Christmas Season

This Christmas season, in addition to the regular and periodic features on this site, I will be posting notes and articles on the theme of the Birth of the Son of God. This was the subject of an earlier series; but this year the study will be driven by three verses in the Prologue to the Gospel of John—Jn 1:12-14. The last of these, verse 14, is the classic New Testament reference to the incarnation of Christ. And, while it is not a direct reference to the idea of Jesus’ birth, most commentators throughout the years have understood it in this way.

As it happens, birth is definitely a featured theme in the prior verses 12-13—but of believers as children of God. The very use of the verb of becoming, gi/nomai in vv. 12 and 14, along with the related verb genna/w in v. 13, does tend to imply the concept of a person coming to be born.

These related thematic concepts—the Son of God coming to be a human being (“flesh”), and human beings coming to be children of God—are worthy of two separate lines of study, which I will be pursuing this Christmas season. The first study will be on John 1:14, expressing the doctrine of the incarnation of the Logos, and what this means in terms of Jesus Christ’s identity as the Son of God (including the aspect[s] of his life and birth as a human being). The study will be divided into three parts:

    • The place of verse 14 in the Prologue
    • Its relation to the Gospel of John and the Johannine theology as a whole, and
    • Its relation to the wider New Testament and early (first-century) Christian witness.

The second study, presented as a series of notes, will examine the principal idea expressed in John 1:12-13—that is, the identity of believers as offspring/children of God, including the motif of coming to be “born” as God’s children. This study will place vv. 12-13 in the wider New Testament and early Christian context, looking at the relevant verses and passages, more or less in their chronological order. This will enable us to see both: (a) the ways of thinking that were in existence at the time the Gospel of John was composed, and (b) how the Johannine Gospel may have adapted or developed these traditions.

Regular features return in September

After a short summer hiatus, a number of regular features on this site will return this Fall, beginning in September. These include:

  • Monday Notes on Prayer—A new series will be introduced, examining the references to prayer in Paul’s letters.
  • Reformation Fridays—Following studies on the initial topic (“justification by faith” and the principle sola fide), we will be turning to the next subject, defined by a second Reformation principle, sola scriptura—that is, the primacy of Scripture as a source of religious authority.
  • Saturday Series—These studies (posted on Saturdays) are intended to introduce readers to the principles and methods of Biblical Criticism, presented inductively through a careful critical and exegetical study of a particular book of section of Scripture. This Fall, our focus will be on the discipline of Rhetorical Criticism, and its value for helping us better understand the text of Scripture. Our inductive studies in this area will be centered on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

There will also be posted, hopefully with more frequency, other articles and notes for exciting new and continuing series—so keep watch for them, and may they enhance and stimulate your own study of the Scriptures!

The Lent and Easter Season

Today (March 2) marks the beginning of Lent—the Lenten season that spans the forty days before Easter. It begins on a Wednesday— “Ash Wednesday,” so called because of the traditional practice of placing ashes on the heads of worshipers. The ashes are symbolic of repentance and mourning for sin. Indeed, the entire Lenten season is traditionally devoted to prayer and repentance, in preparation for the Holy Week celebration (from Palm Sunday through Resurrection Sunday [Easter]).

In commemoration of this time of year—and especially in light of the grave and tragic (and potentially catastrophic) events occurring this very moment in parts of the world—I have decided to shift my focus on this site. I am temporarily suspending my current series of notes on the Song of Songs (currently up through 2:7), until after Easter. Attention will instead be given to my exegetical Study Series on “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition” (leading into studies on the influence of the Old Testament in the Passion narratives), as well as other regular features on this site. I am also planning to introduce a periodic series on the Old Testament/Israelite Festivals (beginning with Passover), and will be posting some special entries in the “Monday Notes on Prayer” section.

Prayer would seem to be of the utmost importance for believers all around the world this Lenten season. May our prayers particularly be with those suffering, and let us also together make fervent request for the Sovereignty of our God to become manifest here on earth (“May your Kingdom come, may your will be done…” as the Lord’s Prayer instructs us to pray). As Paul states most powerfully, the Kingdom of God is characterized fundamentally by “righteousness [= justice], peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Let our prayers be especially for justice and peace, but also that God’s people (believers) everywhere might experience joy this Easter season, even if the face of such perilous times. Remember that the Spirit is with us—all of us who are believers in Christ.

Fall Posts

This Fall, during the months of September, October, and November, I will be completing the process of re-posting material (from the earlier Biblesoft Study Blog site), while continuing to add new notes and articles. Just recently I posted the remainder of the word study Series “…Spirit and Life”, which, due to an oversight, I had failed to complete; all the notes and articles are now online. I have also begun posting articles for the Exegetical/Study Series Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament, together with an extended set of (daily) notes on the Book of Revelation. In addition, I will be completing my earlier series on The Speeches of Acts, which previously only went up through Paul’s Areopagus speech in Acts 17; as well as the remaining parts of the extended Study Series The Law and the New Testament (thus far covering “Jesus and the Law”, “The Law in Luke-Acts”, and “Paul’s View of the Law”). There will also be special series, on the Israelite/Jewish Festivals, and a study on the Covenant idea in Scripture, beginning in October, along with articles on the Scriptural background for key ideas and principles of the Protestant Reformation (to begin Oct 31). Other new material and updates will be added, especially for the three regular weekly features on this site:

    • Saturday Series—Inductive studies (each Saturday), aimed at introducing people to the methods and principles of Biblical Criticism, applying them to specific Scripture passages of interest. Currently we are in the middle of a five-study (five-part) series on 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 (see study 1, 2, and 3).
    • Sunday Psalm Studies—Each Sunday a different Psalm is examined. I have been proceeding according to the standard canonical order in the Psalter; the most recent study was on Psalm 8.
    • Monday Notes on Prayer—Exegetical and critical study of various Scripture passages related to prayer. Currently, we are exploring the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, having already devoted series of studies to the Lord’s Prayer and the great Prayer-Discourse of Jesus in John 17.

Upcoming Posts

I am continuing to post articles and notes which originally appeared on Biblesoft’s earlier Study Blog site, along with newly-authored content. Here is some of what you will be seeing here over the coming weeks:

  • Women in the Church (Study Series)—an objective, unbiased study on the subject of the role and position of women in the Church, based on the New Testament and early Christian evidence, with a detailed examination of all the key passages. Posting of articles and notes will be centered around Mother’s Day (May 10th).
  • “Where Did Jesus Go?” Critical Notes on the Ascension
  • The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition—a series of Notes on the key passages and references to the Holy Spirit in the Gospels and the book of Acts; to be posted as Daily Notes running through Pentecost week-end.
  • The Sending of the Spirit—a three-part study series (for Pentecost, May 31st) exploring the accounts of the coming of the Spirit in the book of Acts and Gospel of John.
  • The Speeches of Acts (Study Series)—detailed articles and notes on all the sermon-speeches in the book of Acts.
  • The Law and the New Testament (Study Series)—a continuation of the series (the portion “Jesus and the Law” as already been posted); the next major set of articles and notes with examine Paul’s view of the Law.

Stay tuned for much more to come—including special series on the Gospel of John, Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament, a study on the Covenant-idea in ancient Israel and early Christianity, exploration of the ancient Israelite/Jewish festivals and how they shaped early Christian thought, and additional studies. This along with the regular features:

  • Saturday Series—weekly studies aimed as a introduction to the methods and issues related to Biblical Criticism
  • Sunday Studies on the Psalms—an exegetical study each Sunday on one of the Old Testament Psalms (in order)
  • Monday Notes on Prayer—exegetical and critical studies on important Scripture passages involving prayers and the topic of prayer.
  • Also the periodic special features: Ancient Parallels, Dead Sea Scrolls Spotlight, and more!

Study for Easter Sunday (John 11:50-52)

For the three days of Easter (Sunday-Monday-Tuesday) I will be posting three daily notes each day—morning, afternoon, and evening. The morning note will continue (and conclude) the current series of daily notes on the “Son of Man Sayings of Jesus”. The afternoon note will provide a brief study on one of the post-resurrection appearance episodes in the Gospels of Luke and John. The evening note will examine key passages in the Gospel of John involving the theme of resurrection.

In the liturgical tradition, Easter celebration begins with the night office (or service) on Saturday evening, set in the time of darkness (symbolizing the death and burial of Jesus) prior to coming light (of Jesus’ resurrection) on Sunday morning. This evening service on Holy Saturday is known as the Easter Vigil, as believers keep watch (as in the parable of the virgins, Matt 25:1-13, etc), waiting for the moment commemorating the return to life of Jesus our Savior.

Today, on Saturday evening, I wish to offer a short study that deals with the death of Jesus.

John 11:50-52

On this Easter Sunday, in celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, I will be looking at what I have always considered one of the most extraordinary passages in the Gospels dealing with the salvific effect of Jesus’ sacrificial death. It is found in John 11:45-54, especially the prophetic statement(s) made by the High Priest Caiaphas in verses 50-52. It is an example of supreme irony in the Gospel narrative—the words of Jesus’ enemies unwittingly become a prophecy of the true effect and result of Jesus’ death.

This tradition is found in no other Gospel, and critical commentators would tend to question its historicity. However, there is some basis for the idea that High Priest could, and would, utter prophecies regarding events that would take place during the year—cf. Josephus, Antiquities 11.327, 13.299. As an anointed figure, in the service, ideally, of God and the Israelite/Jewish religion, the prophetic gift was a natural characteristic of the Priesthood, in terms of the phenomenology of religion. Whether or not the Gospel writer would recognize this gift in Caiaphas, he interprets the High Priest’s words ultimately as prophetic, though in a way, and at a level of meaning, different than Caiaphas intended.

We should distinguish between the statement by Caiaphas in verse 50, and the explanation by the Gospel writer in vv. 51-52 which summarizes an earlier prophecy. The setting of the utterance in v. 50 involves the effect of Jesus’ miracles on the people, which is especially significant in the context of the raising of Lazarus (vv. 1-44). The concern expressed by the Jewish Council in verse 48 is that people will come to trust in Jesus in greater numbers because of these miraculous signs (cf. 7:31; 10:25-26, 37-38; 12:18-19, etc). Regarding Jesus as a miracle-working Messianic Prophet, the popular support could easily create such disturbance and prove a sufficient threat to Roman authority that it would cause the Romans to act. Josephus describes a number of such would-be Messianic figures in the 1st century prior to the war of 66-70 (Antiquities 18.85; 20.97, 169-72; War 7.437ff; cf. also Acts 5:36; 21:38; Mark 13:5-6, 21-22 par). In the face of such danger, Caiaphas gives his advice in verse 50—

“and you do not take account [i.e. consider, realize] that it bears together (well) for us that one man should die away over [i.e. on behalf of] the people, and (that) the whole nation should not be destroyed”

i.e., it is better for one man to die rather than the entire nation. The wording suggests a kind of substitution—sacrifice this one would-be Messiah for the good of the nation. This is straightforward enough, but what follows in vv. 51-52 gives much greater scope to this saying. The explanation (presumably by the Gospel writer) refers to a prophecy given by Caiaphas in his role as High Priest that year. According the narrative, he prophesied

“that Yeshua was about to die away over [i.e. on behalf of] the nation—and not over the nation [i.e. Judea] only, but (so) that even the offspring of God having been [i.e. which had been] scattered he might bring together into one”

According to this amazing prophecy, Jesus’ death would somehow result in the entire Jewish people—including those in the Diaspora—being reunited. It is impossible to recover the precise meaning of this historical tradition, i.e. the prophecy as Caiaphas might have uttered it. Early Christian tradition, as represented by the Gospel of John, interprets it in terms of Jesus’ death, in a new and unique way. Let us examine briefly the key words and phrases in vv. 51-52.

Dying “over” [u(pe/r] the people/nation. We find this idea essentially in the Gospel tradition, in Jesus’ words of institution at the Last Supper (Mark 14:24; par Lk 22:19-20 MT):

“This is my blood of the agreement [i.e. covenant] th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many”

A similar idea expressed in Mk 10:45 uses the preposition a)nti/ (i.e. “in exchange for”) instead of u(pe/r. The preposition u(pe/r should be understood both in its literal sense (blood poured over/upon people) and in the figurative sense (i.e. “on behalf of”). Jesus’ death is presented as a sacrificial offering comparable to that by which the (old) Covenant was established in Exod 24:5-8. The letter to the Hebrews describes Jesus’ death similarly in terms of a sacrificial offering over people—cf. 2:9; 5:1; 6:20; 7:25, 27; 9:7, 24; 10:12—specifically an offering on behalf of sin.

In the Gospel of John we also find the expression in the context of Jesus’ sacrificial death—i.e. 6:51; 10:11, 15; and the associated tradition that believers should follow his example (13:37-38; 15:13). The closest parallel to Caiaphas’ prophecy is the illustrative language used by Jesus in 10:11, 15 (cf. below).

“Offspring of God” [te/kna qeou=]. While Caiaphas presumably would have used this expression to refer to Israelites/Jews as the “children of God”, for the Gospel writer (and other early Christians) it had a deeper meaning, as we see clearly in Jn 1:12. It is used specifically as a title of believers, indicating their spiritual status, in the first Johannine letter (3:1-2, 10; 5:2), and similarly in the Pauline writings (Rom 8:16, 21; 9:8; Phil 2:15, cf. also Eph 5:1, 8).

The verbs diaskorpi/zw and suna/gw. These two verbs must be taken in tandem, whereby Jesus’ death will “bring together” (vb. suna/gw) the ones who have been “scattered throughout” (vb. diaskorpi/zw). Caiaphas certainly means this in the sense of reuniting the Jewish people (Israel) that has been scattered throughout the Greco-Roman world (and other nation)—i.e. the Diaspora or “Dispersion”. The Old Testament Prophetic background for this can be found in passages such as Isa 11:12; Mic 2:12; Jer 23:3; 31:8-11; Ezek 34:16, etc. While early Christian thought retained something of this theme (cf. Acts 1-2), it is understood in terms of Israelites and Jews responding to the Gospel and coming to faith in Jesus. Yet, the mission to the Gentiles also meant that the concept had to be extended—to all believers throughout the world, Jew and Gentile both.

In the Gospel tradition, the verb diaskorpi/zw occurs once in connection with Jesus’ death—in Mk 14:27 par (citing Zech 13:7), referring to the persecution which the disciples will face following his death (cp. Acts 5:37). The verb suna/gw (from which the noun sunagwgh/, “synagogue” is derived) occurs elsewhere in the Gospel of John at 4:36, and, most notably, in the miraculous Feeding episode (6:12-13). In particular, the motif of the gathering together of the fragments came to be interpreted by early Christians as a distinct sacramental (Eucharistic) image expressing the unity of believers. This is clear in Didache 9:4, which seems to contain an allusion to Jn 11:52:

“Just as this broken (bread) was scattered throughout [dieskorpisme/non] upon the mountains above, and (then) was brought together [sunaxqe/n] and came to be one [e%n], so may your ekklesia [i.e. Church] be brought together from the ends of the earth into your Kingdom”

Thus, we may say that the true meaning of Caiaphas’ prophecy is that Jesus’ sacrificial death will bring all believers together, at a level of fundamental and essential unity.

“One” [ei!$, e%n]. This aspect of unity is confirmed by the last word of the prophecy—literally, “one” (ei!$, n. e%n). While it may be understood in the simple sense of a people united as a community, it has a far deeper (theological) meaning in the Gospel of John. There are two interrelated themes in the Gospel: (1) the unity of believers in Christ, and (2) our spiritual participation in the unity shared by the Son (Jesus) and the Father. Both themes are prevalent throughout the Fourth Gospel (esp. the Last Discourse, chapters 14-17), and involve use of the specific word ei!$ (“one”):

    1. Unity of Believers in Christ—Jn 10:16; 17:11, 21-23
    2. Unity of Father and Son (and Spirit)—1:3; 10:30; cf. also 1 Jn 5:8

Perhaps Jesus’ statement in 10:14-16 best approximates the essential message of Caiaphas’ prophecy (verbal parallels in bold italics):

“I am the excellent (Shep)herd, and I know the (sheep that are) mine and the (ones that are) mine know me, even as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I set down my soul [i.e. lay down my life] over the sheep. And I hold other sheep which are not out of this (sheep)fold, and it is necessary for me to bring them (also), and they will hear my voice—and there will come to be one herd [i.e. flock] (of sheep) and one (Shep)herd.”

Exegetical Study Series becoming available

I am posting here on this site a number of Exegetical Study Series that were up on Biblesoft’s earlier Study Blog. I have already posted several Christmas season series, and have just posted my series on The Beatitudes, and am in the process of adding two others—The Law and the New Testament (Jesus and the Law), and Yeshua the Anointed.

Soon to be posted as well, in the coming weeks:
Jesus and the Gospel Tradition, The Speeches of Acts, Gnosis and the New Testament, Women in the Church, and more!

If you did not have the chance to read and study these articles previously, I encourage you to take the opportunity to do so as they become available here. I believe (and hope) that you will find them stimulating and informative.

You should also be aware that some of the series have been turned into products that work within Biblesoft’s PC Study Bible program (see, for example, The Beatitudes: A Biblesoft Study Series). Eventually, this will be done for most, if not all, of the Study Series posted on this site.

Saturday Series (Introduction)

This post introduces the Saturday Series feature on this website. In it I will be taking a somewhat lighter, introductory approach to the study of Scripture. Readers who may find the level of (scholarly) detail in the notes and articles on this site a bit daunting, will, I think, appreciate the approach to be taken in this series—which will feature a new article each Saturday. Overall, the focus will be the same: biblical criticism and what has been called the grammatical-historical method. It may help to define both of these terms.

Biblical Criticism

The word “criticism” in modern English can be quite misleading, as it typically suggests something negative, even mean-spirited. But this is scarcely how the word should be understood here, in its proper sense. The word, ultimately derived from the Greek verb kri/nw (krínw), refers to judgment and discernment—i.e., the process of analysis, sorting, sifting, separating (the fundamental meaning of the verb). A person engaged in Biblical criticism is simply examining and analyzing the text of the Biblical passage in detail—separating out the words and phrases, the grammar, historical background, the purpose of the author, how the original audience would have understood it, how it has been understood and interpreted throughout the years, and so forth. Each element or aspect of the text is studied and analyzed in turn, so far as one is able, and to the extent that relevant information (for comparison, etc) is available.

Grammatical-Historical Method

This refers to a particular mode or orientation in the analysis and interpretation of Scripture. The first word (“grammatical“) means the language of the text, i.e. its syntax and grammar—the particular words and phrases, and how they are used. This really requires that the text be studied in its original language (Hebrew and Aramaic for the Old Testament, Greek for the New). One cannot properly engage in Biblical criticism working from a translation. This presents a problem, since many Christians who earnestly desire to study the Scriptures at a deeper level do not know Hebrew and Greek, or have only a rudimentary familiarity with those languages, perhaps just beginning to learn them. One of the main purposes of this website is to help guide interested readers and students through those difficult first steps of Biblical study—the examination of the text in its original language. Here in the Saturday Series, I will refer to the Hebrew and Greek less often, focusing on specific verses in more detail, giving more explanation—through the use of both literal (glossed) translation and more conventional renderings—to the basic meaning of the words and phrases as they are used in context.

The second word (“historical“) can be taken several ways. Primarily it refers to the original historical context and setting of the passage (and the book) being studied. This means that attention must first be given toward, not what the text means to me, but what it meant to the author and (so far as it can be determined) to the original audience. Secondarily, “historical” refers to the historical background of certain words, phrases, images, and ideas in the text. Here it is important to consider, whenever possible, parallels in other writings contemporary with the Scriptures. It is also useful to examine how the meaning and significance of words and forms may have developed over time. This helps to highlight the specific and distinctive way the author makes use of them in a particular passage or setting. And, thirdly, some attention must be given to the process of composition of a text—how it has developed and taken shape over time. This is especially important because many of the books of Scripture are to be characterized as traditional literature;  that is to say, they are comprised of numerous traditions which have been passed down, in oral and/or written form, from person to person, generation to generation. This last aspect touches on a specific type of criticism, usually referred to as historical criticism.

This is not the only way to study and interpret the Scriptures. Other methods and approaches may be taken; however, it is best to begin with a thorough grammatical-historical approach to the text. From there, on that solid foundation, one may venture into more imaginative and creative modes of study.

The first study in this series will begin this Saturday (December 7th).

NOTE: The initial posts will reproduce articles from the earlier Biblesoft Study Blog, where the Saturday Series was introduced. If you missed these, it will be a good opportunity to find them again here, and to familiarize yourself with the study approach. After the start of the year, I will begin posting brand new articles in the Series.

Before you embark on this series with me, I strongly recommend that you read through the three-part article (“Learning the Language“). It covers all the main topics and terminology related to Biblical Criticism (and, in particular, Textual Criticism). It may help you to understand better the approach I am taking; and, if you have any fears or apprehensions about the idea of “Biblical Criticism”, that article may alleviate them.

Please consider joining me on this series, and I hope to see you here next Saturday.

Blessings, in Christ


This site is a continuation of the Biblesoft Study Blog, with some exciting new features being added to the mix. During the month of December, many of the notes and articles previously posted on that site will be transferred over, including the Advent and Christmas posts. If you missed any of those at the time, you will want to explore them as they appear here. The site is being designed so that it will be easier to access and browse this material, both by category and topic (key-tag). For more on the nature and purpose of this site, check out the introductory page. If you are interested in a deeper study of the text of Scripture, and are perhaps ready to take that next step yourself, this site is for you!