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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, December 24 2020

The early ministry of Jesus Christ

Archaeologists generally date the beginning of Christ's ministry to the year A.D. 27 and, according to Luke, "Jesus...began His ministry at about thirty years of age..." (Luke 3:23) (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 160).

The early ministry of Jesus Christ
Capernaum, Israel - known as the Town of Jesus
by Mario Seiglie

During the last century archaeological excavations have confirmed the New Testament description of Nazareth as a small, insignificant village with wine and olive presses, caves for storing grains and cisterns for water and wine.

The Gospels also show that Jesus Christ’s ministry in his hometown of Nazareth was short-lived. When Jesus entered the synagogue and revealed He was the Messiah, the townspeople rejected His message and tried to kill Him. "So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way..." (Luke 4:28-31).

Jesus ended His ministry in Nazareth with the words, "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country" (Luke 4:24).

Relocation to Capernaum

Christ then moved to Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. This site, which means "village of Nahum," was identified in 1838 and has been extensively excavated. John Laughlin, professor of religion at Averett College, Danville, VA. comments: "What is known indicates that at this time Capernaum was a small village located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee with a population of probably no more than 1,000 people..." (Biblical Archaeological Review, September-October 1993, p. 59).

Archaeologists found the remains of a beautiful limestone synagogue at Capernaum dated to the fourth or fifth century. But what caused more excitement was the discovery that beneath this building was the foundation of an earlier synagogue built of basalt that apparently dates to Christ's time.

It was a tradition among the Jews to build a new synagogue on the foundation of the older one. Archaeologist Hershel Shanks explains that, "Since the site of a synagogue rarely changed in antiquity, this basalt building...must also be a synagogue, and very likely the one in which Jesus preached" (Biblical Archaeological Review, November-December 1983, p. 27).

The Gospels also reveal details of who built this synagogue in Capernaum. "And a certain centurion's servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die... sent elders ...pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying ... 'for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue' " (Luke 7:1-5).

The Sea of Galilee

The Gospels even verify meteorological conditions around the Sea of Galilee, faithfully describing the dangers of fishing in the lake. "Now when they had left the multitude, [the disciples] took [Jesus] along in the boat... And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling" (Mark 4:36-37).

Biblical geographer George Adam Smith explains, "The cold currents, as they pass from the west, are sucked down in vortices of air, or by the narrow gorges that break upon the Lake. Hence sudden storms arise [for] which the region is notorious" (The Historical Geography of the Holy Land, 1931, p. 286).

A Fishing Boat of Jesus's Time

An example of the sort of boat Jesus and the disciples used was found buried in mud on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee in January 1986: "It is the first work boat found on an inland lake in the entire Mediterranean area. The boat, dating between the first century B.C. and the end of the first century A.D. ... would have accommodated about fifteen average-size men... Originally it had a mast for sailing and two oars on each side. Jesus and his disciples could easily fit into such a boat and their use is mentioned or inferred often in the Gospels" (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 170).

Many details in the Gospels, such as fishing methods and the use of different nets, reflect an accurate description of Jesus' time. When Christ said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea" (Matthew 13:47), He was referring to the most common method of commercial fishing in his day—using a seine: "The seine, or dragnet, is the oldest type of net. Until recently, it was the most important fishing method on the lake . . . [The parable of the dragnet] exactly fits the function of the seine. It is spread into the sea, then dragged to the shore; in the process all kinds of fish are caught, which the fishermen sitting on the shore sort out." (Biblical Archaeology Review, November- December 1993, p. 52).

Matthew 4:18 also describes a different type of net. "And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen." This refers to a cast net, which is used by a single fisherman. It is circular, some 20 feet in diameter, with lead sinkers attached to the edge.

The Wedding In Cana

"On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and ...both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding . . . There were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece" (John 2:1-2, 6).

One of the curious parts of the wedding account is the mention of large stone waterpots, when such large containers were normally made of pottery or wood. It was expensive to carve large pots from stone, but archaeologists discovered them to have been in common use at the time.

Yitzhak Magen comments, "...Jews of all social and economic levels were deeply concerned with ritual purity in this period . . . Stone vessels were considered immune from impurity, and their popularity during this short period provides strong evidence of heightened interest in ritual purity among all Jews...” (Biblical Archaeological Review, September-October 1998, pp. 49-50).

The importance of archaeological research verifying even apparently insignificant details from the biblical accounts of Christ’s ministry cannot be underestimated and strengthens our faith and trust in the biblical manuscripts.