February 10: Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20

The Beatitudes of Jesus, which occur at the very beginning of both the famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5-7) and the parallel ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (Luke 6:17-49), must surely be regarded as one of the most famous (and extraordinary) portions in the entire New Testament. The contexts of the two accounts are similar, but different enough to lead more traditional-conservative commentators at least to regard them as separate sermons, preached on different occasions. Critical scholars, on the other hand, generally view them as two versions the same basic sermon (or collection of sayings), derived from a traditional source common to both Matthew and Luke (so-called “Q”, Quelle, source). On the whole, I find this latter view more likely. But, if so, then either Luke reduced the material considerably, or Matthew expanded it (most of Luke 6:27-49 can be found in Matthew as well); or, perhaps both took place. Part of the inspired, creative process in composing the Gospels involved incorporating authentic traditions and sayings of Jesus into an original arrangement, within a specific narrative framework. That details occasionally differ are not necessarily indications of ‘errors’, nor do they always need to ‘harmonized’—in most instances they are literary, not historical, differences.

Consider, in particular, the so-called Beatitudes (beatus, beatitudo, “blessed, blessedness”), or, more properly, Macarisms (from the Greek maka/rio$, “happy, blessed”). It is here that we find the greatest differences between the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and the ‘Sermon on the Plain’, most significantly:

    1. Luke’s account (6:20-23) is considerably shorter, containing just four beatitudes, compared to nine in Matthew (5:3-12)—Luke’s four are paralleled in the 1st, 4th, 2nd, and 9th of Matthew
    2. Luke includes a series of corresponding ‘Woes’ (6:24-26) not found in Matthew
    3. For the first two Lukan beatitudes, the parallels in Matthew have qualifying phrases—”poor in the spirit” instead of “poor”, “hunger (and thirst) for righteousness/justice” instead of “hungry”

I wish to focus on this third aspect, especially as it relates to the first beatitude (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20). Some scholars have thought that Matthew modified the ‘original’ saying (preserved in Luke), softening or ‘spiritualizing’ a harsher statement. If Matthew indeed modified the saying, it was more likely for the purpose of clarifying and providing deeper insight into the meaning of the terse statement. A comparison (points of difference italicized):

Luke:      Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/, o%ti u(mete/ra e)sti/n h( basilei/a tou= qeou=
“Happy the poor (ones), that yours is the kingdom of God
Matthew:  Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/ tw=| pneu/mati, o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Happy the poor (ones) in the spirit, that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens
[1. I have left “spirit” in lower case for the moment; 2. o%ti introduces a reason/purpose clause, conventionally translated “for, because”]

It should be noted here in passing that, while the text of the Beatitudes (in both Matthew and Luke) is fairly certain (there are few substantive variants), it abounds with difficulties of interpretation. The following questions can be raised:

    1. The “poor” (oi( ptwxoi)—what sort of poverty is meant: physical, material, spiritual, or some combination? and in precisely what sense?
    2. Does “spirit” (pneu=ma) refer to: physical life, the spirit (spiritual component) of a human being, or the (Holy) Spirit of God?
    3. Is the dative case (tw=| pneu/mati) instrumental (“by the spirit”) or locative/referential (“in the spirit”)?
    4. How seriously should we take the differences between Matthew and Luke—how, indeed, should we understand them?

I offer the following brief comments for consideration:

1. The Poor—What sort of Poverty?

In the case of Luke, especially in the context of the four beatitudes together (“poor, hungering, weeping”), along with the Woes (ou)ai\ u(mi=n toi=$ plousi/oi$, “woe to you the rich [ones]!”), it is hard to avoid the conclusion that here Jesus is speaking of real physical and material poverty. Certainly, throughout the Gospel, Luke gives special emphasis to the poor and outcast. This can be seen already in the Infancy narratives—especially the canticles—with strong parallels to the so-called ±an¹wîm piety of late pre-Christian Judaism and early Jewish Christianity: God looks upon the poor and humble, rescuing them and lifting them up from oppression and suffering. The same theme runs through many of Jesus’ most famous parables (10:25-37; 15; 16:19-31; 18:1-14, etc). However, before continuing, it is necessary to address the second and third questions.

2. The “Spirit”

The phrase in Matthew (oi( ptwxoi/ tw=| pneu/mati) is difficult; it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and this occurrence is virtually unique in the Greek language. The term pneu=ma more literally and concretely would be translated “breath, wind” so here it could simply be another way of referring to physical poverty (we might say, “short/faint of breath”), which would accord well with the context in Luke. There are also Old Testament and other Semitic parallels—jwr rxq, vpn rxq (“short of breath” or “short in soul/spirit”) that may relate. However a more direct Greek parallel is oi( tapeinoi\ tw=| pneu/mati, “the (ones) low/humble in the spirit” (see the LXX Psalm 33:19), which conveys a different sense (referring to the human soul/spirit), and that has a parallel in the Qumran texts jwr ywnu (1 QM 14.7; 1 QH 5.21-22, etc) which almost exactly matches the expression in Matthew. The phrase, then, most likely reflects a certain humility—a humble nature, recognizing one’s own weakness and mortality, faithfully and patiently enduring whatever hardship or suffering might come to pass.

3. “In” or “by” the “Spirit”

Given the likely reference to the human “spirit”, an instrumental sense for the dative is not likely. A locative or referential sense of “in the spirit” is better, locating the center of the poverty in a person’s own spirit or soul. But this is not so much a matter of anthropology (the nature of man as a created being) as it is of psychology (how one understands his/her created nature in relation to God). Is the poverty voluntary, or is it, like most instances of material poverty, the product of external conditions forced upon a person? Given the original setting of the Beatitude form (a pronouncement set at the last judgment), and the ethical context of Jesus’ teaching to his followers, the poverty should be understood primarily as voluntary, though often involving a willing response to conditions around us. The words of John the Baptist in the fourth Gospel (3:30) come to mind e)kei=non dei= au)ca/nein, e)me\ de\ e)lattou=sqai (“it is necessary for that one [i.e. Jesus] to grow, but for me to become less”); or Jesus’ own prayer to the Father on the eve of his death ou) ti/ e)gw\ qe/lw a)lla\ ti/ su/ (“not what I wish, but what you [wish]”; Mark 14:36 par.).

4. The Differences between Matthew and Luke

So what of the differences between the two forms of the Beatitude? One ought not gloss over them, or rush to harmonize in a facile manner, in order to avoid possible discrepancies. Rather each form should be studied carefully and prayerfully, with the understanding that they both stem from authentic sayings of Jesus. And, if one studies Jesus’ words throughout the Gospels, several clear facts emerge: (a) those who follow Christ faithfully will live modestly, without attachment to worldly possessions, and they are also likely to live in some form of poverty due to oppression or persecution; (b) we are called to follow like children, in innocence and humility, avoiding evil (both purity and poverty are a kind of “emptiness”); (c) our real poverty stems from our relationship to God, according to Christ’s own incarnate example (2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:1-11). Both forms of the beatitude surely can be read in this light.

For more on the Beatitudes, I will be posting here this week several Exegetical Study Series that were previously up on Biblesoft’s earlier Study Blog site, including an in-depth series on the Beatitudes.

For an outstanding critical treatment of the entire Sermon on the Mount (and the Beatitudes), see especially Hans-Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount (translated in the Hermeneia series, Fortress Press, 1995), which includes many useful Classical parallels and references.

February 9: Word study on “Gospel” (conclusion)

Today’s note concludes the series of word studies on the eu)aggel- (“gospel”) word group in the New Testament. I will begin with a summary of the results, followed by a short survey of how the word group was used in other early Christian writings in the late-first and second centuries. The results of our study may be presented as follows:

1. The original context of the eu)aggel- word group had to do with the delivery of (good) news, lit. a “good message”, especially that which involved the outcome of military action or other important events related to the public welfare. Since the public good was often connected with the action of the ruler, thought (according to the ancient mindset) to be appointed and/or gifted by divine power, the idea of the “good message” was extended to the ruler himself—esp. his birth and accession, his own health and welfare, etc. This was specially so in the case of the Roman emperors of the first centuries A.D., who, as “Caesar” and successors to Augustus, were understood to be divine (“son of god”). The peace, protection (i.e. “salvation”), and prosperity brought about by the emperor’s rule, was “good news” for the population, and, as such, the eu)aggel- word group became associated prominently with the imperial cult. This certainly would have affected the early Christian use and understanding of eu)aggel-, though there is relatively little direct evidence for this in the New Testament itself. The contrast, between Jesus and the Emperor, in terms of the “good message”, is most apparent in the Gospel of Luke (esp. the Infancy narrative), and, less directly, in Luke-Acts as a whole. Neither the common noun eu)aggeli/a (“good message”) nor eu)a/ggelo$ (“good messenger, messenger of good [news]”) occurs in the New Testament. The neuter noun eu)agge/lion is used, but only in the singular, never the plural (eu)agge/lia). Originally, the neuter noun referred to the response to good news—i.e., the reward given to the messenger, or an offering of celebration and thanks, etc. It is this aspect that was notable in connection with the Roman imperial cult—offerings and celebration for the good news of the emperor’s accession, etc.

2. The verb eu)aggeli/zw (Koine middle eu)aggeli/zomai), “bring/declare a good message”, also occurs a number of times in the New Testament, largely under the influence of the Greek translation (LXX) of the Old Testament Scriptures. The verb translates the Hebrew rc^B* (“bring [good] news”), just as eu)aggeli/a/eu)agge/lion translates the derived noun hr*c)B=. The theological significance of the verb is more or less limited to its use in the Prophets, especially several key passages in (Deutero-)Isaiah, all of which came to be interpreted in a Messianic and eschatological sense—40:9; 52:7; 60:6, and (most notably) 61:1. It is Isa 61:1 which exerted the greatest influence on the New Testament, rooted in the Gospel tradition. According to Lk 4:18ff and 7:22 par, Jesus identified himself with the Anointed (Messianic) herald of the passage, especially in the context of the teaching and healing miracles performed during his ministry in Galilee. Indeed, this may well define Jesus’ own use of eu)aggel- (Aramaic rcb), recorded in several important sayings within the Synoptic tradition. It clearly influenced the frequent use of the verb in the Gospel of Luke (and the book of Acts). Luke virtually never uses the noun (only the verb); the opposite is the case in the core Synoptic tradition (of Mark-Matthew, cf. below).

3. With the Gospel and earliest Christian tradition, the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, i.e. the announcing of good news to God’s people, came to be understood in two primary (and related) senses: (a) that one may obtain forgiveness of sin, and (b) will thus be saved from the coming (end-time) Judgment by God upon humankind. The Gospel message was thus originally (and primarily) eschatological in orientation. Both forgiveness and salvation were experienced only by believers who repented and trusted in Jesus. This was the essence of the “good news” proclaimed by Jesus and his first followers, and represents the core of the apostolic preaching. However, in both the Pauline letters and the early sermon-speeches preserved in the book of Acts, this was expanded to form a core message proclaimed by missionaries and preachers during the first century. The announcement of the opportunity for salvation (in Jesus’ name) came to include a brief narrative outline of Jesus’ life—from John the Baptist, through to Jesus’ own ministry, and his death and resurrection. To this was added a pair of fundamental theological/Christological statements: (i) that Jesus was the Anointed One (Messiah) prophesied in the Scriptures, and (ii) that God exalted him (as Son of God) to a divine position/status in heaven, from whence he will appear (as a heavenly savior-figure) at the end time to rescue believers and usher in the Judgment. This is the “good message” proclaimed by Peter, Paul, and other early missionaries.

4. In Paul’s letters (c. 49-60 A.D.), this use of both the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, and, in particular, the noun eu)agge/lion, took on still deeper theological significance. Already in the earliest surviving letters (1-2 Thessalonians), Paul was using the noun in three distinct expressions, each with an important point of emphasis:

    • “my/our good message”—Paul and his fellow ministers have been specially appointed by God to proclaim the message
    • “the good message of God”—God is the source of the message, having brought it about for believers in Jesus
    • “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}”—the message is about the person of Jesus, who he is and what God has done through him

It is in Galatians and Romans that Paul expounds and explains what he means by the word eu)agge/lion. In Galatians, it is central to the conflict (with certain Jewish Christians) over the religious identity of believers. Paul argues forcefully for the central doctrine that it is through trust in Jesus alone that human beings are justified (“made right” in God’s eyes) and saved from Judgment; adherence to the Old Covenant and its Torah plays only a negative role in this process. In Romans, Paul adds to this an exposition of the nature of salvation (see esp. chapters 5-8). The twin ideas of forgiveness of sin and deliverance from the coming Judgment are deepened in Paul’s thought, being expressed now in terms of the belief that, through trust in the Gospel, human beings are delivered from the power of sin that is dominant in the current world-order. In the mode of thought and expression by Paul, eschatology truly has become soteriology. Moreover, we find the important point that trust in Jesus (i.e. the good message) activates and makes effective the saving power of his sacrificial death and resurrection. This is central to Pauline theology and is expressed more clearly in his letters than perhaps anywhere else in the New Testament. We can thus begin to glimpse in Paul’s letters a wider and more expansive meaning of the word eu)agge/lion, so that it very nearly becomes synonymous with the Christian faith itself.

5. First Peter was probably written c. 60 A.D., roughly contemporary with the latest of Paul’s letters. In this work too we find a theological expansion (and exposition) of the meaning of eu)agge/lion. It is identified with the living and eternal word of God, with its creative and life-generating power, as also with the living Spirit of God (and Christ) that comes to dwell in the believer (1:23-25). The eschatological aspect is also sharpened, so that acceptance of the “good message” becomes the entire basis for deliverance from the coming Judgment and inheritance of eternal life through the Spirit (4:6, 17, and the surrounding context). The eu)aggel- word group does not appear in the Gospel or Letters of John at all, but does occur several times in the (Johannine) book of Revelation, where the early/traditional eschatological aspect is emphasized, much as we see elsewhere in the New Testament. Other NT occurrences are rare, and generally follow the usage and semantic range detailed above.

6. The Gospel of Mark, probably written some time in the 60’s A.D., represent the earliest usage of eu)agge/lion to refer to a written work. The author (trad. John Mark) identifies his literary work specifically as eu)agge/lion, virtually serving as its title (1:1). At one other point—the declaration by Jesus in 14:9 (par Matt 26:13)—the noun appears to be used in the same context, whereas elsewhere it seems to refer to the message and teaching of Jesus in a comprehensive sense (8:35; 10:29; 13:10). The noun is less frequent in Matthew, which generally follows the Synoptic (Markan) usage.

By about 150 A.D., roughly a hundred years later, the earlier meaning of eu)agge/lion had largely disappeared from use. The relatively rare occurrences of the word group in writings of the mid/late 2nd century demonstrate a rather clear shift in meaning—from an oral proclamation about Jesus to an authoritative written record. We can see this, for example, in the writings of Justin Martyr. In the rare instances where the word eu)agge/lion occurs, it clearly refers to written works, most likely corresponding to some (if not all) of the canonical Gospels. In his First Apology 66:3, the “memoirs of the Apostles” (ta\ a)pomnhmoneu/mata tw=n a)posto/wn) are specifically called eu)agge/lia, the plural of eu)agge/lion. The word a)pomnhmoneu/mata literally means “(thing)s given/coming from memory”; that written works (i.e. written/recorded from memory) are meant is relatively clear from the context, and is confirmed by the use of the singular eu)agge/lion in the Dialogue with Trypho (twice, 10:2; 100:2). The Letter to Diognetus (author unknown), probably written around the same time, uses the plural eu)agge/lia to refer to written Gospels (11:6). Two or three decades on, Irenaeus, in his famous work Against Heresies (c. 180), has gone a step further: not only does eu)agge/lia refer to authoritative written works, it is used specifically for the four canonical Gospels—these four and no other (III.10-11, etc).

Concluding note on the Apostolic Fathers

An examination of the so-called “Apostolic Fathers”, a collection of Christian writings surviving from the period c. 90-150 A.D., allows us to fill in the gaps a bit, to see how the use of the eu)aggel- word group in the New Testament developed to the point that the “good message” became defined in terms of authoritative written documents (“Gospels”).

It is a bit surprising that, in the lengthy letter-treatise of Clement (1 Clement) to the congregations in Corinth, written c. 95 A.D., the eu)aggel- word group is so rare. The author clearly is familiar with Paul’s letters, and is writing to congregations founded by Paul, yet this important Pauline terminology is absent. In 42:1, 3, the verb eu)aggeli/zomai is used in the older, traditional sense of the “good news” proclaimed by Jesus in his ministry, and which was subsequently declared by the Apostles (cf. also the Letter of Polycarp, 6:3; Barnabas 5:9; 8:3; 14:9). At 47:2, where the noun eu)agge/lion occurs, the author is citing Paul (cf. Phil 4:15).

The noun also is used several times by Ignatius of Antioch in his letters (c. 110)—to the Christians of Philadelphia and Smyrna. In Philadelphians 5:1-2 he appears to use eu)agge/lion as synonymous with the Christian faith and one’s religious identity (as a believer in Christ). He describes the eu)agge/lion of Christ as being manifest or embodied in the Eucharist. Elsewhere in the letter, however, the term seems to refer to an authoritative record (oral and/or written) of Jesus’ teaching and saving work (8:2; 9:2; also Smyrneans 5:1; 7:2). This is in accord with the later strands of the Synoptic tradition (c. 60-70 A.D., cf. above). Passages such as Smyrn. 5:1 seem to imply a written record.

The work known as the Didache (“Teaching”), and attributed to the Twelve Apostles, is properly called a Church Manual, composed sometime before 150 A.D., but containing traditional material that may go back to the late 1st century A.D. The noun eu)agge/lion occurs four times (8:2; 11:3; 15:3f), signifying an authoritative body of teaching by Jesus (and the Apostles), and perhaps intended to correspond to one or more of the canonical Gospels. In tone and approach it is closest to the Gospel of Matthew, yet even where the Lord’s Prayer (close to the Matthean version, 6:9-13) is cited (at 8:2ff), eu)agge/lion probably is not meant as a reference to Matthew per se, since the expression is “in his [i.e. Jesus’] eu)agge/lion“, i.e. the teaching of Jesus which is recorded in Matthew. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp (written c. 155-165), the noun is used repeatedly, where it similarly refers to an authoritative record of Jesus’ teaching and life-example (including his suffering and death), without necessarily intending any particular written Gospel (or Gospels).

In the work known as 2 Clement, on the other hand, eu)agge/lion does refer to a specific written work; however, interestingly, the saying of Jesus cited (8:5) does not correspond precisely to anything in our canonical Gospels (cp. Lk 16:10-12). It may be a reference to the so-called “Gospel of the Egyptians”, or a similar extra-canonical work. Another extra-canonical saying of Jesus is cited by the author in 12:2.

The custom of referring to the canonical Gospels by the title [to\] eu)agge/lion kata\ … (“the Good Message according to…”), which may have been established by the middle of the 2nd century, was probably inspired by the Markan title (Mk 1:1). Given Luke’s reluctance to use the noun, it is highly unlikely that he would ever have referred to his own work that way (he uses the noun dih/ghsi$ in 1:1). Matthew is more likely to have followed the Markan usage. The title appears to have the sanction of Jesus himself, at least in the Synoptic formulation of the tradition in Mk 14:9 par, which implies the existence of an account more or less corresponding with 14:3-9 as part of a larger narrative. Such a narrative is represented by the Gospel of Mark, and followed, with certain additions and modifications, in the Gospel of Matthew. The author of the latter may well have understood Jesus’ statement in 24:14 as encompassing the publication and distribution of his own work narrating “the Gospel of the Kingdom”. In the centuries since, the New Testament title “Gospel according to…” has become so familiar that there is little thought given as to how this custom was established in the first place. I hope that this series of notes has helped you to appreciate better the rich heritage surrounding the eu)aggel- word group as it was used and developed by believers in the first two centuries.

February 8: 1 Peter 4:6, 17, etc

In the previous note, I discussed the use of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai in 1 Peter 1:12, 25; today, I want to look at two more occurrences of the eu)aggel- word group in chapter 4 of that letter, before surveying briefly the remaining occurrences in the New Testament.

1 Peter 4:6, 17

The noun eu)agge/lion occurs in verse 6, part of a section of ethical instruction and exhortation with a strong eschatological emphasis. For the author (Peter), like nearly all early Christians, it was believed that the end was imminent (“the completion/end of all [thing]s has come near”, v. 7a), and the Judgment by God close at hand. The final Judgment is certainly in view in verse 6, as we read in verse 5: “…(they) shall give forth an account to the (One) holding readiness to judge the living and the dead”. We find in verse 6 the difficult phrase “the good message was brought even to the dead”, which has tripped up many commentators (cf. the earlier notice in 3:19). The main point to note, however, is that the Judgment of all humankind is to be based on the (Gospel) message of Jesus. Even more significant is that life (for the dead) in the Age to Come (i.e. eternal life) is dependent on the Spirit, which can only be bestowed on persons following reception of the Gospel message. Note the me\nde/ contrast:

    • “(on the one hand) they should live in the flesh according to man [i.e. as human beings]”
    • “(on the other hand) they (should live) in the Spirit according to God”

The same Judgment context, and implicit contrast between those who do and do not accept the message of Jesus, is present in verse 17, were the noun eu)agge/lion occurs:

“(it is) the time of the beginning of the Judgment from the house of God; and, if it is first from us, what (then) is (its) completion for the (one)s unpersuaded by the good message of God?”

The expression “good message of God” is familiar from Paul’s letters, where it occurs several times (Rom 1:1; 15:16; 1 Thess 2:2, 8-9), and was doubtless traditional by the time this letter was written (c. 60 A.D.?). What is unique about this usage in chapter 4 is how thoroughly the eu)aggel- word group is identified with trust in Jesus within the specific eschatological context of the last Judgment.

The Remainder of the New Testament

The eu)aggel- word group is entirely absent from the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), but it does occur twice in the (Johannine) book of Revelation—the verb in 10:7, and noun and verb together in 14:6. In 10:7, it is possible that the verb eu)aggeli/zomai is being used more or less in the general sense of bringing good news—in this case, the “good message” involves, not the Gospel per se, but the final eschatological mystery of how/when God will bring the current Age to an end. The dual use of noun and verb in 14:6 is especially dramatic, as would be appropriate for the scene:

“And I saw another Messenger taking wing [i.e. flying] in the middle of the heaven(s), holding the good message of the Ages, to deliver as a good message upon the (one)s sitting [i.e. dwelling] upon the earth, and upon every nation and offshoot and tongue and people…”

Probably the technical sense of eu)aggel- as the (Christian) preaching of the Gospel is more in view here; however, the message is still primarily eschatological (not evangelistic), which can be obscured by translating the expression eu)agge/lion ai)w/nion as “eternal Gospel”, rather than more literally as “good message (of the) Age(s)”—i.e. the good news that the Ages of humankind are coming to an end, and that the New Age of God is being ushered in.

The occurrence of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai in Hebrews 4:2 and 6 is interesting in the way that the Christian meaning is read back into the more general sense (i.e. bringing good news). This is done in the context of paraenesis—ethical/religious teaching—involving the interpretation and application of Scripture (a common preaching technique, then as now). Believers in Christ had the “good message” of Jesus proclaimed to them, and yet are being warned of the danger of falling away. To emphasize this point, the example of the Israelites in the time of the Exodus is brought forth:

“indeed we are (one)s having the good message (declar)ed (to us) even as it also (was) to those (person)s; but the account [lo/go$] (which was) heard did not benefit those (person)s, not having been mixed together with trust/faith by the (one)s hearing.”

The rather complicated syntax in the second half of the verse is a roundabout way of saying that hearing the Gospel preached has to be accompanied by genuine trust from the person hearing in order to have its saving effect. The verb eu)aggeli/zomai is used again in the same context in verse 6.

Finally, we should note three occurrences of the noun eu)aggelisth/$. The common Greek noun eu)a/ggelo$ (“good messenger, messenger of good [news]”) does not occur in the New Testament at all, but only eu)aggelisth/$, which is derived from the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, and thus means “one bringing/declaring a good message”, emphasizing the action of bringing or announcing the message. Even so, this noun is rare, being used just three times, and in relatively late writings: Lukan narration in the book of Acts (21:8), 2 Timothy 4:5, and Ephesians 4:11. Second Timothy and Ephesians are often considered to be pseudonymous by commentators; whether or not this is correct, it is unlikely that either letter was written prior to the early-60’s A.D. The book of Acts was probably written c. 70-80 A.D.

In all three passages, eu)aggelisth/$ appears to be used in the established Christian sense of a specific ministry role, or position, within a group of believers (or congregation)—i.e., one who is specifically devoted to, and gifted in, preaching the Gospel message. The absence of this noun in the undisputed letters of Paul, and in the rest of the book of Acts, makes it unlikely that it was widely used prior to the 60’s A.D. It is possible that 2 Tim 4:5, if genuinely Pauline, represents the earliest surviving use of the noun, which was a word essentially coined by Christians. I am not aware of any occurrence prior to the 1st century, nor in any contemporary non-Christian context.

Saturday Series: John 3:34-36

John 3:34-36

Last week we explored the context of John 3:22-36, especially the relationship between vv. 27-30 and 31-36. The parallelism between Jesus and John the Baptist, brings chapter 3 in connection with 1:19-51 (as well as the Prologue, vv. 1-18), framing the entirety of chapters 1-3. As a result, it is possible to view the exposition in 3:31-36 as forming the conclusion of this portion of the Gospel. The thought and imagery expressed in these verses are important for a proper understanding of what follows (from chapter 4 on). In particular, I would point to the last three verses (vv. 34-36) has having special significance for the remainder of the Gospel. There are some difficulties of interpretation, but these can be overcome with a careful study of several key words and phrases in the Greek. In today’s study, I will address two of these—one in verse 34 and the other in verse 36.

Verse 34—The statement in this verse introduces the important reference to the Spirit (pneuma), which had first been mentioned in Jesus’ earlier dialogue with Nicodemus (vv. 5-8). Here is the statement in translation:

“For the (one) whom God has se(n)t forth speaks the utterances [i.e. words] of God; for (it is) not out of measure (that) he gives the Spirit.”

Here we have two fundamental ideas, expressed previously in the Gospel, and which are to become key themes throughout: (1) that God the Father has sent forth Jesus (the Son) from him, and (2) that Jesus (the Son) speaks the words of God (the Father). What is especially intriguing is the way that this “speaking the words of God” is treated as synonymous with “giving the Spirit”. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in 6:63: “the utterances [i.e. words] that I speak to you are Spirit and Life“. Jesus refers to the action/work of the Spirit in vv. 5-8, but does not mention the giving of the Spirit. Later in the Gospel, in the Last Discourse, Jesus promises that he and/or the Father will send the Spirit (14:16-17, 26; 15:26; cf. also 16:13). This same idea is mentioned by the writer in 7:39. The giving the Spirit is actually recorded in 20:22, where, notably, it comes by Jesus’ mouth—thus reflecting the connection with his speaking.

What does it mean that Jesus gives the Spirit “not out of measure [ou ek metrou]”? Some commentators feel that God (the Father) is actually the subject of the verb didœsin (“he gives”) in this verse. The overall context makes that unlikely, especially when one considers the thrust of verse 35 which follows:

“The Father loves the Son and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand”

God the Father has already given all things (including the Spirit) to the Son, and it is the Son who will give them, in turn, to believers. Here the parallel between Spirit and Life (6:63) is instructive, especially Jesus’ statement in 5:26:

“For even as the Father holds Life in himself, so also does he give to the Son to hold Life in himself”

But what of the expression “not out of measure”? The negative particle (ou, “not”) implies a contrast with the giving of the Spirit “out of [i.e. with/by] measure”. A likely explanation is to be found in the Jewish midrash (Midrash Rabbah) on Lev 15:2 (words of Rabbi Aµa): “…the Holy Spirit resting on the Prophets does so by measure“. The idea may be that, in the past, the Spirit was given only on a temporary basis, and in a portion, usually for the accomplishment of a certain mission (such as that of the Prophets). By contrast, Jesus (the Son of God) gives the Spirit without measure—that is, complete and in full, and on a permanent basis. This certainly fits with the idea, expressed in the Last Discourse, that the Holy Spirit will function as the abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers. It is through the Spirit that believers experience the divine, eternal Life of God and are united with both the Father and the Son.

Verse 36—The motif of life (zœ¢) is reiterated in the closing statement of this passage. In the Gospel of John, the word zœ¢ (zwh=) always refers to divine, eternal life. This is clear enough from the first occurrence in the Prologue (1:4):

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men”

This is the divine Life which the Son (or the Word/Logos) shares with God the Father (cf. on 5:26 above). The next occurrence of the word comes from the discourse in 3:1-21, where it occurs, for the first time, in the expression “the life of the Age [ho aiœnios zœ¢]”, usually translated in English as “eternal life”. It literally refers to the blessed divine life which the righteous will possess in the “Age to Come”—at the end time, following the resurrection, according to tradition Israelite/Jewish thought. In the Gospel of John this eschatological condition (i.e. eternal life) is “realized” for believers already in the present, through trust in Jesus. This is essentially expressed in vv. 14b-16:

“…so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him should hold life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]. For (in) this (way) God loved the world, so (that) he even gave his only (born) Son, (so) that every (one) trusting in him should not be destroyed, but (rather) should hold (the) life of the Age.”

Here the eschatological significance of the expression is clear enough—it refers primarily to the life which the believer will come to possess (literally “hold”) at the end time. The basis for possessing this (eternal) life, and being saved from the Judgment, is trust in Jesus (the Son). This same concept is found in the closing statement of v. 36, but with a somewhat different formulation and emphasis:

“The (one) trusting in the Son holds life of the Age; but the (one) being unpersuaded by the Son will not see life, but (rather) the anger of God remains upon him.”

There are two parallel, contrasting phrases:

    • the one trusting holds life…
    • the one being unpersuaded (i.e. refusing to trust) will not see life…

The second phrase uses a future verb form (“will not see”), and so preserves the original eschatological context. However, the first (relating to believers) is in the present tense—”holds” life, i.e. already in the present. This is an important distinction. Believers possess eternal life in the present, having “realized” the eschatological condition through trust in Jesus. Non-believers (i.e. those failing/refusing to be persuaded) endure the fate of the world in the future Judgment, expressed vividly by the phrase “the anger of God remains upon him”.

A careful study of the Greek words and phrases gives us important insight on the way that John the Baptist, Jesus, and/or the Gospel writer has made use of traditional religious and theological expressions, transforming them in the light of the Gospel message—giving to them a profound Christological significance. This transformed vocabulary runs through the Gospel of John, informing nearly every discourse and episode in the narrative. We must always pay attention to the way these key words and phrases are utilized.

Next week, we will be jumping ahead to the discourse in chapter 5, and another occurrence of the expression “life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life). I would recommend that you read through chapters 4 and 5 carefully, paying special attention to the way that the words “life” and “living” are used. Study the discourse in chapter 5, considering its structure and the line of thought in the exposition by Jesus spanning verses 19-47. Beginning with verse 30, read these concluding verses with particular care. As you reach verse 39, what are your thoughts on this statement, based on the context of the passage? I will be discussing it is some detail…next Saturday.

February 7: 1 Peter 1:12, 25, etc

Having discussed Paul’s use of the eu)aggel- word group in the previous notes, it is necessary to supplement that discussion with a brief survey of occurrences in the letters where authorship is disputed. After this, we will survey the remainder of the New Testament evidence.

Usage in the disputed Pauline Letters

Colossians and Ephesians are often regarded as pseudonymous by many critical commentators. For my part, I consider Colossians to be authentically Pauline (on objective grounds), without any real reservation; however, I must admit to a little doubt in the case of Ephesians, where there appears to be more evidence for unusual wording and the development of (Pauline) thought and expression. In any case, the noun eu)agge/lion occurs twice in Colossians, in expanded expressions:

  • Col 1:5—”the account of the truth of the good message” (o( lo/go$ th=$ a)lhqei/a$ tou= eu)agge/liou):
    “…through the hope th(at is) being laid away for you in the heavens, of which you heard before in the account of the truth of the good message th(at is com)ing to be alongside unto you, even as it also is bearing fruit in all the world…” (vv. 5-6)
  • Col 1:23—”the hope of the good message” (h( e)lpi\$ tou= eu)agge/liou):
    “…if (indeed) you remain (well-)founded upon the trust and settled (down), and not being stirred over (away) from the hope of the good message which you heard, th(at) is being proclaimed among every (creature) formed (by God) under the heaven…”

It is possible that this reflects a development of the Pauline mode of expression. Certainly it is a more expansive kind of statement than we typically see in Paul’s letters, though rooted in his own style and vocabulary. For the expression “truth of the Gospel”, see Gal 2:5, 14; “hope of the Gospel” does not occur elsewhere in the letters, but cf. Rom 5:2ff; 8:24-25; Gal 5:5; 1 Thess 1:3, etc. The phrasing in Col 1:5 is quite close to Eph 1:13, and involves the critical questions of authorship and the relationship between the two letters. The noun eu)agge/lion itself occurs four times in Ephesians (1:13; 3:6; 6:15, 19), and the verb eu)aggeli/zomai twice (2:17; 3:8). Even scholars who believe Ephesians is pseudonymous must admit that it is derived and inspired by authentic Pauline tradition and expression:

  • Eph 1:13: “the account of the truth, the good message of your salvation”; cf. Col 1:5 (above). Vv. 13-14 represents a more systematic theological formulation.
  • Eph 2:17: “he [i.e. Jesus] brought the good message (of) peace to you the (one)s far (off), and (also) peace to the (one)s (who are) near”. This statement utilizes traditional language (cf. Acts 10:36 and the prior note), and does not reflect the technical Christian meaning of eu)aggeli/zomai as “preach the Gospel”.
  • Eph 3:6 and 8. The first half of chapter 3 (vv. 1-13) presents a detailed summary of Paul’s view regarding his role as minister of the Gospel (to the Gentiles), fully in keeping with what is expressed in his other letters, though not in such a clear and systematic manner as we find here. Verse 6 states concisely the Pauline doctrine that Gentile believers are heirs together (and equally so) to the promises God made to Israel, which are fulfilled for believers in Christ. This takes place “through the good message” (dia\ tou= eu)aggeli/ou). In verse 8, Paul declares once again that he was appointed by God “to bring the good message”.
  • Eph 6:15 and 19, where we find two developed Pauline expressions: “the good message of peace” (v. 15) and “the secret [musth/rion] of the good message” (v. 19, cf. Rom 16:25; Col 1:26-27, and earlier in Eph 3:6.

The Pastoral letters are also generally considered to be pseudonymous by critical scholars (and even some traditional-conservative commentators). The greatest doubt surrounds 1 Timothy (which has the largest concentration of unusual vocabulary and expression), while, in my view, 2 Timothy appears to be authentically Pauline (on objective grounds). The noun eu)agge/lion occurs 3 times in 2 Timothy (1:8, 10; 2:8) and corresponds entirely with Paul’s usage of the word. The expanded expression in 1 Timothy 1:11 is more unusual: “…the good message of the splendor of the blessed God”.

1 Peter and the rest of the New Testament

The eu)aggel- word group occurs 12 more times in the New Testament: the noun eu)agge/lion twice (1 Pet 4:17; Rev 14:6), the verb eu)aggelizomai seven times (Heb 4:2, 6; 1 Pet 1:12, 25; 4:6; Rev 10:7; 14:6), and the derived noun eu)aggelisth/$ three times (Acts 21:8; Eph 4:11; 2 Tim 4:5). The largest concentration (4) occur in two passages of 1 Peter.

1 Peter 1:12, 25

1 Peter 1:3-12 is essentially a single long introductory sentence, climaxing in verse 12, with the key declaration that the death and resurrection of Jesus (and its saving effect) was first revealed to the Prophets, and then subsequently made known to people (believers) through the Gospel:

“…the(se thing)s which now were given up as a message to you through the (one)s bringing the good message to you [in] the holy Spirit…”

The parallel between Prophets and Apostles (i.e. preachers of the good message) was traditional in early Christianity, with both groups seen as uniquely inspired, moved by the Spirit. There is similar traditional language used in the next section of the letter, the exhortation in vv. 13-25, which concludes with an important expository sequence:

  • The declaration in verse 23:
    “your trust and hope (is) to be unto God {v. 21}…having come to be (born) again, not out of decaying seed, but (out of seed) without decay, through the living word [lo/go$] of God (that is) also remaining (in you)”
  • The paraphrased quotation from Isa 40:6-8 in vv. 24-25a, which ends with a similar statement:
    “…but the utterance [r(h=ma] of the Lord remains into the Age” (cf. Isa 40:8b)
  • The statement in verse 25b identifying the eternal “word of the Lord” with the “good message” proclaimed by the apostles:
    “and this is the utterance being brought as a good message unto you”

In the previous note, I argued that the words lo/go$ (“account”) and r(h=ma (“utterance”) were more primitive, earlier terms for the Gospel message than eu)agge/lion. In Acts 10:36-37a, where the early message (kerygma) is proclaimed during Peter’s sermon-speech to the household of Cornelius, both of these words are used in tandem, along with the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, just as we see here; indeed, the declaration in vv. 36-37a introduces the Gospel. The use of eu)aggeli/zomai there does not refer to the preaching of the Gospel in the technical sense used by early Christians. We are, perhaps, closer to that here; certainly, there is distinct theological (interpretive) development at work. We may be able to trace this development by working backward in the syntax of this passage:

    • the eternal, undecaying seed which brings new life for the believer; this “seed”, which dwells and grows in the believer is elsewhere identified with the Spirit (of God and Christ)
      • this seed is identified as the living “word” [lo/go$] of God
        • it is part of the eternal creative power associated with the spoken word (“utterance”, r(h=ma) of God
          • lo/go$ (“account”) and r(h=ma (“utterance”) were both terms used by the first Christians to refer to the proclamation of the Gospel (kerygma)
            • the early/first preaching of the message of Jesus by the apostles, bringing “good news” (vb. eu)aggeli/zomai)

The occurrences in 1 Peter 4:6, 17, and the rest of the New Testament, will be discussed in the next daily note.

February 6: Acts 10:36; 15:7, etc

Before concluding this series of daily notes on the “gospel” (eu)aggel-) word group, it is worth examining the usage in the book of Acts, as a supplement to the earlier notes on the Gospel of Luke (on 4:18 and 7:22). Nearly all commentators agree that the book of Acts was written by the same author (trad. Luke) as the Gospel, so it would stand to reason that much, if not most, of the vocabulary was similar. However, a careful study of the sermon-speeches in Acts would seem to confirm that, at the very least, the author has preserved authentic traditions and elements from the earliest Christian preaching. This must be considered in any study of the use of the eu)aggel- word group in Acts.

I noted previously that the use of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai is distinctively Lukan: it occurs 10 times in the Gospel of Luke, and only once in all the other Gospels combined (at Matt 11:5, part of a “Q” tradition shared by Luke [7:22]). A number of these occurrences (cf. my earlier note for a breakdown) clearly reflect Lukan composition, being found in summary narration that is characterized by the author’s distinctive language and style. The same is true, and even more so, in the book of Acts, where the verb is found fifteen (15) times, and nearly all in Lukan summary narration—5:42; 8:4, 12, 25, 35, 40; 11:20; 14:7, 21; 15:35; 16:10; 17:18. This then, demonstrates again the author’s predilection for the word (writing c. 70 A.D.), and tells us relatively little about earlier Christian usage. However, the verb does occur three times in the context of the speeches (10:36; 13:32; 14:15), and so we must consider seriously the possibility that the speakers themselves (Peter, Paul) made use of the verb (or the underlying Hebrew/Aramaic rc^B*, “bring [good] news”). Let us briefly consider each of these passages:

Acts 10:36

This is part of Peter’s sermon-speech to the household of Cornelius, and should be compared with the earlier sermon-speeches in chapters 2-5 (analyzed in my series “The Speeches of Acts”, to be posted here). I would maintain that, whatever Lukan character these speeches have in their literary form (i.e. in the book of Acts), they preserve authentic examples of early kerygma (proclamation/preaching of the Gospel). This early “good message” was extremely brief and presented in a simple narrative format. For Peter’s speech in chapter 10, verses 37b-41 (+ 42b-43) comprise the Gospel message. There is relatively little theological content, and essentially no developed Christology at all. The emphasis is on:

    • An outline of Jesus’ life, beginning with the preaching of John the Baptist (i.e. the primitive Gospel narrative)
    • The death, and resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus by God (to a position in heaven), and
    • The impending (end-time) Judgment, to be inaugurated by Jesus in his role as Anointed One (and heavenly “Son of Man”)

To this is added a pair of key themes found in the earliest preaching: (a) his appearance as the Anointed One was prophesied in the Scriptures (v. 43a), and (b) trusting in him leads to forgiveness of sin (v. 43b). By all accounts, this was the earliest “good message” (Gospel), and is more or less accurately preserved in the book of Acts. This helps us to evaluate the use of eu)aggeli/zomai in verse 36, at the very start of the kerygma:

“He [i.e. God] se(n)t forth th(is) account [lo/go$] to the sons of Yisrael, bringing (the) good message (of) peace through Yeshua (the) Anointed, that (one who) is Lord of all, (and) you have seen this utterance [r(h=ma] coming to be (made known) down (through) the whole of Yehudah…” (vv. 36-37a)

It is important to note that the “Gospel” as such is not referred to with the noun eu)agge/lion, but with the word lo/go$ (“account”), understood as a spoken message or announcement (r(h=ma, “[something] uttered, utterance”). Moreover, unlike the Lukan use of the verb eu)aggeli/zomai, where it clearly refers to the preaching of the Gospel in a technical (Christian) sense, its use here (by Peter) seems to have a rather different meaning, indicated by the use of ei)rh/nh (“peace”) as a direct object. In other words, peace is proclaimed as a good message. This would seem to go back to the most common (original) context of the eu)aggel- word group—the good news of the outcome of battle, the resolution of military conflict, the removal of danger for the public, etc (cf. the earlier note). The Hebrew <olv* has a somewhat wider range of meaning than Greek ei)rh/nh—it often refers to health, welfare, well-being, etc, in a more general sense. The removal of sin (cf. the previous note) eliminates the hostility between humankind and God, and saves believers from the impending Judgment (i.e., the “anger” of God, cf. Rom 1:18ff).

Acts 13:32

Here the context is Paul’s sermon-speech in Pisidian Antioch, which resembles Peter’s Pentecost speech of chapter 2 in many important ways. This similarity probably reflects a measure of Lukan editing, but it may also indicate that, by the time of Paul’s ministry in Antioch (c. 46-47 A.D.?), there was a relatively well-established outline and format to Gospel preaching, at least within a Jewish setting. Paul uses the verb eu)aggeli/zomai in much the same was as Peter in chap. 10 (above). Here, however, the emphasis is not on God as the source of the “good message”, but, rather, on Paul (and his fellow ministers) as messengers bringing the good news. This is an emphasis found frequently in Paul’s letters, as we have seen. In Peter’s speech, the verb was used at the start of the kerygma; here it occurs after, at the conclusion:

“And we bring (as) a good message to you the message coming to be upon (it) toward the Fathers, that God has fulfilled this to us their offspring…” (vv. 32-33a)

This immediately precedes Paul’s exposition/demonstration of the Gospel (through citation and interpretation of Scripture) in vv. 33b-37, and his exhortation in vv. 38-39ff. These two components are directly parallel to the two parts of 10:43 in Peter’s speech (cf. above). It must be admitted that Paul’s use of eu)aggeli/zomai is closer to Luke’s (as well as to Paul’s own in the letters), yet it still does not correspond entirely to the technical meaning that attached to the word group among early Christians. Instead, the Gospel (i.e. the “account”, or kerygma) is identified, in a particular way, with the message (e)paggeli/a), or “promise” made by God to Israel and the Patriarchs. The association is primarily Messianic, but also is connected with the forgiveness of sin. Both of these aspects are developed by Paul in his letters.

Acts 14:15

The third occurrence of the verb in the speeches of Acts is Paul’s brief sermon-speech in Lystra (14:15-17); as in Peter’s chapter 10 speech, the use of eu)aggeli/zomai precedes the proclamation proper:

“Men, (for) what [i.e. why] are you do(ing) these (thing)s? Indeed, we are men (who) suffer similarly with you, (and are) bringing a good message to you: to turn away from these empty (thing)s, (and back) upon the living God…”

This is the first sermon-speech in Acts address to a Gentile (non-Jewish) audience, and, in these speeches, Paul appears to frame the kerygma rather differently, beginning with a declaration of the falseness (“emptiness”) of the ancient polytheistic religion. In this regard, the Lystra speech foreshadows the great Athens speech in chapter 17. This use of eu)aggeli/zomai is a bit closer to Paul’s usage of the verb in his letters, but still, it seems to me, is a distance removed from the technical early Christian terminology. Here the essence of the “good message” is the opportunity for humankind to turn away from false conceptions of God, and the sinfulness which that entails (expounded vividly by Paul in Romans 1:18-32). It does not refer, per se, to the act of proclaiming the Gospel; it is still “good news” in a more general sense.

Acts 15:7; 20:24

Finally, we should note two occurrences of the noun eu)agge/lion, which otherwise does not appear in the Gospel of Luke. Both occurrences are in speeches, suggesting that, at least at those points, neither Lukan composition or editing is directly involved. In other words, the use of the noun likely derives from historical tradition, and/or any sources used by Luke in recording the speeches. The first instance is from the short speech by Peter at the Jerusalem conference of chapter 15, an episode central to the book of Acts. It draws upon the scene with Cornelius, during which (according to the narrative) Peter made use of the related verb. The parallel use of the noun here could be seen as confirmation that the usage derives from authentic tradition (as opposed to Lukan composition). This authenticity, in my view, receives further confirmation from the expression “the account [lo/go$] of the good message”: “…(that) the nations (were) to hear the account of the good message and to trust” (v. 7b). It would seem that the word lo/go$ (“account”) reflects more primitive early Christian (apostolic) terminology.

When we turn to Acts 20:24, we move closer to Paul’s use of the word in his letters—as the message about who Jesus is and what God has done through him. This deeper theological connotation is shown by the expanded expression “the good message of the favor of God” (to\ eu)agge/lion th=$ xa/rito$ tou= qeou=). At the same time, we have the familiar Pauline use of the eu)aggel- word group to describe and characterize his ministry: as a messenger bringing the good news of Jesus. In the context of the narrative, this speech was given at Miletus to the elders of the congregations of Ephesus; at the historical level, this would have taken place in the late 50’s A.D., roughly contemporary with the letters of 1-2 Corinthians, Romans, and (probably) Galatians. It is the last occurrence of the eu)aggel- word group in Acts, and certainly indicates a notable development in meaning and theological significance, comparable to what we find in the letters.

February 5: 2 Cor 4:3-4, etc

In the previous note, on 1 Cor 15:1-2, as well as the earlier note on Rom 1:1, 16, etc, I discussed how Paul, in his letters, only rarely expounds the theological aspects of the term eu)agge/lion. Most prominently this is done throughout the main body of Romans (the probatio, 1:18-11:36). There are, however, a few other passages where it is touched on—notably, in 1 Cor 15:1-2, and 2 Cor 4:3-4, which we will examine below.

It may be worth recalled the background of the eu)aggel– word group (and the corresponding root rcb in Hebrew/Aramaic). It was often used in the context of (good) news involving the outcome of a battle, or other public action (by the ruler/government) related to public welfare and protection; however, the military aspect—victory in battle, deliverance from danger—was prominent. Interestingly, there is little indication that this context (or connotation) was primary for the earliest Christians in their use of the word group. The main influence, as I discussed, was from the use of the verb rc^B*/eu)aggeli/zw in several key passages of (Deutero-)Isaiah, most notably 40:9; 52:7; 60:6, and, especially, 61:1. In these oracles, the idea of “good news” is tied to the future/end-time restoration of God’s people (the faithful remnant of Israel). The passages came to have a marked eschatological and Messianic sense—especially Isa 40:3ff and 61:1ff as they appear in the Gospel tradition, and as used by John the Baptist and Jesus himself. This eschatological/Messianic dimension appears to have shaped the earliest Christian usage of eu)agge/lion and the verb eu)aggeli/zomai; in this regard, the “good message” may be summarized as follows:

  • Jesus is the Anointed One sent by God, whose appearance was promised/prophesied in the Scriptures
  • Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has exalted him to the divine/heavenly status and position as Son of God; at the same time the exalted Christ is also identified with the “Son of Man” savior-figure who will appear at the end-time
  • The faithful ones—identified as those trusting in Jesus—will be saved/rescued from the end-time Judgment that is about to come upon humankind

For the earliest Christians, salvation was fundamentally eschatological—being saved from the end-time Judgment. Paul very much followed this emphasis, as we can see from the opening of the probatio (1:18ff); that is to say, he begins his exposition of the Gospel with a warning of the anger (o)rgh/) of God that is about to be revealed upon all sin and wickedness in the world. This is the end-time Judgment that Paul declares so succinctly in the Athens speech of Acts 17: “…He established a day in which He is about to judge the inhabited (world) in (His) justice” (v. 31).

However, Paul’s understanding of salvation was certainly not limited to this eschatological aspect. More than any other New Testament author (or speaker), it is Paul who also defines salvation fundamentally in terms of deliverance from the power of sin. Interestingly, though, this understanding is presented in detail only in a few passages. By far, the most prominent and clearest presentation occurs in chapters 5-8 of Romans. After the eschatological warning of 1:18-32, Paul, in chapters 2-4 of the letter, argues vigorously for the proposition that all human beings—Jew and non-Jew alike—are justified (“made right”) in God’s eyes, and thus are saved, only (and entirely) through trust in the “good message” of Jesus Christ. The old covenant and observance of the Torah does not lead to salvation in any sense; quite the opposite, in Paul’s view (his view on the Torah is discussed in detail in the series “The Law and the New Testament”, soon to be posted here). But what, exactly, does this salvation entail? From Paul’s standpoint there are two principal, related aspects for the believer, which follow, as a necessary consequence, from the eschatological aspect:

  • Believers in Christ are saved from the coming Judgment
    however, since the Judgment is due to sin and wickedness, it is first necessary that human beings be freed from sin, for which there is a dual aspect:
    • (1) We are cleansed from sin, and
    • (2) We are freed from the power of sin

The first aspect is central to the very earliest preaching, going back to John the Baptist, Jesus, and the first apostles (Mark 1:4-5, 15 par; Matt 3:2; Acts 2:38; 3:26, etc). It is tied to the ritual of baptism, and is associated with the role (and presence) of the Holy Spirit. The second aspect, on the other hand, is more distinctly Pauline, informing the soteriology expressed by Paul in his letters. And he expresses the idea of the power of sin in various ways. In Romans 5ff, for example, sin is personified as tyrant, a conqueror who enslaves the population. All of humankind is in bondage to the ruling power of Sin. However, the sacrificial death (and resurrection) of Jesus perfectly and totally reverses this situation, freeing from bondage (to sin) all who trust in him.

Much of this same basic idea may be found in Paul’s declaration regarding the Gospel in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 which I will now discuss briefly.

2 Corinthians 4:3-4

In this passage, Paul personifies sin and evil in a different way, using the expression “the god of this Age” (o( qeo\$ tou= ai)w=no$ tou/tou). Like many Jews and Christians of the time, Paul held the fundamental worldview that the current Age was thoroughly wicked, dominated by sin and evil. This was related to a dualistic mode of thinking common to the eschatology of the period—i.e., a contrast between “This Age” and “the Coming Age”, which will be ushered in by God at the Judgment. The current Age (and world-order, ko/smo$) was seen as sinful/evil and opposed to God; Paul expresses this dualism just as forcefully as the Johannine writings, if not through such distinctive use of the word ko/smo$. Rather, Paul tends to use the word ai)w/n (“life[time], period of time, age”); it occurs, in a negative (and contrastive) sense, in 1 Cor 1:20; 2:6ff; 3:18; Rom 12:2; Gal 1:4; also Eph 2:2. The word ko/smo$ (“world[-order]”) is used in a similar way in Gal 4:3, 9; Col 2:8, 20; 1 Cor 3:19, etc. In Gal 1:4, he uses the expression “the evil Age (that) has been set in (place)”. In referring to the “god” (qeo/$) of this Age, Paul presumably has in mind the Satan (or ‘Devil’) and various unclean/evil (“demon”) powers which God has allowed to exercise influence and control over the world (cf. 1 Cor 15:24; Gal 4:8-9; Col 2:8-10; 2 Thess 2:9; Eph 2:2, etc).

Here in 2 Cor 4:3-4, the power of sin, wielded/controlled by “the god of this Age”, is described in terms of a darkness which blinds the eyes of human beings (cf. 2 Thess 2:9-12). This, of course, is another way of referring to humanity as being in bondage to sin (note the play on bondage/blindness in Isa 61:1 MT/LXX, discussed in the earlier note). The dualism of Light vs. Darkness is natural and was widespread in the ancient world; Paul makes use of it, though not so thoroughly as the Johannine writings and discourses of Jesus do. The entire section of 3:7-4:6 develops the theme of seeing and revelation (vb. a)pokalu/ptw, literally “take the cover [away] from”, “uncover”). Believers in Christ are able, through trust, and through the Spirit, to see the glory/splendor (do/ca) of God in a way that was impossible (even for Moses) under the Old Covenant. Here in 4:3-4, the implication is that it is the very Gospel message (eu)agge/lion) that illumines believers and allows us to see the glory of God in the person of Jesus.

Salvation—freeing believers from the power of sin—is thus described in terms of (1) dispelling the darkness and (2) restoring sight to the blind. In the Gospel tradition, the association of the Gospel with recovery of sight (by way of Isa 61:1 LXX), was taken literally, being fulfilled in the healing miracles of Jesus (cf. the note on Lk 7:22 par). Paul, however, understands this symbolically, in a spiritual sense—the “good message” of Christ does away with the blinding power of sin (for a similar development, or interpretation, see John 9). There is then an absolute contrast between believer and non-believer in this regard:

“But if our good message is covered (up), it is covered (up) among the (one)s going away to ruin, (among) the (one)s whom the god of this Age (has) blinded the minds, the (one)s without trust, unto (there being) [i.e. so there would be] no shining forth of the good message of the splendor of the Anointed (One), who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:3-4)

Note the conceptual structure, which may be outlined as a chiasm:

  • the good message
    • is covered up
      • the ones going away to ruin (i.e. lost, perishing)
        • the message is covered up/over for them
          • the Age of sin and evil (“god of this Age”)
        • their minds are blinded
      • the ones without trust (in Jesus)
    • it does not shine forth
  • the good message

This structure helps to demonstrate how and why many do not respond to the Gospel—it involves a complex dynamic between the reigning power of sin and the person’s ability/willingness to trust in the Gospel. Paul details a similar sort of dynamic in Romans 7. It is also worth noting the significance of the double use of eu)agge/lion that brackets this passage:

    • the good message [eu)agge/lion] that is proclaimed by Paul and his fellow ministers (v. 3a)
    • the good message [eu)agge/lion] characterized as being that which reveals (“shines forth”) the splendor of the Anointed (do/ca tou= Xristou=), the Messiah Jesus being further described as “the image of God” (ei)kw\n tou= qeou=) (v. 4b)

Thus the common/traditional (early Christian) usage of the term eu)agge/lion is transformed into a powerful Christological statement, about who Jesus is in relation to God the Father. Through this, Paul effectively explains his earlier declaration in Rom 1:16, that the good message is “the power of God unto salvation”. It is just this Christological statement in 2 Cor 4:3-4, which, in turn, frees believers from “the power of sin.”

February 4: 1 Cor 15:1-2, etc

If we look at the remaining occurrences of the eu)aggel- word group in the Pauline corpus, especially in the undisputed letters (of 1-2 Corinthians, Philippians, and Philemon), we find two main themes which continue (and develop) the usage examined thus far in 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, and Romans:

    1. Paul (and his fellow ministers/apostles) as chosen messengers, i.e. chosen (by God) to proclaim the “good message”, and
    2. The religious identity of believers defined by the “good message” which they heard and received

These two aspects bind believers together with Paul (and the other ministers) in a special bond of unity. This is expressed variously by Paul in these letters, both where he is attempting to resolve points of conflict with the congregations to whom he is writing, and also as a way of exhorting believers to support him in his labors and to join with him in suffering on behalf of the Gospel. Here is a summary of these references:

Clearly, the noun is more frequently used by Paul than the verb (as we have already seen). The specific expression “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}” also appears to be distinctively Pauline (1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12; 9:13; 10:14; Phil 1:27, as in 1 Thess 3:2; Rom 15:19; Gal 1:7; cf. also 2 Thess 1:8; Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 4:4).

What stands out is how well-established the meaning of the noun eu)agge/lion, especially, is for Paul (and his audience) at the time these letters were written (c. 50-60 A.D.). For the most part, Paul makes no attempt to explain his use of the word; moreover, there is rather clearly a range of theological (and Christological) associations present with the use of eu)agge/lion which, likewise, it was not necessary to clarify. Only in Galatians and Romans does Paul feel the need to expound the term, and for somewhat different reasons:

    • In Galatians, Paul is addressing views of other (Jewish) Christians regarding the religious identity of believers in Christ—that is, whether such identity was defined entirely by faith in Jesus Christ, or also involved observance of the Torah. Paul argues vigorously for the former position, while his Jewish-Christian ‘opponents’ took the latter view. Paul characterizes their view as a “different Gospel” (Gal 1:6-7, cf. also 2 Cor 11:4).
    • In Romans, Paul is writing to believers who, for the most part, were unfamiliar with his preaching and theological outlook. In 1:15, he states his eagerness “to bring the good message” to them, even though they are already believers. As I mentioned in the previous note, chapters 1-11 of Romans could be described fairly as Paul’s definitive exposition of what he means by the term “good message” (eu)agge/lion).

In the prior note, I discussed Paul’s central declaration in Rom 1:16, where he states that the “good message” (Gospel) is “the power of God unto salvation”. It is really only in Romans that Paul goes over thoroughly what this means, though it certainly would have been implied elsewhere by his use of the term (above). From a rhetorical standpoint, in the body of the letter (the probatio, 1:18-11:36), Paul presents various lines of argument to “prove” the proposition (propositio) of 1:16-17, using just about every literary/rhetorical device and approach at his disposal. By studying these sections of Romans carefully, we can begin to fill out the important soteriological dimension of the eu)aggel- word group for Paul (and for other early Christians as well).

To supplement such a study (which I encourage you to take), I would point out two other passages in the undisputed letters, where theological and soteriological aspects of eu)agge/lion are brought out. The first of these is 1 Corinthians 15:1-2.

1 Corinthians 15:1-2

Here, in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, at the beginning of a paraenetic (instruction) section, dealing with the question of the (end-time) resurrection, Paul exhorts his readers, including a summary declaration regarding the “good message”:

“I would make known to you, brothers, the good message [to\ eu)agge/lion] which I brought as a good message [eu)aggelisa/mhn] to you, which (indeed) you received alongside [parela/bete], (and) in which also you have stood [e)sth/kate], through which also you are saved [sw/|zesqe], by what account [i.e. lo/go$] I brought as a good message, if you hold down (onto it), if indeed you (have) not trusted (in it) futilely.”

In many ways, this serves as an excellent summary of Pauline theology; each phrase could be isolated and treated as a specific chapter in a detailed theological study. Here I wish to focus on the central phrases which qualify the “good message” (presented emphatically by doubling of noun and verb together). First note the overall structure:

  • “…the good message” (to\ eu)agge/lion), followed by a sequence of simple relative clauses:
    • “which [o^] I brought as a good message [eu)aggelisa/mhn] to you”—i.e. Paul’s proclamation
    • “which also [o^ kai] you received alongside [parela/bete]”
    • “in which also [e)n w!| kai] you have stood [e(sth/kate]”
    • “through which also [di’ ou! kai] you are saved [sw/|zesqe]”
      • “by what account [lo/go$] I brought as a good message to you…”

Of the four relative clauses, the first two form a pair, both syntactically and conceptually:

    • “which I brought as a good message”—Paul’s role as messenger, proclaiming the Gospel
    • “which…you received alongside”—the Corinthian believers’ response to the message; the verb paralamba/nw (“take/receive along[side]”) implies acceptance and the bringing of someone/something in close

Similarly, the last two clauses form a pair:

    • “in [e)n] which…you have stood”
    • “through [dia/] which…you are saved”

Each statement represents an aspect of the effect that receiving the good message has on believers, utilizing a different preposition and verbal tense. The first statement uses the preposition e)n (“in”) with the verb i%sthmi (“stand”)—believers stand in the good message of Christ. Paul tends to use this verb in relation to the trust/faith (pi/sti$) of believers (Rom 11:20; 14:4; 1 Cor 10:12; 2 Cor 1:24). A careful study of these (and other) passages reveals the core Pauline idea that, as believers, we trust primarily in the favor (xa/ri$) God has shown in what He has done for us through the person and work of Jesus (cf. Rom 5:2). This is expressed more directly by the second clause, using the preposition dia/ (“through”) and the verb sw/|zw (“save”). We are saved through the good message, together with all that it entails.

Interestingly, the first verb is in the perfect tense (“you have been saved”), while the second is in the present (“you are [being] saved”). We might rather have expected the opposite—i.e., “you have been saved”, and now “you stand”. This, however, reflects a different understanding (or aspect) of salvation. Modern-day Christians tend to think of “being saved” as something which happens to an individual at a particular (past) moment in time (i.e., when a person come to believe/accept Christ). By contrast, early believers in the first-century tended to view salvation primarily as something which was to occur in the future—specifically being saved from the coming (end-time) Judgment. Paul, in particular, added to this a most distinctive soteriological aspect, one expressed elsewhere in the New Testament, but never so clearly than it was by Paul: that believers are (even in the present) saved/rescued from the power of sin in the world that currently holds humankind in bondage. This point will be discussed further in the next daily note.

February 3: Romans 1:1, 16, etc

The letter to the Romans is probably the best known of Paul’s surviving letters, for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the comprehensive theological argument that is developed and expounded throughout the first 11 chapters. It may also be fair to say that these chapters represent the definitive exposition of what Paul means when he uses the word eu)agge/lion. It thus will prove useful to rely on Romans for a clear understanding of the Pauline meaning and significance of the eu)aggel- word group. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the noun occurs at both the beginning and the end of chapters 1-11, showing its importance as a key word and thematic reference point for the letter. The noun is used 3 times in the opening verses of chapter 1 (vv. 1, 9, 16, and again at 2:16), while the verb is used once in context (v. 15). Then, in chapters 10-11, at the close of the main body of the letter (probatio) the noun occurs twice (10:16; 11:28), and the verb again once (in context, 10:15). We can be fairly certain, I think, that this usage gives us the clearest sense of the meaning of the word group at the time of Paul’s writing (mid-late 50s A.D.), and how it had come to be developed in his thought.

Romans 1:1

Here in the opening words (prescript) of the letter, Paul introduces something of his own well-developed usage of the word eu)agge/lion. There are two aspects to be seen here immediately, which have already been discussed in the previous notes: (1) Paul as a chosen messenger and (2) God as the source of the “good message”, that it relates to what He has brought about for humankind through Jesus Christ. The phrasing brings this out:

“Paulus, a slave of the Anointed Yeshua, called (as one) se(nt) forth [i.e. an apostle], having been separated unto the good message of God (v. 1), which He gave forth as a message… (v. 2) about His Son… (v. 3)”

We can see the sequential structure:

  • Paul…called…separated
    • unto the good message of God
      • which He gave forth as a message…
        • about His Son…

As messenger of the Gospel, Paul is bringing to people a message from God, a message (about Jesus) which is rooted in the Sacred Writings (esp. the Prophetic oracles). The relative pronoun (o^, “which”) at the beginning of the verse 2 clause (vv. 1-7 making up a single long sentence in Greek) serves to explicate and summarize just what this “good message” from God actually is. As noted above, this is done throughout the entirety of chapters 1-11, but begins here in the prescript of the letter (1:1-7), is mentioned again in the exordium (1:8-15, v. 9), and then in the main proposition (propositio, vv. 16-17). The wording here in vv. 1-3ff corresponds with the three distinct expressions, using the noun eu)agge/lion, which we outlined in the prior note on 1 Thessalonians:

    • my/our good message”—the message entrusted to Paul and his fellow ministers to proclaim
    • “the good message of God“—a subjective genitive, indicating God as source (used here in v. 1)
    • “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}“—an objective genitive, referring to the content of the message

This content is summarized in vv. 3-4, which are thought by many commentators to represent an older creedal formula adopted by Paul. It reflects a somewhat earlier point of Christological development, such as expressed in the sermon-speeches in the first half of the book of Acts, and, for example, in the core Gospel (Synoptic) Tradition. The two principal points of this Christology are: (1) Jesus is the Anointed One (Messiah, prim. the Davidic ruler figure-type) who has appeared on earth, and (2) with the resurrection, God exalted him to a position in heaven, according to which he can be understood as Son of God. To this, Paul adds the result of Jesus’ death and resurrection:

“…through whom we received (the) favor (of God) and (our be)ing se(n)t forth…among all the nations, over [i.e. on behalf of] his name, among whom you also are called of Yeshua (the) Anointed” (vv. 5-6)

This is the essence of the message proclaimed by the early apostolic preaching (by Peter, and others), emphasizing both: (a) the favor (or grace) that comes through Jesus, and (b) that the early believers were chosen to be apostles (one sent forth by God [and Jesus]) to proclaim the message to others. This latter point is developed by Paul in the introduction (exordium), where the verb katagge/llw is used (v. 8), and the expression “the good message of His Son” (v. 9), as also in the closing words of the exordium (v. 15), with the verb eu)aggeli/zomai.

Romans 1:16

The word eu)agge/lion is expounded further in the central proposition (propositio) of the letter in vv. 16-17, where Paul states famously:

“For I do not feel shame upon the good message, for it is the power of God unto salvation for every (one) trusting—for the Yehudean {Jew} first, and (also) for the Greek. For in it the justice/just-ness of God is uncovered, out of trust (and) into trust, even as it has been written, ‘the just (person) will live out of trust’.”

The italicized words give a clear and concise definition of what the good message is:

  • “the power of God”—i.e., God’s power is manifest in and through it, being communicated to those who hear
    • “unto salvation”—the prepositional expression indicated the purpose (and result) of the message
      • “for everyone trusting”—the message brings salvation only for those who trust in it

That this applies to Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) equally is a distinctive Pauline emphasis (though not exclusive to him) and is a major theme of Romans. The statement in verse 17 also reflects Pauline thought and (theological) expression, and is epexegetical here—it further clarifies the proposition in v. 16. A similar structure may be discerned:

    • “the justice/just-ness [dikaiosu/nh] of God…”
      • “…unto/into trust”
        • (everyone trusting will live): “…the just will live out of trust”

This is not the place to attempt a detailed exegesis of this powerful and profound declaration (itself an interpretation of Habakkuk 2:4), only to state here that it is a fundamental theological proposition of Paul’s, and that he spends the better part of Romans expounding it (especially in chapters 2-4). In literary and theological terms, he is doing very much what he expressed in 1:15: “…to bring the good message also to you the (one)s in Rome”.

Romans 10:15-16

At the end of the main body (probatio) of the letter, we find the famous (and controversial) chapters 9-11 on the place of Israel in God’s plan of salvation. For the first (and only) time in Paul’s surviving letters, he addresses the problematic question of how it is that so many of God’s chosen people (Israel) have rejected or failed to respond to the Gospel. The point of difficulty is summarized in verses 15-16 of chapter 10. First, Paul refers to himself (and his fellow ministers) again as ones chosen to proclaim the good message, citing Isaiah 52:7, one of the key (Deutero-)Isaian passages in which the verb eu)aggeli/zw is used in the Greek (cf. my earlier note). The early believers (including apostles such as Paul) fulfilled this passage as messengers bringing the good news to all people, and yet much of Israel did, or would, not accept the message, as Paul states in verse 16: “but not all heard under [i.e. responded to, heeded] the good message”. This rejection effectively turns many/most Jews into “enemies” of the Gospel—

“…according to the good message (they are) enemies through [i.e. because of] you” (11:28a)

which seems to be in direct contrast to their status as God’s chosen people:

“…but according to the gathering out (they are one)s loved through [i.e. because of] the Fathers” (v. 28b)

Paul’s attempt to explain and reconcile this apparent contradiction in chapters 9-11 is highly complex, and his line of argument, and how it can/should be interpreted, remains much discussed (and disputed) by commentators today. What is important to note here is how the “good message” (eu)agge/lion) is central to the religious identity of believers. As in Galatians (cf. the previous note), Paul frames the Jewish-Christian conflict over religious identity in terms of response to the Gospel message.

The eu)aggel- word group occurs four more times in Romans, including three times in the personal exhortation(s) of chapter 15 (vv. 16, 19-20). Paul’s work as minister of the Gospel is expressed three ways, which should by now be familiar:

    • “the good message of God” (v. 16), using the unusual phrase “working as a sacred official [i.e. priest] (for) the good message of God”; on numerous occasions, Paul compares the Gospel ministry to the ancient priesthood
    • “the good message of the Anointed {Christ}” (v. 19), where Paul, referring to the total of his lifetime of ministry, as “to have fulfilled [peplhrwke/nai] the good message of the Anointed”
    • with the verb eu)aggeli/zomai (v. 20)

The noun eu)agge/lion occurs again in the closing words of the letter (16:25ff), which echo the opening sections (cf. on 1:1, 16, etc, above) in wording and theme:

“…according to my good message and the proclamation of Yeshua (the) Anointed, according to the uncovering of the secret having been kept silent for age(-long) times, but shining forth now…”

Note the three parallel expressions, which I have arranged as a chiasm:

    • “my good message”
      • “the proclamation of Yeshua”
    • “the uncovering of the secret”

Paul thus equates the Gospel message which he proclaims with the revelation of a great mystery long kept hidden (by God), and that both—Gospel and Revelation—are identified as proclaiming the truth about Jesus.

Saturday Series: John 3:31-36

John 3:31-36

Last week we looked briefly at John 3:28 (and the parallel sayings in 1:15, 30) in the context of chapter 3. A particular difficulty of interpretation involves the relationship between verses 22-30 and 31-36. Verses 22-30 comprise a specific narrative (and historical tradition) related to John the Baptist and his ministry (I noted the parallels with 1:19-34ff last week). Indeed, the Baptist is the one speaking in vv. 27-30. However, commentators are divided on who the speaker is in verses 31-36. The main reason for the uncertainty lies in the strong similarity of language, thought and expression between vv. 31-36 and the discourse of Jesus in the earlier vv. 10-21. There would seem to be three possibilities which should be considered regarding the true speaker of these verses:

    • It is John the Baptist, continuing from verse 30, as a simple reading of the narrative would indicate.
    • It is Jesus speaking, perhaps part of a discourse like that of vv. 10-21.
    • It is essentially the work of the Gospel writer, repeating the words and ideas expressed by Jesus earlier.

Let us first examine the main points of similarity between vv. 31-36 and the earlier discourse of Jesus (especially vv. 11-21):

    • The use of the word anœthen (“from above”)—v. 31 and 3, 7.
    • Reference to Jesus as “the one coming (down) out of heaven”—v. 31 and 13
    • A contrast between heavely and earthly (i.e. above/below)—v. 31 and 12.
    • The idea of giving witness (the verb martyreœ) to what one “has seen” (eœraken), along with the related idea that people (i.e. in the world at large) do not receive (vb. lambanœ) this witness—v. 32 and 11.
    • The idea/expression of Jesus (the Son) as the one whom the Father sent forth (vb. apostellœ)—v. 34 and 17.
    • The central theme/motif of the Spirit—v. 34 and 5-8.
    • The specific phrase “[every]one trusting in [the Son] has life of the age (i.e. eternal life)”, with a statement regarding the opposite—v. 36 and 15ff.
    • Emphasis on the judgment/anger of God for the one who does not trust—v. 36 and 18.
      Note: In preparing this list I have followed the order given in R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29 (1966), pp. 159-60.

These close parallels make for a strong argument that Jesus and/or the Gospel writer is responsible for vv. 31-36. However, at the same time, there is no clear indication of a change in speaker between verses 30 and 31, and, since it would have been easy enough for the Gospel writer to include such an editorial detail, it seems likely that he is presenting John the Baptist (in the narrative) as the speaker for all of vv. 27-36. The John/Jesus parallelism in 1:19-51 (as well as in the Prologue) makes it likely that a similar parallel structure is at work in chapter 3. Consider the following outline:

    • Encounter/dialogue between Jesus and a Jewish leader (Nicodemus)—vv. 1-10
      • Exposition/Testimony by Jesus about himself—vv. 11-21
    • Encounter/dialogue between the Baptist (along with his disciples) and a Jew—vv. 22-30
      • Exposition/Testimony by the Baptist about Jesus—vv. 31-36

It is possible that this could be a clue to the curious use of the plural verb forms in v. 11—”we see…we speak…we give witness…”. This witness involves both Jesus himself and the earlier/prior testimony of John the Baptist (see 1:7-8, 15, 29-34, 35-36). Ultimately, this witnessing of Jesus (the Son) will extend to his disciples (believers), aided by the presence of the Spirit.

But how exactly does the “testimony” in vv. 31-36 relate to vv. 22-30? Here, I think it is useful to distinguish the components of the passage. I recognize these as follows:

  • Narrative introduction, setting the (historical) scene—vv. 22-24
    Here we have a clear parallel between the work of Jesus’ disciples and the disciples of the Baptist, taking place in close proximity.
  • Testimony of the Baptist: historical tradition and dialogue—vv. 25-30
  • Testimony (of the Baptist): theological exposition—vv. 31-36

John’s testimony in vv. 27-30 is rooted in the historical tradition (compare 1:19-34; Mark 1:7-8 par; Matt 3:11b-12 par), but takes on deeper theological (and Christological) significance in the context of the Fourth Gospel (see the discussion last week). The overriding theme is the superiority of Jesus as the Messiah (and Son of God), and the Johannine understanding of this superiority (and the basis for it) is Christological. Jesus is “the one who has come out of heaven”, whom God Father has sent forth. This is implicit in the Baptist’s saying in verse 27:

“A man is not able to receive anything if it has not been given to him out of heaven”

We should perhaps understand a fourfold-sense to this statement: (1) John’s testimony about Jesus was given to him from God (1:6, 33), (2) Jesus, the very Word of God, has been given (i.e. sent) to humankind, (3) Jesus was given everything he says and does from the Father (i.e. from heaven), and (4) Jesus’ disciples (believers) are given to him by the Father (out of heaven). Senses 1 and 4 are more immediately applicable to verses 22-30, while 2 and 3 apply especially to vv. 31-36. If we are to break down the verbal and thematic structure of verses 31-36, I would suggest the following outline:

  • “The one coming from above is over (and) above all (thing)s, (while) the one being out of [i.e. from] the earth (truly) is out of the earth” (v. 31a)—dualistic contrast between heavenly and earthly, above vs. below.
  • “The one coming out of heaven [(who) is over (and) above all (thing)s] gives witness to this which he has heard, and (yet) no one receives his witness. The one receiving his witness (has) sealed that God is true” (vv. 31b-33)—contrast between Jesus’ witness from heaven and the failure of those on earth to receive it; only those who belong to heaven (believers) receive it.
  • “For the (one) whom God se(n)t forth speaks the utterances [i.e. words] of God, for (it is) not out of measure (that) he gives the Spirit. The Father loves the Son had given all (thing)s in(to) his hand” (vv. 34-35)—these statements establish what God has given to Jesus (the Son) out of heaven.
  • “The one trusting in the Son holds life of the Age [i.e. eternal life]; but the one (be)ing unpersuaded by the Son will not see life, but (rather) the anger of God remains upon him” (v. 36)—the dualistic contrast has shifted to believers (those given by God), and, by contrast, those who are unable/unwilling to believe.

Next week I would like to examine verses 34-36 in more detail, focusing on several key words and phrases (in the Greek) which, I believe, are vital for a proper understanding of the remainder of the Gospel of John. I would ask that you study and meditate on these verses carefully, looking back at the immediate context of chapter 3, and also chapters 1-3 as a whole. Give thought especially to the motif of the giving of the Spirit in vv. 34-35 and the keyword life (zϢ) in v. 36, which are developed in many important ways throughout the Gospel.

And I will see you next Saturday.