May 6: Hebrews 9:14

In the previous notes in this series, we have explored the relationship between the Spirit and the death of Jesus. By all accounts, this association represents a certain development in early Christian thought, for which there is very little evidence in the Gospel Passion narratives. Only in the Gospel of John do we find a connection between the Spirit and the death of Jesus, and there only by way of allusion and foreshadowing. As discussed in a prior note, the Johannine presentation of the tradition regarding Jesus’ last words, and the actual moment of his death (19:30), can be understood as a reference to Jesus giving the Spirit. Similarly, many commentators find an allusion to the Spirit in the water that comes forth from Jesus’ side (19:34f, note), as symbolic of the Spirit as ‘living water’ —cf. 4:10-15; 7:37-39, and note the contrast between ordinary water and the Spirit in 3:5-8; cp. 1:26, 33.

Another possible connection is found in the use of Psalm 16:8-10 within the sermon-speeches of Peter and Paul in the book of Acts (2:25-28; 13:35), applied to the death of Jesus. It could be taken to imply that God (and His Spirit) remained with Jesus all the way through the moment of his death (and his burial thereafter). Cf. the introduction to this series, and the recent Easter Sunday article.

Apart from these indirect references, I can find only one passage in the New Testament that connects the Spirit with the actual death of Jesus—Hebrews 9:11-14, with the climactic statement in verse 14.

Hebrews 9:14

An important theme that runs throughout the letter of Hebrews is the fulfillment, in Jesus’ person, of all the sacrificial ritual previously required by God of His people (in the old covenant). In the new covenant, such sacrificial offerings are no longer required (cf. 10:9, etc), since they were fulfilled by Jesus, and he himself is the mediator of a new agreement between God and His people (believers)—see esp. 7:22; 8:6-10ff, 13; 9:1ff, 15-20; 10:16-17 (citing Jer 31:33-34); 12:24; 13:20.

The focus on the sacrificial offerings runs through chapters 7-10, with special attention given to the Day of Atonement ritual (Leviticus 16). Jesus fulfills the role of the high priest who enters “the inner (space)” behind the curtain (Heb 6:19)—that is, into the innermost shrine (‘Holy of Holies’)—to offer sacrifice (by sprinkling blood), cleansing the shrine of impurity, from the sins of the people, in the presence of YHWH (Lev 16:15ff). The sacrificial offering is burnt upon the Temple altar (vv. 24ff), as a sin offering on behalf of all the people (including the priests). In terms of the typological interpretation applied by the author of Hebrews, Jesus is both the High Priest who offers the sacrifice and the sacrificial offering itself.

The dual imagery comes together in 9:11-14, where Jesus, the High Priest, is said to have entered into the inner shrine to sprinkle the cleansing blood (of the slaughtered animal), according to the regulation laid down in Lev 16:15ff. However, the blood that he brings is his own—that is, he himself is the sacrificial offering that has been slain:

“…and not through (the) blood of goats and calves, but through (using) his own blood, he came in, on one (occasion only), into the holy (place), (hav)ing found for the ages (the) loosing from (bondage).” (v. 12)

The ‘bondage’ from which people are loosed (i.e. set free) is the bondage to sin—the Day of Atonement rituals, of course, being intended specifically to remove the effects of sin. It is a sacrificial ritual to be performed “upon one (occasion)” (e)fa/pac)—that is, one time only. After the fulfillment by Jesus, there is no longer any need for the ritual to be performed. It was fulfilled by Jesus through his sacrificial death—which involved (literally) the shedding of blood, but also the cruelty and violence of his manner of death (crucifixion) represents, in a general sense, ‘bloodshed’. On this specific Christological use of the blood-motif, cf. Mark 14:24 par; John 6:54-56; [19:34]; Acts 20:28; Rom 3:25; 5:9; 1 Cor 10:16; Col 1:20; Eph 1:7; 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2, 19; 1 John 1:7; 5:6ff; Rev 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11; 19:13. Outside of chapters 7-10 in Hebrews, cf. also 12:24; 13:12, 20.

The contrast between the blood of slaughtered animals, as used in the ritual, and Jesus’ own blood, is emphasized in verses 13-14:

“For, if the blood of goats and calves…(by) sprinkling (it on) the (one)s having been made common [i.e. unclean/profane], makes (them) holy toward the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Anointed (One), who, through (the) Spirit of the Ages [i.e. eternal Spirit], brought himself, without blemish, toward God, cleanse our sunei/dhsi$ from dead works, unto performing service to (the) living God?”

Verses 13-14 comprise a relatively long and complex sentence, as my very literal translation above makes clear. The complexity is due, in large part, to the considerable mixture of images and motifs which the author has brought together. This includes both the idea of the sprinkling of blood—alluding not just to the Day of Atonement ritual, but to a range of sacrificial contexts (e.g., Exod 24:8; cp. Mk 14:24 par)—and of presenting the slaughtered animal as a burnt offering (for sin, etc).

The reference to the Spirit in verse 14 is significant, and is the particular focus of our study. The expression is pneu=ma ai)wni/ou, “(the) Spirit of the Ages”, with the adjective ai)w/nio$ (“of the age[s]”) typically translated “eternal” —understood, not so much in a temporal sense, but as a fundamental Divine characteristic or attribute. It is possible to consider also that ai)w/nio$ alludes to a certain ‘timelessness’ as a characteristic of God’s Spirit.

The expression is part of a wider prepositional phrase: dia\ pneu/mato$ ai)wni/ou, “through (the) Spirit of the Ages,” “through (the) eternal Spirit”. Commentators have long debated the precise significance of this phrase in v. 14; an entire monograph has even been devoted to the subject (by John J. McGrath, S.J., Through the Eternal Spirit: An Historical Study of the Exegesis of Hebrews 9:13-14 [Rome: Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana, 1961]). The interpretive key would seem to be the parallelism with the dia/– phrases in vv. 11-12 (cf. Attridge, p. 251):

    • “through [dia/] the greater and more complete tent”
    • “through [dia/] his own blood…” (cf. above), contrasting
      not through the blood of goats…”

The Spirit represents both the location and the manner of the sacrifice. In the first instance, the sacrificial offering takes place ‘in the Spirit’ —that is, in the realm of the Spirit; in the second instance, it is offered at the level of the Spirit, in a spiritual manner. Thus, even though Jesus suffered a physical death, in which concrete and material blood was shed, he truly offered “his own blood” through the Spirit.

This is comparable to the Johannine view of Jesus’ death, in which, as discussed in prior notes, the life-giving (and cleansing) power of Jesus’ blood (i.e., his sacrificial death) is communicated to believers through the Spirit; and, indeed, we participate in, and partake of, his ‘blood’ in a spiritual manner. Cf. especially the notes on Jn 6:51-58; 1 Jn 1:7, and 5:6-8. However, here in Hebrews the focus is somewhat different. The emphasis is not on how we experience Jesus’ death, but on the death itself. Verse 14 indicates that Jesus’ death was spiritual, as much as (or even more than) it was physiological.

Perhaps it would be better to say that Jesus’ sacrificial death effected something at the spiritual level. It brought about a cleansing of sin that is realized, for believers, spiritually; for more on this, cf. again the prior note on 1 Jn 1:7ff. Specifically, v. 14 locates this cleansing in the sunei/dhsi$ of the believer. This noun is derived from the verb sunei/dw, which literally means “see together”, in the sense of seeing how things fit together, indicating a certain knowledge and awareness of the matter. The noun sunei/dhsi$ most commonly refers to a person’s self-awareness, often in a moral-ethical sense—i.e., awareness of one’s behavior and conduct, etc. It is typically translated in English as “conscience”.

The awareness of which believers are cleansed, by Jesus’ blood, relates to our religious identity—specifically, to our identity as God’s people. In the old covenant, this identity was defined principally by the Torah regulations, including those involving the sacrificial rituals. The rituals were required to deal with the reality of sin and impurity. One such ritual, alluded to by the author (in a curious fashion) in v. 13, is the rite of the Red heifer (Lev 19), which was performed in order to remove the impurity that came from being in contact with a dead body. Probably the author is alluding to this when he refers to being cleansed from “dead works”.

Now, in the new covenant, through the sacrifice of Jesus, we perform service (vb latreu/w) to God in a new way. Our minds and hearts having been cleansed from sin, through the blood of Jesus, in the Spirit, the old sacrificial rituals are no longer required. No longer are we rendered impure from “dead works”, but we are alive in the Spirit and serve a living God. As we have seen, Paul was more forceful than the author of Hebrews in defining the contrast between the old and new covenants as a contrast between “death” and “life” (see esp. 2 Corinthians 3:3, 6-7ff, 14, 17-18). However, as our author continues in vv. 15ff, he very much brings out a similar connection between the old covenant and death. The new covenant was also founded on a death—that of Jesus—but it was a death that occurred only one time (e)fa/pac), and never again.

References above marked “Attridge” are to Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, edited by Helmut Koester, Hermeneia commentary series (Fortress Press: 1989).

May 4: Ephesians 2:13-18

Ephesians 2:13-18

The final passage from the Pauline letters to be examined in these notes is Ephesians 2:11-22, focusing specifically on the portion from verse 13 to v. 18. In the view of many commentators, Ephesians is pseudonymous. This is not the place to consider the various arguments for and against Pauline authorship; the main point to note is that even scholars who would maintain that the letter is pseudonymous recognize its Pauline character. That is to say, the author (if not Paul) was certainly influenced by Paul’s writings, and himself writes in a way that very much reflects the Pauline theology and manner of expression.

An important theme in Ephesians, especially in the first half of the letter, is the unity of believers in Christ—Jews and Gentiles alike. This was also a central theme for Paul in Romans, and relates to his distinctive (and controversial) view regarding the place of the Torah in the new covenant. His line of exhortational argument in 2:11-22 reflects the same religious and theological viewpoint, and could serve as a summary of Paul’s thoughts on the matter.

The key statement is in verse 13, where Paul (or the author) indicates that this unity—between Jewish and non-Jewish believers—was brought about through the death of Jesus:

“But now, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, you, the (one)s being in times (past) far off, (have) come to be near, in [i.e. by] the blood of the Anointed.”

The expressions “in (the) Anointed Yeshua” and “in the blood of the Anointed” are clearly parallel, and largely synonymous. They reflect the key Pauline themes of believers being “in Christ” and of ‘dying and rising with Christ’ —that is, of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the previous notes, we have seen how, in Paul’s view, this participation is realized for believers through the presence of the Spirit.

The main focus in this passage, however, is on how our shared participation in Jesus’ death means that there is no longer any separation or division between Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers. The old religious identity, with its distinctions and exclusivity, no longer applies for believers in Christ. This new reality is expressed here in terms of those who were “far away” (makra/n), i.e. Gentiles, coming to be identified (along with believing Jews) as God’s people—they now come to be “near” (e)ggu/$). As part of God’s people, Gentiles are able to come near to God, in a covenant bond of relation to Him (cf. below on v. 18). This is, of course, a new covenant, which supersedes the old covenant and its Torah (on the definite contrast, see esp. 2 Cor 3:6, 14, in context).

The emphasis on unity between Jew and Gentile is expressed powerfully in verse 14, stressing again how this unity was achieved through Jesus’ death—and of our participation, as believers, in his death (“in his flesh” [e)n th=| sarki\ au)tou=]). Such unity could only be achieved by abolishing the old religious differences (which were ethnically and culturally defined). The Torah regulations represent the terms of the old covenant, which were binding for God’s people. Now, with the coming of Christ—and, specifically, through his sacrificial death (on the cross, cf. Gal 2:19ff; Col 2:14)—these regulations of the old covenant are no longer binding for believers in Christ.

This is the essence of Paul’s view of the Law, expressed (as I see it) in unmistakable terms, throughout Galatians, Romans, and in 2 Corinthians 3. It is also expressed quite clearly here in verse 15. Following the thought in v. 14, where it is stated that Jesus’ death ‘dissolved’ (vb lu/w) the “middle wall of the fence” that previously separated Jew from non-Jew. This “wall” is further identified, in verse 15, as “the law [no/mo$] of e)ntolai/ e)n do/gmasin.” This particular qualifying expression is difficult to translate. The noun e)ntolh/ fundamentally refers to a charge or duty that is placed on a person, which he/she is obligated to complete. In context, it clearly refers to the regulations and requirements in the Torah, and is typically translated flatly as “command(ment)s”. The word do/gma essentially means an (authoritative) opinion, often in the sense of a view that is presented as a guiding principle; in a governmental or legal context, it can refer to an official ordinance or decree. Here, the expression e)n do/gmasin refers to the specific Torah regulations/requirements in their written (legally binding) form.

Jesus’ death literally made these binding regulations “cease working”; that is the fundamental meaning of the verb katarge/w, which Paul uses repeatedly to express the idea that the Torah regulations are no longer binding for believers in Christ. It occurs 4 times in 2 Corinthians 3 (vv. 7, 11, 13-14) and twice in Rom 7:1-6 (vv. 2, 6); Paul also uses it, in the same context, but in the reverse sense—viz., that continuing to live under the old covenant effectively invalidates the Gospel and faith in Christ! (cf. Rom 4:14; Gal 5:4, 11). Paul was fully aware how controversial this view of the Torah was, especially for Jewish Christians. In Rom 3:31—a verse that can easily be misunderstood—he declares that his view of the Torah does not nullify/invalidate (same verb, katarge/w) the Law. God’s Law continues to be upheld, but through the Spirit and by following the example of Jesus (esp. the ‘love command’), rather than by continuing to treat the Torah regulations as legally binding.

The thought in vv. 14-15 is developed and restated in vv. 16-17, emphasizing again how the unity of believers was achieved through Jesus’ sacrificial death. In the climactic verse 18, Paul (or the author) ties this unity directly to the presence of the Spirit:

“(for it is) that, through him, we hold the way leading toward (God)—the both (of us) in one Spirit—toward the Father!”

The death of Jesus gives believers direct access to God the Father. The noun used is prosagwgh/, which essentially refers to the way “leading toward” something (or someone); it can also have the more active (verbal) meaning of bringing someone forward. In any case, believers are brought (or allowed to come) “toward” (pro/$) God (the Father). This coming toward God is made possible through our participation in Jesus’ death (“through him”), but it is realized “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati). The exact expression, e)n e(ni\ pneu/mati (“in one Spirit”), could conceivably refer more generically to a ‘spirit of unity’ between human beings. While this would be valid, any ‘spirit’ of unity among believers is realized through the presence of the Spirit. The concluding use of the word pneu=ma in verse 22, makes absolutely clear that the focus is on the Spirit of God (and Christ). From the Pauline theological standpoint, as we have seen, it is through the presence of the Spirit that the life-giving power of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) is communicated to us. I have no doubt that the author of Ephesians—if that person is not Paul himself—shares this same Pauline perspective.

In the next daily note, our final note in this series, we will look at the statement in Hebrews 9:14, which is one of the very few passages in the New Testament indicating a role for the Spirit in Jesus’ actual death.

May 3: Romans 8:21-23

Romans 8:21-23

Towards the end of chapter 8 (cf. the previous note on Rom 8:10-11), Paul brings in a strong eschatological emphasis. Many Christians today do not fully appreciate the importance of eschatology in early Christian thought. I have discussed the subject at length in the earlier series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament” (cf. the Part 2 of the article on Romans). For first-century Christians, their eschatology was imminent, expecting  that the end would come very soon, probably within the lifetime of most believers. Salvation was understood primarily in terms of being saved from the coming Judgment.

Following the Judgment, a New Age would be inaugurated for humankind; the eschatological expectation of many Jews and Christians of the time included the idea of a complete transformation of all creation—drawing upon the prophetic tradition of a “new heavens and new earth” (Isa 65:17ff; 66:22; cf. Revelation 21:1-2; 2 Peter 3:13). Paul is expressing a similar idea here in Rom 8:18-23, working from the premise, shared by most Christians at the time, that the New Age had already been ushered in, but was only realized (in the present) for believers. This way of thinking is typically referred to as “realized eschatology” —the promise of salvation, eternal life, the resurrection of the body, and so forth—all of this is experienced by believers in Christ, in a preliminary way, through the presence of the Spirit.

Thus, as Paul expounds the matter in vv. 18-23, believers represent the ‘first-fruits’, a)parxh/, literally the beginning (of the ingathering) from (the harvest)—the harvest being a natural motif for the end of the Age. The good grain/fruit is brought in, while the bad/useless chaff is discarded (and burnt up)—cf. Mark 4:29; Matt 3:12 par; 13:30, 38ff; Rev 14:15-20; also Matt 9:37-38 par; John 4:35; cp. Jer 51:33; Joel 3:13, etc). From an eschatological standpoint, this signifies a temporal priority—i.e., the initial transformation of believers, through our possession of the Spirit, marks the beginning of the New Age.

For believers in Christ, the end time, in spite of the suffering (like that of a woman in labor) that takes place, ultimately provides a reason for great hope. Indeed, Paul declares that the present (eschatological) suffering cannot compare to the honor/splendor (do/ca) which we are about to experience (v. 18). In his words, the sufferings of “the time (right) now” are not comparable to the do/ca “being about to be uncovered [i.e. revealed] unto us” (note the imminence of this expectation). The prepositional expression ei)$ h(ma=$ could also be translated “in us”.

This hope for believers also gives hope to the rest of creation (as a whole). Paul refers to this in verse 19 as the “a)pokaradoki/a of the foundation”. The compound noun a)pokaradoki/a is almost impossible to translate; it essentially refers to the act of stretching out one’s head (and neck) with the hopes of seeing/perceiving something. The noun kti/si$, which I translate as “foundation,” properly refers to something that is founded or formed (vb kti/zw), cf. Rom 1:25. It is best understood here in a comprehensive/collective sense, referring to all of creation (cp. the use in Rom 1:20). Creation is looking out, hoping to receive (i.e. experience) the end-time manifestation of “the sons of God” (i.e. believers). Currently, this identity of believers is hidden, realized only internally, through the presence of the Spirit; eventually, the honor/splendor (do/ca) of this status will shine forth for all to see.

In verses 20-22, Paul strikingly attributes to all of creation, the same bondage (doulei/a, lit. slavery) which human beings suffered, prior to the coming of Christ. Just as all of humankind was in bondage to the power of sin and death, so all of creation is similarly enslaved. The primary manifestation of this is the fact that all of creation is subject to death and decay (fqora/). Creation has been put in (submissive) order under the authority of sin/death; this idea is expressed by the verb u(pota/ssw. However, the subject of the participle u(pota/canta in v. 20, referring to the person who put creation under this bondage, is not entirely clear. The best explanation is that Paul identifies God as the ultimate cause—He subjected creation to this bondage, allowing it to be so enslaved, with the final hope in mind: that eventually all of creation would be set free from this bondage.

Currently, this freedom is only experienced by believers in Christ, and only through the internal presence of the Spirit. But the time will (soon) come when the same freedom will be realized by all of creation:

“…even the foundation [i.e. creation] itself will be set free from the slavery of th(is) decay, into the freedom of the honor/splendor [do/ca] of the offspring of God.” (v. 21)

All of creation collectively suffers (v. 22), groaning and being in pain (like a woman in labor), but this suffering will lead to a new birth—the manifestation of the sons/children of God. Here in chap. 8, Paul utilizes both the noun ui(o/$ (ui(oi/, “sons”), and the more generic te/knon (pl. te/kna), “offspring”, with no real difference in meaning. By contrast, in the Johannine writings, believers are always referred to as “offspring [te/kna] of God”, with the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) reserved for Jesus. Paul’s use of ui(oi/ in vv. 14, 19 is perhaps influenced by the adoption motif in chapter 8 (esp. verses 14-17). The noun ui(oqesi/a literally means “placement as a son” (cf. also Gal 4:5 in context). Paul does, however, share with the Johannine writings the belief that Divine sonship is realized exclusively through our relationship to Jesus, the unique Son (vv. 29ff).

The climax of this exposition comes in verse 23, where Paul (finally) makes reference again to the Spirit. He makes clear that the transformation of creation will occur just as it does for believers—through the life-giving power of the Spirit:

“And not only (this), but (we our)selves, holding the beginning from (the harvest) of the Spirit, we also groan in ourselves, (look)ing out to receive placement as son(s), the loosing from (bondage) of our bodies.”

The occurrence of the noun ui(oqesi/a again here in v. 23 (indicated in light gray text) is problematic, and some commentators would omit it. Indeed, it is not present in a number of manuscripts (Ë46 D F G 614). Its inclusion would imply that believers do not already have “placement as (God’s) sons,” quite contrary to what Paul indicated earlier in vv. 14-17. By contrast, what we are currently still awaiting is the full realization of this identity—which will take place at the end-time resurrection, when our bodies will at last be set free from bondage to death. In this regard, we have the same groaning expectation as the rest of creation, even though we have already been set free from bondage within, through the presence of the Spirit.

Though Paul does not state this here, the transforming power of the Spirit, communicating the live-giving power of God (over death), is specifically related to our participation in the death of Jesus. This is to be inferred based on what was said earlier in vv. 10-11 (as also in 6:1-11)—on which, cf. the discussion in the previous note.

May 2: Romans 8:10-11

If the focus in chapters 6-7 of Romans was on the believer’s freedom from bondage to the power of sin, the emphasis in chapter 8 is on the new life we have in the Spirit. The Spirit was referenced only in a marginal way in the prior chapters, but now becomes the dominant theme in chap. 8.

Romans 8:10-11

I have already discussed verses 10ff (especially vv. 14-17) in an earlier set of notes (part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”, cf. the article on Rom 8:1-17). Here I will be focusing on the subject of the current notes, the relationship between the Spirit and the death of Jesus.

The declaration in verse 2 summarizes the discussion by Paul in chaps. 6-7, emphasizing the believer’s freedom from the power of sin, and, in a related aspect, our freedom from the binding authority of the Law (i.e. the Torah regulations):

“For the law of the Spirit of life in (the) Anointed Yeshua (has) set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

By utilizing the term no/mo$ (“law”), Paul is playing upon the relationship between the Law (Torah) and sin—a subject he expounds so vividly in chapter 7. This aspect of Paul’s view of the Law remains difficult for many Christians to understand (and accept); it must have been quite controversial (even offensive) to Jews (as well as to many Jewish Christians) at the time. In using the expression “law of the Spirit” Paul sets the word no/mo$ in a very different context—one that emphasizes how the Spirit effectively takes the place of the Torah regulations for believers. It is the Spirit which serves as the binding, regulating force for believers in Christ. For more on this, see the recent articles in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”, as well as the earlier articles on Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans.

The “law of the Spirit” is characterized by life, while the “law of sin” (which includes the role of the Torah regulations) is characterized by death. It is a stark contrast, one that Paul brings out elsewhere in Romans and Galatians, as well as in 2 Corinthians 3 (cf. the recent article and notes).

In the exposition that follows in vv. 3-9, Paul explains both the reason for, and the consequences of, our freedom from sin and the Law. It was achieved by God, through the sacrificial death of His Son (v. 3), and thereby fulfilling entirely (and putting an end to) the Torah regulations regarding sin (v. 4; cf. Col 2:14). Now the right requirement of the Law is fulfilled for us, as believers, when we walk in the Spirit; there is thus no longer any need for a written law code. The same idiom of “walking about” (vb peripate/w) in the Spirit was used by Paul in Gal 5:16 (cf. also here in 6:4 [discussed in an recent note]).

In this new life of the Spirit, even though we are free from bondage to the power of sin, there is still a struggle with the sinful impulses that reside in the “flesh”. Paul discusses this in vv. 5-8, reflecting largely the same teaching he gives in Galatians 5. By submitting to the guidance of the indwelling Spirit—that is, by “walking about”, on a daily basis, according to the Spirit, rather than the flesh—we can avoid and resist/redirect the impulse toward sin that continues to reside “in the flesh”. The implication of Paul’s statement in verse 9 is that we should walk in a manner that is consistent with the reality of the Spirit’s abiding presence in us—that is, by “walking about” in the Spirit, under the Spirit’s guidance.

This provides the expository context for Paul’s words in vv. 10-11. To what was stated above, it is important to add the point of identification made by Paul in v. 9—namely, that the Spirit which dwells in us, as believers, is both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. This reflects a Christological point that Paul only touches upon briefly elsewhere in his letters, most notably in 1 Corinthians, where he declares that Jesus, following the resurrection, became a “life-giving [lit. life-making] Spirit” (15:45). The implication is that the exalted Jesus shares the Divine Spirit with God the Father, being united with Him (according to the principle expressed in 6:17). Thus, if the Spirit (of God) dwells within believers, since it is also the Spirit of Christ, this means that Christ also dwells within us, being personally present through the Spirit.

The ramifications of this are clear in vv. 10-11, where Paul returns to his earlier theme (in chap. 6) of our participation, as believers, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here Paul makes explicit what was only implied earlier—namely, that this participation is communicated through the presence of the Spirit:

“But if the Anointed (is) in you, (even if) the body (is) dead through sin, the Spirit (is) life through righteousness.” (v. 10)

Here pneu=ma has something of a dual meaning: it can refer to the human spirit (in contrast to the body), which still has life, even if the body dies; yet, on the other hand, it can also refer to the life-giving power of the Spirit. Since the Spirit belongs to both God and Christ, it possess and communicates the righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God to the believer—the same righteousness which Jesus possessed, and which was manifested (and fulfilled) through his sacrificial death.

“And if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of (the) dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of (the) dead will also make alive [zw|opoih/sei] your dying bodies, through His Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] in you.” (v. 11)

It was the Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead, transforming him into a “life-making” Spirit (1 Cor 15:45). As the Spirit of Christ, it has the same life-making power. Indeed, the same verb (zwopoie/w) was used in 1 Cor 15:45; cf. also 1 Cor 15:22 and John 5:21. Elsewhere in 2 Cor 3:6 Paul specifically states that it is the Spirit that “makes alive”, a view expressed also in 1 Peter 3:18 and by Jesus in John 6:63; the verb zwopoie/w is used in all these references.

Because we are joined with Jesus, sharing in his death, we also share in the power of his resurrection. And, even as we share in his death through the presence of the Spirit—which is also his Spirit—so we share in the life-giving power of that Spirit. Elsewhere, Paul speaks in this regard of the Spirit as a guarantee (a kind of down-payment) for our future resurrection (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; cf. also Eph 1:13); it also means that we have this new life of the Spirit even in the present. Such a ‘realized’ eschatology is a component of Paul’s spiritualism, though it is not emphasized as prominently in Paul’s letters as it is in the Johannine writings.

In the next daily note, we will look ahead to verses 18-23, where our participation in the death/resurrection of Jesus, through the Spirit, is specifically discussed by Paul in an eschatological context.

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.

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.