Lessons from Our Heart Baby

By Dr. Becky Towne

My youngest granddaughter was born with a heart defect—she only has half of a heart. She spent many weeks at Colorado Children’s Hospital and was surrounded by a great team of surgeons and nurses. Her half-heart can now do everything her body needs. The surgeons and staff were instrumental in that process. She turns one year old this month. Our family is so happy to celebrate with Maelyn and to give praise to God.

I was born with a heart defect, but I didn’t know it. The defect wasn’t noticeable at first, but, as the years went by, it became obvious. My heart was filled with fear. It seemed natural to be afraid early on, but, even as a child, there was a period in my life when I was afraid to go to sleep. I was afraid I would die.maelyn

As I grew older, I could mask the fear, but it was still there.

The first time I became acutely aware of the presence of fear was a couple of decades ago during a silent reflection time at a women’s retreat. An image came to mind during prayer, which I can only credit to God. I was standing on the edge of a cliff with breakers pounding the sides of the cliff far below. I would never knowingly stand on the edge of a cliff—I just couldn’t do it. Before I could back away from the edge very far, however, the scene was transformed. Instead of a cliff, I was standing on a green, grassy hill that sloped gently to the sea below. Standing beside me was Jesus. We simply stood together, arms encircling one another. I was aware of the greatest sense of peace that I could remember. Something changed in me that very moment.

During the last three years, I have faced some unexpected changes in my life, including the birth of Maelyn. The messages from Scripture have been as strong to me as I can imagine they were to the first hearers of the words, “Fear not.” Two recipients of that command come to mind—Mary, when she heard the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to her as “favored one” (Lk 1:28-30), and John, when he encountered the glorified Christ (Rev 1:17). There are many more.

Like the second sound in a heartbeat, as I hear the command “fear not,” I also hear the gentle reminder from Jesus to Julian of Norwich—“Sin is inevitable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (Revelations of Divine Love, #27). And then there are 4-year-old Colton Burpo’s words from “Heaven is for Real” when he comforts a child dying of cancer after his visit to heaven—“everything will be okay.”

Maelyn’s heart has been transformed. It isn’t fixed. It will never be normal, but she is living life to the fullest—loving her family, her toys, and her newfound joy—food. My heart has been transformed as well. Dwelling on the good words—fear not, all shall be well, and everything will be okay—allow less and less room for debilitating fear and more and more room for trust in a God who offers no occasion to fear.

Dr. Becky Towne
Associate Academic Dean and
Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program
Houston Graduate School of Theology

The Spiritual Growth of Mentoring

by Dr. Herb Fain

John C. Maxwell’s Mentoring 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know is the inspiration for this article. Mentoring others is a rewarding investment for both the mentor and mentee. As lives are changed, the structure of any organization or church is strengthened. Oftentimes, society views mentorship only through the eyes of the mentee. However, it’s important to discuss the significance, reasonable expectations, and the mutual benefits of mentorship. Fortunately, since spiritual leaders know the emotional, mental, and professional benefits of mentorship, they often engage in this an invaluable process.handshake

Nevertheless, avoiding competition is one reason why more people don’t become mentors. There’s this belief that the mentee may surpass the skills of the mentor. However, this concern should not dissuade a skillful mentor. When leaders are working toward their fullest potential, they don’t distress over whether they will lose their position. Another reason why some leaders are dissuaded from acquiring a mentee is their sense of ego. Some people must be the center of everything. Therefore, they are unwilling to share the spotlight with a newcomer. But, sowing the seeds of success in another assists both parties in reaching their fullest potential.

Perhaps, one way to avoid concerns over competition and one’s ego, mentors must reevaluate their definition of success. Does one determine success by the number of awards they receive or the money he or she makes? If a person’s measure of achievement is determined by material and earthly rewards, then he or she may not see the value in mentoring. People should adopt a more biblical perspective of success. Instead determine success via the prism of living a purposeful life. Of course, along your spiritual journey, your purpose will evolve and grow like the mentoring seeds you plant. However, viewing high achievement through a prism of purpose may provide a greater sense of satisfaction in the mentor-mentee relationship. As both the mentor and mentee accomplish their goals, ensure they feel an individual sense of self-worth.

Once a mentor finds a mentee, it’s important to clear the pathway for his or her success. Here are few suggestions on facilitating the mentor-mentee relationship. After your mentee has learned the necessary skills for success, provide direction and a positive outlet for meeting their spiritual goals. Another issue is nurturing the creativity that your mentee has from the outset of the relationship. Remember not to squash their enthusiasm for Church building by constantly reminding them of obstacles. Thirdly, a sense of community is needed as a spiritual leader. Oftentimes, without the mentors’ direction, mentees don’t know how to form a community to support their efforts or purpose in life. Furthermore, mentees should see the value in the lessons you teach. Suggesting books, organizations, or conferences that fail to aid in building a strong spiritual center serves neither party any good. Remember, every recommendation should communicate the goals sincerely and effectively. By keeping these suggestions in mind, mentoring will always provide spiritual growth.

Justification by Faith: A Resource for Confronting Racism

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Michael Bird, Australian theologian and New Testament scholar.  He has  a word-on-target for us.  

By Dr. Michael Bird

I always enjoy my visits to the USA. But whenever I go there I am always struck by two disconcerting facts. First, almost all of the menial and low paying jobs like cleaning and carrying stuff are done by Hispanics or African-Americans. Second, that 11.00 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the American week. In addition, I confess that I was deeply disturbed when several years ago I visited an American friend of mine in the South. He had recently been offered the senior pastorship of a white church that was located in what had recently become an African-American neighborhood. He told the elders of this church that he would only accept the position if they consented to move the church to a new white majority area. I quizzed him on this as to how he as a Christian minister could be so racially partisan. His response was that, realistically, it would be impossible to grow a predominantly white church in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. I understood the complexities of his context, but I was still dissatisfied with the theology that undergirded it and even more disappointed that a friend of mine whom I knew to be a godly man would act so pragmatically. Even 50 years after the end of legal segregation, Christians in the USA still struggle with race issues. Not simply in the work place, in schools, or in politics, but in churches that confess the name of Christ as Lord. I cannot claim immunity from racial prejudices in my own country Australia where we have our own tragic and haunted history of racial discrimination against indigenous Australians. But the persistence of racism in churches that profess to live as citizens of heaven and as servants of Christ is a sign of our unfaithfulness and disobedience.segregated-hour


I want to suggest that one of the best resources for confronting racism in the Christian church is the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith. This might raise an eyebrow or two. Is not justification by faith the doctrine that described how individual sinners can stand before a holy God as righteous rather than condemned on account of their faith in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Indeed it is, but it is also more than that. Following my lead one might admit that justification by faith is an anti-racist doctrine insofar as men and women, white and black can all be saved by faith and therefore they will dwell in heaven together forever with God. But again this also is deficient since it sees justification by faith as merely resulting in the amalgamation of ‘saved sinners’ in the afterlife in a post-mortem future. My contention is more far reaching: justification by faith means the end of God’s contention against sinners and the dissolution of all ethnic and racial barriers in the church of God in the here and now not simply in the hereafter.


The fact is that justification by faith according to Paul has vertical and horizontal dimensions. First, justification by faith is vertical in that it affects one’s standing before God (see Rom. 3.21-26; Gal. 2.15-21). One is justified, that is to say, declared to be righteous even though one is not actually 100% righteous in themselves. God’s court comes into session and instead of pronouncing a person as condemned, they are pronounced as righteous and attain a right relationship with God. The means by which they attain this right relationship with God is through faith and that faith is grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ lays down his life for his people, he is condemned for our sins, and he is raised up and vindicated. By faith, via the agency of the Spirit, we are placed in union with Christ Jesus so that we vicariously pass through the spheres of death and judgment with him and we are then raised up to righteousness and life in his resurrection. We are incorporated into the vindication of the faithful Messiah so that what is true of him is reckoned to be true of us. That is why there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8.1) and why those justified by grace have the hope of eternal life (Tit. 3.7).


Second, justification also has a horizontal dimension as well that impacts the relationship of Christians of different races and nationalities to one another. If we leave the doctrine of justification at the point of individual salvation we will have a theology of justification that is grossly impoverished. Justification by faith is not less than the announcement of the salvation of individual sinners, but it is also much more than this. While justification by faith certainly answers the question, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ it also answers another question, one seldom asked, ‘Who are the people of God?’ While the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith was formed primarily as a reaction to the teaching of the Roman Catholic magisterium with its sacramental based teaching on salvation, Paul’s formulation of justification by faith took shape in the context of the struggle to legitimize the membership of his Gentile converts in a church under siege from Jewish proselytizers. Paul was not confronting the merit theology of medieval Catholicism; rather, he was attacking the view that one had to become a Jew in order to become a Christian when he penned Galatians and Romans. As such, issues of racial equality, racial segregation, and racial privilege between Jews and Gentiles in the church were at the forefront of his pastoral theology.


Justification by faith is Paul’s weapon to argue for the unity of church of Jew and Gentile against those who would divide them, segregate them, or assign some to a second tier status. If we claim to believe and follow what the Apostle Paul taught about justification then:


Do we believe that every person is justified by faith in Christ? Or do we believe that God is the God of our race only?

Do we believe that we are saved by faith so that the dividing wall between black, Hispanic, Asian, migrant, and white communities has been torn down?

Do we walk towards the truth of the gospel concerning the way we treat those of different race, color, and ethnicity at the table of the Lord?


To practice any form of ethnic or racial exclusion means that one either does not understand or does not believe in justification by faith. Let me be clear. The denial of ethic privilege and racial superiority is not merely an implication of justification by faith; rather, it is a core element of the doctrine. They are mutually exclusive because justification constitutes a church of Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, Greek and Barbarian, White and Black, African and Arab. Churches and Christians that practice racial segregation even for pragmatic reasons deny the biblical teaching and the application of the doctrine of justification to the koinonia of the church. Justification is the act whereby God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of the new age. If we see justification as a comprehensive doctrine that affects the salvation of sinners and the corporate life of the church, then we will finally understand why it is that Paul insists that there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Eph. 4.6) and why there is one loaf at the table of the Lord as we who are many partake of one loaf (1 Cor. 10.17). Justification by faith is our shield against any merit loaded legalism and the basis for the unity of the church comprised of the multi-ethnic people of God. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the great letter of justification by faith, includes a timeless exhortation to Jews and Gentiles at its pinnacle: ‘Let us then pursue the things that make for peace and mutual encouragement’ (Rom. 14.19) – that is what justification by faith looks like when it is worked out in the local church.


Dr. Michael Bird is one of the leading New Testament scholars and theologians in the world.  He currently is a lecturer at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia. 




by Dr. Jerry Terrill

The new year, 2017, is well underway. We hope and pray it will bring joy, peace, prosperity, and good health. We desire, seek, and yearn for happiness. We sometimes covet the peace and happiness we see in our neighbors. Psalm 1:1-3 informs us:

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers. (NIV)

The peace we seek and hope to experience is a Godly Work according to St. Gregory of Nyssa. In this spiritual discipline we attempt to recreate God’s love for us in loving individuals, couples, friends, and families that God allows us to minister to. The key text for 2017 is found in the Beatitudes in The Sermon on the Mount, Matt 5:3 – 12. Another variation is  found in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20 – 26.psalm-1-tree

Our word “Beatitudes” is a transliteration from the Latin “Beautitudo,” which may be translated as “happy,” “experiencing the utmost bliss,” or “blessed.” In the Beatitudes kingdom citizens are described by the Greek word,  “Makarios,” may be translated “supremely blessed” or “happy.”

Jesus gives His own prescription for happiness in John 14: 27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (NIV).

We are called as Christians to be different from the world of which we are a part of. When the world around us appears to be regressing, falling apart, and life becomes difficult due to a job loss, an unexpected divorce, or death; when political hopes become dust, we turn to the peace that only God may give.

Pope Francis proposed these “modern Beatitudes” on his visit to Sweden on All Saints Day 2016, giving us a homily on happiness as found in the Gospels.

  1. Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart.
  2. Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness.
  3. Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him.
  4. Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.
  5. “Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.
  6. Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.



Dr. Jerry Terrill is Professor of Counseling and Director of the Counseling Program at Houston Graduate School of Theology. 

Is There a Better Word than “Lord”?

by David B. Capes

In October 2014 I gave the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  My topic was “Paul’s KYRIOS Christology.”  Kyrios is a Greek word most often translated “Lord” in English Bible translations.  Paul uses the word about 200 times in his letters to refer to his Lord, Jesus Christ.  On a few occasions he used the word in reference to God, the Father. The Greek word can be used of people as well who possess some sort of recognized, superior status, like a king or an owner of an estate. logo_kyrios

One night after the lecture during the Q&A time, someone asked a good question. It had to do with the English word “lord” or “Lord” as a translation of Kyrios.  The fellow knew about The Voice translation and he appreciated that we had tried to find new words and associations which communicate well to a modern audience.  We translated words like Christos as “the Anointed” rather than “Christ.”  We translated apostolos as “emissary” rather than “apostle.” So he asked, is there a better word than “Lord” to translate kyrios?

The word “Lord” was used first to translate kyrios and other biblical words for English-speaking audiences in the middle ages when the upper classes were referred to as “my lord” or “my lady” by those who occupied lower status.  Given the sensibilities of the modern world, the fellow wondered whether there was a better word.  Though those titles are still used in some societies, they are rare in many countries including the United States. If you’re watching Downton Abbey, the servants might call Robert “my lord” or if you’re in Edinburgh Scotland the mayor is called “the Lord Mayor.”  Other than that, you just don’t hear it. The word has lost currency in many places. The use of “Lord” is restricted to religious language most often referring to God, Christ or, in some cases, the Holy Spirit.  For some “Lord” functions as a name or title for God.  Is it time to retire the word “Lord” and find something better?  Does the word “Lord” conjure up some associations that detract from God’s honor?

Well, I had no answer. No one had ever asked me that question before so I had never thought about it.  I’m embarrassed to admit I had no response given the fact that we rethought so many of the other key religiously-laden words. I’m still puzzling over it.  I’d be interested in your thoughts.  Is there a better word than “Lord” to translate kyrios in modern English? It would have to have the right meaning and sets of associations. It would need to convey the idea that the person holding the title had supreme authority and power.   Since it is most often used in the New Testament as a title for Jesus linking him with the One, True God, it must be an appropriate honorific (fancy word for “title”) for the Liberating King. I’m hard pressed to come up with anything. If we put our heads together, I bet we can think of something.  Then again, maybe not?!


David B. Capes is the Academic Dean at Houston Graduate School of Theology. 


Chapters and verses

by David B. Capes

Two prominent features in modern Bible translations are the chapters and verses.  People often ask me how they got there.  Some think they were there from the beginning but they weren’t.  When Paul wrote the book of Romans, he didn’t divide it into sixteen chapters.

One of the things we hoped to do with The Voice project was to help people understand that the Bible is not actually a single book.  It is a veritable library of books, sixty-six in all, written over a period of more than 1000 years.  The current configuration of the Bible didn’t just happen.  The order of the books and the collection itself represents a driving theological force which Christians believe was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.  But what about the chapters and verses?medieval-bible

When the forty or so writers wrote their respective books, they didn’t include chapters and verses.  They composed their books from beginning to end without putting in breaks.  Now this doesn’t mean there were not structures in place which became breaks.  For example, the book of Psalms is composed of 150 hymns which had an introduction or superscription describing who the author was or who it was dedicated to along with other directions for how it was to be chanted or sung.  Clearly, these were breaks but they weren’t the same as our chapters and verses.  Likewise, the book of Lamentations is written in an acrostic style which is discernible only in the original language (Hebrew).  The Voice translation tries to replicate that acrostic style in an English translation.  So clearly these superscriptions and acrostic forms provide structure, but structure is not the same as chapters and verses.

There were early attempts to provide a convenient structure to the books of the Bible but the one we use today goes back to the 13th century.  A fellow named Stephen Langton divided the Bible into chapters in 1227.  He was a professor at the University of Paris.  Later he would go on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Today the Archbishop of Canterbury is Anglican.  In those days before the Protestant Reformation the majority of Christians in England were loyal to the Catholic Church.

The verses we use today were added centuries later by a French printer named Robert Estienne.  In 1551 he divided the Greek New Testament into verses.  Since the official Bible of the Catholic Church in those days was the Vulgate—a Latin translation—the first programmatic use of chapters and verses for the whole Bible was published in 1555.  The first English New Testament to make use of these chapters and verses was a translation by William Whittingham (1557).  The first English full Bible to use chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible (1560).  Since then Bible translators and publishers have adopted and standardized the use of chapters and verses.  Some editions of the Bible have been published without them, for example, Richard Moulton’s edition The Modern Reader’s Bible (1907).

Chapters and verses are handy because they make it possible for people to find the same book, chapter, and verse for public reading or study.  Otherwise, we’d have to say, “Go to the passage where Luke tells us the early Christians were devoting themselves to the teachings of Jesus’ apostles.”  Now which book would you go to, and which part of the book would you find that passage in?  The answer is Acts 2:42.  Much easier, right?

While chapters and verses are a handy way of indicating specific places in the Scriptures, they sometimes cause us to misread a text.  That is where careful study must come in.

Can you think of an example?




The Beatitudes of Jesus

shuman-beatitudes-1by Dr. Ken Shuman

Over the last several months I’ve been reflecting on the beatitudes of Jesus. The more I reflect the more I find them to be challenging and life altering. The teachings of Jesus are occurring to me as more radical and more counter culture that I had previously imagined. I’ve tried to think of the beatitudes in practical ways and to use language that is more common. I’ve written my own paraphrase that reflects my thinking and study.

  • Happy, satisfied, and fully alive – are the humble, the unpretentious, those who don’t think they are superior to others, who don’t have contempt for anyone, who aren’t condescending and aren’t full of themselves – for they experience the God designed, heavenly life right now – they live in the bright new world.


  • Happy, satisfied and fully alive are those who face loss and mourn – those who don’t hide or distance from loss, grief, and pain- those who lament injustice in the world – for they will be comforted.


  • Happy, satisfied and fully alive are the non-aggressive, non-violent and the non-vengeful. Those whose power is under control will inherit the earth and enjoy the fruits of peace.


  • Happy, satisfied and fully alive are those who long for everyone to be treated rightly and fairly – those who desire everyone to have enough and for none to be afraid for they will be satisfied as they take action and make things happen.


  • Happy, satisfied, and fully alive are those who are merciful – those who identify with the needy and show solidarity with the oppressed – those who are generous, and forgiving – those who are filled with compassion and moved to help – for they will receive mercy in return.


  • Happy, satisfied, and fully alive are those who are utterly sincere and completely genuine – those who are undivided within and are without lies and deception – those whose secret self and public self are one self- for they will see God.


  • Happy, satisfied and fully alive are the peacemakers – those who forgive, reconcile, and unify – those who take a stand against non-peace and injustice and work to restore wholeness and well-being for all – for they will be known as the children of God because they accurately reflect the character of God.


  • Happy, satisfied, and fully alive are those who live this radical, counter-cultural, Jesus way of life and as a result are persecuted – for they experience the God designed, heavenly life right now – they live in the bright new world.

    Matthew 5:3-10 – a paraphrase by Ken Shuman

A Lesson from the Clouds of Venus

by Dr. Becky Towne

I love gazing at the night sky. I am drawn to the light of stars—so many light years away—and am fascinated with the many phases and faces of the moon. Lately, my attention has been drawn to Venus, shining brightly in the evening sky. Called the “Evening Star,” I have learned that Venus is covered with thick clouds and that it is the reflection of the sun’s light off of the clouds, which provides the brilliant, steady light. Now I’m fascinated with the clouds.venus-moon-2-26-2014-vesa-taalikka

I like the tall, fluffy clouds of long, summer days, which often provide momentary relief from the intense rays of the hot sun, and I also relish in the power of the dark, furious clouds of thunderstorms. I wonder about the clouds on Venus. Do they provide relief from the much closer rays of the sun or do they offer strange atmospheric phenomenon? Fraser Cain, writing for Universe Today (, notes that the climate on Venus is “hellish” with temperatures around 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The clouds are made of sulfur dioxide and are completely opaque. They rain sulfuric acid. That’s a far cry from my fluffy summer clouds or even the dark thunderheads described above.

In Dark Night of the Soul (Book II, Chapter XVI), John of the Cross described the soul’s journey through the cloudiness or obscurity of darkness as opportunities for sensual, interior, and spiritual desires and faculties to become darkened from their natural light so that those same desires could then be illuminated and purged by the Divine. When those desires and faculties are hindered by God, the soul can find security against being led astray by them and can experience freedom from its own shackles as well as the shackles provided by the enemies of the soul—the world and the evil one. As the journey progresses, the soul experiences a growing number of benefits that come from the Father of Lights in a divine and spiritual manner, rather than self-imposed benefits that tend to be human and natural.

Perhaps you have encountered a “dark night” not knowing what it was. During a dark night, the “clouds” seem opaque, the “darkness” seems almost palatable, and “showers of blessing” may feel like sulfuric rain. When we are journeying with God, however, we learn that God’s purposes may be experienced through light and darkness. The clouds along the way may be providing momentary relief or powerful cleansing. That’s why the Psalmist could say with faith, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps 23:4).

The Psalmist also wrote, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them?” (Ps 8:3-4). Perhaps when you gaze at the night sky, you will pay attention to the heavens, and, as you reflect on what you see, ask God for your own insights from the clouds—not just those in the skies.


Dr. Becky Towne, DMin, is Professor of Christian Spirituality, Associate Academic Dean and Director  of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Houston Graduate School of Theology. 


What Can We Say about Jesus’ Childhood and Early Years?

by Doug Kennard

In our day in which we wrestle with post-truth, Christianity is built upon the historical reality of Jesus. The New Testament begins with four Gospels which most scholars today regard as a type of ancient biography.  Quality Hellenistic biography and Jewish historical narrative from the early days of the faith incorporate only one account from childhood, which demonstrates the qualities into which the person will develop (Plutarch, Lives: Alexander, & Caesar; 1 Sam 3; 16:20-17:28). The rest of any good biography develops the events of adult heroes. Luke follows this established pattern. This is one reason the Infancy Gospel of Thomas discussing Jesus’ childhood is considered by most to be a suspect account. tekton-shoppe

Joseph’s family moved to Nazareth in Galilee sometime between 3 BC and 6 AD, reflecting the Jewish distrust of King Archelaus, ethnarch of Judea and Samaria (Matt 2:22-23; 13:53-58; Mark 1:24; Luke 1:26-27; 2:39, 51; Josephus, Ant. 17.11.1-4). Archelaus was deposed as an abusive King of the Jews by the Roman Senate in 6 AD (Josephus, Ant. 17.13.1-5; J.W. 2.7.3-8.1; Strabo, Geog. 16.2.46; Dio Cassius, Hist. 55.27.6). Coming from the hick town, Nazareth, Jesus fulfills prophecy that he would be a rejected individual (John 1:46; 7:42, 52; Acts 24:5; Isa 53:3-8; Pss 22:6-8, 13; 69:8, 20-21; Tob. 1.10-12; 4.12-13).

As a Jewish boy, Jesus would have attended some schooling in a Pharisaic synagogue to study the scriptures from age five until about twelve. He would have been educated in torah to develop socially and psychologically  as a Pharisee by a rabbi of Nazareth (Josephus, Ant. 13.289; m. ’Abott 1.18; 5.17; y. Meg. 4.74a; y. Pe’ah 2.17a; b. Šabb. 17a; b. Giṭ. 60b; b. Yoma 28ab). Outside of Jerusalem the Pharisees were the most prominent Jewish sect.

To supplement this Pharisaic schooling, Jesus’ family expressed normal Jewish piety taking twelve year old Jesus to religious festivals in the Temple in Jerusalem. On one of these trips, Jesus missed the family caravan to return to Nazareth. As a pious Jew, Jesus was aware of a unique calling and personal relationship with the divine Father (Luke 2:41-52; Infancy Gospel of Thomas 19.1-5). On this trip, the Jewish Temple teachers were amazed at Jesus’ learning as a boy (Luke 2:47; Infancy Gospel of Thomas 19.1; also corroborated by 6-7).

Jesus followed his father, Joseph, into the role as a day laborer (tekton; Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3). Such a day laborer would have meant that Jesus did rough work as a carpenter and/or stone mason (2 Macc 7). He probably practiced this trade at construction projects in Sepphoris (a few miles up the road from Nazareth) which was extensively being re-built by Herod Antipas as his strongest Jewish city in Galilee (Josephus, Ant. 17.289; 18.27; J. W. 2.56, 511; Life 232). Each day Joseph and Jesus would get up and walk four miles to Sepphoris to be available on the work line at dawn . They would labor until sunset and be paid for the work that day. In the twilight hours they would walk four miles back to Nazareth for dinner. Sleeping on a reed mat would refresh them to start the process all over again.

Construction at Sepphoris slowed about 27 A.D. when Herod Antipas shifted his treasury and construction activities to Tiberias (Josephus, Life 37-39). Since it was about twenty miles from Nazareth, Tiberias was too far for Jesus to commute daily for work.

Jesus grew strong, increasing filled by divinely gracious wisdom and in favor with God and humans (Luke 2:52; Infancy Gospel of Thomas 6-7; 19.1).

At about 31 years old, during the fifteenth year of Tiberias’ reign, or likely 28 AD (Luke 3:1-2; Tacitus, Ann. 1), Jesus traveled to Bethany, beyond the Jordan River, now in Jordan, to be baptized by his cousin John (Matt 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34; Gospel of Hebrews 2; Gospel of Ebionites 4:1-6; Gospel of Nazareans 2). Jesus’ baptism expressed an initiation rite in identifying with John’s kingdom oriented Judaism (similar to conversion baptism: Acts 2:38-41; 10:28; 19:3-4; 1QS 3.3-9; 4QTLevi ar; Josephus, J.W. 2.150; Ant. 14.285; 18.93-4; 18.117; T. Levi 2.3.1-2; Sib. Or. 4.162-70; Epictetus, Dissertationes 2.9.19-20; Apoc. Moses 29.6-13; b. Yebam. 46a-48b; Midrash Sifre Num. 15.14; m. Tohar 7.6; t. Yoma 4.20; t. Pesah 7.13).


Dr. Doug Kennard is Professor of New Testament at Houston Graduate School of Theology.





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