Pylons of Power -- By: Joseph LoMusio
BSP 3:1 (Winter 1990) p. 2
Pylons of Power
How Archaeology Helps Interpret Jesus’ Reference To “…the Gates of Hell…”
(Joseph LoMusio is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Fullerton, CA. He is also an Assistant to the Director of the Archaeological Research Collection at the University of Southern California.)
Too often in our occidental culture, we fail to remember that the Bible is an oriental book. How many times in reading the Scriptures do we try and run references that have a decidedly Near Eastern context, through the grid of our Western thinking? When this is done, not only do we miss the historical/ cultural significance of the text, but we can also miss out on some important spiritual truth as well.
One such illustration is Matthew 16:18. Standing at the base of Mount Hermon, with its rock altars to the god Pan, Jesus probed the disciples for feedback on His own identity and ministry. He proceeds to declare His intention to build His church, and then adds this compelling statement, “… the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
I am convinced that the average westerner (certainly most Americans) have little context in which to put this phrase. We live in a land of unwalled cities, therefore we have no need for city gates. With the exception of our wild-west days and the need of frontier forts, we do not sense any practical use for gates. Subsequently, we think of a gate as simply a swinging door opening or closing a passageway. It is simply the means by which we gain access into something.
Now while the gate in antiquity gave people access to their city
BSP 3:1 (Winter 1990) p. 3
(Genesis 23:10), strategically it accomplished more than that. When Jesus referred to the “Gates of hell,” the disciples understood precisely what he was implying, for they would have understood the full significance of the city gate: Understanding it as they understood it, will unlock meaningful truth for us today.
City Gates Uncovered
Archaeological excavations have uncovered the foundations of numerous ancient city gates. Virtually without exception, they were large, detailed and uniquely designed structures. Historical research verifies that city gates served a number of vital functions—as we shall see—socially, politically, legally and militaristically.
The Bible details these functions as well. In Scripture we see that gates were often large, many-vaulted structures...
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