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The Intertestamental Period The Canonization of New Testament Texts

The New Testament Setting

A basic understanding of the following terms will be helpful as you study the New Testament:

Messiah. An Aramaic and Hebrew word meaning "anointed one." In ancient Israel, prophets, kings, and priests were anointed with oil, indicating they were chosen and set apart by God. The term Messiah came to indicate a specific king of Israel of the lineage of David who would one day come to save his people. The Greek equivalent of Messiah is Christos, from which comes the title Christ. At the time of the New Testament, the people were expecting the coming of the Messiah.

Galilee. The area north of Jerusalem, bordering on the north and west of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was raised in the small Galilean village of Nazareth and spent the majority of His mortal ministry teaching in Galilean towns and villages such as Capernaum, Cana, Bethsaida, Nain, and others.

Judæa. The area west of the Dead Sea and surrounding Jerusalem. The Savior was not as readily accepted here as in Galilee, particularly by the Jewish leaders, who were the chief priests, scribes, and elders.

Samaria. The area west of the Jordan River and between Judæa and Galilee. The Samaritans were descendants of Israelites and foreigners who intermarried and inhabited the land following the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century BC (see 2 Kings 17:24-41). The animosity between Samaritans and Jews dated back to at least the Persian period. Jews traveling between Judæa and Galilee often traveled a longer route near the Jordan River in order to avoid passing through Samaria.

Pharisees. A group of pious Jews whose name denotes separatists -- in particular, they separated themselves from Gentile impurities. Pharisees sought strict observance of the law of Moses and Jewish rituals. They upheld the authority of oral tradition as being of equal value to written scripture. In general, the Pharisees were a major source of opposition to Jesus Christ.

Sadducees. An elite group composed of aristocratic high priestly families who had gained prominence during the Hasmonean period. Though relatively few in number, they held considerable power, especially over the administration of the temple in Jerusalem. They opposed Jesus Christ for His cleansing of the temple, which they regarded as an affront to their authority. They rejected traditions and beliefs not found in the written law of Moses, putting them at odds with the Pharisees and many other Jews. In particular, they rejected belief in angels, immortality, judgment, and resurrection. These beliefs were the cause of much of the animosity they had toward the Savior.

Sanhedrin. This Greek term means "council." There were many Sanhedrins in different areas of Jewish life. When the term (or its English equivalent "council") is used without qualification in the New Testament, however, it generally refers to the Great Sanhedrin that was headquartered in Jerusalem. This Jewish council regulated the internal affairs of the Jewish nation. It consisted of 70 members and a high priest who presided over the council. Its membership was drawn from the Jewish elite -- chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and elders. Though Rome retained political power, the Sanhedrin was allowed jurisdiction over the religious laws of Judæa as long as it was able to keep the Jews under control.

Scribes. Educated men who made their livelihood as record keepers and as copyists of the scriptures. They supplied scriptures to the growing number of synagogues and also became interpreters and teachers of the law of Moses.

Synagogue. Synagogues were Jewish congregations, or the actual buildings where Jews assembled for prayer and worship on Sabbaths, festivals, and other holy days. The institution of the synagogue became pronounced during the Babylonian exile and the intertestamental period as Jews sought ways to worship the Lord while separated from His temple. Remains of several synagogues dating to New Testament times have been discovered. Jesus and His Apostles taught in such synagogues.

Scriptures. The scriptures used by Jews in Jesus's day were sometimes divided into three main categories. The Torah, also known as "the Law," consisted of the five books of Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament). The Prophets referred to a collection of books by and about prophets and included the historical books from Joshua through 2 Kings as well as the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the 12 "minor prophets" (Hosea through Malachi). The Writings were a collection that included literary works (Psalms, Proverbs, and Job), "the five scrolls" (Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther), the book of Daniel, and the historical books of 1 and 2 Chronicles.


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