George Guthrie, Benjamin W. Perry professor of Bible, spent part of his Christmas break walking where Jesus walked and teaching where Jesus taught.
Israel College of the Bible in Netanya, Israel invited Guthrie to teach a four day class on the book of Hebrews to Jewish and Arab pastors. He and his wife Pat spent 12 days in the country. Before and after Guthrie’s class they spent time getting to know believers and exploring Nazareth, Capernaum and Haifa.
Though it was Guthrie’s second time teaching in the country, he said the cultural differences between American and Israeli classes was challenging.
“My class was barely controlled chaos the whole time,” Guthrie said. “I was teaching, and there was Hebrew translation and Arabic translation going on simultaneously out loud.”
At one point during a break, Guthrie remembered, the students spontaneously broke into a spirited rendition of a Hebrew hymn. Also, heated debate and conversation among students and the professor is ordinary in Israel.
“It was very invigorating after you got used to it,” Guthrie said. “It was a very rich and intense environment.”
Part of the challenge also came from the unusual combination of Arab and Jewish men studying and learning together. Even among Christians in Israel, it is rare to see unity and cooperation among Arabs and Jews. Guthrie said the class was an encouraging example of the gospel’s power to transform.
“It was such a joy to see the Arab and Jewish pastors together lifting their hands up in praise of Yeshua, Jesus, as Messiah,” he said.
This unity is often puzzling to people in a region where strife between the two groups dates back millennia. Guthrie said his favorite moment during the trip was when he walked to see a basilica with three Jewish men and an Arab minister. They met an older Arab who was confused by the group and asked why the Jews were with the Arab. Without hesitation, Guthrie said the men responded, “Oh, it’s because of Yeshua.”
Though Guthrie said he enjoyed his class, he was also deeply impacted by traveling to some of the places recorded in the New Testament. He was able to see the basalt foundation of the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus taught, as well as Nazareth and the site of the Sermon on the Mount.
“You’re sitting there on the side of a hill, and there are birds sitting all around you and there are flowers, and you can almost hear Jesus speaking the words of the Sermon on the Mount….those kinds of experiences are just life changing,” Guthrie said.
His hope is that seeing Scripture come alive as he did in Israel will not only change him, but his students as well. One of the first things he did to begin his New Testament class this semester was show them pictures of his trip, and pictures of the places in the Bible they were talking about.
“I think that my faith is renewed and energized by being with believers in other parts of the world, and I hope that affects my students as well,” Guthrie said. “The world becomes more real and it’s not just text on a page.”
In the future, Guthrie hopes to work more with Israeli believers and eventually take Union students to the country as well. He has already been asked by the college to return and teach a class on Second Corinthians next year.
“I’m very passionate about Israel because it’s a very unique place historically and in terms of need,” he said. “Anything I can do to help the church there, I want to do.”
Though Guthrie is planning more opportunities to go to Israel, he also wants to bring some of what he experienced back to Union. Next fall, the president of Israel College of the Bible and another Israeli minister will speak in chapel. One is Jewish and one is Arab. The Arab man will speak about God’s love for the Jewish people and the Jewish man will speak about God’s love for the Arab people.
Correction: Guthrie’s wife was mistakenly named Pam instead of Pat.