III. Graeco-Roman World and Intertestamental Period
Persian king Darius III's reign ends in 330 B.C., after Alexander's forces have taken control over the Persians and later Palestine. The spread of Greek influence, Hellenization (Hellen means Greek), is wide geographically and deep into the livelihood of the people. In Syria and Palestine, a Jewish person begins to face tremendous pressure, in that not only the entire system is operated by Greek but more importantly, the Greek way of life would become a new standard rivaling the old, traditional, oriental ways.
A new structure has set in politically and socio-economically. During the time of the Greco-Roman world, the people generally suffer under the irony of Pax Romana (Peace of Rome). The slogan of "peace" masks the aggressive strategies and structures of the empire. Peace for the ruling elite effectively means the absence of military challenges to Rome's power. The average Jewish home has been repeatedly tested by poverty caused by warfare. Peace and well-being are part of the dream of the people. People live in fate and luck, and are angry internally. The term "savior" (soter) is not unknown in Greek thought. Some of the gods and even human beings get this term next to their name. Completely secular use of the term "being saved" is common, it may mean maintenance of a person's well-being. In the Apocrypha it is God who saves his people from enemies and from physical threats. This has not changed from the Hebrew thought in OT. In the Greek portions of the Apocrypha, sozo and soteria are customary terms. It is recorded in 1 Maccabees 9:21 that Judas Maccabeus receives the title soter ("How has our hero fallen, the savior of Israel?"). The Dead Sea Scrolls record that people who are trapped by carnality and sin are doomed to the destiny of the wicked. The thought of the day is that the teachings of Moses, Zadok, and the Teacher of Righteousness can lead one to salvation, meaning rescue and redemption. As we have seen, the period from Malachi to the beginning of the new Christian era has not been silent without action. Through the hands of the Macabees, maltreatments on temple and social practices by current government manage to be interrupted. But this lasts only for a short time. The later Maccabean dynasties show mismanagement at the leadership level and livelihood is still unsteady. After centuries of heartbreaking delay, would the predictions of the prophets of a mighty restored Israel be fulfilled? How about God's providence, his presence?
IV. Deliverance in the NT
A. The Gospels & Acts
Deliverance in the form of healing, from physical suffering such as poverty, and from oppression is the dream of the common lot, especially the Jews, who are under the rule of the Roman Empire. The Gospel promises eternal life, freedom and liberation from oppression. The Kingdom of God gives new identity to everyone who believes. Most important of all, emphasis is given to the inner change of the person, besides the change of status from guilty to justified. The motive of actions and the state of the heart are developments in salvation that are expressed in the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew's Gospel records that Jesus' ministry starts at the Sea of Galilee, where people come from foreign nations. They are numerous and are inured to war from a very young age. They are strong and ready to fight. The Sermon on the Mount teaches its audience not to focus on exerting expected behavior to the current situation, but to look at what the Kingdom of God can deliver. The antithetical theme would likely shock the crowd. Livelihood under Pax Romana often incurs shame in the person, but Kingdom culture renews honor. Matthew uses the verb "save" for both healing and the discharge of sins but not "savior," "salvation" or "saving" (Mt 1:21; 9:21-22). Deliverance such as from leprosy, illness, and demon-possession, is an activity that accompanies the Gospel. The Kingdom of God brings societal well-being and holistic results. Jesus' miracles in Matthew are described as the fulfillment of Scripture, and that Jesus is the miracle-worker. He is also presented as God's agent, chosen to manifest sovereignty, presence, divine will, and blessing for human well-being.
In the Gospel of Luke, Mary's song praises God for he has brought down rulers and filled the hungry with good things (Lk 1:52-53). Like many others, Mary remembers God as her deliverer. When Jesus summarizes his ministry in a message to Herod Antipas, it is as a prophet who works miracles and perishes as a result (Lk 13:31-33). Sickness, as mentioned earlier, often affects other cultural and, thereby, social problems. This blanket term in NT times means a disease that affects not only the individual but also his close relatives. Healing, meaning deliverance of illness, restores the person to health and to his social needs. Luke's portrayal of Jesus as an anointed, Spirit-filled, exorcising-and-healing prophet addresses the immediate needs of the people. Jesus lives among those who experience deliverance as part of their daily life.
In the Book of Acts (which is treated by scholars as the second volume of Luke-Acts), we find the Apostles performing miracles and preaching the good news. People get healed and turn to God (Acts 3:1-10). The preaching of the Apostles delivers people from their unbelief (2:41). The land is rocked and turned upside down by these men. Christianity has come on the scene, in addition to Judaism and other religions inherited through imperialism. This new sect does attract the mass, especially women, slaves, minors, and the marginalized. In Acts 4:9 the verb derived from sozo is used as "made well," and not salvation. Deliverance of sickness (or illness) does not always mean the person is eternally saved. But it is part of the salvation process brought in by Jesus. The participation of humans in the acts of deliverance to bring about the well-being of others is something unique about this Christian faith (4:32-37; 6:1-7). The author of Acts is deliberate in his mention of life in the church. Meal-fellowship becomes part of the norm for Christianity. Graeco-Roman ethical thinking, which does not share the characteristically oriental social emphasis on the need for the rich to care for the poor, is now being reshaped after conversion to the Christian faith. Jesus' meal-fellowship bears significance in that he eats with the rich and powerful, as well as with the poor and outcast. With this in mind, table fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians is one of the goals that James lays down for the settlement at the Jerusalem Council (ch. 15). Sharing with the needy is God's hand extended through the church (9:36, Tabitha is a good example). Deliverance in Acts entails, besides casting out demons and healing the sick, sharing, togetherness (friendship), and reconciliation. Human agents--the church and missionaries--step into the fore to bring this about.
B. The Epistles
The epistles consist of letters written by Paul, Peter, James, John, and the writer of Hebrews. Paul's letter to the Romans concerns the Gospel of the divine righteousness in and through Christ. This letter discusses justification for both Jews and Gentiles. The deliverance promised to the Jews is also offered to the Gentiles. This deliverance is the broad category of salvation (soterian), which includes deliverance of sickness and preservation. In this respect, we can say that by putting our faith in Jesus Christ, we are delivered from death. In order to deal with the sinful nature, as Paul says, "For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do," we are to let the Spirit work in us. Life through the Spirit is God's deliverance from sinful acts in the form of preservation (Rom 8).
Christian life in the community means to walk the talk instead of talk the walk. Paul's letters deal with this issue. One's conduct must match with what one's faith asks for. This is particularly important and practical for the Gentile Christians. For a long time they have been exposed to folk religion. Ethical issues impose onto the life of the churchgoer (1 & 2 Cor). In light of this, Paul's theology is deeply rooted in experience. From a personal perspective, Paul's practice of Christianity springs from his own religious experience. From the community level, Paul calls Christians to show love and kindness to each other. Freedom given by Christ should be experienced by everyone who believes. None should impose onto any person of another ethnicity a law that does not effect salvation. There is flexibility in Paul's approach to decision-making and the extent that freedom permeates his understanding of it. We must let the Spirit work in us. Deliverance is not mentioned much except the church is to take up its role in expressing Christ's love (Gal 6:1-10). Thus, caring for the needy in the church and the community becomes an act of deliverance.
The rest of the epistles reflect the same theme. Deliverance may be experienced by Christians as well as non-Christians. It may come as a charismatic experience in the church, or in the form of care to the community. One thing that is worth notice is that deliverance does not belong to the ministry of a priest or a prophet, not the privilege of a deacon. Every Christian is called to be a "priest" and to show Christ's love to the world. The book of Hebrews particularly talks about the "better" found in Jesus, his once-for-all sacrifice delivers us from sin. The inner renewal of the saved is delivered from guilt conscience, because he has a relationship with God through Jesus.
V. Unity and Diversity of the Old and New Testaments
Both the Old and New Testaments share something in common, that is, God's redemption plan for the world. Also, there is unity in both Testaments in the deliverance aspect of salvation. We have just walked through the major sections of the Bible and surveyed the main ideas connected to deliverance. God shows his goodness and mercy to the needy. He wants to restore his people, whether he acts by his own hand or through the involvement of prophets or kings, apostles or missionaries.
Deliverance is on the agenda of the many Israelites in their daily life. The national political scene occupies the foreground and the individual sufferings stay at the back. The Graeco-Roman intrusion stirs up the undercurrent of unrest in the livelihood of the common lot. Thus the intertestmental period witnesses insurrections, all designed to restore the old time peace and system. Deliverance in the early church is more than healing of the sick and casting out of demons. It comes in the form of sharing and caring through the individual Christian and collective efforts of the church. The understanding of how God's truth works and how it transcends culture and history is, therefore, important in helping us live according to our identity. Once we interpret the theology correctly and put it to practice diligently, we can be better communicators of the gospel.
Churches and individual Christians can be God's agents of deliverance. Though time and culture are no longer the same as in the Bible, we can apply God's love in practical manners, such as words of comfort and encouragement, deliverance from sickness and demon-possession, and supply resources to the poor and needy. Reaching out to the lost is of utmost urgence, at the same time we should not neglect those who suffer from the reality in life, within and outside the church. Missionary efforts today carry out the tasks of the apostles. They join hands with the indigenous church to be God's hand of deliverance. Such work is done in various stages depending on the convenience and government policy. The leading of the Holy Spirit cannot be overemphasized. Sensitivity and adaptation to present needs are two key elements, subordinate to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to success.
A miracle happens when a person, object or event occurs at the precise moment to meet the critical need. This miracle may even appear by means of a disaster. The concept of miracle and creation may be interrelated, but some people believe that miracles do not bring any new creatures into the world nor do any new elements become added to it. Miracles are often described as "signs" or "signs and wonders" in the Bible. Signs and wonders and miraculous deeds are an organic part of biblical historiography. Miracles come about in different channels, such as human beings (Aaron in 7:10-12 and Elisha in 2 Ki 2:20-21) and nature (a strong east wind in Exo 14:21 and wonders in the heavens and on the earth in Joel 30). There is continuity in the use of miracles in history in connection to God's salvific plan.
Human beings are empowered by God to carry out an act that they normally cannot perform. The purpose of miracles corresponds with the sovereign will of God. Prophets such as Moses, Elijah, and Elisha are well known figures. God uses these individuals to deliver his people by crossing the sea on dry ground, and to multiply food and oil, just to name a few (Exo 14; 1 Ki 17:8-16; 2 Ki 2:8; 4:1-7, 42-44). Each time a miracle happens, it is done to meet a need or to address a problem. Signs and wonders happen to bring faith toward God and trust in his messenger. This carries on into the New Testament.
The NT miracle accounts are not unique in the Greco-Roman world. The only difference is the divine reference, attributed to God and/or his agents, Jesus or the Apostles. Miracle healing is one phenomenon that Jesus does to bring deliverance to people, from sickness, from demon possession, even from death. The resurrection of Jesus is the climax of all miracles. The terms semeia or dunameis from teras or terata are not always treated as separate entities. Early Christian writers, as well as the translators of the OT into Greek and Jewish writers of the first century frequently use these terms interchangeably (see Acts 2:22, 43; Rom 15:9; 2 Cor 12:12).
Many miracles are reported in the Acts of the Apostles, including the speaking of tongues that people from foreign countries are enabled to understand. "Word and deed" represent the norm for Christianity. People who were previously ignorant or even heart hardened, upon hearing the gospel, turn their faith to God.
Copyright 2004, S. H. Hung