90.

    Strange, J.

    1982 Survey of Lower Galilee, 1982. Israel Exploration Journal 32/4: 254-255.

    Urman, Dan

    1985 The Golan. A Profile of Region During the Roman and Byzantine Periods. Oxford: BAR International Series 269.

    This article first appeared in Archaeology in the Biblical World, (1995) 3/1: 6-11. It was slightly revised and updated on November 10, 2007. A lengthy and more detailed article is in preparation.

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on That The World May Believe

    By Gordon Franz

    John 17:20, 21

    In the High Priestly prayer recorded in John 17, the Lord Jesus prays, “I do not pray for these alone [the eleven disciples in the Upper Room with Him], but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (17:20, 21 NKJV, see also verses 22,23).

    Francis Schaeffer identified these verses as the “final apologetics” in reaching the world with the gospel. If the world sees that Christians are unified and display the oneness of the Body of Christ, it will compel them to believe.

    In the early 20th century, Captain Bertram Dickson, the British military consul in Asia Minor, visited the region of Kurdistan in what is now southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. He described the history, geography, geology, flora and fauna of the region, as well as the people in an article. He relates an interesting story that is a commentary on the words of the Lord Jesus.

    There were those in the region that identified themselves as Assyrians, being remnants of the mighty Assyrian Empire that fled Nineveh after the city was conquered and the empire collapsed in 612 BC (cf. Nahum 3:15b-18). In the course of time, these people converted to Christianity. The Moslem invasion of the area in a much later period caused them to flee to the mountains of Kurdistan for refuge.

    When Captain Dickson visited this mountainous region he encountered three groups of Christians: the Nestorians, the Jacobites and the Chaldeans (Church of Rome). He observed that their “internecine jealousies are stronger than the Christian-Moslem hate.” In other words, the Christians may have gotten along with their Moslem neighbors at times, but they could not stand each other!

    The captain relates a story that allegedly happened the year before his visit. A Kurdish man approached the important and powerful Moslem sheikh of Shemsdinan with a dilemma. As the story goes, the man told the sheikh that he had a rooster that spoke to him and said on three separate occasions, “Christ’s religion is the only faith.” The man inquired of the sheikh as to what he should do: convert to Christianity or kill the rooster as an infidel?! The sheikh thought long and hard about this matter and finally decided that the rooster should be kept until it could identify which of the three Christian sects was the real one. “Meanwhile”, he said, “we will continue to be Moslems!”

    This is a sad statement on how the world might views the sectarian divisions within Christendom. It seems that Jesus’ words in John 17 are more than a helpful suggestion … we need to love one another.

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on O Little Town of Bethlehem

    By Gordon Franz

    During the Christmas season, we are inundated with images of Bethlehem from Christmas cards or Sunday School material that depicts somebody’s imagination of what Bethlehem looked like 2,000 years ago. Some Christmas cards depict Bethlehem as an oasis in the Sahara Desert with domed houses surrounded by palm trees. However, the First century BC/AD reality may be shockingly different from our traditional images of Bethlehem.

    In 1985, while working on the Lachish excavation in Israel, I took a group of “diggers” to Bethlehem for a tour on one of our free afternoons. We hopped on the Arab bus #22 at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem and road the seven miles to Bethlehem. When we disembarked at Manger Square we were greeted with the hustle and bustle of the crowded market place. One of our diggers, Tina, a fourteen-year old girl who came to dig with her grandfather, stood stunned and in a state of shock. She blurted out, “This isn’t the little town of Bethlehem!” That’s right Tina; much has changed in the last 2,000 years.

    The First century village of Bethlehem was located just east of the main north-south road running along the spine of the Hill Country of Judah. The road was called the “Patriarchal Highway” because Abraham, Isaac and Jacob traveled on it. The village was situated in a transitional zone between the fertile farmland in the hill country and the pasturelands of the Wilderness of Judah to the east of Bethlehem. The two agricultural ways of life met in Bethlehem, the farmer and the shepherd.

    Bethlehem is first mentioned in the Bible during the period of the Judges. This well-known story is found in the book of Ruth. Famine struck the area and the family of Elimelech and Naomi migrated to the Land of Moab to the east of the Dead Sea. In due time, Elimelech and his two sons died. When Naomi heard that the Lord had visited Bethlehem and blessed the fields with an abundant harvest, she and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, returned to Bethlehem. In order to make ends meet, Ruth enrolled in God’s “workfare” program and went into the barley and wheat fields to glean the grain that was left by the harvesters. The owner of one of the fields, Boaz, inquired about the identity of this new woman. When he found out she was related to a relative of his, he arranged for Ruth to work in his fields. This touching love-story ends with Boaz redeeming Ruth in the gates of Bethlehem, marrying her and having a child names Obed. The last verses of the book of Ruth lists the genealogy of part of the tribe of Judah, from Perez down to David, the first legitimate king of Israel.

    Bethlehem is mentioned several times in the life of David. It was here that Samuel anointed David king of Israel for the first time (1 Sam. 16:1-13). Later, when David fled from Saul, he was hiding in a cave at Adullam. While there, he desired water from the well by the city gate of Bethlehem. One problem, the city was under the control of the Philistines. This was no problem for three of David’s mighty men who broke through the Philistine line and drew water from the well for David. Yet David, realizing these men had risked their lives in order to get this water, poured out the water before the LORD (II Sam. 23:13-17).

    Toward the end of the 8th century BC, the super-power Assyria was threatening the Kingdom of Judah. The Prophet Micah prophesied, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (5:2). There are three points in this prophecy that should be noted. First, Micah singles out the place where the Messiah would be born, Bethlehem in Judah. At this time in Israel, there were two other Bethlehems in the Land of Israel. One was in Lower Galilee in the tribal territory of Zebulun (Josh. 19:15). The other was in the territory of Benjamin, just north of Jerusalem. It was near this Bethlehem that Rachel was buried (Neh. 7:26; Gen. 35:16,19; 48:7; 1 Sam. 10:2; Jer. 13:4-7; 18:23; Hareuveni 1991:64-71). Second, Micah describes God’s purpose for the Messiah. He shall be a ruler in Israel. There is a day coming when the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, shall sit on the throne of His father David and reign over the House of Jacob forever (Luke 1:32,33, cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-17; Ps. 110). Third, Micah describes the Person of the Messiah. He was from of old, from everlasting. John begins his gospel with the eternality of the Lord Jesus (John 1:1-3,14).

    The Lord Jesus was conceived in the virgin Mary by the Holy Sprit in Nazareth (Luke 1:35). In order for this prophecy to be fulfilled, Mary would have to go to Bethlehem. God in His sovereignty, moved the heart of Caesar Augusta in Rome to declare a census in which all residents had to be enrolled in their own city (Prov. 21:1; Luke 2:1-3). Joseph, who was betrothed to Mary, had ancestral roots in Bethlehem. Micah’s prophecy was marvelously fulfilled when Joseph returned with Mary to his ancestral home.

    Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” On the night when Jesus was born, the village lived up to its name. The “Bread of Life” came down from Heaven to enter human history in the “House of Bread” (John 6:35, 51).

    That night, an Angel of the LORD announced to the shepherds, “for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). These shepherds were the ones who provided lambs and goats for the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem. They knew the importance of the shedding of blood for the atonement of sins. I wonder if they knew what John the Baptizer would say some thirty years later? “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The reason the Lord Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, came to earth was to die and pay for all our sins, be buried and raised from the dead. He offers His righteousness and a home in heaven to all who would put their trust in Him alone for their salvation (John 3:16; 6:47; 10:11-18; Eph. 2:8,9; Phil. 3:9).

    Yes Tina, there once was a little town of Bethlehem and you can still sing, “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!”

  • Life of Christ Comments Off on Divine Healer: Jesus vs. Eshmun

    By Gordon Franz


    How well I remember the traumatic experience of composing my first book report in third grade. The teacher instructed us to list the title and author of the book, and then describe the main theme, or purpose of the book. I must confess my reading skills were not well-developed yet, so I struggled even with the help of my parents on that first book report. The most difficult part of the report was defining the theme. Why did the author write the book? What was the purpose? Since then, I have always appreciated an author who explains why the book was written!

    The Apostle John, in the gospel which bears his name, does state the purpose for writing his book: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have like in His name” (John 20:30, 31 NKJV). In keeping with his purpose, John selects seven signs to present the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God (His deity) and as a result of that, one can believe on (trust in) Him for eternal salvation.

    This article addresses itself to the background of the third miracle or sign, the incident which took place at Bethesda (John 5). When did the event take place? Where did it take place? How do the archaeological discoveries shed light on this passage? And what are the practical and theological implications of this event?

    The Textual Problems

    There are several textual problems within the first four verses of the chapter. Without going into detail, a suggested translation of these verses is given below. The italic words indicate the variant readings that are followed in this article.

    “1) After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2) Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep pool, a (place) which is called in the Hebrew tongue, Bethesda, having five porches. 3) In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4) For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water; whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had” (Hodges 1979:28-39).

    When Did the Event Take Place?

    Scholars have debated the identification of the feast mentioned in John 5. Almost every major and minor Jewish feast has been suggested. It should be kept in mind that John’s, as well as Mark’s Gospel, is arranged chronologically. Within the Gospel of John, we have some chronological indicator as to which feast was mentioned in John 5:1.

    The encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4) took place during the Samaritan feast of Zimmuth Pesah (Preparation for Passover). This, in turn, takes place sixty days before the Samaritan Passover to commemorate Moses meeting Aaron, after the burning bush experience, to redeem the people of Israel from Egypt. John 4:35 states that there were four months before the grain harvest. The wheat harvest begins around the time of Shavuot (Pentecost). John 6:4 states that the Passover was near at hand. The only feast of the Jews which falls between Zimmuth Pesah and the Jewish Passover is the feast of Purim, connected with the events recorded in the Book of Esther (Bowman 1971; 1975). In the year AD 28, the feast of Purim fell on Shabbat (Faulstich 1986; cf. John 5:9, 15, 18).

    Verse 1 of John 5 says, “a feast”, thus it might have been one of the minor feasts. Some have objected to this identification. Would the Lord Jesus be going up to Jerusalem for a minor feast, when only the major ones are required (Deut. 16:16)? However, later in the gospel, He appears at the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), another minor feast (Bowman 1971:43-56; 1975:111-132). In John’s Gospel, this is the first time that the Lord Jesus publicly declared Himself to be God (John 5:18). Earlier in the gospel, when He was in Jerusalem for the Passover (John 2:23 – 3:21), He did not publicly present Himself (John 2:23-25).

    Where Did the Event Take Place?

    Verse two states that there is “by the sheep pool, a (place) which is called in the Hebrew tongue, Bethesda.” The sheep pool has been identified by most Biblical and archaeological scholars as the twin pools in the area of St. Anne’s Church just north of the Temple Mount. These reservoirs are 13 meters (42 feet) deep and were constructed about 200 BC by the Hasmoneans to collect water for washing the sheep that were to be used for sacrifice.

    But, it is probable that the incident of John 5 did not take place in these pools. When filled with water, one could drown if he entered them before being healed. Furthermore, the evidence seems to indicate that the pools were not even in use during the time of Christ. Herod the Great built another pool to the south next to the Temple Mount, called the “Pool of Israel.” This was more likely the pool in use for washing sheep during the time of Christ.

    If the miracle did not take place in the pools at St. Anne’s Church, where did it take place? The verse says it was in a place called “Bethesda.” This word is made up of two Hebrew words, “beth” (house) and “hesed” (mercy). This means that “Bethesda,” the “House of Mercy,” was some building or structure near the Sheep Pool (Wilkinson 1978:95-97).

    Can Archaeology Shed Light on This Passage?

    Excavations have been conducted in the area of St. Anne’s Church and the archaeologist’s spade has shed light on the passage. In the area of the pools there was a large Byzantine Church built at the beginning of the 5th century AD. The church is east-oriented with the entrance from the west. Such an orientation is typical of almost all the churches built in the Holy Land during this period. The altar area, which is over the place being venerated, is at the east end of the church and not over the pools. This was the place being venerated in connection with John 5 by the early church. Under this area was found four occupation levels, two from the Jewish period (Hasmonean and Herodian, 2nd century BC to AD 70), and two from the Late Roman Period (2nd to 4th centuries AD).

    It is known that there was a healing shrine in the area during the Late Roman period. This shrine, connected to the healing cult, was in rock hewn caves, with three or four steps leading down to them. A clay votive foot, thanking the god for healing, and a stature of a human head with the body of a snake, probably Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, were discovered in the excavations. Other finds also indicate the existence of a healing shrine. The question then is: Was there a healing shrine in the area during the time of Christ? There seems to be evidence that there was. Caves with water in them were connected with the healing cult of Asclepius. How the water was used in the ritual is not certain. This seems to be the background to the events of John 5 (Benoit 1968:48-57; Jeremias 1968).

    What was the identity of the healing god at the shrine? Archaeological data suggests that it was Asclepius during the Late Roman period (second century AD and onward). During the New Testament period, however, this deity may still have been called by the name of Eshmun, the Semitic healing god. If so, the Lord Jesus entered the healing shrine “Bethesda” (House of mercy) of the pagan Semitic healing god, Eshmun. He found a man who had an infirmity for 38 years and asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” The man responded that he had no one to help him into the pool (the small healing cubicles in the shrine) when it was stirred up by the angel. His answer makes much more sense if it occurred in a healing shrine of rock hewn caves having only three or four steps leading down to them than it does to think of putting him in the large and deep Sheep Pool.

    Some might object to a pagan healing shrine being so close to the Temple of the Lord. It should be kept in mind, however, that this shrine was outside the city wall of the second Temple, or New Testament, Jerusalem. Also, the pools for washing sheep for the Temple sacrifices were out of use at this time. Finally, it was also situated close to the Roman garrison stationed at Antonio’s Fortress.

    The Theological Implications

    When the Lord Jesus walked into “Bethesda,” He brought about a confrontation between Himself and the pagan healing deity. With just His words, the man took up his bed and walked away without even having to dip his little finger into the water, and without the angel of the pagan deity stirring up the water in the pool.

    Jesus won the confrontation. He truly was and is the Great Physician, because He is the only true God. The others, be they Asclepius or Eshmun, are not gods at all (Isaiah 45:20-22; Isaiah 44:9). This event fulfilled the first part of the theme of John’s gospel, to show that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”

    The second part was fulfilled in the man with the infirmity. He had a choice: stay on his bed and not be healed, or believe the command of the Lord Jesus, take up his bed and walk and this receive “life.” The man responded positively (John 5:9) and was made well. He then worshipped the Lord in the Temple (John 5:14).

    The issue at stake in this showdown was: Who really is the Great Physician? And more important: Who really is God? The Lord Jesus did not depend on any shrine, or ritual, or even an angel.1 He simply commanded the man to take up his bed and walk. This was something Eshmun or Asclepius could not do. The pagan deity’s “healing power” issued forth at a “certain season,” whereas the Lord Jesus was able to heal anytime, anywhere. The man responded positively and was healed instantly.

    The Practical Application

    John basically wrote a gospel tract. He was and is seeking a positive response to the Lord Jesus and his message. What is your response? Do you believe that He is God? Only God manifest in human flesh could die and pay for all your sins. If you trust Him, the word of God promises eternal life, the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of God because of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8, 9; Tit. 3:4-7; 1 John 5:13). If you have not trusted Him, will you do so now?



    1963 St. Anne’s Jerusalem. Jerusalem: St. Anne.

    Benoit, P.

    1968 Decouveries Archeologiques Autor de la Piscine de Bethesda. Pp. 48-57 in Jerusalem through the Ages. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.

    Bowman, J.

    1971 Identity and Date of the Unnamed Feast of John 5:1. Pp. 43-56 in Near Eastern Studies in Honor of William Foxwell Albright. Baltimore: John Hopkins University.

    1975 The Fourth Gospel and the Jews. Pittsburg, PA: Pickwick.

    Faulstich. E. W.

    1986 Computer Calendar: IBM software. Spencer, IA: Chronology Books.

    Jeremias, J.

    1966 The Rediscovery of Bethesda. Louisville, KY: southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

    Hodges, Z.

    1979 The Angel of Bethesda – John 5:4. Bibliotheca Sacra 136:25-39.

    Wilkinson, J.

    1978 Jerusalem as Jesus Knew It. London: Thames and Hudson.

    This article was first published in Archaeology and Biblical Research 2/1 (1989) 24-28.

    1 A few manuscripts read “Angel of the Lord” (5:4). In my opinion, the proper rendering of the text should be simply “angel.” That being the case, the angel would have to be a fallen angel, a demon. There are several reasons for this. First, it would not be logical for God to use a good angel in a pagan healing shrine. Second, the word “angel” is used of both good and fallen angels (Matt. 25:41; II Cor. 11:14). The context must determine which it is. Finally, Satan can perform pseudo-healings to deceive people (II Cor. 11:13-15; Rev. 19:20).

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