Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 70

Psalm 70

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This Psalm is essentially identical with Psalm 40:14-18 [13-17], discussed in an earlier study. The points of difference are noted below. The existence of Psalm 70 provides confirmation for scholars who hold that vv. 14-18 of Ps 40 originally constituted a separate Psalm. We are apparently dealing with two versions of the same basic poem. On its own, this poem is a lament, containing a plea/prayer to YHWH for deliverance. The meter is irregular.

The superscription simply marks this as another composition “belonging to David”. The precise meaning of the additional direction ryK!z+h^l= is unclear. If parsed as a Hiphil infinitive (of the verb rk^z`), it would mean “to cause to remember, to bring to remembrance”, but whether this relates to the performing tradition, or to the content (and purpose) of the poem, is uncertain. The same expression occurs in the superscription of Ps 38; and note the use of the verb rk^z` in the opening lines of Pss 132 and 137.

Verse 2 [1]

“(Rush, O) Mightiest, to snatch me (away)!
(O) YHWH, may you hurry to help me!”

The Psalmist’s plea for help begins with this single couplet. It is nearly identical with Ps 40:14[13], the two differences being: (1) use of <yh!l)a$ in place of the Divine name hwhy (YHWH) in the first line, and (2) the initial verb (hxr) is missing. The parallel with Ps 40, along with the irregular meter (2+3) of the couplet as it currently stands, strongly suggests that a comparable verb (imperative) has dropped out. In discussing 40:14 (cf. the earlier study), I mentioned that I had followed Dahood (I, p. 247) in vocalizing the initial verb form (hxr) as hx*r% (from the root JWr, “run, rush”), rather than MT hx@r= (from hx*r*, “be pleased [to act]”). The verb JWr makes a more obvious (and fitting) parallel with vwj (“hurry”) in the second line.

If the MT of verse 2 is correct, then it must be regarded as a rhythmically irregular couplet (though with identical numbers of syllables in each line [8+8]); it could be translated as follows:

“(O) Mightiest, to snatch me (away),
YHWH, may you hurry to help me!”

Dahood (II, p. 168) would parse yn]l@yX!hl= as a Hiphil imperative form with an emphatic –l; the first line would then read: “(O) Mightiest, snatch me (away)!”. The use of the general title <yh!l)a$ (°E_lœhîm, “Mightiest,” i.e., ‘God’) in place of the Divine name (hwhy) is typical of the ‘Elohist’ Psalms we have been studying.

Verse 3 [2]

“May they feel shame and humiliation,
(those) seeking (after) my soul!
May they be sent backward and be ashamed,
(the one)s (who) delight in my evil!”

Again, this verse is very close to that of Psalm 40 (v. 15 [14]), cf. the earlier study; the second couplet is identical, while there is an extra word at the end of each in the first couplet of Ps 40 (yielding a 3+3 rather than 2+2 couplet):

“May they feel shame and humiliation as one [dj^y~],
(those) seeking my soul to sweep it (away) [Ht*oPs=l!]!”

Here we have familiar motif of wicked assailants who attack the righteous protagonist, seeking to do him harm (and even to kill him)—in this sense, of course, “my evil” means “evil done (or intended) against me”. This is a dramatic paradigm we have encountered in dozens of Psalms. It is a general way of referring to the wicked (in contrast to the righteous), and does not require the presence of specific enemies. However, the poetic idiom could certainly be applied to any number of historical situations or practical circumstances.

The desire that such wicked assailants would be “put to shame”, and have their evil plans thwarted (“turned back”), is also a common prayer-wish in these lament-Psalms. This is expressed through three different verbs which share a similar range of meaning: vWB, rp@j*, and <l^K*. These are used repeatedly throughout the Psalms, and often with similar formulations (35:4 is quite close here).

Verse 4 [3]

“May they be devastated upon (the) heel of their shame,
(the one)s saying (to me), ‘Aha, aha!'”

The second line of Ps 40:16[15] contains an additional word (yl!, “to me”, indicated in parentheses above), but is otherwise identical. The shorter second line of v. 4 here results in a tighter couplet, with a more precise 3-beat rhythm, though metrically there is not much difference between the two versions.

The wish of v. 3 [2] is restated here, but even more intensely, as the Psalmist asks that his adversaries be “devastated” (vb <m@v*) on account of their shame. The expression “upon (the) heel of” (bq#u@ lu^) is a Hebrew idiom that can be rendered blandly in English as “on account of”. The sense of their wickedness is captured here through their accusatory taunting of the righteous (cp. 35:21). For a slightly different explanation of bqu (with a different vocalization), cf. Dahood, II, p. 168.

Verse 5 [4]

“May they rejoice and be joyful in you,
all (those) seeking (after) you,
(who) say continually,
‘Great is YHWH!’
(the one)s loving your salvation.”

Ps 40:17[16] is identical, accept for the final noun, which in Ps 40 is hu*WvT= rather than the related hu*Wvy+, the two words essentially being byforms with identical meaning.

Just as the Psalmist prays for the wicked to feel shame and humiliation, so he also wishes (conversely) for the righteous to experience joy. The verb pair cWc and jm^c* expresses this joyfulness, even as the pair vWB and rp@j* in v. 3 [2] expresses the shame/humiliation of the wicked. The contrastive parallel (between the righteous and wicked) is quite precise here. The wicked are the ones “seeking [vb vq^B*]” the soul of the righteous, to do it harm; by contrast, the righteous are the ones “seeking” (same verb) after YHWH, to do His will. The wicked utter accusatory taunts (“Aha, aha!”) against the righteous, while the righteous utter praise in honor of YHWH (“Great is YHWH!”).

Structurally, this verse is best understood as a tricolon that has been expanded with two additional short lines. The tricolon is comprised of lines 1-2 and 5 above, producing a fine characterization of the righteous:

“May they rejoice and be joyful in you,
all (those) seeking (after) you,
(the one)s loving your salvation.”

Within this poetic structure, the additional descriptive element has been added:

“(who) say continually,
‘Great is YHWH!'”

To their heart and intention, a confessional aspect is included, whereby the righteous demonstrate their devotion to YHWH through what they say publicly. It implies a worship setting, but even more importantly, it marks the Psalmist as belonging to the gathering of (all the) the righteous.

Verse 6 [5]

“And (yet) I (am) oppressed and needy,
(O) Mightiest, (come) hurry to me!
You (are) my help and my escaping—
(O) YHWH, do not stay behind!”

Compared with the parallel in Ps 40:18[17], there is a more consistent parallelism in the couplets here, taking the form of an urgent plea to YHWH (matching that of v. 2 at the opening of the Psalm). The points of difference are indicated in italics above, as well as, correspondingly, here for Ps 40:

“And (though) I (am) oppressed and needy,
my Lord has regard for me.
You (are) my help and my escaping—
my Mighty (One), do not stay behind!”

The righteous are frequently characterized as poor/needy (/oyb=a#) and oppressed (yn]a*), and this pairing occurs numerous times in the Psalms—35:10; 37:14; 72:4, 12; 74:21; 86:1; 109:16, 22; 140:13; and cf. also on 69:33-34 (in the previous study). The wicked, by contrast, are rich and powerful (at least by worldly standards), and oppress the righteous. This is expressed from the standpoint of social justice, but as an idiom also carries a deeper religious and theological resonance. The righteous, by their very nature, cannot share the success and strength of the wicked in the world; instead, they must trust in YHWH for sustenance and protection.

The protection provided by YHWH is again the subject of the final two lines, as the Psalmist closes his poem with the plea: “O YHWH, do not stay behind!”. The verb rj^a* literally means “stay behind, keep back”, and expresses a situation that is the opposite of what the Psalmist needs. He needs YHWH to come forward to rescue him, to stand in front of him and give the necessary protection. YHWH is both the help and the “way out”, the escape (vb fl^P*) from all that threatens him.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).

April 28: Romans 7:6

Romans 7:6

The emphasis in Romans 6 was on the believer’s freedom from the power of sin. This freedom is obtained by being “in Christ” —as expressed by the idea, drawn from the symbolism of the baptism-rite, of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here in chapter 7 (vv. 1-6), Paul introduces a second, related, aspect of our freedom in Christ—namely, that we are also freed from the binding authority of the Torah regulations (i.e., the Law). This is Paul’s focus throughout his letter to the Galatians, and is also the aspect of freedom that he emphasizes in 2 Corinthians 3 (cf. my recent study on this passage). The focus on the Torah is introduced here in vv. 1-6, and then the relationship between the Law and sin is expounded in the remainder of the chapter (vv. 7-25).

Paul begins his discussion in chap. 7 with an illustration involving the binding force of the marriage bond (vv. 1-3). When a woman’s husband dies, she is no longer bound to him by law, and she is free to give herself to another. This illustration is comparable to several that Paul utilizes in Galatians (e.g., 3:23-26ff; 4:1-7), as a way of explaining how the binding authority of the Torah only applied for a certain period of time—when that time is over, a person is no longer under its authority. According to Paul, the period of time when the Torah regulations were in force, has come to an end with Jesus (Rom 10:4, etc). Here is how he states the matter in 7:4:

“So then, my brothers, you also (have) become dead to the Law, through the body of the Anointed, unto your coming to be(long) [i.e so that you might belong] to another—to the (one hav)ing been raised out of (the) dead—(so) that we might bear fruit to God.”

Notice the way that Paul weaves in the ‘dying/rising with Christ’ theme (from chap. 6) into his application of the illustration. Jesus is identified with the ‘husband’ who died, thus voiding the force of the law for the woman (i.e., the believer); then Jesus is identified further with the new husband (“another” man), under an entirely new and different kind of marriage bond—one which has the purpose of “bearing fruit” to God.

The old husband (Jesus under the law) died and the woman (the believer) marries a new husband (the resurrected/exalted Jesus). This transfer is achieved through the believer’s participation in both Jesus’ death (“through the body of the Anointed”) and resurrection (“to the one having been raised out of the dead”).

Following this explanation, Paul again mentions (in v. 5) how this participation has set us free from the binding power of sin:

“For, when we were in the flesh, (the thing)s (being) suffered of sins, which (were realized) through the Law, worked in our members [i.e. body parts], unto the bearing of fruit to sin;”

The rather complex language here, describing the relationship between sin and the Law, is expounded by Paul in vv. 7ff. The syntax reflects a certain chain of logic:

    • “in the flesh” (i.e. prior to our coming to faith)
      • “the things suffered [paqh/mata] of [i.e. involving] sins”
        “that [were realized] through the Law”
    • “worked in our members”
      • “for bearing fruit to sin”

Stated more conventionally: there were passions and impulses “in our flesh” tending toward sin; these were active and at work in our “body parts”, spurring us on to sinful action (“bearing fruit to sin”). The same verb (karpofore/w, “bear fruit”) was used in v. 4 (cf. above), emphasizing the contrast between serving sin and serving God. Regarding this motif of bearing “fruit” (karpo/$), one is immediately reminded of Paul’s contrast between the “fruit of the Spirit” and the “works [‘fruit’ in a negative sense] of the flesh” in Gal 5:19-22.

As in Gal 5:24 (cf. also 2:19-21), the main point is that believers in Christ, who have died with him, have died to these sinful impulses: we are no longer in bondage to them. By participating in Jesus’ sacrificial death, we have been set free from their enslaving power. This also applies to the binding power of the Torah regulations, as is made clear in the continuation of Paul’s thought in v. 6:

“but now, we (have) been made to cease working from (under) the Law, (hav)ing died away in that by which we were held down, so that we (are now) to be a slave in (the) newness of (the) Spirit, and not in (the) oldness of (the) letter.”

Much of this language is repeated from 2 Corinthians 3—especially the use of the key verb katarge/w (vv. 7, 11, 13-14), the contrast between the Spirit and the “letter” (gra/mma, vv. 6-7), and the implicit contrast between the “old” and “new” covenants. On the last point, the expression “newness [kaino/th$] of the Spirit” certainly corresponds with the new (kaino/$) covenant in 2 Cor 3:6, just as “oldness [palaio/th$] of the letter” corresponds with the old (palaio/$) covenant in v. 14. For more on this, cf. the recent article in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”, along with the associated set of exegetical notes.

The same noun, kaino/th$, was used in 6:4 (cf. the earlier note); it is used in precisely parallel expressions, which also have comparable meaning:

    • “in newness of life” (e)n kaino/thti zwh=$)
    • “in newness of (the) Spirit” (e)n kaino/thti pneu/mato$)

This makes explicit what was only implied in the earlier passage—namely, that our participation in the death and life (resurrection) of Jesus is realized through the presence of the Spirit. While the Spirit tends to be associated with the life, it must be understood as equally associated with the death of Jesus. This also was indicated earlier, in 5:5, where Paul describes God’s love, present in us through the Spirit, specifically in terms of sacrificial death of Jesus (His Son), vv. 6-11. Thus, the reality and power of both Jesus’ death and his resurrection are communicated to us through the Spirit.

In the next daily note, we will turn to Paul’s discussion in chapter 8, where this role of the Spirit is given special emphasis.

April 27: Romans 6:8-11

Romans 6:8-11

“Now, if we died away with (the) Anointed, we trust that also we shall live with him, having seen that (the) Anointed, (hav)ing been raised out of (the) dead, no longer dies away, (for) death no longer is lord over him.” (vv. 8-9)

In vv. 6-7 (cf. the previous note), the principal effect of believers’ participation in Jesus’ death is that they/we are freed from sin—in the specific sense of being freed from bondage to the power of sin. This, indeed, is the focus of verses 1-11 as a whole (see the opening vv. 1-2), and is also a key theme that dominates the body of the letter, becoming especially prominent in chaps. 5-7. Sin is personalized as powerful tyrant, holding rule over humankind enslaved to his power. And, in this portrait, death (similarly personified, cf. 1 Cor 15:26, 54-56) functions as a powerful subordinate (vassal) or co-ruler with sin. In 5:14, death (qa/nato$) is specifically said to rule/reign (vb basileu/w) as ‘king’ over humankind:

“But Death reigned from Adam until Moshe…”

The limitation of the period before the coming of the Torah regulations (with Moses) relates to Paul’s discussion of the Law in chaps. 5-7 (cf. the prior v. 13). The presence of sin’s rule over humankind was not made clearly manifest until the coming of the Law; yet sin still exercised reign, ruling through the figure of death.

Paul utilizes the same line of imagery here in vv. 8-9, when he refers to death acting as a lord (ku/rio$, vb kurieu/w). Death proves that he is master and ruler over humankind in that every human being dies, being forced to submit and succumb to death’s power. Only in the case of Jesus, death was not able to be lord over him, meaning that, even though Jesus did die, death could not force him to remain in that condition (i.e., in the grave). The fact that Jesus was raised from the dead shows that death has no real power over him. What this means for believers is that, because we participate in Jesus’ death, being united with him, we also share in his resurrection. We are thus truly freed from the power of death, just as we are freed from the power of sin.

“For, in that he died away, he died away to sin upon one (occasion only), but, in that he lives, he lives to God.” (v. 10)

In only one instance (and in one respect) was Jesus force to submit to sin and death; Paul uses the adverb e)fa/pac (lit. “upon one [occasion]”) to express this (cp. a comparable usage in Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10). But there is a dual meaning here to the idea of a person “dying to sin [th=| a(marti/a|]”, for it also implies the notion that a person is no longer under sin’s power. This is the aspect of our participation in Jesus’ death that is emphasized in vv. 2-7 (see especially vv. 6-7, discussed in the previous note). In a similar way, believers die to the Law, and are no longer under the binding force of the Torah regulations (Gal 2:19-21; Col 2:14), even though this aspect of our freedom in Christ is not the focus here in Romans (but is addressed specifically later in chap. 8).

The implication in v. 10 is that Jesus’ (new) life—obtained/experienced through his resurrection—is not like his death (cp. 5:15-17ff). He died one time in the past (a)pe/qanen, aorist tense), but now lives continually and perpetually in the present (zwh=|, present tense). He submitted once to sin’s power, but now is under God’s eternal rule (living “to God” [tw=| qew=|]), in a continuous relationship with Him. For we, as believers, who share in this resurrection-life, we have the same relationship to God (a point Paul will develop powerfully in chap. 8).

“So also you must count yourselves [to be], on the one hand, dead to sin, but (on the other hand) living to God in (the) Anointed Yeshua.” (v. 11)

The last phrase (e)n xristw=| Ihsou=, “in [the] Anointed Yeshua”) is key. Coming as it does at the very close of the section, it emphasizes again our participation in Jesus’ death and life (resurrection), utilizing the familiar Pauline concept of being “in Christ”. However, the opening words of v. 11 bring us back to the ethical focus of Paul’s discussion (beginning in vv. 1-2ff), and on how we, as believers, should think and act according to the reality of this identity. In other words, if we have died off to sin, and now have new life in relationship to God, then this should be reflected in our mindset and behavior.

Paul expresses this with the verb logi/zomai, in the fundamental sense of “count”; here, to “count” oneself means to “consider” oneself to be a certain way—and then to act in a corresponding way, worthy of our identity as believers in Christ. An imperative is used to indicate the force (and importance) of this exhortation.

The same contrast in v. 10 is brought out here, using a me\nde/ construct (i.e., “on the one hand…but on the other…”): on the one hand, we died to sin; on the other, we now live to God—and awareness of this reality should govern our thought and action. This is an important way of understanding the dynamic of our participation in Jesus’ death and life. The role of the Spirit in this is only implied, here in chapter 6, but Paul will develop this aspect considerably as proceeds in chapters 7 and 8. The main development occurs in chapter 8; but in the next daily note we will turn briefly to Paul’s important statement in 7:6.

April 26: Romans 6:4-7

Romans 6:4-7

In Rom 6:4-5ff, Paul expounds the theological principle laid down in verse 3 (cf. the previous note)—regarding how our baptism, as believers, symbolizes our participation in the death of Jesus. Here is how Paul continues in verse 4:

“Therefore, we were buried together with him, through the dunking [i.e. baptism] into death, (so) that, just as (the) Anointed (One) was raised out of (the) dead through the splendor of the Father, so also we should walk about in newness of life.”

He extends the idea of believers dying with Jesus to being buried with him. This may well represent a natural extension of the baptismal imagery, with the descent down into the water representing a symbolic burial. The prefix sun– (“with”) on the verb sunqa/ptw (“bury [someone] together with [others]”) conveys the aspect of our participation in Jesus’ death (and burial). Paul makes extensive use of such compound verbs (with a sun– prefix), even, it would seem, coining one or two himself (cf. below).

Clearly, death precedes rebirth, and the implication is that we cannot participate in Jesus’ resurrection without first participating in his death. In this regard, the experience of death leads to the experience of new life. This “newness of life” (kaino/th$ zwh=$), as Paul puts it, covers both our (future) resurrection (patterned after Jesus’ own) and our experience, in the present, of new life through the Spirit. That Paul has the Spirit specifically in mind is confirmed by the parallel use of the noun kaino/th$ (“newness”) in 7:6 (the only other occurrence of the word in the NT); note the precise parallelism of expression:

    • e)n kaino/thti zwh=$ (“in newness of life”)
    • e)n kaino/thti pneu/mato$ (“in newness of [the] Spirit“)

Paul’s use of the verb peripate/w (“walk about”) has ethical-religious significance, and should be understood in light of his statements regarding sin in vv. 1-2. To walk about in “newness of life” essentially means the same as walking about “in the Spirit” (pneu/mati) in Gal 5:16. This theme of new life in the Spirit, introduced here, is developed extensively in chapter 8 (to be discussed).

Paul continues his exposition in verse 5 with an illustration from nature:

“For, if we have come to be planted together [su/mfutoi] in the likeness of his death, (how much more) rather shall we also be (in the likeness) of (his) standing up [i.e. resurrection].”

The planting of seed in the ground is a natural image for death and burial. It was used by Jesus (referring to his own death) in John 12:24, and Paul earlier utilized this same imagery in the resurrection chapter of 1 Corinthians (15:35-44ff), in much the same context as we find here—viz., how the death and resurrection of believers is patterned after Jesus’ own, and derives from our participation in his own death. The idea of a pattern is clear from Paul’s use of the noun o(moi/wma (“likeness”). The Adam-Christ parallel in 1 Cor 15 should be understood here as well, given the contextual importance of that theme in chapter 5 (vv. 12-21)—note the use of the noun o(moiw/ma in v. 14. The motif of Jesus as “second” Adam also informs the use of the noun o(moi/wma in 8:3 and Philippians 2:7. Jesus takes on the likeness of sinful humanity (i.e., ‘Adam’), and redeemed humanity (believers), in turn, take on the sinless/holy likeness of Jesus.

Indeed, the emphasis here in chapter 6 is on believer’s freedom from sin—that is, specifically, freedom from bondage to the power of sin. There are certainly ethical implications to this (vv. 1-2), but the basis is essential and theological. Note how Paul continues his statement (from v. 5) in vv. 6-7:

“Knowing this, that our old man has been put to the stake together with (him), (so) that the body of sin should cease to work, (it is that) not any more (are) we to be a slave to sin, for the (one hav)ing died away has been made right (again) [i.e. acquitted/cleared] from sin.”

Paul brings in here the striking idea, which he most likely originated, that our participation with Jesus’ death extends to the specific manner of his death—that is, by crucifixion. Again Paul utilizes a compound verb with a sun– prefix, sustauro/w (sun + stauro/w), meaning “put [someone] to the stake [i.e. crucify] together with [another]”. There is a good chance that Paul himself coined this verb, which he used earlier (and most famously) in Gal 2:19-20. It is this crucifixion, in particular, that put to death our bondage to sin, as well as our bondage to the Law (i.e., binding obligation to the Torah regulations); on the latter, cf. especially the vivid wording in Col 2:14. For Paul, these two kinds of bondage go together; in Romans the emphasis on freedom from sin is primary, while in Galatians (and also 2 Corinthians 3) the focus is on freedom from the Law.

In the next daily note, we will see how Paul summarizes this exposition, regarding believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, in verses 8-11.

April 25: Romans 6:3

In these daily notes, examining the relationship between the Spirit and the death of Jesus, we turn now to the Pauline letters. Paul expresses this relationship in a very distinctive way—in terms of believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This has been summarized by the principle of “dying and rising with Christ”. I will be focusing on how Paul refers to this concept, and develops it, in his letter to the Romans, mentioning relevant passages in the other letters along the way.

The association between the Spirit and the death of Jesus is introduced at 5:5, where Paul expresses the idea that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts, through (the) holy Spirit (hav)ing been given to us”. The love of God is thus manifest, within the believer, through the presence of the Spirit. This love is connected with the believer’s hope (e)lpi/$, vv. 4-5)—by which is primarily meant our future hope (of resurrection and salvation from the Judgment). The presence of the Spirit is a promise of our future salvation (and resurrection), cf. 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Gal 5:5.

In verses 6-11, Paul explains how God’s love, present within us through the Spirit, was manifest in the sacrificial death of His Son (Jesus) on our behalf. The thematic emphasis on our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus is introduced in verse 10, where Paul uses the verb katalla/ssw to express the idea of things “being made different” for us, in relation to God, through this participation. Our participation is “through” (dia/) the death of Jesus (“His Son”), and then “in” (e)n) his life (i.e. resurrection). The presence of the Spirit is associated with both aspects. Even though the role of the Spirit in Jesus’ resurrection is emphasized (cf. already in 1:4), it must be understood in connection with his death as well. This is especially so, as Paul specifically cites Jesus’ death as a manifestation of God’s love (present in us through the Spirit).

Romans 6:3-11

This participation-theme is developed and expounded in chapter 6, in which Paul specifically emphasizes the believer’s freedom from bondage to the power of sin. Our freedom, as believers, in this regard, is expressed in terms of dying to sin:

“We the (one)s who died away to sin, how yet shall we live in it?” (v. 2)

Believers are characterized as “the ones who” (oi%tine$) have died (a)peqa/nomen) to sin. An aorist form of the verb a)poqnh/skw (“die away [from], die off”) is used, indicating that this death is something that has already occurred, in the past. The principal past event being referenced is the baptism of the believer:

“Or, are you without knowledge (of the fact) that, as many of us as have been dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death?” (v. 3)

Paul is almost certainly drawing upon established, traditional symbolism (and language) associated with the baptism-rite. In particular, the expression “into Jesus Christ” was likely part of the formulae used in the ritual. The preposition ei)$ literally means “into”, but can also carry the nuance of “unto”. A fuller expression is “into/unto the name of Jesus” (cf. Matt 28:19; Acts 8:16; 19:5, etc), the principal signification may of been that of believers coming to belong to Jesus. The same preposition was frequently used in relation of person’s faith in Jesus (e.g., Rom 10:14; Phil 1:29, etc), and this association certainly would have been intended in the baptismal formula, since baptism signifies, in a primary way, one’s trust in Jesus Christ.

However, Paul seems to be utilizing here the more concrete sense of the preposition ei)$—viz., of being baptized, quite literally, into Jesus. This also may have been part of the ritual imagery. For example, when the believer goes down into the water (at least a partial immersion should be assumed), one is cleansed of the old self, shedding one’s prior identity (bound by sin), and ‘putting on’ a new life and identity, in union with Christ. Indeed, elsewhere Paul speaks of “putting on” Christ (Rom 13:14; cf. Col 3:10ff; Eph 4:24), and, here, too, he is likely drawing upon traditional baptismal language, as seems clear from Gal 3:26-28:

“For as many of you as (have) been dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed, you (have) put on (the) Anointed.” (v. 27)

The actual verb used is e)ndu/w, which literally means “sink in(to)” a garment. The language could apply to one’s descent into the water, but more likely it would have been tied to the symbolic act of putting on a clean new garment (perhaps a white robe) after coming up from the water; the new garment would symbolize one’s new identity in Christ. This imagery came to be especially prominent in the baptismal tradition of the Syrian Church, with the splendidly creative idea that believers would put on the “robe of glory” left behind in the water by Jesus (after his own baptism).

It would have been natural for the descent down into the water to represent a symbolic “death”, followed by a rebirth. Such ritual imagery is found in many religious contexts, including the Greco-Roman ‘mystery cults’, and it would actually be surprising if, at a very early point, Christians did not utilize it as well. However, Paul appears to be the first Christian author (we know of) to bring out this particular aspect of the the baptism rite; in any case, he was the first to develop the symbolism, giving to it a profound theological (and Christological) interpretation.

This will be discussed in the next daily note, as we examine Paul’s exposition that follows in vv. 4-5ff.

The Extent of Johannine Spiritualism: Jn 4:23-24; 6:63

Two important Spirit-references in the Gospel of John, reflecting Johannine spiritualism, have been discussed in the most recent articles in this series—the articles on 4:10-15ff (incl. vv. 21-24) and 6:63. Based on the strong spiritualistic language in 4:23-24 and 6:63, it is fair to inquire as to the extent of Johannine spiritualism. A basic feature of Christian spiritualism is the tendency to relativize or downplay the importance of external religious elements—especially as they are manifest in public (corporate) worship and ritual. The essence of worship and ritual is realized spiritually, and does not require any external observance or performance.

The language of 4:23-24 and 6:63 (in the context of 6:51-58) suggests that the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker) is emphasizing just such an inward, spiritual mode of worship, over and against the external observance of any rite. I will begin which the specific relationship between 6:63 and the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper), since the eucharistic language in vv. 51-58 strongly indicates that these verses at least allude to the early Christian rite of the Lord’s Supper.

John 6:63 in relation to the Eucharistic language in vv. 51-58

It is generally agreed that verses 51-58 of the chapter 6 Bread of Life Discourse contain eucharistic language, and that both author and readers would have recognized the language as referring, in some fashion, to the early Christian ritual of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). However, if this point of reference is intentional, in precisely what sense is it intended to be understood?

I would delineate two broad ways of viewing the matter. The first option is that the author intended to emphasize the physical eating and drinking of Jesus’ “flesh” and “blood” through the sacramental elements (bread and wine) of the Lord’s Supper ritual. Let us call this the ritualistic view. The second option is that the eating/drinking is meant to be understood entirely in a figurative, spiritual sense, and that one partakes of the “flesh” and “blood” of Jesus inwardly, through the Spirit. This we will call the spiritualistic view. While it is certainly possible to posit a hybrid or intermediate view, somewhere between these two interpretive poles, most explanations of vv. 51-58, as reflecting the author’s intention, tend toward one of these two options. This is especially so when we consider the relationship between vv. 51-58 and the Spirit-saying in v. 63 (on which, cf. the recent article in this series).

We must also take into account the critical question of vv. 51-58 in relation to various theories regarding the composition of the Gospel, as there are differences of opinion as to whether vv. 51-58 are an integral part of the original Discourse (and the original version of the Gospel), or whether they represent a secondary (redactional) addition. We may thus outline three possibilities:

      • Verses 51-58 are original to the Discourse, and are intended in a ritualistic sense
      • They have been added to the Discourse, with a ritualistic emphasis, perhaps intended to counterbalance the (apparent) spiritual emphasis in the rest of the Discourse
      • Whether or not the verses are original to the Discourse, they are meant to be understood in a spiritualistic sense

The incompatibility of the ritualistic interpretation with the consistent figurative usage of the idiom of eating/drinking—both in the Discourse proper (esp. verses 35-50) and in the earlier Samaritan Woman Discourse of chapter 4 (vv. 10-15, 32ff)—makes it highly unlikely that there would have been a ritualistic meaning intended for vv. 51-58 if those verses were part of the original Discourse. This is all the more so if we consider the Discourse in terms of the historical tradition—viz. of Jesus as the speaker of such a discourse in a synagogue setting (v. 59). A reference to the early Christian ritual would have been completely incomprehensible to a first-century Jewish audience.

This leaves us with the last two options outlined above. Either vv. 51-58 represent a redactional addition, meant to counterbalance the spiritual emphasis of the Discourse, or they were intended to be understood in a spiritualistic manner. Many commentators (e.g., R. E. Brown, von Wahlde) would hold to some version of the former position—that vv. 51-58 are an addition to the original Discourse-tradition, and are intended to bring out a ritualistic Eucharistic emphasis. In other words, the purpose was to emphasize the need to “eat” (and “drink”) Jesus (i.e., the Bread) in a literal, physical sense—through the “flesh” and “blood” of the sacramental elements. According to some versions of this theory, the Eucharistic language of the ‘words of instution’ by Jesus, set (in the Synoptic tradition) during the Last Supper, have been transferred and relocated to the Bread of Life Discourse, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Given the early Christian tendency to associate the Miraculous Feeding episode (vv. 1-15 par) with the Eucharist, the following Discourse may have seemed like the best place to include reference to the Last Supper tradition.

If this was, indeed, the author/editor’s intent, it must be regarded as a failure. If the goal was to emphasize the Lord’s Supper ritual, this would have been accomplished much more effectively by maintaining the Synoptic connection with the Last Supper. By embedding the Eucharistic reference within the Bread of Life Discourse, any ritualistic emphasis has been thoroughly obscured. As the history of interpretation has demonstrated, with centuries of diverging opinions by commentators, it is by no means clear that vv. 51-58, in context, were intended to be understood in anything like a ritualistic sense.

Thus, serious consideration should be given to the possibility that the verses were, from the beginning (at whatever point they were included in the Discourse), meant to be understood in a spiritualistic sense. The main arguments in support of this have been introduced and elucidated in prior notes. The central point I would make is that, if the idiom of “eating” and “drinking” was used in a figurative, spiritual sense in 4:10-15ff and 6:27-50, then it should be similarly understood the same way here in 6:51-58. Moreover, if the expression “living water” was understood (by the Gospel writer) as referring to the Spirit (7:37-39), then it is fair to assume that “living bread” has a comparable meaning in chapter 6. And, if one “eats” the living bread in a spiritual manner, then a person would “eat” (and “drink”) the flesh/blood of Jesus likewise. Properly speaking, the emphasis in vv. 27-50 is on trusting in Jesus; people eat and drink Jesus when they trust in him (vv. 29, 35-36, 40, 47, cf. also the emphasis in v. 64).

From the Johannine theological standpoint, to trust in Jesus specifically means believing that he is the Son sent to earth (from heaven) by God the Father, and that he was sent to give life to the world. This last point is expressed clearly at several key, climactic moments in the Discourse (vv. 40, 50-51, 57). While “life” (zwh/) is communicated by Jesus through the Spirit, it entails the life-giving power of his sacrificial death. I have discussed this principle, which I believe is central to the Johannine theology, in recent notes (cf. most recently on 1 Jn 1:7ff and 5:6-8). This is the reason and purpose for the eucharistic language and imagery in vv. 51-58, as it provided the only meaningful way for early Christians to express the idea of the communication of the power and efficacy of Jesus’ death through the idiom of eating and drinking.

What role, then, did the Lord’s Supper rite itself have in the Johannine congregations? The complete lack of any reference to the tradition of the institution of the Supper (as a rite to be performed)—and, specifically, in the context of the Last Supper (cf. chapter 13)—suggests that it may not have been particularly important in the Johannine religious milieu. In its place, at least within the Last Supper narrative, a very different ritual (the Foot-washing) is emphasized (vv. 4-20), to a much greater extent than the Supper ritual is correspondingly emphasized in the Synoptic narrative. Unfortunately, we have no information in the Letters regarding Johannine worship practice, so there is no way to form even a prelimary conclusion regarding the place of either the Eucharist or the Foot-washing in the life of those congregations. However, the spiritualistic emphasis, in both the Gospel and the First Letter (to be discussed), raises at least the possibility that the Johannine churches would have downplayed the importance of the Supper ritual, even if they themselves observed it, to some extent.

In this regard, we might mention Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the Christians in Smyrna, written sometime in the early 2nd century (c. 110-115?). He refers to opponents who seem to have certain features in common with the opponents mentioned in 1-2 John. In chapter 7, Ignatius claims that these people “hold themselves away” from the Eucharist, apparently refusing to accept that the sacramental elements truly embody the “flesh” of Jesus, and thus (presumably) there is no need for physical consumption of them. Ignatius probably wrote his letter not all that many years after 1-2 John were written; moreover, Smyrna is located in region of Asia (Minor), centered around Ephesus, that is often thought to represent the geographic hub of the Johannine churches. All of this suggests that the opponents Ignatius mentions could have derived from the wider Johannine Community, having perhaps adopted a more extreme version of the kind of spiritualistic views that are expressed in the Gospel and Letters of John.

The Principle Expressed in John 4:23-24

“…an hour comes, and is now (here), when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for indeed the Father seeks such (people) worshiping Him. God is Spirit, and (for) the (one)s worshiping Him, it is necessary to worship in Spirit and in truth.”

This extended declaration by Jesus was discussed in the earlier article (on 4:10-15ff). It has a remarkably spiritualistic ring to it, and yet most commentators are unwilling to go very far down that line of interpretation. R. E. Brown (p. 180), in his comments on vv. 23-24, can serve to summarize the prevailing opinion:

“An ideal of purely internal worship ill fits the NT scene with its eucharistic gatherings, hymn singing, baptism in water, etc. (unless one assumes that John’s theology is markedly different from that of the Church at large).”

His assumptions about “the Church at large” are far-sized, if understandable; in actual fact, we have very little information regarding worship practice (and the associated beliefs) in first-century churches. It is quite precarious to assume that Johannine congregations would have shared, broadly, the ideas and practices mentioned, for example, by Paul in 1 Corinthians, or in the so-called “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (Didache). Brown’s caveat (in parentheses above) at least admits the possibility that Johannine congregations might have held to a more spiritualistic view regarding the nature and purpose of worship.

In the Discourse, Jesus specifically relativizes the location of worship, beginning in verse 21:

“…an hour comes when, neither on this mountain [i.e. Gerizim] nor in Yerushalaim, shall you worship the Father”

The distinction between Gerizim and Jerusalem is particular to the religious differences between Samaritans and Jews. In spite of Jesus’ words in v. 22, the implication is that such differences no longer matter. More than this, the expression “on this mountain” can be generalized to mean “in this particular location”. It would be natural (and logical) to extend this principle to emphasize that worship does not depend on any particular location; this would include any particular congregational setting.

The location for worship is no longer spatial or geographical, but is located “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati). It is possible to understand pneu=ma here in terms of the inward/internal aspect of the human spirit, but this would be quite out of keeping with the overall Johannine usage; moreover, it is contradicted by the emphasis in v. 24, with the declaration that “God is Spirit”. Jesus is clearly referring in v. 23 to the Spirit of God, a point confirmed by the repeated connection between the Spirit and truth (a)lh/qeia)—cf. 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6. To worship “in truth” (a)lhqei/a| [preposition implied]) essentially means the same as worshiping “in the Spirit”.

What does all of this mean for the practice of worship, and the realization of it within the Johannine congregations? We simply do not have enough information to draw any conclusions. There may have been an ideal of spiritual worship which the congregations sought to maintain in some fashion, without completely dispensing with common traditions and ritual practices. This question will be explored further in the upcoming articles in this series dealing with the evidence from First John. Indeed, a key theme of that letter (or tract) is the need to balance and moderate a Spirit-centered communal experience, by retaining contact with established lines of tradition.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 69 (Part 4)

Psalm 69, continued

Part 3: Verses 31-37 [30-36]

Verses 31 [30]

“(Then) I will praise (the) name of (the) Mightiest with song,
and ascribe greatness to Him with thanksgiving.”

The focus shifts from lament and prayer to praise in this final part of the Psalm, a pattern that can be found in many of the Psalms we have studied thus far. The implication is that the Psalmist expects YHWH to answer his prayer, and promises to give praise to Him—formally and publicly. In some Psalms, this is framed specifically in terms of a vow.

On the significance of the name of God in ancient Near Eastern thought, cf. the discussion in my earlier series “And you shall call His Name…” The name embodies the essence of the person; thus, to praise the name of YHWH is essentially the same as praising Him. As is appropriate for a musician-composer, praise and thanksgiving takes musical form (a “song” [ryv!]).

The meter in this opening couplet is 3+2, which marks a shift from the 3-beat (3+3) meter that dominates the Psalm.

Verse 32 [31]

“Indeed this will be good to YHWH more than an ox,
or a bull having horns and having split hooves.”

This is a strange couplet, in terms of the poetry, though the meaning is clear enough. The principle, that praise to YHWH (from the righteous) is more important than fulfilling the ritual sacrificial offerings, can be found in a number of Psalms (e.g., 40:6; 50:8-15, 23; 51:16-19). Such offerings (<ym!l*v= offerings) would be made to YHWH in response to God answering the protagonist’s prayer, and delivering him from his distress. Praise and worship takes the place of the sacrificial ritual.

The prefixed /m! preposition (-m) in the first line is an example of the comparative /m!, which requires, in context, a translation like “more than” instead of the literal “from”. The rather banal description in the second line may be intended to emphasize the relative uselessness of sacrificial offerings. There is also a bit of wordplay in the first line that is lost in translation, between rov (šôr, “ox”) and ryv! (šîr, “song”) in v. 31 (cf. above).

Here in this couplet the meter returns to 3+3 (from 3+2 in v. 31).

Verse 33 [32]

“See, (you) oppressed (one)s,
be glad, (you) seekers of (the) Mightiest,
and let there be life for your heart!”

This verse is best treated as a 2-beat tricolon, though the meter is slightly irregular (properly, 2+3+2). The rhythmic shift fits the sudden shift in focus, as the Psalmist calls on the righteous, characterized as “(those) seeking [vb vr^D*] the Mightiest” (i.e., “seekers of God”), that they might find encouragement in the way that YHWH answers his prayer and delivers him in his time of distress. Typically, the righteous are characterized as “oppressed” (adjective wn`u*), as in v. 30 (yn]u*). This way of referring to the righteous is common in the Psalms, where the suffering of the righteous (at the hands of the wicked) is a frequent theme.

With many commentators (e.g., Dahood, II, p. 165) I read the verbs in lines 1-2 as plural imperatives; the imperfect verb form in line 3 correspondingly has jussive force.

Verse 34 [33]

“For YHWH is listening to (His) needy (one)s,
and (those) bound to Him He does not despise.”

The adjectival noun /oyb=a# (“needy”) is another term that is characteristic of the righteous, forming a regular parallel with yn`u* (“oppressed”)—cf. 9:19; 12:6; 35:10; 37:14; 40:18, etc. The participle u^m@v) (“hearing, listening [to]”) denotes the regular (and characteristic) activity of YHWH: He hears the prayer of the righteous ones who are faithful/loyal to Him. This covenantal emphasis, so frequent in the Psalms, is indicated here in the second line, where the root rsa (“bind”) is best understood as referring to the covenant-bond. Admittedly, rsa often is used in reference to prisoners who are bound, but here the idea of a binding obligation is to be preferred. Cf. the note by Dahood, II, p. 165f.

The 3-beat couplet pattern is maintained here, but only loosely so.

Verse 35 [34]

“Let (the) heavens and the earth praise Him,
(the) seas, and everything teeming in them!”

From his exhortation to the righteous, the Psalmist now calls on all of creation to give praise to YHWH. Such an idea is not uncommon in the Psalm, though typically the call to the earth refers specifically to all people and nations on earth, e.g., 66:1ff; 96:1ff. Conceivably, the teeming waters could be meant as an allusion to the nations; however, the basic sentiment, that every living creature should praise God, is expressed clearly enough in the climactic lines of Pss 145 and 150.

The invocation of “heaven and earth” is more in keeping with the ancient covenant treaty-form, and especially the so-called ‘covenant lawsuit’, when judgment needs to be made regarding violations of the covenant—cf. 50:4; Deut 4:26; 30:19; 31:28; 32:1; Isa 1:2. Here, the context is quite different, even though the covenant-bond with YHWH is clearly in view (cf. above on v. 34).

Verses 36 [35]

“For (the) Mightiest is keeping ‚iyyôn safe,
and He will build (the) cities of Yehudah,
and they shall settle there, even (those) dispossessed (from) her,”

The dual-thought expressed in the first two lines—that of God keeping Zion (Jerusalem) safe and (re)building the (other) cities of Judah—suggests the historical circumstances of Hezekiah’s reign, in the aftermath of Sennacherib’s invasion. However, the setting could just as easily be that of the exilic (or the post-exilic) period. In any case, the ‘Zion theology’ found here in vv. 36-37 can be seen, similarly expressed, in other Psalms—most notably, in 51:20 [18] and 102:14-23 [13-22], and overall in 4648 and 97-100. The timeframe of this theology has been associated with the final composition/redaction of the book of Isaiah; cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 176, 183.

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 166), though without necessarily following his re-vocalization of the MT, in reading the verb vr^y` (“take possession, possess”) in the specific (privative) sense of being dispossessed—that is, of the people having been expelled/exiled from the land. With the rebuilding of the Judean cities (presumably after the exile), the people will be able to return and settle (vb bv^y`) there again.

Verse 37 [36]

“and (so the) seed of His servants will inherit her,
and (the one)s loving His name shall dwell in her.”

Both conceptually and syntactically, these lines continue the thought from v. 36. The faithful ones of God’s people (“His servants”), those loyal to Him (“loving His name”), will once again inherit the land (of Judah) and dwell in the cities. Jerusalem (Zion) with the Temple-sanctuary of YHWH will be the center of this restored Judean kingdom. That this will be fulfilled by the “seed” of the faithful ones, suggests that a relatively long process of restoration is involved, one that spans more than a single generation. At the same time, the focus on the “seed” of the people can imply an inheritance and settlement that will last far into the future.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).


Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: Jn 6:63

John 6:63

“The Spirit is the (thing) making (a)live, the flesh does not benefit anything! (and) the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.”

In some ways, this provocative statement by Jesus captures the essence of Johannine spiritualism better than any other passage in the Gospel. Yet it is arguably the most difficult of the Spirit-passages to interpret. Much of the reason for this is the position of the saying in relation to the “Bread of Life” Discourse in chapter 6, and, in particular, the apparent eucharistic references in vv. 51-58.

Chapter 6 represents a more complex literary structure than the Discourses in chaps. 3-5. Like the discourse in chap. 5, the “Bread of Life” discourse in chap. 6 is related to an established Gospel tradition—a miracle-episode, in this case, the Miraculous Feeding episode (vv. 1-15), an historical tradition also found in the Synoptics (Mark 6:32-44 par); I discuss this episode in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

The Discourse proper begins at verse 22, with vv. 22-24 serving as the narrative introduction. There are three sections to the Discourse, each of which follows the Johannine discourse-pattern:

    • Principal saying by Jesus
    • Reaction/question by the audience
    • Exposition/explanation by Jesus

Here is my outline of the Discourse:

Section 1 (vv. 25-34)

    • Principal saying by Jesus—verse 27: “Do not work (for) the food th(at is) perishing, but (for) the food remaining into (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]…”
    • [Explanation by Jesus]—v. 29
    • Reaction/question by the people—vv. 28-31
    • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 32-33
    • Theme: transition from the Feeding Miracle (v. 26) to the Passover motif (i.e. the manna, “bread from heaven”, vv. 31-33)

Section 2 (vv. 35-50)

    • Saying by Jesus—verse 35: “I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Bread of Life—the one coming toward me (no) he will not (ever) hunger, and the one trusting into me (no) he will not ever thirst. …”
    • [Explanation by Jesus]—vv. 36-40
    • Reaction/question by the people—vv. 41-42
    • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 44-50
    • Theme: Eating Bread—Jesus as the “Bread of Life”, the Bread come down from Heaven

Section 3 (vv. 51-58)

    • Saying by Jesus—verse 51a (parallel to v. 35): “I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the Living Bread stepping down [i.e. coming down] out of Heaven—if any one should eat out of this bread he will live into the Age (to Come)…”
    • [Explanation by Jesus]—v. 51b
    • Reaction/question by the people—v. 52
    • Explanation by Jesus—vv. 53-58
    • Theme: transition from Bread (of Life) to the Eucharist motifs (vv. 53-56ff)

Thematically, the “Bread of Life” discourse follows the Samaritan Woman discourse in chap. 4 (discussed in the previous article), with the expression “the bread of life” (o( a&rto$ th=$ zwh=$) parallel to “living water” (u%dwr zw=n). The expression in v. 51, “living bread” (o( a&rto$ o( zw=n), makes for an even more precise parallel. In chapter 4, Jesus gives (i.e. is the source of) the “living water”, while here in chap. 6, he himself is the “living bread”.

Working from the Miraculous Feeding, and the Passover setting of the miracle (v. 4), Jesus utilizes the motif of bread, drawing upon the Moses/Exodus tradition of the manna—the “bread from heaven”. In good homiletic style, Jesus works from a Scripture reference (v. 31; Exod 16:4, 15, cf. also Psalm 78:24), giving to it a unique theological (and Christological) interpretation. At the historical level, it is possible that the Exodus reference may be following the Synagogue (v. 59) Scripture readings (sedarim) for the Passover season (cf. Brown, pp. 277-80).

The bread motif runs through all three sections of the Discourse; and we can see the expository development at work, moving from the Scriptural motif (“bread out of heaven”) to the Johannine theological expression (“living bread”):

    • “bread out of heaven” (vv. 31-34)—Jesus identifies himself with this bread, since he is the one who came from heaven (v. 38; 3:13, 31ff), that is, from God—hence the parallel expression “bread of God” (v. 33)
    • “bread of life” (vv. 35, 48)—as the “bread from heaven” (v. 41), sent by God to give life to the world (vv. 32-33, 40; cf. 3:15-16, etc), he is rightly identified further as the bread of life (zwh/, i.e. eternal life)
    • “living bread” (vv. 51, 58)—as the “bread of life,” one can also speak of Jesus according to the Johannine theological idiom as “living” (zw=n) bread, parallel to the expression “living water” (4:10-11; 7:38), as noted above.

It is possible to trace this expository development in theological/Christological terms:

    • “bread out of heaven” —Jesus is the Son sent from heaven by God the Father
    • “bread of life” —he is the source of the Divine/eternal life, which he received from the Father, and gives (in turn) to believers
    • “living bread” —referring more properly to the eternal life which he possesses (as the Son), sharing it with the Father (v. 57); as such, this expression alludes more definitely to the presence of the Spirit.

One is to receive the living bread by “eating” it, just as one “drinks” the living water that Jesus gives. Interestingly, in the third section, the idiom of eating is expanded to eating and drinking, even though the idea of drinking does not fit the bread motif. It is just here that the ‘eucharistic’ aspect of the imagery comes into view, as is clear from the initial wording in verse 51:

“I am the living bread, (hav)ing stepped [i.e. come] down out of heaven; if any(one) should eat this bread, he shall live into the Age—and, indeed, the bread which I shall give is my flesh, (given) over the life of the world.”

Jesus expounds this statement in vv. 53-56, following the reaction by the people in v. 52; in particular the central declaration of v. 51 is expounded—first negatively, then positively:

    • “if any(one) should eat this bread, he shall live into the Age”
    • “if you should not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not hold life in yourselves” (v. 53)
    • “the (one) eating my flesh and drinking my blood holds (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]” (v. 54)

Clearly, “bread” is explained as Jesus’ “flesh” and “blood”, which one must eat and drink (v. 55). The apparent eucharistic language in vv. 53-54 (Mk 14:22-24 par) is further expounded in the Johannine theological idiom, in verse 56:

“the (one) eating my flesh and drinking my blood remains [me/nei] in me, and I in him”

The statement that follows in verse 57, often neglected in discussions on this passage, is vital for a proper understanding of vv. 51-58 in context; again the wording follows the Johannine mode of theological expression:

“Just as the living [zw=n] Father sent me forth, and I live [zw=] through the Father, (so) also the (one) eating me, that (one) also shall live [zh/sei] through me.”

The verb za/w (“[to] live”) is used three times, and the specific forms have theological significance, in terms of expressing the chain of relation between Father, Son, and believer(s):

    • zw=n (“living”)—present participle, as an attribute of God (the Father), referring to the Divine/eternal life which He possesses, and by which He is the ultimate source of life.
    • zw= (“I live”)—present indicative (first person), expressing the active reality of the life which Jesus (the Son) receives from the Father
    • zh/sei (“he shall life”)—future indicative (third person), referring to the life which the believer receives from the Son, which includes the promise of future eternal life.

Based on the earlier statements in 3:34-35, we can identify this Divine/eternal life with the Spirit. As we saw, the “living water” that Jesus gives to the believer is also identified with the Spirit, and it is fair to assume that the same is true for the “living bread” here in 6:51ff. We find confirmation of this line of interpretation in the section that immediately follows (vv. 60-71) the end of the Discourse proper (in v. 59).

In verse 60, we finally hear the disciples’ reaction to the Discourse (especially vv. 51-58):

“This word [lo/go$] is hard—who is able to hear it?”

To what, precisely, does “this word” refer? In terms of the Discourse as a whole, as it has come down to us, we can discern three levels to the reference:

    1. The principal saying, presented with variation in each section of the Discourse, by which Jesus identifies himself as the “bread from heaven” (vv. 32-33, 35 and 48, 51)
    2. The idea, as developed by Jesus, that one must “eat” him (v. 50); according to some commentators, in the original form of the Gospel, verse 60 would have immediately followed v. 50, with vv. 51-58 representing a subsequent addition
    3. The specific (eucharistic) idea in vv. 51-58 that one must eat and drink Jesus’ flesh and blood in order to have life.

The disciples naturally find all of this difficult to understand (and accept). This reaction reflects the regular discourse-feature of misunderstanding by Jesus’ hearers. The implication seems to be that the disciples are reacting in a manner similar to that of the other people (in v. 52), whereby they understand Jesus to be speaking at the ordinary, material level, referring to his actual (physical) flesh and blood. As we saw in both the Nicodemus and Samaritan Woman discourses, this is basic to the failure of Jesus’ hearers to understand the true meaning of his words. For he is not speaking on the material level—i.e., of ordinary flesh and blood, etc—but on the spiritual level. Just as he was not speaking of an ordinary physical birth in chapter 3, nor of ordinary water in chap. 4, so here in chap. 6 he is speaking neither of ordinary bread nor of his physical flesh and blood.

Responding to the disciples’ frustration, Jesus asks them simply: “Does this trip you up?” (v. 61), and follows this with another question: “Then (what) if you should look (and behold) the Son of Man stepping up (back to) where he was (at) the first?” (v. 62). Commentators continue to debate the force of the Son of Man saying in v. 62; the main significance, however, surely is to the divine/heavenly origin of Jesus (the Son). The saying forms both a promise and a challenge to his disciples—they must confront the truth regarding Jesus’ identity as the Son of God come to earth from heaven. Moreover, it is only after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to the Father, that the disciples will be able to receive the Spirit. Their understanding will remain incomplete until the Spirit dwells within them.

In the previous study, we saw how “drinking” the living water Jesus gives essentially means trusting in him. The same is true regarding the idea of “eating” the living bread Jesus gives. However, there are two additional components to the imagery here which broaden and deepen the theological significance of the eating/drinking idiom. First, Jesus does not only give the living bread—he is the bread (v. 51). This essential predication specifies that trust in Jesus means trust in his identity (who he is), as the Son come from the Father in heaven. Second, by eating this ‘bread’, we are eating and drinking Jesus’ flesh and blood, which is symbolic (eucharistic) language signifying the sacrificial death of Jesus. Thus, trust in Jesus also entails, fundamentally, belief in the atoning and life-giving power of his death.

This brings us to the saying in verse 63, where Jesus makes clear that he is not talking about eating ordinary physical flesh (nor drinking actual blood)—these things take place in a spiritual way, at the level of the Spirit. Moreover, Jesus declares that the words (lit. utterances, r(h/mata) of his discourse “are spirit and are life”. As the living Word (lo/go$) of God, who possesses the eternal Life and Spirit from God the Father, the words which Jesus (the Son) speaks are God’s own. And, since God is Spirit (4:24), His words are also Spirit, and must be received (and understood) in a spiritual way, through the Spirit; and, since God’s words have life-giving power, so also do Jesus’ words. This is certainly true of the words given by Jesus here in vv. 51-58.

What, then, of the eucharistic language in vv. 51-58? Is the Gospel writer (to say nothing of Jesus as the speaker) referring to the ritual of the Lord’s supper? And, if so, how does this relate to the rest of the Bread of Life discourse, and to the Spirit-saying of Jesus here in v. 63? If the essence and significance of the words are spiritual, if the concrete physical aspect (“flesh”) of the idea expressed in vv. 51-58 is not of any use, then how should the eucharistic language be understood?

Some commentators (e.g., Brown, pp. 299-300) would claim that the term “flesh” (sa/rc) here in v. 63 has a fundamentally different meaning than it does in vv. 51ff; and, as such, Jesus’ statement does not refer to the same eucharistic emphasis of vv. 51-58. For many Christians, this is the only way that the apparent eucharistic focus in vv. 51-58 can be maintained within the context of the Discourse. After all, how can Jesus say that a person needs to eat his flesh (in the ritual sense of actually eating the physical bread of the Supper), and then go on to say that the “flesh” is of no benefit?

Taken on its own, the statement in v. 63 is fundamentally spiritualistic, providing a clear contrast—between the Spirit (pneu=ma) and the flesh (sa/rc). As we have seen, such dualism is a common feature of Paul’s letters, where he uses it repeatedly—cf. especially Romans 8:4-6ff; Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8; Phil 3:3. It is much less common in the Johannine writings, but may be found in Jn 3:6 (cf. the prior study), and a negative connotation to the term “flesh”, as something contrary or inferior to God, is present in 8:15 and 1 John 2:16. Usually, this negative aspect is expressed by “(the) world” (ko/smo$). Here, in verse 63, the contrast is especially pronounced—not only does the flesh not give life, but it offers no benefit at all! This harsh statement must be understood properly, in terms of the comparison of the flesh with the Spirit. Compared with the Spirit, which gives everything (Life), the flesh offers nothing.

Through trust in Jesus’ words—his teaching and witness as to who he is (the Son come from the Father in heaven)—one receives from Jesus the life-giving Spirit; similarly, we also receive, through the Spirit, the life-giving power of his sacrificial death. Our participation in his death (and resurrection) is described symbolically as “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood”. Even if the Gospel writer (and the Johannine ‘Community’) still deemed important the partaking of the ritual meal (the Eucharist/Supper), the emphasis is clearly on participation in Jesus’ death in a spiritual manner, through the presence of the Spirit.

The scandalous nature of this language was not lost on Jesus’ hearers, neither the people at large nor his disciples (who call the message “hard/harsh” [sklhro/$], v. 60). After all, in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the imagery of eating flesh and drinking blood refers to hostile and violent action (cf. Deut 32:42; Psalm 27:2; Isa 49:26; Ezek 39:17-18; Jer 46:10; Zech 11:9). Even the very juxtaposition of flesh/blood can designate violence and slaughter (e.g., Psalm 79:2-3; Ezek 32:5-6; Zeph 1:17; 4 Macc 6:6). And, of course, the idea of ingesting blood (along with flesh [meat]), a fundamental violation of the Torah regulations, would have been abhorrent to any devout Israelite or Jew (Gen 9:4; Lev 3:17; 19:26; Deut 12:23; Ezek 33:25; Acts 15:20). Cf. Brown, p. 284.

It is easy to see how Jesus’ words would “trip up” and offend even his close disciples. In addition to the difficult concept of Jesus (in his person) as the “bread from heaven” that one must ‘eat’, he adds the particularly offensive idea of eating/drinking his flesh/blood. All of this, however, must be understood in a spiritual way, in terms of the life-giving Spirit. To “eat the flesh” and “drink the blood” of Jesus means to trust in the message of who Jesus is (the Son of God come from heaven), and to be united with him (to “remain” in him) through the Spirit.

In a supplemental note, I will discuss the Spirit-sayings, here in 6:63 and in 4:23-24, in relation to more developed (and extreme) forms of Christian spiritualism, whereby any external ritual or worship observance is deemed unnecessary, since the essence of all religious experience is realized entirely through the Spirit. Since Jesus’ statements in 4:23-24 and 6:63 (in connection with the Eucharist, vv. 51-58) could be read and interpreted in this light, it is worth giving some consideration to the extent of Johannine spiritualism.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

April 22: 1 John 5:9-12

1 John 5:9-12

This note follows up the discussion (yesterday and the day before) on 1 Jn 5:6-8, with a brief examination of the subsequent verses (9-12). Indeed, these verses continue the thought in vv. 6-8 and help us to understand more clearly what the author is saying.

“If we receive the witness [marturi/a] of men, the witness of God is greater; (and it is) that this is the witness of God that He has given witness [memartu/rhken] about His Son.” (v. 9)

The theme of witness continues here; as I discussed in the previous note, this is an important Johannine theme, with the noun marturi/a and verb marture/w serving as important theological keywords in both the Gospel and Letters (also prominent in the book of Revelation). This contrast between human and Divine witnesses also featured in the chapter 5 Discourse in the Gospel (vv. 30-47; see especially in vv. 43-44). The statement there regarding the willingness of people to accept human witnesses is harsher and polemically charged, whereas here it is framed as a simple objective statement, almost certainly with the legal principle of Deut 17:6 in mind (cf. also Deut 19:15; Matt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1; Heb 10:28). Evidence can be deemed reliable for establishing a legal case if it can be confirmed by two or (especially) three witnesses.

If three human witnesses will confirm the truth, how much more will three Divine witnesses do so—especially since, as v. 9 makes clear, God’s witness is much greater than that of man. This suggests that God’s witness here is to be identified with the three witnesses of vv. 7-8, but most particularly with the Spirit, which ultimately serves to guarantee the truth of the other two witnesses (“water” and “blood”, v. 6). And this witness by God is about (peri/) His Son, confirming the line of interpretation established for vv. 6-8—namely that the three-fold witness is a witness regarding the identity of Jesus, as the Son of God. This is the significance of the witness motif in the Johannine writings.

“The (one) trusting in the Son of God holds [e&xei] th(is) witness in himself, (while) the (one) not trusting in God has made Him (to be) a liar, (in) that he has not trusted in the witness (with) which God gave witness about His Son.” (v. 10)

The repetitive wording is typical of Johannine style, and should not be varied in translation to make for more engaging English. As throughout 1 John, the author presents a stark (dualistic) contrast between the person who trusts in God (i.e., the believer), and one who does not (i.e., the non-believer or ‘false’ believer). The opponents referenced by the author (cf. the discussion in the prior note) are considered by him to be among those who do not trust. Their lack of trust—showing them to be “antichrists” rather than true believers (cf. 2:18-27; 4:1-6)—is evidenced primarily by their false view and teaching regarding Jesus. The author would say about them that they “have not trusted in the witness (with) which God gave witness about His Son”. In particular, they seem to have denied, in some way, the importance of Jesus’ earthly life and death; in other words, they do not trust in the witness of the “water” and “blood” that God has given (through the incarnation) declaring the truth about who Jesus is. I will be discussing this in more detail in upcoming notes.

By contrast, the one who truly trusts in Jesus as the Son of God, accepting all three witnesses God has provided, has this three-fold witness abiding within. The literal wording is “he holds [vb e&xw] th(is) witness in himself”. This can only mean that the believer holds the Spirit within; since the witness of the “water” (Jesus’ life) and “blood” (his life-giving death) are united with the Spirit’s witness, and cannot be separated (which is the point of vv. 6-8), the believer also holds the witness of the “water” and “blood” within. We now begin to approach the interpretation of 1:7ff which I offered in the earlier note—namely, that the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood is communicated to the believer through the Spirit.

“And this is the witness—that (the) life of the ages [i.e. eternal life] God (has) given to us, and this life is in His Son.” (v. 11)

The declaration “this is the witness” can be understood two ways. First, the statement that follows in v. 11 represents the substance of what the witness says. The three witnesses—water, blood, and Spirit—all say the same thing, which can be summarized by a two-part theological statement:

    • Part 1: “God has given to us (the) Life of the Age(s)”
    • Part 2: “this Life is in His Son”

The expression “life of the age(s)” (zwh\ ai)w/nio$) is more typically rendered “eternal life”, and, indeed, in the Johannine writings “life” (zwh/) almost always refers to eternal life, in the qualitative (and attributive) sense of the Life which God Himself possesses. The message of the three-fold witness is that God has given us (believers) this Life “in His Son”. There is a comparable theological definition found in the Gospel:

“And this is the Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]: that they would know you, the only true God, and the (one) whom you sent forth, Yeshua (the) Anointed.” (17:3)

There are two aspects to the prepositional expression “in [e)n] His Son”. The first is the aspect of trusting in Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God). This emphasis on trust is present both in our passage and the corresponding statement of Jn 17:3 (above). However, the more common preposition for trust in Jesus is ei)$ (lit. “into, unto”), and this points to the second aspect, which, in some ways, I think is more prominent here; this second aspect is best expressed by the Johannine idiom of “remaining” (vb me/nw) in Jesus. The believer remains in [e)n] Jesus (the Son), and the Son, in turn, remains in the believer—a unity which is realized through the presence of the Spirit.

Both aspects may be further summarized by the Christological mode of understanding “in His Son” as meaning that the eternal life we hold is based in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. And Jesus is personally present in (and among) believers through the Spirit. For more on the association between the Spirit and (eternal) life, see my earlier note on Jn 6:51-58, and the recent articles (on 3:5-8ff, 4:10-15, and 6:63 in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”).

“The (one) holding the Son holds th(is) Life, (while) the (one) not holding the Son does not hold the Life.” (v. 12)

This final verse summarizes the thought of vv. 9-11 quite succinctly, repeating the same stark contrast between believer and non-believer from v. 10, and also reiterating the key concept of the believer “holding” (vb e&xw). In light of this context, the idea of “holding” the Son can only refer to the believer “holding” the (three-fold) witness about the Son. The point of contact is obviously the Spirit. The Spirit witnesses about the Son (Jn 15:26, etc), but the Son is also personally present in the believer through the Spirit. Thus, by holding the Spirit within (v. 9), the believer also holds the Son within (v. 12). Since (eternal) life comes through the Son, and is communicated (by the Son) through the Spirit, the believer also holds this same life within. This is a fundamental theological premise in the Johannine writings, which is perhaps expressed most concisely in John 6:57.


April 21: 1 John 5:6-8 (continued)

1 John 5:6-8, continued

As I discussed in the previous note, the expression “water and blood” in 1 Jn 5:6 is best understood as referring to Jesus’ human life and sacrificial death, respectively. In my view, “water” signifies specifically Jesus’ birth as a human being, though the majority of commentators would probably associate it with his baptism (marking the beginning of his earthly ministry) instead. In the prior note on 1:7ff, I offered the interpretation that the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood (i.e., his death) is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit. Here, however, in 5:6-8, the relation of the Spirit to the “blood” has a somewhat different emphasis. The focus is on the Spirit as a witness (vb marture/w) to the “water and blood”.

The thematic motif of witnessing—noun marturi/a and the verb marture/w—is prominent in the Gospel and Letters of John. The verb occurs more frequently—33 times in the Gospel, 6 in 1 John, and 4 in 3 John (plus another 3 in the book of Revelation); the Johannine instances thus comprise more than half of all NT occurrences (76). The numbers are comparable for the noun marturi/a: 14 in the Gospel, 7 in the Letters, out of 37 NT occurrences; the ratio of Johannine references is even more dominant if one includes the 9 occurrences in the book of Revelation (the related noun ma/rtu$ also occurs 5 times in Revelation).

In the theological context of the Johannine writings, this vocabulary signifies being a witness as to who Jesus is—namely, his identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God; the emphasis is thus Christological. In the Gospel, there are a number of different witnesses to Jesus’ identity (see esp. 5:32-39), but it may be said that the witness of the Spirit is most important, being a Divine witness that comes from God Himself (vv. 9-11). Even the human witness of someone like John the Baptist, or the Beloved Disciple, is dependent upon the testimony of the Spirit. This is clear, for example, by the Baptist’s witness in 1:29-34, which depends upon seeing the Spirit descend upon Jesus (vv. 32-33), in accordance with God’s own word; after this, he is able to declare that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 34).

Here in 1 Jn 5:6-8, the focus is upon Jesus’ identity as the incarnate Son of God—that is to say, in relation to his earthly life (“water”) and death (“blood”). How does the Spirit bear witness to the life and death of Jesus? The proper answer would seem to be twofold: the Spirit testifies to (a) the reality of his life and death, and (b) their meaning and significance for humankind. This seems to describe the Spirit’s role as a witness, at least within the first statement in verse 6:

“and the Spirit is the (one) giving witness, (in) that the Spirit is the truth”

The Spirit is giving witness (present participle, marturou=n) to Jesus’ coming in/through “water and blood”. We can trust that this witness is truthful because the Spirit is the truth. The association of the Spirit with truth (a)lhqei/a) is prominent in the Johannine writings (Jn 4:23-24), primarily through the expression “Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6), for which a comparable expression in Hebrew (tm#a$[h^] j^Wr) is found in the Qumran texts (1QS 3:18-19; 4:21, 23, etc). The Spirit embodies and manifests, in an essential way, the truth of God Himself. The Spirit’s witness is thus God’s own witness about His Son (vv. 9ff).

In verses 7-8, however, the Spirit’s role as a witness is described somewhat differently:

“(For it is) that the (one)s giving witness are three: the Spirit and the water and the blood—and the three are unto the one.”

Here, the Spirit is not witnessing specifically to Jesus’ coming “in water and blood”, but, rather, joins with the water and blood as a three-fold witness to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The expression ei)$ to\ e%n (literally, “into/unto the one [thing]”) indicates that the three witnesses are actually part of a single witness, giving witness to the same thing, and for the same purpose. Jesus’ identity is testified to by: (i) his earthly life (“water”), (ii) his death (“blood”), and (iii) his presence in/through the Spirit.

Regarding the first of these three, it is indicated at various points in the Gospel that both Jesus’ words and his actions (esp. his miracles) serve as a witness to his identity as God’s Son—cf. 3:32; 5:30-36f; 7:16ff; 8:13-19, 28-29; 10:25, 31-38; 11:42. At the same time, his sacrificial death gives unique and definitive testimony to this identity—cf. 3:13-15ff; 6:51-58; 8:28; 10:14-18, 25ff; 12:23-33; 14:19-20. Admittedly, the idea of Jesus’ death as a witness, in this regard, is more subtle, and has to be drawn out of the text with a measure of exposition. However, the idea is expressed clearly enough in 19:34-35, precisely where the image of “blood and water” coming out of Jesus is emphasized. A human being is witness to the appearance of blood and water, but it is the “blood and water” itself that symbolizes—and thus bears witness to—Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by God the Father.

Finally, following Jesus’ exaltation—his death, resurrection, and return to the Father—the Spirit continues to testify to believers regarding who Jesus is (Jn 15:26). Moreover, through the Spirit, Jesus himself continues to be present with believers, and to speak to them, teaching them always. This is fundamental to the ‘Paraclete’ passages in the Last Discourse (14:16-17, 26ff; 15:26; 16:13-14), and is also prominent in 1 John (2:21ff, 27; 3:24; 4:4-6). Perhaps the best explanation for the context of 5:6-8, and its parallel in 4:2 (cf. the discussion in the previous note), is that the “antichrist” opponents referenced in 1-2 John denied (in some way) the importance of Jesus’ earthly life and death. They may, I think, have relied more exclusively upon the continuing testimony of the Spirit (cf. above), in the present, rather than upon the past witness of Jesus’ life (and death) in the Gospel tradition.  For the author, however, these are all parts of a single witness, and cannot be separated. This will be discussed further in upcoming notes and articles on 1 John.

For now, we are focusing specifically on the role of the Spirit in 5:6-8, and, in order to gain a full understanding of what the author is saying in these verses, it will be necessary to continue (in the next daily note) with an exposition of vv. 9-12 that follow.