Glimpses of Nicodemus

January 24, 2020

Seek the truth. We are introduced to Nicodemus in the Gospel of John. Jesus calls him “a teacher of Israel” (John 3:10). Despite his position, Nicodemus is a seeker for truth. Nicodemus states, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2 ESV). He has reached the proper conclusion from the signs. He is not aligned with the Pharisees who accuse Jesus performing miracles by the power of Satan. Seek the truth.

Speak for the truth even when you are in a minority. The religious leaders have sent officers to arrest Jesus. They return empty handed saying “No one ever spoke like this man!” They belittle the officers, but Nicodemus speaks up, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does” (John 7:52)? The religious leaders give him their condescension. But Nicodemus has demonstrated the principle: Speak for truth even when you are in the minority. Note the situation will not always bring rational discourse. John will later note that others failed to confess Jesus for fear of the Pharisees and being expelled from the synagogue “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43, ESV).

Practice the lifestyle of truth. Joseph of Arimathea boldly asked for the body of Jesus to bury it in his own new, rock hewn tomb. Nicodemus is also in this scene bringing seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes (John 19:39). It indicates that he is a man of wealth, but one who is also capable of generosity. Jesus gives us truth to be believed and trusted, but also truth to be lived, a lifestyle of truth. We gain a glimpse of the lifestyle here in generosity.

Nicodemus disappears from the record at this point. There is much we might like to know. But that is also true for a number of people in the New Testament including some of the apostles. John has given us glimpses of Nicodemus. These glimpses give us things to ponder and practice.

— Russ Holden


Prejudices

March 3, 2017

In the book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Richards and O’Brien warn us not to read the ethnic prejudices of our culture into the ancient world. One such passage is Numbers 12 where Miriam and Aaron complain about the Cushite wife of Moses. Several questions can be raised in this passage. Does Cushite mean Midianite? Is this woman Zipporah, or is this a second wife? Cushite normally means Ethiopian. Are Miriam and Aaron complaining that Moses married a black African? Unfortunately, commentators have sometimes read modern ethnic prejudices into this text.

Richards and O’Brien examine Cushites from an ancient world perspective and come away with quite a different, possible take on the passage.

The Cushites were not demeaned as a slave race in the ancient world; they were respected as highly skilled soldiers.’ It is more likely that Miriam and Aaron thought Moses was being presumptuous by marrying above himself. That makes sense of the tone of the passage. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they whined. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Num 12:2). In other words: Moses is not the only prophet here. Who does he think he is?*

Although I would view this as a possible reading of the text, it is at least informed by the ancient world. It avoids reading the text through modern ethnic prejudices.

Certainly, ethnic prejudices existed in the ancient world. A careful reading with cultural awareness can spot some of these. Greeks looked at everyone else as barbarians, their term for non-Greek speakers. It is an onomatopoeic word. To the Greeks, non-Greek speaking people sounded like they were going around saying “bar … bar.” Jews looked down on Gentiles. Hebrew and Aramaic speaking Jews could neglect the Greek speaking Jewish widows (Acts 6).

Although prejudices exist in the ancient world as well as the modern, scripture is consistently against such prejudices. We are called to see every human being from God’s point of view. All are created in the image of God. God loves the whole world and wishes that none should be lost. With Paul, we must exclaim: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11, ESV). We must sing like the heavenly scene found in Revelation: “for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9–10, ESV). We must check our cultural blinders, and behave as God would have us treat one another.

*E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Kindle Locations 602-605). Kindle Edition.