Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Pt 2)

Part 2: “Day of the Lord”: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

Having discussed five key eschatological references in 1 and 2 Thessalonians—1 Thess 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 5:23; 2 Thess 1:6-10—in Part 1, along with 1 Thess 2:14-16 (in a special note), we must now examine the main eschatological portion of 1 Thessalonians: the two related sections, 4:13-18 and 5:1-11. These are central to the primary instruction given in the letter—the probatio, using the terminology of rhetorical analysis—in which a main proposition (propositio) is stated, and then expounded through various arguments and illustrations meant to convince (or exhort) the audience. The propositio occurs in 4:1-2, in which Paul urges the Thessalonians to continue in the tradition and instruction given to them, living in a manner worthy of their identity as believers in Christ. The probatio (proving) follows in 4:3-22, and may be divided into six sections:

    • 4:3-8—Ethical instruction: the need to live in a manner befitting believers
    • 4:9-12—Instruction on filadelfi/a: on expressing one’s care for brothers (and sisters) in Christ in daily life
    • 4:13-18—Eschatological instruction: exhortation for believers in light of the end-time
    • 5:1-11—Eschatological instruction: on how believers should conduct themselves in the end-time
    • 5:12-14—Practical instruction: on the need for believers to be engaged in honest work
    • 5:15-22—Miscellaneous instruction, ethical and practical

The two eschatological sections are closely connected, and are at the heart of Paul’s teaching.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

In this first eschatological section, Paul appears to be addressing a specific question or concern, introduced in verse 13:

“But we do not wish you to be without knowledge, brothers, about the (one)s lying down (to sleep), (and) that you should not be in sorrow, even as the (one)s remaining (are), the (one)s not holding hope.”

The verb koima/w (“lie down [to sleep]”) often serves as an idiom for a person dying (i.e. death as “sleep”), and so is used here. The exact issue Paul is addressing has been variously understood. I believe that a proper understanding is based on identifying the two things he wishes would not be so for the Thessalonian believers: (1) to be without knowledge (vb a)gnoe/w), and (2) to be in sorrow (vb lupe/w) over those who have died. In other words, their sorrowing reflects a lack of knowledge. Sadness about those who have died is characteristic of the “remainder” (loipoi/) of humankind—that is, those who are not believers. Such non-believers are said to be “not holding hope”. The word hope (e)lpi/$) occurs frequently in Paul’s letters (36 in the corpus, out of 53 in the NT), and may be understood in a three-fold sense which is fundamentally eschatological:

    • our union with Christ gives us hope for salvation and (eternal) life at the end-time
    • this hope is specifically defined in terms of resurrection from the dead
    • it will soon be realized at the (end-time) appearance of Jesus

All three aspects are involved in establishing the reason why the Thessalonians should not be in sorrow regarding others (i.e. other believers) who have died: (a) they have the promise of salvation and life, (b) they will be raised from the dead, and (c) this will soon occur when Jesus appears. In my view, it is not simply a question of a belief in the resurrection, but that this all will take place very soon. What point is there of being sad over those who have died when their resurrection will soon occur? The three aspects noted above are joined together in Paul’s statement in verse 14:

“For if we trust that Yeshua died away and stood up (again), so also will God bring the (one)s (hav)ing lain down (to sleep), through Yeshua, (together) with him.”

The place of expression “through Yeshua” (dia\  )Ihsou=) is a bit unclear—whether it belongs with “the ones (hav)ing lain down (to sleep)” or “will bring…with him”, or both. I prefer to view it as a semi-independent phrase, expressing the idea of believers’ union with Jesus—in particular, their/our dying and rising with him (cf. Romans 6:3-4, etc). Both our death and resurrection takes place “through Jesus”. Also somewhat ambiguous is the central clause “God will bring…with him”. While this may relate to the idea, further on in vv. 16-17 (cf. below), of believers meeting Jesus in the air, I believe it is better understood in the more fundamental sense of participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God himself brings/leads (vb a&gw) believers through death and into new life, even as he did for Jesus.

The eschatological setting of the resurrection, which Paul connects with the end-time appearance (parousia) of Jesus, is established in verses 15-16 by what Paul says is “a word/account of the Lord” (lo/go$ kuri/ou). We cannot be certain precisely what that means, other than it seems to refer to a tradition that goes back to the words of Jesus himself. There are a number of eschatological sayings and teachings of Jesus preserved in the Gospels, but the most prominent collection is found in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13 par), which I have discussed at length earlier in this series. There is some evidence, seen especially in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, that Paul—probably in common with many early believers—accepted an eschatological framework that is at least roughly similar to that of the Discourse. If so, then the notice here in verse 15 may be an indication that he inherited this from the early Gospel Tradition, identifying it with preserved sayings/teachings by Jesus. In vv. 15-17, Paul is likely paraphrasing or summarizing this traditional teaching for the Thessalonians:

“For this we relate to you, in a word/account of the Lord, that we—the (one)s living (and) remaining about unto [i.e. until] the Lord’s (com)ing to be alongside (us) [parousi/a]—we shall (certainly) not go first (ahead) of the (one)s (hav)ing lain down (to sleep); (for it is) that the Lord (him)self, in (the) shout (to begin), in (the) voice of (the) chief Messenger and in (the sounding of the) trumpet of God, he will step down from heaven, and the dead in (the) Anointed will stand up first, and then at (this) we, the (one)s living (and) remaining about, together (at the same time) with them, we will be seized up in (the) clouds, into a (go)ing away to meet the Lord, into (the) air…”

Some commentators would claim that the issue for the Thessalonians had to do with a concern that believers who died would not meet the returning Jesus at the same time as those who are living. This reads too much into the wording, and, in my view, is not correct. I tend to think that Paul, here, is giving a more detailed explanation of what he may have previously conveyed to the Thessalonians only through more general eschatological statements (cf. the examples from 1-2 Thessalonians in Part 1). Now, in vv. 15-17, he offers a fuller presentation of the tradition, one which reads almost like an exposition of the words of Jesus in the Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13:26-27 par). In this ‘exposition’, I believe Paul is emphasizing several points:

    • That all believers—both living and dead—will be gathered together at the coming of Jesus.
    • That this will essentially happen at the same time, priority being given to the dead only in that they are not alive, and need to be raised before they can join the living believers.
    • For Paul, this is fundamental symbol of our unity—both with Christ and with each other—to be realized fully at the moment of Jesus’ appearance.
    • And, finally, the dramatic narration of this tradition, in the context of 1 Thessalonians, emphasizes again that the coming of Jesus (and, with it, the resurrection) is imminent.

Verse 17 closes with the following declaration: “…and so we will be with the Lord always [pa/ntote]”. Paul gives no indication of anything that is to take place following the meeting of believers with Jesus in the clouds, but the wording generally suggests that they will be taken with him into heaven—the statement concludes with the words “into the air”, without any indication at all of a return back to earth.

This “taking up” of believers into the sky is commonly referred to as “the rapture, from the Latin raptio and the Latin (Vulgate) translation of 1 Thess 4:17. It has come to be a regular part of modern eschatological parlance, often to the point where the original background (and Scriptural basis) for the idea is often ignored, the term having by now taken on a life of its own (“the Rapture”). Modern eschatological discussion is frequently dominated by speculation as to just when this event will occur within various (and often elaborate) end-time schema. Much of this is far removed from the thought world of the New Testament, and early Christian eschatology in general; however, due to its prominence in modern-day eschatology, I have decided to devote a special note to the subject as part of this series.

Paul certainly understood that the coming of Jesus would bring about the great (final) Judgment on humankind, but that aspect of his eschatology is not described here, rather it is the gathering together of believers that is emphasized, as in Mark 13:27 par. The section ends with a final word of exhortation: “As (this is so), you must (also) call one another alongside in [i.e. by/with] these words”.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

If the eschatological instruction in 4:13-18 was meant to encourage believers, that in 5:1-11 has the purpose of exhorting them regarding how they should conduct themselves in this end-time. The imminence of the end, seen throughout the letter (cf. discussion in Part 1), and emphasized again in the previous section, now takes on greater urgency and importance. Paul begins with a question of chronology—an aspect of eschatology that seems to be of perennial concern for Christians. On this point, the relationship between 1 and 2 Thessalonians is of some significance, as to whether: (a) 2 Thessalonians was indeed written by Paul, and (b) if was written prior to 1 Thessalonians or after. This will be discussed in more detail in Part 3 (on 2 Thess 2:1-12), but it must be noted here that, according to 2 Thess 2:1-2, there would seem to have been some confusion, on the part of the Thessalonians, on the relationship between the end-time generally and the specific event/moment known by the expression “the day of the Lord”. Here, in 1 Thess 5:1, Paul refers generally to the chronological dimension of the end-time events:

“But about the periods and moments (of time), brothers, you hold no occasion [i.e. there is no need] (for me) to write to you…”

He pairs together the plural nouns xro/noi and kairoi/; both xro/no$ and kairo/$ essentially refer to “time”, but with a slight difference—xro/no$ tends to indicate a period of time, and kairo/$ a point in time. Probably the words used in tandem here represent a hendiadys (i.e. two terms for one thing), and refer generally to any chronological questions about exactly when the end will come. This “end” more or less corresponds to the “day of the Lord” in 2 Thess 2:1ff—that is, the moment when Jesus appears and the final Judgment comes upon humankind. Paul uses the same expression (“day of the Lord”, h(me/ra kuri/ou) here in verse 2:

“…for you (your)selves have seen [i.e. known] precisely that ‘the day of the Lord so comes as a stealer in (the) night’.”

I think it quite possible that Paul is quoting a proverbial saying (perhaps coming from Jesus, cf. Matt 24:43; Lk 12:39). Clearly the thrust of the saying is that the “day of the Lord” will come at a time when people are, or may be, caught unaware. The middle of the night is a time when people are asleep, but it also reflects a period of darkness. Paul plays on both of these aspects in the exhortation that follows; as such, he cleverly shifts the discussion from interest over when the end will occur, to how the Thessalonian believers ought to think and act while living in the end-time. However, the traditional imagery of the unexpectedness of the end continues to be brought out in verse 3:

“(And) when they should say, ‘peace and security’, then (it is that), without (any) shining forth [a)fni/dio$], destruction [o&leqro$] will stand upon them, just as the pain (that comes) for the (woman) holding (a child) in the womb, and they shall not flee out (of it).”

The comparison with the pains of a woman in giving birth is traditional, symbolic of the suffering of the human condition—especially in association with the coming Judgment at the end-time (Mark 13:8, 17 par), which, in the Gospel narrative is set generally in the context of Jesus’ own suffering and death (cf. Luke 23:28-29; John 16:21). The characteristic of the destruction (esp. of the wicked) at the time of the Judgment, using the adjective a)fni/dio$, is difficult to translate properly in English syntax. Literally, a)fni/dio$ means “without (any) shining forth”, i.e. without anything appearing to indicate that it is about to happen, etc. It is often rendered by the adjective “sudden” or “unexpected”. A more literal translation here brings out the motif of the fire of Judgment, corresponding to the glorious and fiery appearance of Jesus when he comes to earth accompanied by heavenly Messengers (Angels)—cf. 2 Thess 1:7-8 (discussed in Part 1). This fire of destruction will hit suddenly, without any glow or light to warn of its coming. The noun o&leqro$ (“destruction, ruin”) also reflects traditional Judgment-language, and is used, in a similar (but more graphic) context, in 2 Thess 1:9.

It is in verse 4, that Paul shifts the focus to the situation of believers, who, as believers, will be saved from the destructive anger of God in the great Judgment. Here, however, the emphasis is on the identity of believers in Christ, who are not to be characterized by the slumber and darkness (cf. above) of the end time:

“But you, brothers, are not in darkness, (so) that the day should take you down as a stealer (does); for you are sons of light and sons of (the) day, and we are not of (the) night and not of darkness—so then, we should not go down to sleep, as the (one)s remaining (do), but we should keep awake and should stay sober.” (vv. 4-6)

Paul’s shift in mid-sentence from 2nd person to 1st person is most effective, including himself (and all other ministers) with the Thessalonians to whom he is writing. This expresses the theme of unity for believers in Christ in a different manner than he does in the previous section (cf. above). The motif of wakefulness, while natural enough as an extension of the “thief coming at night” illustration, is also traditional, and can be seen in several eschatological parables of Jesus. Indeed, Paul’s entire discussion in 5:1-11 could be seen as an exposition of Mark 13:32-37 par, just as that in 4:13-18 expounds Mk 13:26-27. The thrust of the warning here is, not that believers might end up falling away and face the Judgment, but, rather, that they ought to live according to their identity—as those who belong to the light and who will not be “taken down” (vb katalamba/nw) in the time of darkness. Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Gethsemane scene of the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mk 14:38 par) make much the same point, but with a greater sense of the danger that the disciples could fall away during the time of “testing” (peirasmo/$); on this, compare Mk 13:13b par.

In verses 7-8, Paul applies this traditional language of watchfulness/sobriety more directly to the religious identity of believers:

“For the (one)s going down to sleep go down to sleep at night, and the (one)s getting drunk get drunk at night; but we, being of the day, should stay sober, sinking ourselves in(to) (the) chest-armor of trust and love and (the) (protection) about the head (that is the) hope of salvation.”

This “hope of salvation” is the same “hope” (e)lpi/$) mentioned in 4:13 (cf. above). For the believer in Christ, trust, love, and hope—the same triad emphasized by Paul in 1 Cor 13:13—serve as the protective armor we wear. This armor-imagery is developed more extensively in Ephesians 6:11-17; here there are only two protective pieces mentioned:

    • the qw/rac, “chest-guard”, primarily protecting the heart, from which stem our trust (pi/sti$) in Jesus and love (a)ga/ph) for our fellow believers
    • the perikefalai/a, protection “around the head”, representing the uppermost part of our person, and that which point upward, the direction from which our salvation comes, at the end-time

This “salvation” (swthri/a) is given more precise definition in vv. 9-10, emphasizing again the eschatological aspect:

“(for it is) that God did not set us into (His) anger, but (rather) into the making of salvation around (us) through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, the (one hav)ing died away over us, (so) that, if we should be awake (or) if we should go down to sleep, we would live together with him.”

This statement repeats much of the same language from earlier in 4:14-17 (cf. above); in particular, we may note:

    • the salvation of believers comes “through [dia/] Jesus”
    • the idea of believers going down to sleep (using different verbs), and still living
    • that believers will come to be “together with him” (su\n au)tw=|)
    • and that this unity, with Jesus and with (all) other believers, is understood as being complete and simultaneous (“at once”), expressed by the particle a%ma.

Since the verb kaqeu/dw (“go down to sleep”), earlier in vv. 6-7, was used to characterize unbelievers in the time of darkness, its application to believers here needs to be explained. There are two possibilities:

    • Paul is shifting the meaning of both grhgoreu/w and kaqeu/dw to the ordinary human experience of being awake and sleeping
    • He is telling believers that, even if they should lapse into moments of “sleep”, during this time of darkness, they still live (and have life/salvation) in Christ

Probably Paul intends the former, though the latter idea could be justified, for example, by the situation of the disciples in the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mark 14:37-41 par). I would say, however, that Paul is here retaining the eschatological nuance of believers living (i.e. their daily Christian lives) during the end-time of darkness.

The section concludes (in verse 11) much as the prior section did (4:18), following a basic formula, with a message for believers to exhort one another (using the verb parakale/w, “call alongside” [i.e. for help, comfort, etc]):

“Therefore, you must call one another alongside and build (each other up) one by one, even as you also do (now).”

The closing phrase, with the conjunction kai/ (“and”), serves as an important part of the exhortation—and the rhetoric Paul is using—framing it in terms of what the Thessalonians are already doing. From the standpoint of rhetorical analysis, 1 Thessalonians can be characterized as paraenetic rather than deliberative rhetoric—that is to say, its chief purpose is to instruct and exhort, rather than to persuade the audience of the correctness of a particular position. Unlike in Galatians or the Corinthian letters, Paul is not addressing any particular conflict or problem facing the congregations; instead, he is simply encouraging the Thessalonians to continue in the faith.

Taken together, the two sections 1 Thess 4:13-5:11, represent the clearest and most specific summary of Paul’s eschatology that has come down to us in any of his letters. There is virtually nothing in it which goes beyond the traditional belief (and mode of expression) common to Christians at the time (c. 50 A.D.). It is actually highly instructive in providing us a snapshot of the early Christian eschatology in its relation to the Gospel Tradition and the (historical) sayings of Jesus. As noted above, Paul appears to have held an eschatological framework that generally corresponds with that of the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse. This will be seen in greater detail, as we examine 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 in the next part of this study.

“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 3:14-15

1 John 3:14-15

Verse 11 of chapter 3 begins a new section of the letter, which continues on through verse 24. The theme is clear from the initial statement in verse 11:

“(And it is) that this is the message which you heard from the beginning: that we should love (each) other.”

In 2:8, the author treats the directive to love as a new command (cf. John 13:34), while here he describes it as something which believers have heard “from the beginning”. This builds on the play between “old” and “new” in 2:7ff—the two-fold command to trust in Jesus and to love one another (3:23-24) is both old and new. This may be understood in many ways; certainly for the early (Jewish) believers, faith in Christ and love for one’s neighbor could be viewed as a fulfillment of the Old Law (Torah), cf. Romans 10:4; 13:10, etc. It is also something which believers have been taught from the very beginning (i.e. since they first heard the Gospel message). Yet, it continues to be restated and presented anew in the life of each community and to each generation of believers. The very thrust of 2:7-11, and again here in 3:11-24, suggests that there may have been Christians who were not truly living out the directive to love. Indeed, this would appear to be at the heart of the author’s polemic in the letter (which takes on prominence in 4:1ff), marking those who have separated from the Community as being without the proper love (for the Community).

The rivalry between the world and believers in Jesus, as also between “true” and “false” believers, is indicated clearly by verses 12-13, where the ancient example of Cain and Abel is introduced. Here is an illustration of someone hating his brother—just the opposite of love. This hate leads to murder, and the author, along the lines of Jesus’ teaching in the Antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:21-26), equates hate with murder/manslaughter, even if no actual killing occurs. This hatred of one’s brother is further equated with the world’s hatred of believers (v. 13). In verses 14-15, this conflict is defined in terms of the dualistic contrast between life (zwh/) and death (qa/nato$):

“We have seen [i.e. known] that we have stepped across, out of death (and) into life, (in) that we love the brothers; the (one) not loving remains in death.” (v. 14)

The verb metabai/nw specifically means “step across”, with the preposition meta/ indicating a change of place or position (lit. within [a boundary]), i.e. from one point to the next—in this case from death to life. The same language and imagery is found in the Johannine discourses of Jesus (Jn 5:24):

“Amen, amen, I relate to you that the (one) hearing my word/account [lo/go$], and trusting in the (one) sending me, holds (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life] and does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped across out of death (and) into Life.”

This fits the motif of resurrection—of the dead hearing the voice of the Son (of God)—in John 5:19-29. In vv. 24-25, the end-time resurrection is given a new interpretation (i.e. “realized” eschatology) for believers in Christ, and it is this spiritual sense of resurrection that we find also in First John. The “Life of the Age” is defined more generally as “Life”, i.e. in Christ, and in the Spirit. The opposite of 3:14 is stated in verse 15, continuing the dualistic contrast (Abel/Cain, love/hate, life/death):

“Every one hating his brother is a man-killer [a)nqrwpokto/no$], and we have seen [i.e. known] that every man-killer does not hold [i.e. have] the Life of the Age remaining [i.e. abiding] in him.”

This statement follows the fundamental ethnical-religious principle that a murderer (who in the law would be put to death) will surely not pass through the Judgment and inherit eternal life (cf. Exod 20:13; Num 35:16ff; Matt 5:21ff; Rom 1:29ff; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21, etc). Hatred toward one’s brother (i.e. toward a fellow believer) is regarded as the equivalent of murder or manslaughter. We must understand that, for the author, “hating” (vb. mise/w) does necessarily require the kind of overt ill-feeling and hostility usually associated with the word. It is better defined here as the absence/opposite of the true love which believers ought to have toward one another. The nature of this love is clear from verse 16 (following Jesus’ words in 13:14-15, 34-35; 15:12-17)—it entails following Jesus’ own example of sacrificial love, laying down one’s own life for another.

Moreover, it is clear that, the one who fails to love violates the fundamental ‘command’ of Christ (and God the Father), and is thus sinning. And, according the theology in the letter, any one who sins this way has not been “born of God”, and possesses neither the living Word nor the Spirit of God. The significance of this for the remainder of the letter is indicated by verses 23-24, where the command to love is linked to the command to trust in Jesus—i.e. the two-fold command which governs all true believers. This will be discussed further, in the next note.

August 27: 1 Corinthians 2:14-15

[This series of notes is on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16; the previous day’s note dealt with 2:13]

1 Corinthians 2:14-15

Before proceeding with the translation of these verses, it is necessary first to examine two important words which are central to a correct interpretation of the passage.

yuxiko/$ (psychikós)—An adjective here parallel to pneumatiko/$ (pneumatikós), the two being related to the words yuxh/ (psych¢¡, usually translated “soul”) and pneu=ma (pneu¡ma, usually translated “spirit”), respectively. The fundamental meaning of both words is of something blowing (cf. the primary verbs yu/xw and pne/w)—especially of wind (as a natural phenomena) or breath (of a living being), the two concepts or images being related in the ancient mind (wind as the ‘breath’ of the deity). The main difference between the word-groups can be described this way:

    • yu/xw refers to blowing in the sense of cooling—i.e. a cool(ing), cold breeze
    • pne/w refers primarily to movement—a stream of air (i.e. wind) with its visible effect (causing motion)

Each aspect, however, could be (and was) related to the life-breath of a (human) being. The ancient conception is preserved in Genesis 2:7, in which God breathes (blows) a wind/breath into the first human being; according to the Greek version (LXX), God breathes/blows in (e)nefu/shsen) a “living breath [pnoh/]” and the man becomes a “living breath [yuxh/]”. Here we see the two words used in tandem—pnoh/ (pno¢¡, closely related to pneu=ma pneu¡ma) and yuxh/ (psych¢¡). John 20:22 records a similar process (a “new creation”), when Jesus blows/breathes in(to) the first believers and they receive the Holy Spirit [pneu=ma]. The distinction between the two nouns can be defined generally as follows:

    • yuxh/ is the “life-breath”—that is, the invisible, inward aspect of a person, marking him/her as a living, breathing being (i.e., “soul”)
    • pneu=ma is the life-giving “breath” which animates and sustains a (human) being (i.e. “spirit”)

The two terms overlap in meaning, and the relationship between them in Greek thought is rather complex. Paul uses them each to refer to the inner dimension of a human being, but they are not to be understood as separate “things”, as though a person has “a spirit” in addition to “a soul”. Earlier in 1 Cor 2:11, Paul refers to the “spirit/breath [pneu=ma] of man th(at is) in him“, and distinguishes it from the Spirit/Breath of God—that is to say, every human being has a “spirit” in him/her, but only believers (in Christ) have the “Spirit (of God)”. Now here in verse 14, a similar contrast is made—i.e., between the believer and the “ordinary” human being. This time, Paul establishes it, not by playing with the two senses of pneu=ma (“spirit”), but by playing on the difference between the two words pneu=ma and yuxh/ and their corresponding adjectives; which brings us to the problem of translation:

    • pneumatiko/$ (pneumatikós)—something belonging to, or characterized by, pneu=ma “spirit” (i.e. “spiritual”), only here it refers specifically to the “Spirit (of God)”
    • yuxiko/$ (psychikós)—something belonging to, or characterized by, yuxh/ “soul”, that is, the human soul

Unfortunately, there is no appropriate English word corresponding to this last adjective. A formal equivalence would be something like “soulish”, but that is exceedingly awkward. Most translators tend to use “natural”, for lack of any better option; however, while this manages to get the meaning across, and preserves a meaningful comparison here in verse 14, it distorts the original Greek and the fine word-distinction being used. Based on Paul’s vocabulary elsewhere, we might expect him to use the adjective sarkiko/$ (sarkikós, “fleshly”) here (see esp. 1 Cor 3:3, also Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11; 2 Cor 1:12; 10:4). Only that word carries a definite negative connotation in Paul’s thought (associated with sin); here he wishes to preserve the more neutral, quasi-scientific sense of a normal, living human being. The adjective yuxiko/$ appears in only three other passages in the New Testament; in Paul’s letters, the only other occurrences are in 1 Cor 15:44-46, which I will touch on below. The other two instances are in James 3:15 and Jude 19 and may help us to understand its usage by Paul here:

    • James 3:15—As in 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, a contrast is made between the wisdom (sofi/a) of God (“from above”, a&nwqen) and earthly (e)pi/geio$) wisdom. The adjective “earthly” (lit. “[from] upon earth”) is followed by yuxiko/$, and then daimoniw/dh$ (“of the daimons“). Here yuxiko/$ means essentially human, as part of a triad of terms characterizing this inferior “wisdom”—earthly–human–demonic. In verse 16, the author (“James”) mentions jealousy and strife/quarrels associated with this worldly “wisdom”, which is also an important aspect of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians.
    • Jude 19—Again the adjective yuxiko/$ is the second of three descriptive terms, characterizing the ‘false’ Christians of vv. 5ff:
      (a) oi( a)podiori/zonte$ “the (one)s marking (themselves/others) off from”, i.e. separating (them) from the rest of the (true) believers
      (b) yuxikoi/—i.e. “ordinary” human beings, the term being glossed by
      (c) pneu=ma mh\ e&xonte$ “not holding/having the Spirit (of God)”

Paul uses the adjective yuxiko/$ in much the same sense as Jude—referring to human beings who possess a soul/spirit but who have not (yet) received the (Holy) Spirit. Without the guidance of the Spirit, they are led by their own human (or animal) desires and impulses.

a)nakri/nw (anakrínœ)—Paul uses this verb several times in vv. 14-15, but it does not allow for easy translation. The primary verb kri/nw I have consistently rendered with the semantic range “(to) judge”, sometimes with the nuance of “decide, examine,” etc, though its original meaning was something like “(to) separate, divide, distinguish”. The prepositional component a)na/ is best understood here as “again”, in the sense of doing something again (i.e. repeatedly); however, in the verbal context it essentially functions as an intensive element. Perhaps the best translation of the verb is “examine closely“; in a judicial setting, it can refer to an interrogation or investigation. More than half of the NT occurrences (10 of 16) are in 1 Corinthians, the only letter of Paul where the verb is used; 6 are in 1 Cor 1:18-4:21 (2:14-15; 4:3-4), being neatly divided:

    • 3: 2:14-15—the reference is to the “complete” believer, “the spiritual (one)” (see v. 6)
    • 3: 4:3-4—the reference is to Paul himself as a minister of Christ

On 1 Cor 15:44-46—Returning to the word yuxiko/$ (cf. above), it may be helpful to consider briefly Paul’s use of it in 1 Cor 15:44-46, where the context is the (end-time) resurrection. Here, too, it is contrasted with pneumatiko/$; the human being is:

    • scattered [i.e. sown, in death] (as) a yuxiko/$ body—i.e., as body in which there is a life-breath (yuxh/, “soul”)
    • raised [i.e. from the dead] (as) a pneumatiko/$ body—i.e., as a spiritual body, transformed by the Spirit of God/Christ

In verse 45, Paul explicitly cites Gen 2:7 (cf. above), making the contrast more definite—between the human soul [yuxh/] (Adam) and the Spirit [pneu=ma] (Christ). It is not simply the Spirit of God (YHWH), according to traditional Jewish thought; following his resurrection, Christ himself becomes a life-giving Spirit. The two passages, using the yuxiko/$/pneumatiko/$ contrast, reflect the two ends of early Christian (and Pauline) soteriology:

    • Regeneration—The believer experiences a “new creation” in Christ, whereby the human soul/spirit is united with the Spirit of God/Christ
    • Resurrection—The human soul (and body) of the believer is completely transformed by the Spirit of God/Christ

In 1 Cor 2:14-15, Paul has the first of these in view. The analysis above should go far in helping us gain a solid understanding of what Paul is saying in these two verses. A translation and (brief) interpretation will be offered in the next daily note.

“Secret” in Paul’s Letters: 1 Cor 2:1, 7 etc

Having discussed the expression “secret [musth/rion] of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11) in a recent trio of daily notes, I now turn to the use of the word musth/rion (myst¢¡rion) elsewhere in the New Testament. Most of the occurrences (21 of 28) come from the Pauline letters, and most notably in 1 Corinthians where it is found six times. I will briefly examine Paul’s use of the word in these passages.

1 Corinthians 2:1, 7; 4:1; 13:2; 14:2; 15:51

1 Cor 2:1, 7

The first two occurrences are especially instructive with regard to Paul’s understanding of the nature and character of the Gospel:

“And I, (in) coming toward you, brothers, did not come down (with) a superiority of word or wisdom, (in) bringing down as a message to you the secret [musth/rion] of God” (2:1)
NOTE: Many manuscripts read martu/rion (“witness”) instead of musth/rion (“secret”); the evidence is rather evenly divided, but probability slightly favors the reading musth/rion.

This “secret” is explained, by inference, in the verses which follow; Paul makes several important points:

    • The only knowledge he sought to convey (in his missionary work to the Corinthians) was that of the person of Jesus himself (the Anointed One, i.e. “Jesus Christ”), and, specifically the death of Jesus (on the stake, i.e. crucifixion)—verse 2.
    • His preaching was done with fear and weakness (verse 3)
    • He did not rely on persuasive speech or (human) wisdom, but on the Spirit and power of God (verse 4)
    • This was done so that the Corinthians’ trust in Christ would be based on the power of God, not Paul’s skill as a speaker (verse 5)

What does this tell us about the “secret of God”? This Paul begins to expound in verses 6-8:

“And (yet) we (do) speak wisdom in/among the (one)s (who are) complete—and (it is) a wisdom not of this Age, and not of the chief (ruler)s of this Age (who are now) made inactive—but (rather) we speak (the) wisdom of God in (a) secret [e)n musthr/w|] hidden away from (this Age), which God marked out before the Ages unto our honor/glory, (and) which none of the chief (ruler)s of this Age has known; for, if they knew (it), they would not have put the Lord of honor/glory to the stake!”

Again, a number of key points are made regarding this “secret”:

    • It is an expression or embodiment of the wisdom of God
    • It is different in nature and character from the (human/worldly) wisdom of this age (and those who exercise power in it)
    • It has been hidden from hearts and minds of people in the world until the present time (i.e. following the death and resurrection of Christ); on the important use of the verb (pro)ori/zw, cf. Acts 2:23; 4:28; 10:42; 17:31; Rom 1:4, and also Rom 8:29-30; Eph 1:5, 11
    • It has to do fundamentally with the person of Jesus and his identity (as the Anointed One)—which most of the people and their rulers did not understand or accept
    • It is tied to Jesus’ death (on the cross)

Two additional, fundamental themes develop, along these lines through the remainder of chapter 2:

    1. It was not possible for human beings to recognize or understand the secret of God until the work of Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel—prepared by God, in advance, for those who will come to faith. This is poignantly expressed by the citation of Isaiah 64:4 in verse 9. Note the use of the same triad—eyes-ears-heart—which also occurs in Isa 6:9-10 (cf. the discussion in the previous note):
      (a) “no eye has seen”—eyes smeared shut / not seeing
      (b) “no ear has heard”—ears made heavy / not hearing
      (c) “has not come upon the heart”—heart made thick / not discerning
    2. The secret of God is understood entirely through the Spirit of God (and Christ), the Holy Spirit (vv. 10-16)

1 Cor 4:1

“So, let a man count us (simply) as attendants of (the) Anointed (One) and ‘house-managers’ of the secrets of God”

This statement follows the discussion regarding divisions in the congregations, in which Paul seeks to downplay the importance of (apostolic) personalities—they are merely servants of Christ, workers on behalf of the Gospel. The declaration in 4:1 summarizes this fact. The derivation of the term u(pere/th$ (rendered above as “attendant”) is not entirely certain; it may mean something like “under-guide” or “under-boss”—that is, someone who works as an assistant under the main person guiding the work. The word oi)kono/mo$ (literally something like “house-manager”) is often translated “steward”, but this somewhat obscures the cultural context. The oi)kono/mo$, among the wealthier classes, who managed the house(hold) often would have been a trusted slave or servant. This fits with Paul’s tendency of referring to himself, along with his fellow ministers, as “slaves” (dou=loi) of Christ. The use of the plural “secrets” (musth/ria) may be general—recall the variant “secret(s) of the Kingdom” in Mark 4:11 par. If it is meant in a specific sense, it probably refers to the various early Christian (and Gospel) traditions passed down from Jesus and his disciples, along with things revealed to the Apostles (and their companions) by Christ and the Holy Spirit. These traditions would cover a wide range of teaching and instruction, as evidenced from Paul’s letters.

1 Cor 13:2

“…and if I hold (the ability) of foretelling [i.e. prophecy] and see [i.e. know] all secrets and all knowledge, and if I hold all the trust (in God) so as to set apart mountains, but I do not hold love, I am nothing.”

Here “secrets” (musth/ria) is used in a generic sense, one must assume, for any kind of special, hidden knowledge or revelation. However, it is possible that Paul also has the use of the plural from 4:1 in mind as well (cf. above). This would not be inconsistent—even if he means the “secrets” of Christ and the Gospel, these still would be subordinated to the principle of love. The “love-principle” (or “love commandment”) is central to early Christian thought and belief, attested in several different strands of tradition. It goes back, of course, to Jesus’ teaching as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 12:28-34; Matt 5:43-47; 7:12 etc, and pars), and, under that influence, came to be seen as a summation and encapsulation of the entire Law under Christ (James 2:8-13; Gal 5:13-14; 6:2; Rom 13:9-10, etc). Even the greatest of the spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Cor 12) pale beside the principle of Christian love—which might fairly be called the greatest “secret” of the Gospel.

1 Cor 14:2

“The one speaking in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God—for no one hears [i.e. understands], and he speaks secrets in (the) Spirit”

Here Paul uses the plural “secrets” in reference to the phenomenon of speaking in an (unknown/foreign) “tongue”. The wording used here in 1 Corinthians suggests that, unlike the references in the book of Acts, this does not so much mean a foreign language as a kind of special spiritual or prayer language. The hidden things (“secrets”) which are communicated through this language are tied to the work of the Spirit (cf. above on the discussion in 1 Cor 2:6-16).

1 Cor 15:51

“See, I relate a secret to you—we all will not be (left) sleeping, but we all will be made different…”

This is the culmination of the famous chapter on the resurrection in 1 Cor 15, beginning with the tradition of Jesus’ own resurrection (vv. 1-11), and an exposition of the promise that believers will be raised according to the same pattern, by way of our union with Christ (vv. 12-34). In verses 35-49, this argument is developed further and addresses the nature and character of the resurrection. Paul is probably the first—and one of the only—Christian writers to attempt something of an explanation of what actually happens in the resurrection: that the physical (dead) body is transformed into a spiritual entity, just as in the case of Jesus. The Adam-Christ parallel (also used, famously, in Romans 5:12-21) suggests a new kind of transformed humanity, or human nature, that comes about as a result of being raised in Christ. The statement in verse 51 follows upon the declaration in the prior verse 50:

“And this I declare, brothers: that flesh and blood is not able to receive the kingdom of God as (its) lot, and the decaying [i.e. mortal] does not receive the undecaying [i.e. immortal] as (its) lot.”

This is the immediate context of the “secret” of the resurrection in vv. 51ff—the moment at which believers enter/inherit the kingdom of God. This is vividly and dramatically described in verses 52-54a, climaxing with the (composite) Scripture citation (from Isa 25:8 and Hos 13:14). It is important to note the juxtaposition in vv. 50-51 of the “kingdom of God” (basilei/a [tou=] qeou=) and the “secret” (musth/rion), as these are precisely the components of the expression (“secret of the kingdom of God”) used by Jesus in Mark 4:11 par. In an earlier note, I discussed how this “secret” related to the death and resurrection of Jesus; here in 1 Corinthians, Paul extends this to the resurrection of all believers in our union with Christ. It is no coincidence that his entire line of argument in chapter 15 concludes with the words: “…through [dia/] our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed {Jesus Christ}” (v. 57).

NOTE: The idea of “secrets” in Pauline usage certainly relates to special knowledge (cf. above on 1 Corinthians chap. 2), though always focused on the principal Gospel message of the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. However, the connection with knowledge (gnw=si$, gnœ¡sis) brings into view the difficult question of Gnosticism in relation to the New Testament and early Christianity. The views of Paul’s opponents in the letters, of certain believers at Corinth, and even of Paul himself, have variously been called “Gnostic” by commentators over the years. Much confusion surrounds the term. I have sought to clarify this, so far as I am able, in an article on Gnosticism which I have recently posted; it may be useful to consult it here, in light of Paul’s use of the word musth/rion.

August 2: Romans 8:10

Today’s note is on Romans 8:10, supplemental to the discussion on Rom 8:1-39 in the series on “Paul’s View of the Law in Romans”.

Romans 8:10

Verse 10 cannot be separated from the context of verses 9-11, which form the culmination of the exhortation in 8:1-11, regarding the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh. The announcement of freedom from the Law in vv. 1-4 means that the believer must rely upon the Spirit for guidance—Paul characterizes believers as “the ones walking about according to the Spirit” (cf. Gal 5:16, 25). Deliverance from sin also means that believers are no longer under its enslaving power, and now have the freedom and ability to follow the will of God; however, the flesh remains as a source of struggle and conflict. This is the emphasis in verses 5-11, which correspond in many ways to the exhortation in Gal 5:16-25. According to Paul’s anthropology, the flesh itself remains opposed to the “Law of God” (vv. 7-8). The main argument in verses 9-11 is that believers are, and should be, guided and influenced by the Spirit, and not the flesh:

“But you are not in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/] but in (the) Spirit [e)n pneu/mati]…”

The preposition e)n here has the specific sense of “in the power of”—in a manner similar to the expression “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|). However, this is only one aspect of union with Christ and the Spirit; in the rest of vv. 9-11, the focus shifts from believers “in the Spirit” to the Spirit “in believers”. In other words, the power which guides and controls believers is based on the presence of the Spirit in them. Living, thinking, and walking “according to the flesh” is not, and should not be, characteristic of believers. This is reflected in the conditional clause which follows in v. 9a:

“…if indeed [ei&per] the Spirit of God houses [i.e. dwells] in you [e)n u(mi=n]”

The particle ei&per is somewhat difficult to translate; literally, it would be something like “if (indeed) about (this)”, with the sense that “if (indeed) it is so that…”. It indicates a condition, but one that is generally assumed to be true: “if it is so (as indeed it is!)”, i.e. “since (it is so that)”. For true believers in Christ, the condition would be true: the Spirit dwells in them. A series of sentences follow in vv. 9b-11, each beginning with the conditional particle ei) (“if”) and the coordinating particle de/:

V. 9b: “But if [ei) de\] any (one) does not hold the Spirit of God, that (one) is not of him.”
V. 10: “But if [ei) de\] (the) Anointed is in you…”
V. 11: “But if [ei) de\] the Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you…”

The first (9b) is a negative condition: “if any one does not have [lit. hold] the Spirit of God”. Most likely the genitive au)tou= (“of him”) means “of Christ”, belonging to Christ—i.e. a true Christian has the Spirit of God. The last two sentences have positive conditions, and the two are closely related, connecting Christ with the Spirit of God:

    • V. 10—”the Anointed is in you [e)n u(mi=n]”
    • V. 11—”the Spirit of (God)… dwells in you [e)n u(mi=n]”

In each instance, the apodosis, indicating the fulfillment or result of the condition (“then…”), involves the theme of life vs. death. I begin with the last verse (v. 11):

    • “If the Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then)…
      • …the (one) raising (the) Anointed out of the dead also will make alive your dying [i.e. mortal] bodies through his Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] in you”

The reference here is to the bodily resurrection of the end-time, which represents the culmination and completion of salvation for believers, according to early Christian thought. Note the repetitive symmetry to this sentence:

the Spirit of the one raising Jesus from the dead dwells in you
——will make alive your dying bodies
the one raising Christ from the dead…through his Spirit dwelling in you

This brings us to verse 10:

    • “If (the) Anointed (is) in you, (then)…
      • …the body (is) dead through sin, but the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness”

Here the apodosis is expressed by way of a me\nde/ construction:

    • me\n (on the one hand)—the body is dead through sin
    • de\ (on the other hand)—the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness

If verse 11 referred to bodily resurrection at the end, verse 10 refers to a dynamic that is already realized in believers presently. It still involves life and death, but not one following the other (as in the resurrection); rather, the two exist at the same time, side by side—the body is dead, the Spirit is life. This anthropological dualism is typical of Paul’s thought; however, it is interesting to note that he has here shifted away slightly from the flesh/Spirit conflict emphasized in vv. 1-8. The “flesh” (sa/rc) relates to the impulse toward sin, the “body” (sw=ma) to death itself. It may be helpful to consider the anthropological terms Paul makes use of in Romans:

    • sw=ma (“body”)—that is, the physical (human) body, which is subject to death (“dying/mortal”, Rom 6:12; 8:11), according to the primeval judgment narrated in Gen 3:3-4, 19, 22-23. In Rom 7:24, Paul refers to it as “the body of death” (cf. also Rom 4:19). For believers, the redemption of the body, i.e. the loosing it from the bondage of death, is the final, culminating event of salvation—the resurrection (Rom 8:23).
    • ta\ me/lh (“the [bodily] parts”)—the different components (limbs, organs, etc) of the physical body, which should be understood two ways: (1) the sensory/sensual aspect of the body, which is affected and influenced by the impulse (e)piqumi/a) to sin, and (2) the means by which human beings act and work in the body. The first of these is expressed in Rom 7:5ff, 23—it is specifically in the bodily members that sin dwells and works. The second is indicated in Rom 6:13ff, as well perhaps by expression “the practices/deeds of the body” in Rom 8:13.
    • sa/rc (“flesh”)—a wide-ranging word and concept in Paul’s thought, it refers principally to the physical/material aspect of human nature (the body and its parts), but also within the specific context of sin. The “flesh” indicates human nature as enslaved under the power of sin (throughout Rom 7:7-25 and 8:1-11ff [cf. above]). Believers in Christ are freed from the enslaving power of sin, but can still be affected, in various ways, by the flesh and the impulse to sin which resides in it (Rom 8:1-11, and see esp. Gal 5:16-25).
    • nou=$ (“mind”)—according to Rom 7:13-25 (esp. vv. 23-25), the mind, representing intellectual, volitional and ethical aspects of human nature, is not enslaved by the power of sin the same way that the flesh is. Though it can come to be dominated entirely by wickedness (cf. Rom 1:28), in Rom 7 (where Paul likely is speaking for devout Jews and Gentiles), the mind is torn, wanting to obey the will (or Law) of God, but ultimately overcome by the power of sin in the flesh. For believers, the “mind” is to be renewed (Rom 12:2), through “walking in the Spirit” (not according to the flesh or the things of the world), so that we may be transformed more and more into the likeness of God in Christ (cf. 2 Cor 3:18).
    • o( e&sw a&nqrwpo$ (“the inner man”)—Paul uses this expression in Rom 7:22, contrasting it with the “(bodily) parts”; it is best, I think, to understand it as representing a human being in the exercise of the mind, as opposed to following the (sinful) impulse of the flesh. That it is largely synonymous with the “mind” (nou=$) for Paul is indicated by his use of the expression in 2 Cor 4:16, compared with Rom 12:2. For believers, it reflects that aspect of the person which recognizes the will of God and experiences the work of the Spirit (cf. Eph 3:16).
    • pneu=ma (“spirit”)—it should be noted that Paul rarely applies this word to ordinary human nature; it is reserved for believers in Christ, and there it refers, not to the human “spirit”, but to the Spirit (of God and Christ), i.e. the Holy Spirit. However, at the inmost “spiritual” level, believers are united with the Spirit (cf. above) and it becomes the guiding power and aspect of the person.

With regard to Rom 8:10, it is interesting to observe that, after the phrase “the body is dead”, Paul does not say “the Spirit is alive”, but rather, “the Spirit is life“, using the noun zw/h. This is because it is not a precise parallel—as indicated, above, pneu=ma is not the human “spirit” but the Spirit of God (and Christ); as such, it is not alive, it is Life itself. What then, does it mean that the Spirit is life “through justice/righteousness”? Here again, it is not an exact formal parallel:

    • dia\ a(marti/an (“through sin”)—the power and work of sin results in death for the body
    • dia\ dikaiosu/nh (“through justice/righteousness”)—the power and work of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ) results in the believer experiencing the life that the Spirit brings

Some commentators would say that Paul does mean pneu=ma in v. 10 as the human “spirit”. I disagree completely. While this, admittedly, would allow for a more natural parallel, it contrasts entirely with Paul’s use of the word throughout Romans. The whole emphasis in 8:1ff is on the Spirit of God (and Christ), not the human “spirit”.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 10:10, 28; 12:25

Not long ago (May 21, 2020) we celebrated the ascension of Jesus—i.e. 40 days after Easter, based on the information in Acts 1:3ff. The “ascension” of Jesus is referred to differently in the Gospels and Acts, and can be understood several ways, based upon the particular narrative under consideration. Most Christians have the scene in Acts 1:9-11 in mind, but there are other references to Jesus’ ascension/departure from the disciples in Luke 24:50-51 [MT] and the “long ending” of Mark (16:19), and, because of the differences in the narrative location and setting, it is not entirely clear if these passages are supposed to refer to the same event as Acts 1:9-11. The situation is further complicated by mention of an ‘ascension’ by Jesus in John 20:17. I have discussed these matters in a prior article.

The earliest Christians, in their preaching and proclamation of the Gospel, did not refer to specifically to the Ascension as such, but rather, the resurrection of Jesus was connected closely to his exaltation by the Father, to a place in Heaven at the Father’s right hand. The emphasis is not so much on Jesus’ actual departure from earth, as to his position in glory in Heaven following the resurrection. The Gospel of John preserves this early view, but it is expanded and developed in the discourses of Jesus in several ways:

    1. The motif of the Son’s ascent is set parallel to his descent—i.e. his coming to earth (as a human being). This ascent/descent theme appears numerous times throughout the Gospel and is related to the dualistic imagery of above/below, etc. The motif is expressed primarily through use of the related verbs a)nabai/nw (“step up”) and katabai/nw (“step down”)—Jesus (the Son) has stepped down (descended) from heaven, and again steps up (ascends) back to the Father in heaven.
    2. There is a strong emphasis on the Son’s return to the Father—he was sent (into the world) by the Father, and returns back to Him.
    3. In the Last Discourse (chaps. 14-17), the theme of Jesus’ departure becomes prominent, though it had been introduced earlier in the Gospel as well (6:62; 7:33-34; 8:21-22ff). It has a two-fold meaning, referring to: (1) Jesus’ death, and (2) his ultimate return to the Father.

Of all the New Testament writings, it is in John that the death, resurrection and ‘ascension’ of Jesus are most thoroughly combined—and by Jesus himself, in the great discourses which make up the core of the Gospel. One of the ways this is expressed is by the verb u(yo/w (“raise/lift high”). In 3:14 and 8:28, Jesus refers to himself being “lifting high”, with the title “Son of Man”; while in 12:32, he makes the same essential declaration, but with the personal pronoun:

“And I, if I am lifted high out of the earth, I will drag all (person)s toward myself”

In 3:14, it is the death of Jesus (i.e. lifted up on the cross) which is most clearly in view, as also in 8:28; however, the same verb in 12:32 seems rather to refer to Jesus’ exaltation. He speaks of being “lifted high out of the earth“. This can refer concretely to being raised out of the tomb, but also, more properly, in the sense of his departure from earth. Just as the Father sent him into the world, so also he will be going out of it. Both aspects are likely in view here in this reference.

This series of notes is dealing with the themes of Life (zwh/) and the Spirit (pneu=ma). The theme of life in connection with resurrection features prominently in the Lazarus episode of chapter 11, especially the dialogue between Jesus and Martha in vv. 20-27. However, I have discussed these verses at length in an earlier series, and so will not be addressing them here. Instead, I wish to consider briefly three verses from the surrounding chapters (10 and 12) where Jesus makes use of the word zwh/ (“life”).

John 10:10

This is part of the “Good Shepherd” parable-discourse in chapter 10. It is here in this discourse that the sacrificial death of Jesus comes more clearly into view. The structure generally follows the Johannine discourse format and may be outlined simply as follows:

    • Saying (parable) of Jesus (vv. 1-5)
    • Reaction by the people indicating a lack of understanding (v. 6)
    • Exposition by Jesus, which may be divided into three parts (each beginning with an “I am” declaration):
      • Jesus as the door/gate of the sheepfold (vv. 7-10): “I am…”
      • Jesus as the herdsman of the sheep (vv. 11-13): “I am…”
      • What Jesus as herdsman does for the sheep (vv. 14-18): “I am…”
    • Narrative conclusion [reaction by the people] (vv. 19-21)

Verse 10 concludes the first expository section (on Jesus as the door or entrance [qu/ra] to the sheepfold). It is only the shepherd, with charge over the sheep, who opens and closes this door; thus this verse provides the transition to the next section, in which Jesus is no longer the door, but the shepherd. Only the shepherd is able to open/close the door, and, when it is closed, any other person who enters presumably does so only to steal or harm the sheep. This effectively distinguishes the shepherd from all other persons. Jesus makes this contrast clear in verse 10:

“The (one) stealing does not come if not [i.e. except] that he might steal and slaughter and bring to ruin; (but) I came that they [i.e. the sheep] might hold life, and might hold (it) over (and) above (all else)”

This involves the familiar expression “hold life”, using the verb e&xw (“hold”); elsewhere in the Gospel, as we have seen, this life is often specified as “the Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life). The role of herdsman is to protect the sheep (from harm) and to guide them where they can find life-giving sustenance. In both respects he is saving/preserving their lives—the sheep have/hold life under his care.

John 10:28

This verse is from the second half of chapter 10 (vv. 22-39), which comprises a second discourse, but one which shares important themes with vv. 1-21, and it is possible to read the passages in tandem as part of a single discourse-scene. Verses 25-30 reprise the “Good Shepherd” illustration—but here there is a more definite contrast between those sheep who belong to the shepherd and those who do not. For the religious leaders and others who are unable (or refuse) to accept Jesus, he designates them as those who are not part of his flock (vv. 25-26). By contrast, those who do trust in him are part of the flock:

“My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them (the) Life of the Age, and no, they should not (ever) come to ruin into the Age, and no one will seize them out of my hand.” (vv. 27-28)

This motif, of Jesus giving to believers the “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life), occurred in the earlier discourses, as has been discussed in prior notes. In the context of the Johannine discourses, this Life which Jesus gives is to be identified primarily with the Spirit (cf. 3:34-35; 4:10ff, 24; 6:27ff, 63; 7:37-39). This is an important theological development of the traditional expression “life of the Age”, as we have discussed. That this Life is connected with the very presence and power of God is clear from vv. 28f, where God (the Father) is the ultimate source of this life (and its preservation/protection) for believers:

“My Father, who has given (them) to me, is greater than all, and no one is able [i.e. has power] to seize (anything) out of the Father’s hand.” (v. 29)

For the chain of relationship between Father and Son, see especially 3:34-35 and 5:26. This will become a central theme in the Last Discourse, in particular the great prayer-discourse of chapter 17.

John 12:25

The theme of Jesus’ sacrificial death, so central to the Good Shepherd discourse (10:11-18)—the laying down of his soul/life and taking it up again—takes on even greater significance as we approach the start of the Passion narrative. In the Gospel of John, the (triumphal) entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is narrated in 12:12-19; Jerusalem is the setting, from verse 20 on, into the beginning of the Passion (chap. 13). There is an interesting parallel here between 12:20-36a (set in Jerusalem) and the Synoptic tradition at the transition point between the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem. Consider the following points of similarity:

Indeed, the saying of Jesus in 12:25 is close in thought to the Synoptic saying in Mk 8:35 par:

“For whoever would wish to save his soul will bring it to ruin, but whoever will bring his soul to ruin for my sake and (for) the good message [i.e. Gospel] will save it.” (Mk)
“The one loving his soul brings it to ruin, and the one hating his soul in this world will watch/guard it into (the) Life of the Age.” (Jn)

However one would explain the development of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel tradition (on this, cf. my recent series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”), there can be no doubt that the Johannine version of this traditional saying—this particular form of it—has certain elements which are distinctive to the Fourth Gospel. We may note the use of the articular participle, so frequent in John, to describe the disciple (believer)—”the (one) …ing”—as well as his opposite. Even more important are the qualifying expressions which enhance the point of contrast:

    • “in this world”—with the use of ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”)
    • “into the Life of the Age”—for this expression, cf. the previous notes of this series

The believer is one who “hates” his soul [i.e. his human life] insofar as it is in the world—that is, in the current age and world-order dominated by sin and darkness. The non-believer, by contrast, loves the darkness (3:19), and thus loves his life in the darkness. The contrast to the world and its darkness is the Life and Light of God found in the person of Jesus. This aspect of (eternal) Life will be discussed further in the next daily note, on 12:50.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 5:21-29

John 5:21-29

The next references to “Life” (zwh/) in the Gospel of John are from the chapter 5 discourse—specifically in the portion of Jesus’ exposition covering verses 19-29. I offered an outline and summary of this discourse in an earlier Saturday Series discussion (on v. 39); for this study today, it is important to consider the structure of the exposition by Jesus:

    • Verses 19-29: Jesus (the Son) does the work of the Father, exemplified by the ability to raise the dead (the ultimate work of giving new life). This section also may be divided into two parts:
      (1) Resurrection (i.e. new life) in the present for believers—”realized” eschatology (vv. 19-24)
      (2) Resurrection at the end time for those who believe—traditional (future) eschatology (vv. 25-29)
    • Verses 30-47: Testimony that Jesus comes from the Father and does the Father’s work

The references to “life” come from the first division, dealing with the theme of resurrection—a theme that will be illustrated dramatically in the Lazarus episode of chapter 11. Here in the discourse, however, the reference is not to a specific resurrection miracle, but to the resurrection which was expected to occur at the end-time, in the context of the final Judgment by God upon humankind. Such a belief in an end-time resurrection, appears to have been fairly common and widespread by the time of Jesus, so much so that it was worth noting when certain individuals or groups (such as the Sadducees) denied it. For the most part, this resurrection was reserved for the righteous; though, by the first century A.D., belief in a resurrection of both the righteous and wicked, prior to the Judgment, is attested. Jesus refers to this more general concept of the resurrection in verse 29 (cf. below).

As indicated by the outline above, the two sections dealing with the resurrection are parallel—the first (vv. 19-24) largely from the standpoint of “realized” eschatology, the second (vv. 25-29) primarily in terms of traditional (future) eschatology. This distinction can be seen from a comparison of both sections, and is confirmed by the expressions used in verses 25 and 28:

    • “an hour comes…” (v. 28) [future eschatology]
    • “an hour comes and now is…” (v. 25) [realized eschatology]

This exact distinction was seen earlier in the chapter 4 discourse (cf. the previous note): “an hour comes” (v. 21), “an hour comes and now is” (v. 23).

There are two points of parallelism which I want to examine here today. The first is found in verses 21 and 26:

    • “For just as [w%sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live [zw|opoiei=]
      • so also [ou%tw$ kai] the Son makes (a)live [zw|opoiei=] th(ose) whom he wishes” (v. 21)
    • “For just as [w%sper] the Father holds life [e&xei zwh/n] in Himself,
      • so also [ou%tw$ kai] he gave to the Son to hold life [zwh\n e&xein] in himself” (v. 26)

Both statements utilize a nearly identical formulation, emphasizing that the Son (Jesus) does exactly what the Father does. The first statement in v. 21 focuses on the life-giving work of raising the dead (resurrection); the second (v. 26) is centered on the very Life (and life-giving power) which God “holds”. It is clearly emphasized that this Life is given by the Father to the Son—and the Son, in turn, gives it to those (i.e. believers) whom he wishes. In the previous note, we discussed that this “Life” (zwh/) which Jesus gives is essentially to be identified with the Spirit (3:34, and the “living water” [u%dwr zw=n] exposition in 4:10-26). The blending of traditional (future) and “realized” eschatology, found in 4:21-24, is expounded upon here in 5:19-29. The division between these eschatological viewpoints is perhaps not as neat as the outline of vv. 19-47 (above) might suggest. The two modes of expression are inter-related and overlap—what believers will experience in the future, they already “realize” through trust in Jesus in the present. This brings up the second main parallel in these sections (vv. 25 and 28):

    • “an hour comes [e&rxetai w%ra], and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and the (one)s hearing will live” (v. 25)
    • “an hour comes [e&rxetai w%ra] in which all the (one)s in the memorial(-tomb)s will hear his voice, and will come out…into…life” (vv. 28-29a)

The specific reference to “the memorial(-tomb)s” in the latter statement points to the traditional (future) eschatology—i.e. of the resurrection at the end-time. Yet, such a resurrection would take place, in the present, in the Lazarus episode (chap. 11). In the dialogue between Jesus and Martha in that episode (only partially a discourse), Martha expressed the traditional eschatological viewpoint (v. 24), which Jesus corrects (vv. 25-26):

    • Martha: “I see [i.e. know] that he will stand up (again) in the standing up [i.e. resurrection] in the last day”
    • Jesus: “I am [e)gw/ ei)mi] the standing up [i.e. resurrection] and the life; the (one) trusting in me…”

Resurrection (and the Life which comes as a result) is to be found in the person and presence of Jesus. This is also the emphasis in 5:19-29, though there is in the discourse a more precise and detailed exposition of the relationship between the God the Father and the Son (Jesus). The Father is the ultimate source of the Life which the Son gives to believers. In this regard, we may include a third parallel between the two sections of the exposition, expressed in verses 24 and 29:

    • “he [i.e. the believer] does not come into (the) Judgment, but has stepped with(in) [i.e. across/over], out of death (and) into Life” (v. 24)
    • “they will come out—the (one)s doing good (thing)s into a standing up of Life, and the (one)s practicing bad (thing)s into a standing up of Judgment” (v. 29)

Here the parallelism is not so exact in terms of formulation, but remains close conceptually, with common vocabulary, especially in the contrast between Life and Judgment—the believer does not come into the Judgment, for he/she has already stepped over from death into Life through trust in Jesus. This idea will be discussed further in the next note, when we look at verse 24 in connection with vv. 39-40.

April 22: John 11:26a

John 11:26a

Today we will be looking at the second half of Jesus’ statement in Jn 11:25b-26a (the first half was discussed in the prior note). Here again is the statement:

“the (one) trusting in me, even (if) he should die away, he will live; and every (one) living and trusting in me shall (certainly) not die away into the Age”

As I discussed, the first half refers to the promise of life to the believer who should happen to die physically (as in the case of Lazarus). This “life” (zwh=) reflects both the physical reality of resurrection, usually understood as occurring at the end-time (v. 24), and the realization of the future (eternal) life. Both aspects should be recognized in the verb zh/setai (“he will live“). Now let us consider the second half in v. 26a:

kai\ pa=$ o( zw=n kai\ pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ou) mh/ a)poqa/nh| ei)$ to\n ai)w=na
“and every (one) living and trusting in me will (certainly) not die away into the Age”

Even more so than in v. 25b, here there is a profound play on two meanings of the verb za/w, used as a qualifying participle, “the (one) living [zw=n]”:

    1. “living” in the ordinary sense of one who is still alive (physically)
    2. “living” in the sense of one who shares in eternal life (in the present)

The second aspect is indicated by the parallel use of the participles zw=n (“living”) and pisteu/wn (“trusting”). On the surface, one could understand this simply as a believer who is (still) alive; however, the use of the verb za/w (along with the related noun zwh=) in the Gospel of John strongly indicates that the divine/eternal life, possessed by God the Father and the Son, is meant. The one who trusts (believes) in Jesus shares in this life, in a fundamental sense. This promise of life is expressed by the adjective pa=$ (“all, every”)—every one who trusts will experience (eternal) life.

Let us consider for a moment the parallel established in vv. 25b-26a:

    • (if) he should die away, he will live
    • the one living…will not die away

Conceptually, I would outline the relationship between these phrases as follows:

    • die away (physical death)
      —will live (resurrection / new life)
      ——believer is alive
      —living (experiencing eternal life)
    • will not die away (final death)

The final phrase “he will not die away into the Age” requires a bit more discussion. It involves the expression “into the Age” (ei)$ to\n ai)w=na) which is related to “the life of the Age” ([h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh=). The idea of dying “into the Age (to Come)” refers to the eschatological sense of a final or “second” death which extends into the distant (everlasting) future. This is tied to the concept of the end-time Judgment by God on humankind. The verb a)poqnh/skw (“die away”) is used in a similar sense (and context) in Jn 8:21, 24, where we find the specific expression of dying in one’s sins. The person who dies without trusting in Jesus will remain under the anger of God and will experience the Judgment which leads to final death (cf. 3:19, 36, etc). This is expressed clearly in 5:24, where it is said of the believer that “he does not come into (the) judgment”. Jesus’ statement in this verse, which serves as the climax of his exposition in vv. 19-24, is worth quoting here in full:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word and trusting in the (One) sending me holds life of the age [i.e. eternal life], and he does not come into (the) Judgment, but he has stepped (over) out of death (and) into life”

This is one of the best examples in the Gospel of “realized” eschatology. The one hearing and trusting in Jesus (and in God the Father through Jesus) holds eternal life—he/she does not merely come to possess it or enter it at the end-time, but holds it already now, in the present. The language in v. 24b is clearly eschatological, and yet it expresses a different reality. The present tense of ou)k e&rxetai (“he does not come”) is parallel to e&xei (“he holds”)—i.e., just as the believer already holds eternal life in the present, so he/she also is already guaranteed (now in the present) not to come into the Judgment. This is expressed in a different way by the perfect form of the verb metabai/nw, a verb which can be difficult to translate in English. Literally it means something like “step with(in)”, usually indicating a change of place—i.e., “step across, step over”. Here in verse 24, the closing phrase is “he has stepped over/across out of death (and) into life”. Quite often the perfect form (here metabe/bhken) signifies a past action or condition which continues into the present. In the context of Jesus’ statement this is a powerful declaration that the one who trusts has already stepped into life—that is, has already experienced the resurrection and possesses the eternal life normally associated with the future (end-time) state of the righteous.

April 21: John 11:25b

John 11:25

Jesus’ statement in John 11:25b-26a follows the “I Am” saying in v. 25a—”I am the standing up (again) [i.e. resurrection] and the life“, which I discussed in the previous daily note. Verse 25b-26a is a two-fold statement which explains this saying; it also serves to correct Martha’s misunderstanding (v. 24), according to the Johannine discourse-format. Her misunderstanding was addressed first in the “I Am” saying, shifting the focus from the end-time resurrection of the dead to Jesus’ own person, in the present. The exposition continues in vv. 25b-26a:

“the (one) trusting in me, even (if) he should die away, he will live; and every one living and trusting in me shall (certainly) not die away into the Age”

There is a poetic parallelism to this statement:

    • the one trusting—dies—will live (again)
    • every one living—trusting—will not die

Today we will be looking at the first part of this statement (in verse 25b):

o( pisteu/wn ei)$ e)me\ ka*n a)poqa/nh| zh/setai
“the (one) trusting in me, even (if) he should die away, he will live”

There is some question as to the precise meaning of living and dying, life and death, in this verse. Two main possibilities have been recognized:

    • It refers to physical death and resurrection
    • It refers to spiritual death and new (eternal) life

Because the words zwh= and za/w (“life”, “live”) in the Gospel of John usually refer to something akin to “eternal life”, many commentators assume the latter interpretation above. However, I believe that this is incorrect. The idea of a person being dead “spiritually”, while a popular concept and expression in modern Christianity, is hard to find in the New Testament. There is certainly precious little evidence for it in the Gospel of John. The verb a)poqnh/skw (“die away”) occurs 28 times in John, and always, it would seem, in reference to the ordinary (physical) death of a human being. The same is true of the adjective nekro/$ (“dead”), used substantively as a collective (“the dead”, i.e. people who have died). Therefore we can fairly assume that a)poqnh/skw has the same sense here in vv. 25-26. The context is clearly that of the resurrection from the dead (to be illustrated in the case of Lazarus).

However, it is important to understand the conceptual background of “life” and “death/dying” in the Gospel. The fundamental emphasis is eschatological. This is confirmed by the fact that the word “life” (zwh=) is regularly used in the expression “(the) life of the Age” ([h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh=), typically translated in English as “eternal life”. That customary translation, however, obscures the original sense of the expression, which refers to the Age to Come. In ancient thought, shared by Israelites and Jews, the future age represents a period of blessedness, in which the righteous will share in the heavenly (divine) life. Often this was understood in a realistic sense, of a future time (and/or condition) established on earth, expressed in Jewish thought as the “Kingdom of God”. Others came to view the idea in a more symbolic sense, reflecting the divine/eternal life that the righteous would experience with God in heaven.

Perhaps the earliest occurrence of the expression corresponding to ai)w/nio$ zwh= is in Daniel 12:2, where the resurrection of the righteous is in view. In Hebrew it is <l*ou yY@j^ (µayy¢ ±ôl¹m), where the word <l*ou essentially refers to something distant—i.e. that of the distant past or future, often in the sense of time stretching out into the far distant (“everlasting”) future. The temporal aspect of life without end is clearly expressed in Jewish writings such as the Qumran Community Rule [1QS] 4:7 and the Damascus Document [CD] 3:20. By the 1st century A.D., this aspect was supplemented by the idea of “eternal life” in a qualitative sense, whereby the “Age to Come” had a character completely different from the current Age (“this Age”). While the expression “life of the Age” in John retains something of the temporal background, the overall meaning has shifted to the qualitative—it reflects the life of God the Father (and the Son) in which the righteous (believers) will come to share. In this sense, eternal does not refer to duration, but to its Divine character.

The traditional contrast between “this Age” and “the Age to Come” has also been reinterpreted within the Gospel to reflect a different sort of dualism—the world (o( ko/smo$) vs. God, the realm below vs. that which is above, etc. By the “world” we should understand ko/smo$ in its fundamental sense of order, that is, the current world-order, the arrangement of things and how they appear. In Johannine dualism, this world-order is governed by darkness, evil and sin, and is set precisely in contrast to the realm of God, characterized by light and truth. The presence of sin ultimately leads to (1) physical death, and (2) judgment by God (after death). Thus the ordinary human condition—that of mortal beings—ends in death, realized in these two aspects. After physical death, there is a kind of final or “second” death which is the fate of the wicked (cf. Rev 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8).

Let us now consider Jn 11:25b in light of this background. I would argue that “death” in Johannine thought and expression has nothing whatever to do with the Spirit, or to the “spirit” of humankind; it is entirely separate, belonging to “the World”—the realm of sin and darkness. Human beings are bound under the conditions of the sinful world-order (ko/smo$), and are destined to suffer both physical and final (eschatological) death. Jesus is referring to the first aspect: physical, mortal death.

“even (if) he should die away [a)poqa/nh|]…”

The subjunctive here indicates a conditional clause, i.e. if a person should die, if he/she happens to die, just as happened to Lazarus. The promise of the statement is, that if a person trusts in Jesus, and happens to die (physically), that person will live (zh/setai). In the immediate context, this last phrase would seem to refer to the future resurrection, as Martha assumed in v. 24. Yet Jesus is actually saying that the person will live again now. This must be understood on two levels:

    • In the context of the narrative, the impending resurrection of Lazarus
    • In the sense of what may be called a “realized” eschatology

By “realized” eschatology is meant the idea that believers in Christ experience the essential reality of the future life in the present. In other words, the resurrection and “life of the Age” (eternal life) will be experienced through the presence of Jesus in and with the believer. In the Gospel of John, as elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g. the letters of Paul), this divine/eternal life is realized primarily through the abiding presence and work of the Spirit. There is no mention of the Spirit in the Lazarus episode, it has to be understood based on other passages in the Gospel. I will be dealing with the relationship between the Spirit and Life (cf. Jn 6:63) in a subsequent series of notes.

It is now time to proceed to the second part of Jesus’ statement, in v. 26a. This I will do in the next daily note.

April 19: John 11:24

John 11:24

In the previous note, I examined the statement by Jesus to Martha in verse 23 (“Your brother will stand up [again]”), observing that it holds the same place in this dialogue as the central statement/sayings by Jesus in the major Discourses. Similarly, Martha’s response in v. 24 reflects the same discourse pattern, whereby the person(s) hearing Jesus misunderstand the true meaning of his words. This is indicated clearly here:

“Martha says to him, ‘I see [i.e. know] that he will stand up [a)nasth/setai] in the standing-up [a)na/stasi$] in the last day’.”

She is referring to the belief that human beings (the righteous, at least) will be raised from the dead by God at the end-time. While evidence for such a belief among Israelites in the Old Testament is ambiguous at best, in the exilic and post-exilic periods it appears to have been more common, as seen from references such as Daniel 12:2; Sirach 46:12; 49:10; 2 Macc 7:9ff; 12:43-46; and 1 Enoch 91:10. The promise of resurrection in these passages is for the righteous ones; evidence for belief in a universal resurrection (of righteous and wicked both) is not clearly attested prior to the 1st century A.D. (cf. 2/4 Esdras 7:32ff). According to both the New Testament and Josephus, some Israelites and Jews (i.e. the Sadducees) in the time of Jesus did not believe in a resurrection (Mark 12:18ff par; Acts 23:8; Antiquities 19.3-5ff; War 2.11ff, 154ff). Scholars continue to debate whether, or to what extent, an end-time resurrection was accepted by the Community of the Qumran texts. While early Christians held firmly to a belief in Jesus’ resurrection, there may have been some who had doubt regarding the end-time resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:12-13).

The noun a)na/stasi$, derived from a)ni/sthmi (“[make] stand up”), came to be a technical term for both the end-time resurrection and, among Christians, the resurrection of Jesus. The noun is frequently used in this sense in the New Testament, both in the book of Acts and the letters. However, interestingly, in the Gospels, the resurrection of Jesus typically is referenced by the verb e)gei/rw (“rise, raise”), with the related noun e&gersi$ in Matthew 27:53.

Martha confesses a belief in the end-time resurrection (a)na/stasi$) and understands Jesus’ statement as referring to this event. From the standpoint of the Gospel writer, the misunderstanding involves wordplay and shades of meaning. While a)ni/sthmi and a)na/stasi$ can be used in the technical sense of the end-time resurrection, Jesus is using them in the more fundamental sense of giving life (i.e. to the dead). This can be seen by an examination of Jesus’ famous exposition in verses 25-26, which we will begin in the next daily note.