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Yeshua in Context » Podcasts, Reading Strategies, Study Tips » The Joy of Reading

The Joy of Reading

This is the transcript for today’s podcast at Yeshua in Context (the podcast will post later today).

I had an experience last night that gave me an idea for this podcast. I’ve been closely reading the gospels and books on the gospels and books on the historical inquiry into the life and message of Yeshua for several years now. It’s like swimming in a sea of information at times.

But sometimes a surprise breaks through. Actually, it happens more often than sometimes. Last night I got one of those surprises reading Paul Anderson’s The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus. It reminded me of the joys of reading, especially the joys of reading the life and message of Yeshua.

I’m fortunate to have the time to do all this reading. Many people might have only half an hour a day to spare. But the joys of reading can come to you in a half hour a day.

I’m fortunate to have a background in biblical studies that makes it easier for me to read book after book of history and commentary. But the joys of reading can come from simply reading the gospels themselves or in combining them a little at a time with other reading.

I have a good friend in our congregation who makes more time for study than most people, but he is also a very busy person. Sometime more than a year ago, when I mentioned to people they might benefit from reading a Harmony of the Gospels, he asked me which one to buy. Then he came back time and time again, and still does occasionally, excited about parallels he has found or observations he has made that are only possible because he now reads more closely.

I have another good friend in our congregation. She is devout and loves to study. She told me just recently that taking Torah Club Volume 4 with Daniel Lancaster’s teaching on the life of Yeshua has been so rich and meaningful.

I get emails from several people who read my commentary on the gospels every day and notice the finer points of close reading and see something in the message of the gospels that inspires them, challenges them, keeps them focused on the meaning of life.

The joys of reading, and especially reading in conversation with friends, are many. There are the surprises. There are the community experiences of togetherness. There are the frequent reminders to re-order my priorities and my way of viewing people, the world, evil, righteousness, and hope.

The secret of reading is not short bursts of intense energy. The secret is regular, a little at a time, over a long period of time.

It all started for me with a reading of N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God followed by Jesus and the Victory of God. Before that, I didn’t know historical Jesus studies or gospel research could be so rewarding.

There have been many aha moments for me along the way. One was when Vine of David published Paul Philip Levertoff’s Love in the Messianic Age. I read the epilogue called “Love in the Fourth Gospel” and my outlook on many things was changed.

Levertoff opened me up to the mystical in the life and sayings of Yeshua. By mystical I mean the idea that we can experience on earth foretastes of the Age to Come, of the Presence of God, of Life from Above, of the Mystery of Union with God.

Messiah, he says, is the personification of Divine Love. The visible manifestation of this love is the death of Christ. The love of God is concentrated in Messiah. The world is perishing for want of True Light and Communion with him. He gives to them his Fullness. Jesus, by his love, expects to awaken in men love for God and each other. The mystical oneness of the believers, this perfect achdut or unity, is founded on the oneness of Jesus with the Father. As Jesus cannot work without God, so his followers cannot work without Jesus. The conception of love is not merely humanitarian, it is an Israelitish covenant love. God in his Spirit makes the heart of the believer his habitation, and thus the highest expectation of the Messianic Age is fully realized.

I followed up this reading soon after with Raymond Brown’s commentary on the Fourth Gospel. There is so much to learn.

And gospel reading, like Torah study in classical Jewish thought, is not about learning something once and moving on. It is about constant forgetting and remembering.

A rabbi and mentor taught me a midrash on the story from Exodus in which the people of Israel cannot endure the voice of God. They ask Moses to listen to God and relay the words. If Israel had not done this, if they had persisted through their fear to hear the words from God directly, then Torah learning for Jews today would not be so hard. No mitzvah or bit of Torah learning would ever be forgotten. Each generation of Israel could read Torah once and know it their whole lives. But because that generation of Israel asked Moses to relay the words, they brought upon us forgetfulness, so that Torah must be learned daily and its points forgotten and recalled over and over again through repetition.

The joy of reading the gospels regularly, daily if possible, and over and over again, is just this. There is frequently a fresh revelation or a sweet reminder of something once learned and all but forgotten.

In Paul Anderson’s book on the Fourth Gospel last night, certain impressions I had developed over the years from following the standard course of historical thought about Yeshua, were suddenly challenged. I read a remarkable list he has in his book. It is a list of parallels in memorable sayings of Yeshua between Mark and the Fourth Gospel.

In historical Jesus research the Fourth Gospel is discounted. In gospel scholarship, the Fourth Gospel is often regarded as the least historical. And it is an axiom that John did not use Mark. Anderson gives a more complex theory, one I am not taking time to fully explain here, about interdependence of the traditions in the formative or oral tradition years. And he gives a remarkable list of forty-four parallels in memorable sayings from Mark to John.

It was another surprise, another aha moment. And its full effect on me can only be explained by the fact that I have become immersed in the world of the gospels. And I have found, as you will too and as many others have, that they are a deep well. Like the Torah, the gospels are a regular source of forgetting and remembering that can occupy a lifetime.

And perhaps the most important practice of reading is simply reading the gospels themselves. There is the importance of reading each gospel individually and then there is the importance of comparing, contrasting, and finding patterns, similarities, and differences.

When you become familiar you will think about things like, were there two anointings of Yeshua by a woman or only one? Did she anoint his head or his feet? You will think about things like, why are some minor characters named and others not? It will occur to you to compare the Sermon of the Mount with the parallels in Luke. You will want to get a Harmony of the Gospels, but you will find yourself disagreeing with it in places. And you will also realize that the parallels are not always in parallel stories. Often the same sayings of Yeshua, sometimes in varied form, show up in different settings and stories.

If you haven’t started, you should. There are many ways to go about it. The first and simplest is just to use a bookmark and a Bible. Read a little every day. Write observations sometimes. Compare things. You can find a free harmony of the gospels on the Study Tools page at or you can buy a Harmony such as the one by Thomas Gundry.

You can start adding some commentary. Consider taking Torah Club Volume 4, the “Chronicles of Messiah,” from FFOZ. Use my YeshuaInContext website. I could gladly recommend various commentaries to you on the gospels. There is joy in the reading and an endless supply of surprises and revelations.

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3 Responses to "The Joy of Reading"

  1. Jeff Marx says:

    I am currently reading John as well. I was pondering the differences and similarities. I think that the Synoptics, especially Mark, are so sparse in many ways. Mark’s Gospel can be read in two hours! I have always thought that Jesus had so much more to say and that John is providing some of that. Often the Synoptics say “He preached” or “He taught.” Look at how much material you or I produce on our blogs in a week. Certainly our Lord had much more to say than is recorded…

    Your writings are very helpful. Have you seen Newbigin’s commentary on John called “The Light has Come”? It is really good. God bless!

  2. yeshuain says:

    fr. Jeff:

    Great to hear from you. Looking forward to meeting you in person next month.

    I have not read Newbigin. Will put it on my wish list on amazon.

    When I get to John in the readings this year, I will go through Paul Anderson’s material along with my notes from Raymond Brown. Maybe Newbigin will add some more perspective too. I will be thinking a great deal about how to read John in terms of history and tradition. I’m swimming with so many perspectives and so much raw information at the moment, I have not emerged with strong theories about some things just yet. After all, Paul Anderson just threw me a loop last night!

    Derek Leman

  3. Thanks for posting this. The sparcity of Mark is part of its charm, I think. He invites us to explore the mystery of Christ our God by veiling some matters. I often wonder if Mark isn’t also guarding the pearls from swine.

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