From the Category, “The Eastern Eye”
[The Bible is an “Eastern” book. It was written many years ago in the “East” which today we refer to as “The Middle East.” As such, there are many customs and idioms that are not familiar to the “Western” mind.
In understanding the Scriptures it is important for us to understand the culture, but it doesn’t mean that we should necessarily follow that culture. Rather, it is in the understanding of the Eastern culture that we gain light and understanding about many things in the Bible.]
You may be familiar with the record from John’s Gospel of Nicodemus going to see Jesus at night. Many have speculated that he used the cover of darkness so no one would know he had been with Jesus. The culture of Bible times helps us understand why he went to see Jesus at night.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the supreme council, or court, in ancient Israel. There are a number of websites that give information about this council; here is one that is informative.
Nicodemus was also a Pharisee. The Pharisees were a Jewish sect noted for strict observance of rites and ceremonies of the written law and for insistence on the validity of their own oral traditions concerning the law. On many occasions in the Gospels, Jesus directly confronted the Pharisees for their lack of believing the Scriptures, and their hypocrisy.
Why Did He Go See Jesus At Night?
In biblical culture, evening was the time for philosophical discussions. People sought holy men in the evening to discuss deep issues. The Bible never says Nicodemus went at night because he was afraid; he was simply acting according to his culture and seeking answers.
Nicodemus is mentioned in two other places in John’s Gospel. After this visit, he’s mentioned as objecting to the chief priests and other Pharisees judging Jesus prior to a trial. The third mention of this man is in carrying out Jesus’ proper Jewish burial.
It is remarkable what Nicodemus learned the night he visited Jesus. Scripture records Jesus speaking to him about being “born again”, or [born from above] – another birth! Today we often reference what Jesus explained as “the new birth.”
How much more he spoke to Nicodemus that night, we don’t know. But what is recorded in John’s Gospel is electrifying and exciting. While others are recorded as going to Jesus with ulterior motives, Nicodemus was there to learn.
Not in Step with His Colleagues
I’m impressed with Nicodemus because he chose not to follow the crowd. Most of his fellow Pharisees hated Jesus Christ. His fellow Sanhedrin council members condemned Jesus to death. It took courage to not be in step with his colleagues when they were following the wrong path.
Anyone can be swayed by the actions of their friends and the direction of the culture. But, just like Nicodemus, we each choose the path we take, and we are responsible for our choices and actions. Choose wisely!
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet.
Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?
Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?
So there was a division among the people because of him.
And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him.
Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him?
The officers answered, Never man spake like this man.
Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived?
Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?
But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.
Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,)
Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?
They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.
And every man went unto his own house.
And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
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There are a number of books that you can read to get insight on customs, manners, idioms and meanings from the Eastern culture in which the Bible was written. The best I know of were written by Bishop K. C. Pillai. I have had the pleasure of listening to many recorded teaching by him.
He wrote three books, and they are hard to find, and are usually over priced. But, if you want to you can check this link to see what Amazon has to offer. Light Through an Eastern Window
Another great resource that I have used for years is a book called, “Manners and Customs of the Bible,” by James Freeman. Mine was printed in 1972 and I know they have newer additions. For the newest edition, just click the link and it will take you to Amazon. The New Manners and Customs of the Bible (Pure Gold Classics)