One of the most interesting parts of Saint John’s Basilica was the baptistry. It was a small eight-sided structure attached to the side of the main part of the church. On one side was a worship center for the ceremony before the baptism. From that center steps descended into the baptismal pool. Steps ascended from the other side of the pool to another worship center for the ceremony that followed the actual baptism. See this picture taken of Rosa and me standing in the pool. I left thinking about what this arrangement suggested concerning the meaning of baptism. How was your baptism like or different from what Saint John’s baptistry might suggest?
The ruins of the Basicilica of Saint John were a short walk from our bed and breakfast. This remarkable church was built at Ephesus by Justinian and Theodora, the great Byzintine sixth century Emperor and Empress. It commemorates the reputed burial place of the Apostle John, who spent his last days in Ephesus. We spent a wonderful afternoon walking over this I fascinating sight. A few of the columns, that once supported the six-dome, cross-shaped structure of this sanctuary still stand.
Let’s leave mangoes alone for awhile. I’d like to comment about the wonderful trip Rosa and I had to Ephesus last summer. We went with friends who were very familiar with the city. After flying from Istanbul to Izmir, we took the train to Selçuk, the modern town closest to ancient Ephesus. As we walked from the train station, we passed the ruins of a late Roman aqueduct, pictured above. As you can see, storks have taken advantage of some of this aqueduct’s remaining columns to build their nests. For more about our trip, click on the “Ephesus” page given above.
As noted below, our first home in Africa was in a mango grove. In season, boys liked to throw stones into the branches of the trees in order to dislodge those juicy mangoes. Not a problem–except stones don’t do well when they land on a tin roof. One day I thought I’d stop the young stoner who was bombarding our roof in his effort to get mangoes. I got within a few feet of him by walking up on the other side of a tree that was between us. Then I jumped out. He ran, and I fell over a root and had sore ribs for a week. Who cares about stones on a roof. Stones are better than sore bones any day!
Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles
The inscription high above the door of the old Roman Catholic Cathedral in St. Louis caught my attention. After the construction of the new Cathedral the Pope designated this historic church as the Basilica of St. Louis, the King of France. This inscription was not only in the expected Latin, but also in Hebrew! At the top were clear, gold, Hebrew letters that formed the OT covenant name of God—hwhy. This was the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus three—“Jehovah,” or, more accurately, “Yahweh”—“I Am.” Below this Hebrew word came the following Latin inscription, still in letters of gold: “Deo Uni et Trino,” “to God One and Triune.”
Before I saw the Latin I thought that I was looking at a synagogue. Then I recognized the appropriateness of joining these two inscriptions. Christians have always affirmed that the God they know as Triune through the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is a fuller revelation of the God of the Old Testament. Their God was the Creator who made covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and delivered their descendants from slavery in Egypt. In controversy with the Gnostics, Irenaeus and other Christian writers resolutely affirmed that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ was the Creator/Covenant making God of the Old Testament. He had revealed Himself in His co-eternal Son and was at work in the world through the equally co-eternal Holy Spirit. This truth is affirmed by the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God, the Father, almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ . . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit . . .”
In fact, continuity with the Old Testament is the bedrock of the New Testament, stated or assumed on every page. Jesus “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27; cf. 24:44-48). God, who “at various times and in various ways spoke to our forefathers through the prophets, has now spoken to us in one who is Son” (Heb 1:1). Paul “reasoned with them from the scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ’”(Acts 17:2-3).
The Old Testament was, in deed, The Apostles’ Bible. It was the Bible of those earliest Christians, the Bible of the New Testament writers. They were thoroughly convinced that in it God had revealed the salvation they now knew in Christ. Christ was the God-intended fulfillment of its story, of its promises, of its prophecies, and of its types. They understand the fullness of the Old Testament through Christ. They grasped Christ’s identity and significance for the world through the Old Testament. The Gospel writers believed that this perspective had its origin in Jesus.
Modern Christians, on the other hand, are often ignorant of the Old Testament and its significance. For some it is, at best, historical background for the New. For others it is a collection of primitive stories, now superseded in Christ. Some avoid it because it is hard to understand or because some parts of it seem incredible or morally problematic. We read Psalms for comfort, Proverbs for wisdom (after all, we can get these two books bound at the back of our New Testaments), teach (some of) the stories of Abraham and Moses in Sunday School, and read Isaiah at Christmas time. We have lost The Apostles’ Bible, and, in so doing we have lost much. We end up with an anemic view of Christ, a superficial understanding of the atonement, and an individualistic view of the church. Our God shrinks because we no longer see the majesty of his creation, the grandeur of his work in history, or the glory of his salvation in Christ. We have little basis for social ethics. We live in rootless isolation because we no longer see ourselves as children of Abraham, part of the people of God, stretched out in history and on its way to glory. If we do not have The Apostles’ Bible, we will not have the true apostolic faith.
This book is dedicated to helping ordinary, intelligent modern Christians re-establish their apostolic roots in the Old Testament, The Apostles’ Bible. First, the pages that follow are designed to helping the reader understand how each major part of the Old Testament fits into the total scope of Biblical revelation. Second, this study gives needed guidance concerning the way in which each part of the Old Testament applies to contemporary believers. How do the various section of the Old Testament, given before Christ, function as Scripture for people who live after Christ’s coming?
So much for mangoes, what about Melchizedek. Melchizedek is that guy who appears to Abraham in Genesis 14. In Psalm 110:4 God declares to the Messiah, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” The writer of the Book of Hebrews takes up the challenge of explaining who this Melchizedek is. After three years in Africa, Rosa and I moved to Richmond, Virginia, where I did a Th.M. and a Ph.D. in Biblical studies at Union Theological Seminary. I was looking for a thesis topic–or, actually, I was looking for an advisor. I decided that Professor Mathias Rissi would be the best advisor for me. So I asked him to suggest a topic for my Th.M. thesis. He suggested that I compare Melchizedek in Hebrews 7 with 11QMelchizedek, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. And so was born an interest in Melchizedek and a love for the book of Hebrews that came to fruition in my doctoral dissertation–“The Melchizedek Christology of Hebrews 7:1-25.”
Mangoes. It seemed fitting to begin this blog with “mangoes.” I don’t remember ever seeing a mango until I arrived in Sierra Leone, West Africa, September 2, 1969. Rosa and I had just been married on August 15. I’d been ordained to the ministry on August 17. Here we were in Sierra Leone. When we woke up the first morning in Freetown, we heard a child’s voice outside saying in Sierra Leonean Krio, “they done come from the United States of America.” By September 4 we were in the town of Kamakwie, about 175 miles from Freetown, in our house–which was in the middle of a mango grove. I would develop a love for those mangoes, and a love for the country where I first tasted them, the country of Sierra Leone.