Special Note on 1 John 4:3

Special Note on 1 John 4:3

As indicated in the most recent note in this word-study series (“…Spirit and Life”), there is a famous text-critical question in 1 Jn 4:3. It is unusual in that the majority reading is found in the entire Greek manuscript tradition, as well as nearly all versions, and yet the minority reading is still thought to be original by a number of scholars. Here is a translation of the verse with the variation unit marked by braces:

“…and every spirit which { } Yeshua is not out of [i.e. from] God; and this is the (spirit) th(at is) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$], of which you have heard that it comes, and now is already in the world.”

The first italicized phrase characterizes this “spirit” which is subsequently identified as being “against the Anointed (One)”. Let us examine the verb which is at the point of variation:

    • The majority reading:
      pa=n pneu=ma o^ mh\ o(mologei= to\n Ihsou=n
      “every spirit which does not give common account [i.e. confess] (regarding) Yeshua…”
    • The minority reading:
      pa=n pneu=ma o^ lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n
      “every spirit which looses Yeshua…”

As indicated above, the majority reading is found in every Greek manuscript (and lectionary), as well as nearly all the versions, and in most of the Church Fathers who cite the passage. The minority reading, by contrast, has very limited attestation. Indeed, the Greek (manuscript) evidence is limited to the margin of the 10th century MS 1739, where it is noted that the verb lu/ei is the reading known by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen in the late 2nd century. That Irenaeus and Origen knew (and cited) this reading is confirmed, but only in Latin translation, by Against Heresies III.16.5, 8 and Origen’s Commentary on Matthew (§65 [PG] of the books/portions preserved only in Latin). The Latin equivalent of lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n (solvit Iesum) is also cited by Tertullian (Against Marcion 5:16), Priscillian (Tract 1:31), and other Church Fathers, as well as in a number of Old Latin and Vulgate MSS. The earliest surviving citation of the actual Greek would seem to be by the 5th century historian Socrates (Church History 7:32).

On the basis of the overwhelming textual evidence, most commentators accept the majority reading as original, though some scholars prefer the minority text as the lectio difficilior (on the principle that the “more difficult reading” is more likely to be original). If secondary, it is hard to explain how the verb lu/ei would have been introduced in place of mh\ o(mologei=. On the other hand, mh\ o(mologei= is grammatically peculiar enough that its presence in the entire Greek manuscript tradition, substituted throughout in place of lu/ei, seems most unlikely. Which ever direction the change took place, it probably occurred as an explanatory gloss, perhaps as a marginal reading such as we see in the Greek MS 1739. The reading lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n (solvit Iesum, “looses Yeshua”) is cited in the 2nd-3rd centuries—by Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian (and, presumably, Clement of Alexandria)—in relation to the Christological controversies of the time. This increases the likelihood that the reading was introduced, perhaps intentionally, in order to defend an orthodox (or proto-orthodox) Christology against certain “Gnostic” views which separated the man Jesus from the divine Christ. According to such an interpretation, the (variant reading of) 1 John 4:3 was cited to demonstrate that anyone who “separated” Jesus in this way was, in effect, denying him; certainly such a person was not giving account (i.e. confessing) as one (with the orthodox believers) the proper view of Christ.

But is this anything like what the author of the letter had in mind? Let us consider for a moment what the variant reading lu/ei might have meant for the author if original. The verb means “loos(en)”, and can be used: (1) in this general, fundamental sense; (2) of loosening a bond in the sense of freeing or releasing a person; (3) in the negative sense of “dissolve” (i.e. destroy). It occurs 7 times in the Gospel and Letters of John, more or less in each of these three senses:

    1. The basic meaning of “loosen” (Jn 1:27)
    2. The positive sense of freeing or releasing a person (Jn 11:44)
    3. The negative sense of dissolving/destroying something (Jn 2:19; 1 Jn 3:8)
      To this may be added a special usage (3a) related to the observance of the commands, etc. in the Law (Torah). To “loosen” observance of the Law means essentially to nullify its binding authority (Jn 5:18; 7:23; cf. also 10:35).

The context of 1 John 4:3 is decidedly negative, which suggests that something like meaning 3 above would be intended. The closest parallel is found in the Temple-saying by Jesus in Jn 2:19:

“Loose [i.e. dissolve] this shrine, and in three days I will raise it (again).”

The Gospel writer in verse 21 makes clear that the sanctuary, or Temple building, of which Jesus spoke was his own body. This association is not too far removed from false view of Jesus in 1 Jn 4:2-3. As verse 2 speaks of confessing that Jesus is the Anointed One who has come in the flesh—i.e., as a real flesh-and-blood human being—the contrary message or belief in verse 3 would deny this. In effect, such a “spirit” would dissolve or destroy the body of Jesus, perhaps in the less concrete sense of denying or nullifying its importance for believers (cf. the parallel in Jn 5:18; 7:23).

Of course, if the majority text is original, the question is moot. The author in verse 3 simply negates the (orthodox) view of Christ in verse 2: the different “spirit” does not agree that Jesus is the Anointed One who has come in the flesh.

For several citations and points above, I have relied upon the detailed discussion by Bart Ehrman in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford: 1993), pp. 125-35. He presents strong arguments in favor of the Majority text of 1 Jn 4:3.

Textual Note on Psalm 2:12

Textual Note on Psalm 2:12

(This note is supplemental to the current study on Psalm 2)

The difficulties surrounding the last two words of verse 11 and the first two of verse 12 have led many commentators to believe that the Hebrew text as it has come down to us (i.e. the Masoretic Text [MT]) is corrupt in one or both places. Especially awkward is the expression “kiss the son”, the customary rendering of the MT rb-wqvn. While this might be appealing to Christians in terms of devotion to Jesus (the Son), for many, if not most, critical commentators today, the presence of the Aramaic word rB^ here seems quite out of place. Just once elsewhere in the entire Hebrew Bible (Prov 31:2) do we find the Aramaic rB^ used, instead of the Hebrew /B# (“son”); indeed, the normal Hebrew word was used earlier in this very Psalm (v. 7). That the text here proved difficult even in ancient times, is indicated by the various ways v. 12 was rendered by the early translations.

The Aramaic Targums, often highly interpretive and paraphrastic translations, here at verse 12 have an`p*l=Wa WlyB!q^ (“receive instruction”). Whether this reflects a different underlying Hebrew, or simply an interpretive rendering, is unclear; it may have been influenced by the use of the Hebrew adjective rB^ (cf. below) in Psalm 19:9. In any case, this line of translation/interpretation was followed by the Septuagint (dra/casqe paidei/a$), and entered into the Latin Vulgate (apprehendite disciplinam). Other early translators understood rB^ to be a different (Hebrew) word, derived from the root rrb (meaning to be bright, shining, often in the sense of “pure, clean”), either as a substantive adjective or an adverb. The latter results in the meaning of the expression being something like “worship purely”, which is reflected in the Greek versions of Aquila and Symmachus, and the Latin of Jerome (adorate pure, cf. the Vulgate “B” text). Unfortunately, the Dead Sea Scrolls provide no help in this instance, since verse 12 is not preserved in either of the Psalms manuscripts (11QPsc and 3QPs) which contain Psalm 2. We are left to grapple with the Masoretic Text, comparing it with the ancient Versions.

There are a number of solutions to the apparent textual difficulty in verse 12, reflecting various degrees of confidence in the Masoretic Text (MT)—the consonantal text and/or the vocalization provided by the Masoretes. Let us consider each of them in turn.

1. Some traditional-conservative commentators are willing to take the MT as it stands, and would explain the peculiarity of the Aramaic (rB^ instead of /B#) as an accommodation to avoid the awkwardness and potential confusion (when reciting the text) of having two similar-sounding words in sequence: /P# /B# (ben pen). The viability of this solution is difficult to judge, since, as far as I am aware, this is the only instance in the Old Testament Scriptures where the two words would have occurred in close proximity. It does not resolve the awkwardness of the expression “kiss the son” in the overall context of verses 10-12, which otherwise appear to refer primarily to the nations’ response to YHWH (not the king).

2. Other commentators would follow Aquila, Jerome, etc, in understanding rB^ not as the Aramaic word, but as the Hebrew adjective (or adverb) derived from the root rr^B* (cf. above). It could be read either as a substantive adjective (i.e., “[the] pure [one]”) or adverb (“purely”), the former being much more likely. This would require no modification of the Masoretic Text, and would have much the same general sense as solution #1—i.e., as a reference to the king, presumably, as the “pure” (or “bring/shining”) one. There may be some basis for such an epithet for the king, based on earlier (cognate) use of the root rrb in Canaanite (Ugaritic).

3. A solution introduced in the early 20th century (by A. Bertholet) would view the MT here in vv. 11-12 as corrupt, the four words (last two of v. 11 and first two of v. 12) having become scrambled. The emendation would involve primarily the word order (and separation):

    • MT (vocalized txt): rB^-WqV=n~ hd*u*rB! WlyG]w+
    • MT (consonantal): rb wqvn hdurb wlygw
    • Emendation [CT]: wylgrb wqvn hdurb
    • Emendation [VT]: wyl*g+r^b= WqV=n~ hd*u*rB!

The Masoretic text (“…circle round with trembling. Kiss the son…”) has been modified to read “With trembling kiss his feet”. See how this would fit in the context of vv. 10-12:

10(So) at (this) time, you should act with intelligence, (you) kings,
(and) receive correction, (you) judges of the earth!
11Serve YHWH with fear,
and with trembling 12kiss His feet,
lest He flare (His) nostrils [i.e. become angry] and you perish (in your) path,
for his nostrils start burning in little (time) [i.e. quickly]!”

A number of distinguished commentators (e.g., Kraus, Hossfeld/Zenger) have adopted this emendation, and it is used in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation, among others.

4. Dahood [D], in his provocative Commentary, offers a different solution, one which preserves the consonantal text (and word order) of the MT; he simply parses the letters differently (ignoring matres lectiones, i.e. letters used for vowels):

    • MT: rb wqvn (rB^ WqV=n~, “kiss the son”)
    • [D]: rbq vn (rb#q* yv@n+, “men of the grave”)

where <yv!n` (“men”) is short for <yv!n`a&. He draws upon similar expressions such as “man of death”, “sons of death” (1 Kings 2:26; 1 Sam 26:16), and understands it in the sense of “mortal men”, i.e. men who are destined for the grave. To see how this alters the emphasis of vv. 10-12, I insert his rendering into my translation of vv. 10-12 above:

10(So) at (this) time, you should act with intelligence, (you) kings,
(and) receive correction, (you) judges of the earth!
11Serve YHWH with fear,
and go around with trembling,
12(you) men of the grave,
lest He flare (His) nostrils and you perish (in your) path,
for his nostrils start burning in little (time) [i.e. quickly]!”

The expression “men of the grave” would then be parallel with “kings” and “judges of the earth”, adding to the polemic of the passage as a warning to the surrounding rulers who might be planning revolt at the accession of the new/young Israelite king. Dahood’s proposed solution is most intriguing, if a bit too speculative to adopt outright.

How should honest and sincere students of Scripture deal with such complex textual questions? While the Masoretic Text must be respected, blind adherence to it is certainly no virtue, especially when this extends to the vocalization of the consonantal text. Is to be regretted that Ps 2:11-12 is not among the preserved Scripture manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls; if it were, we may well have a definitive solution to the question at hand. Perhaps the best approach is to bring together and integrate three different aspects, or points of emphasis, in the Psalm which are reflected in the main solutions outlined above:

    1. The (new) Israelite king as the “son” (in a symbolic sense) of YHWH. This is the point made, of course, in verse 7f, and it drives home the central tenet of the Israelite royal theology: the special status of Israel’s ruler in relation to God (YHWH), who provides Divine power and protection on his behalf. The Masoretic text of v. 12, as customarily rendered, reflects this theological emphasis—to “serve YHWH with fear” means that one also must do homage to the Israelite king (“kiss the son”).
    2. The proposed emendation (solution #3 above) enhances the exhortation (and warning) for the rulers of the surrounding nations to serve YHWH the God of Israel. While this includes showing proper homage to the Israelite king, the emphasis in vv. 10-12 is rather on what it means to rebel against the king—it is the same as rebelling against YHWH Himself! This is why vv. 10-12 focus on the need to treat YHWH with the respect He deserves; the danger for not doing so is grave indeed. Thus the emphatic parallelism of vv. 11-12a (according to the emended text): “Serve YHWH with fear, (and) with trembling kiss His feet”.
    3. Dahood’s alternate parsing/division of the first two words of v. 12 gives to the entirety of vv. 10-12 a three-fold parallelism which is most attractive, even though it creates a tension in the rhythm of the lines. It enhances, vividly and dramatically, the warning/exhortation to the rulers of the surrounding nations (and to the nations as a whole). Note the structure of the parallelism:
      • act with intelligence
        • you kings—i.e. the rulers of the surrounding nations
      • receive correction
        • you judges of the earth—i.e. what you think yourselves to be
      • serve YHWH with fear
        go around with trembling
        • you men of the grave—i.e. what you ultimately are, mortals in the face of God

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 16 (1965).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen 1-59 (English translation Fortress Press: 1993 [Continental Commentary]).
Those marked “Hossfeld/Zenger” are to F.-L. Hossfeld and E. Zenger, Die Psalmen: Psalm 1-50, Die Neue Echter Bibel: Kommentar zum Alten Testament mit der Einheitsübersetzung (Echter Verlag: 1993).

Saturday Series: Deuteronomy 32:1-43

Deuteronomy 32:1-43

I have chosen the great poem in Deuteronomy 32 as a way to demonstrate Old Testament criticism involving Hebrew poetry. It is often referred to as the “Song of Moses”, while in Hebrew tradition it is known by the opening word Ha°¦zînû, “Give ear…”. As with our earlier study on Exodus 32-34, I will be examining this section according to different areas or aspects of Biblical criticism—

    • Textual criticism
    • Form criticism
    • Source criticism
    • Historical criticism

followed by a brief exegetical survey of the text as it has come down to us, according to what is typically called Literary criticism.

Textual Criticism

An important component and emphasis of textual criticism is the determination, as far as it is possible, of the most likely original form of the text. This is based on the fundamental premise that the text has experienced corruption at numerous points during the process of transmission. The word “corruption” can be misleading, suggesting a moral failing; but this is not at all what the word means in the context of the science of textual criticism. Textual corruption simply means that the original text (as authored/intended) has been altered in some way at various points (variation units). This alteration may have been intentional, or, much more frequently, occurred by accident. The alteration may be limited to particular manuscripts (or manuscript groups), or, in some instances, has been preserved in the main line of transmission of the text as it has come down to us. In the case of the Old Testament, this main line of transmission is identified as the “Masoretic Text” (MT). Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (especially the texts from Qumran), the oldest copies of the Hebrew text were from the 9th-10th century A.D.—many centuries after even the latest of the Scriptures were composed. The Dead Sea Scrolls have changed the textual picture considerably. While the Scripture texts from Qumran (and other sites) have confirmed the general reliability of the Masoretic Text, they have also brought up many differences, including numerous points at which the Qumran MSS agree with the Greek version (and/or the Samaritan Pentateuch) against the MT. In such instances, the readings of the Qumran copies must be given most serious consideration.

A particular problem related to Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament, is that the poetic portions often contain older or archaic language which can be difficult to recognize and interpret. This was probably as true for ancient copyists, working centuries after the poems were originally composed, as it is for scholars today. There are many points in Old Testament poetry where the text appears to be corrupt. It is often difficult to be sure, since the confusion may be the result of a genuine word, phrase or syntactical construct, which is unknown or unintelligible to us today. However, a comparison with the Greek version (Septuagint), and, more importantly, the Dead Sea Scrolls, can help to clarify some of these difficulties, and to confirm points at which the Masoretic Text may indeed be corrupt.

There are three points in the Song of Moses were there is evidence for textual corruption, and/or variant readings. Let us look briefly at each of them in turn.

Deut 32:5

The first line (colon) in verse 5 appears to make very little sense as it has come down to us:

Šiµ¢¾ lô lœ° b¹n¹w mûm¹m
literally: “he made ruin to/for him his sons their blemish”

If you go to this verse in your English Bible, you will likely see a footnote indicating that the Hebrew is obscure or uncertain. As noted above, this is frequently the case in Old Testament poetry. There are hundreds of verses or lines where we simply do not know for certain what the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text (MT) means, or how to translate and interpret it, or whether the apparent confusion is the result of textual corruption. The Rabbis noted the difficult syntax of this verse and sought variously to explain the MT, without any emendation. For example, Nahmanides explains it along the lines of: “their blemish caused them [i.e. the Israelites] to act corruptly toward Him” so that, as a result, “they are not His sons”.

Many critical commentators believe that the verse, as it has come down to us, is corrupt. One suggestion (cf. J. Tigay, Deuteronomy: JPS Torah Commentary [1996], p. 301) is that originally the line read something like—

šiµ¦¾û lô b¹n¹w °¢m¥n
“His sons ruined (their) firmness [i.e. loyalty] to Him”

or, possibly:

šiµ¦¾û lœ°-b¹n¹w °¢m¥n
“(the ones who are) not-His-sons ruined (their) firmness [i.e. loyalty] to Him”

Admittedly, this would make a better fit with the second half of the line, but it remains quite speculative.

The Greek version (Septuagint, LXX) is somewhat confusing as well:

h¢mártosan ouk autœ¡ tékna mœm¢tá
perhaps: “they sinned, children (of) blame (who are) not to me [i.e. not mine]”

Unfortunately, verse 5 is not present among the manuscript fragments of Deuteronomy preserved at Qumran, so there is no help from that side in elucidating the Hebrew syntax. One must always be cautious in emending the text that has come down to us (i.e. the Masoretic text), especially when there is no clear manuscript support for such emendation. On the other hand, it is equally wrong to accept the MT blindly, ignoring places where the received text is difficult or unintelligible. Here textual criticism reaches it finest, and most challenging, point.

Deut 32:8

The Masoretic Text (MT) of these lines in verse 8 reads:

B®hanµ¢l ±Elyôn gôyim
b®ha¸rî¼ô b®nê °¹¼¹m
yaƒƒ¢» g®»¥lœ¾ ±ammîm
l®mi´par b®nê Yi´r¹°¢l

“In the Most High’s giving posessions (to) the nations,
in His breaking apart [i.e. separating] the sons of man,
He set the boundaries of the peoples,
to the count [i.e. number] of the sons of Israel.”

The last line has always struck commentators as a bit peculiar. Since the context overall suggests the dispersal of the nations (following the traditions in Genesis 10-11), occurring long before Israel was a people, establishment of the traditional number of nations (seventy, according to Gen 10) in terms of the number of Israel’s descendants (Exod 1:1-5; Deut 10:22, etc) seems somewhat out of place. Many commentators were drawn to the alternate reading in the Greek version (Septuagint, LXX), which, instead of “according to the sons of Israel”, reads “according to the Messengers of God” (katá arithmón angélœn Theoú). This version of the text finds confirmation in one of the Deuteronomy manuscripts from Qumran (4QDeutj):

l®mi´par b®nê °E_lœhîm

“…(according) to the count [i.e. number] of the sons of God

The expression “sons of God” is an ancient Semitic term for divine beings—”gods” generally, in Canaanite religion. Within the context of Israelite monotheism, this idea was modified so as to refer to heavenly beings, i.e. Angels (“Messengers”), who are not to be worshiped as gods. A traditional number of seventy such beings goes all the way back to ancient Canaanite religious lore, and was preserved in Israelite and Jewish writings. This variant reading would seem to be confirmed again by the context of verse 8 within the Song. An important theme throughout, as we shall see, is the need for Israel to serve and worship only Yahweh, and not to follow after the other nations, who worship other ‘deities’ (such as represented by the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies). While the other nations may have been allotted to various heavenly beings, Israel is God’s own portion (v. 9). Elsewhere in Deuteronomy (4:19-20) we find similar language to 32:8-9, which suggests again that the reading of 4QDeutj may be original (see further below, on verse 43). Indeed, a tradition reflecting this reading is preserved in Jewish writings, such as the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and the “Sayings of Rabbi Eliezer” (chap. 24). The Targum makes reference to “the seventy angels, princes of the nations”, in the context of the the Tower of Babel episode and the dispersal of the nations. For a good discussion, see J. Tigay, Deuteronomy: JPS Torah Commentary (1996), pp. 514-5 (Excursus 31).

Deut 32:43

Here is another example where the Masoretic text appears to be corrupt, in this instance due, it would seem, to a portion of the verse having dropped out. Here is the MT as it has come down to us (for the moment, I give it only in translation):

“Cry out, O nations, (to) His people!
For he will take vengeance (for) the blood of His servants
and return vengeance to His opponents,
and will cover [i.e. wipe away, cleanse] His people’s land.”

Commentators have noticed the lack of poetic parallelism in the first lines, quite in contrast to the style and technique used consistently throughout the poem, and raising the possibility that the MT is incomplete. Indeed, the Greek version is more complete, and, in part, this has been confirmed by the Qumran manuscript 4QDeutq, where v. 43 reads as follows (note the differences in italics):

“O heavens, cry out [i.e. rejoice] with Him!
Bow (down) to Him, all gods [lit. Mighty Ones]!
For he will take vengeance (for) the blood of His sons,
and return vengeance to His opponents,
He will treat those who reject Him (as they deserve),
and will cover [i.e. wipe away, cleanse] His people’s land.”

This preserves more accurately the three-beat bicolon (3:3) strophic structure and parallelism characteristic of the rest of the poem. The Septuagint Greek is more expansive, which could indicate its secondary character. The first lines, in particular, appear to conflate (combine) the text from 4QDeutq and MT:

“Be of good mind [i.e. rejoice], O heavens, with Him,
and kiss toward [i.e. worship] Him, all (you) sons of God!
Be of good mind [i.e. rejoice], O nations, with His people,
and let all the Messengers of God strengthen themselves in Him!

It is easy to see how the word °§lœhîm (“gods”, LXX “sons of God”), along with the line containing it, might have dropped out or been omitted during the process of transmission. It could have been misunderstood as supporting polytheism in some way (i.e. the existence of other deities), even if here the plural °§lœhîm (lit. “mighty ones”, in the sense of “divine beings”) is referring to heavenly beings (Messengers/Angels) and not pagan deities as such. The LXX wording (“sons of God”) more accurately reflects the typical Hebrew usage in the Old Testament (see Psalm 29:1, etc; but note Psalm 97:7). In favor of the Septuagint reading is the close association of the nations and the deities (or Angels), such as we saw in what is likely the original reading of verse 8 (above). Yet the Qumran text strikes me as being more precise and favorable to the ancient poetic (and religious) outlook. The call to the heavens also serves as a fitting conclusion, functioning as a parallel to the opening words of the poem (v. 1, “Give ear, O heavens…”).

I hope that this demonstrates some of the issues involved with the study of Old Testament poetry, especially in a poem as old as the Song of Moses appears to be. Textual and interpretive difficulties abound, and must not be glossed over or ignored. Continue to study and meditate on this great poem, and we will continue with our discussion next week, picking up with the remaining areas of critical analysis which need to be explored (such as form- and source-criticism). I will see you here again next week.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 1:4

As discussed in the introduction, this series of word study notes deals with the key thematic motifs of Spirit (pneu=ma) and Life (zwh/), as joined together in the statement by Jesus in Jn 6:63: “the utterances [i.e. words] that I speak to you are Spirit and Life”.

These notes will begin with the Johannine writings, as both terms have special significance in these works. The noun zwh/ occurs 36 times in the Gospels (compared with 16 in the Synoptics combined). There are 13 further occurrences in the First Letter; if we include references (16) in the book of Revelation (considered as a Johannine work), there are 65 total, nearly half of all occurrences (135) in the New Testament. The primary verb za/w (“live”), from which zwh/ is derived, is also frequent in the Gospel of John (17 out of 140 in the NT), especially used as verbal adjective or substantive. The verb zwopoie/w (“make [a]live”) also occurs twice in the Gospel.

The noun pneu=ma (“breath, spirit”) is more common in the New Testament, often in reference to the Spirit of God (or Holy Spirit). It occurs 24 times in the Gospel of John, and in all but 2 (or 3) instances, the reference is to the Spirit of God; the specific expression “Holy Spirit” appears three times (1:33; 14:26; 20:22). Thus the Spirit is more prominent in John than the other Gospels (though Luke is relatively close), and evinces a marked development of the early Gospel Tradition. The Johannine Discourses of Jesus are extremely complex literary pieces, reflecting a level of theological and Christological expression (and interpretation), though they certainly derive from authentic sayings and teachings of Jesus. For a survey of the evidence from the Synoptic Gospels, cf. the Introduction.

I begin with the first relevant passage in the Gospel of John, from the initial section of the Prologue (1:1-18).

John 1:4

An analysis of this verse is complicated because there is a variant reading involved. It is not a textual variant per se—rather, it is reflected more in the way that verses 3 and 4 are punctuated. In order to see this in context, I begin with verse 1 (note that for the sake of simplicity, I translate lo/go$ conventionally as “Word”):

“In the beginning was [h@n] the Word, and the Word was [h@n] toward God, and the Word was [h@n] God. This (One) was [h@n] in the beginning toward God.” (vv. 1-2)

The first two verses are governed by a four-fold use of the verb of being (ei)mi), in the imperfect active (indicative) form h@n (“he was…”). There are three components in verse 1, each characterized by an h@n phrase:

    • in the beginning was the Word
    • the Word was toward [pro/$] God [qeo/$ w/definite article]
    • the Word was God [qeo/$ w/out definite article]

Verse 2 restates the first two phrases: “This (One) was in the beginning | toward [pro/$] God”. The preposition pro/$ likely reflects the idea of facing God (or even moving toward him), suggesting that the Word is in close proximity (and intimacy) with God. What is most important is to realize how the verb of being (h@n, “was…”) characterizes the divine, eternal Being and Existence. In standard theological parlance, we might say that this relates to the inner life of the Godhead.

This brings us to verses 3 and 4, which can be understood (and translated) several ways. The crux lies in the last two words of verse 3 (o^ ge/gonen), indicated by italics below:

    • Translation (punctuation) #1:
      “All (thing)s came to be through him, and apart from him not even one (thing) came to be (of) that which has come to be. In him was life…”
    • Translation (punctuation) #2:
      “All (thing)s came to be through him, and apart from him not even one (thing) came to be. That which has come to be in him was life…”

Many commentators prefer the latter punctuation, citing a number of key early Church Fathers in support of it (cf. R. E. Brown, Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29, pp. 6-7). Those who favor it also note the supposed “staircase” parallelism of the poetic lines, whereby the start of one line picks up where the previous line leaves off—i.e. “…came to be” // “that which has come to be…” However, in my view, this is incorrect. The strongest argument against punctuation #2 (above) is the specific use (and meaning) of the verb gi/nomai in the context of the Johannine Prologue (and elsewhere in the Gospel). The verb of being (ei)mi) governs verses 1-2, while gi/nomai, a verb of becoming (“come to be, become”) governs v. 3. The verb gi/nomai in the Prologue refers to creation—i.e., that which comes to be (in contrast to God, who Is), especially creatures (human beings) who come to be born. Punctuation #1 above preserves this distinction accurately:

“All (thing)s came to be [e)ge/neto] through him, and apart from him not even one (thing) came to be [e)ge/neto] (of) that which has come to be [ge/gonen].”

The three-fold use of gi/nomai parallels the three-fold use of ei)mi (h@n) in verse 1. In conventional theological parlance, verse 1 deals with the life/existence of the Godhead, while verse 3 deals with creation (and the central role of Word in the process of creation). According to this interpretation, verse 4 has a clear and simple symmetry:

“In him was [h@n] life, and the life was [h@n] the light of men”

The dual use of the verb of being (ei)mi [h@n]) marks a return to a focus on the divine Being/Existence emphasized in vv. 1-2:

    • “in him [i.e the Divine Word] was Life”
    • “th(is Divine) Life was the Light…”

Here there is definitely a kind of step-parallelism:

    • In him was Life
      • Life was the Light of men

This first occurrence of the noun zwh/ in the Gospel of John is significant in the way that it defines the term, not in the traditional sense of the blessed life to be inherited by the righteous at the end-time, but as the life which God possesses (in Himself). This reflects a more profound sense of what might be referred to as “eternal life”—not as everlasting life, but as divine life, the life which is in God. The two halves of verse 4 are virtually a summary of the Johannine Gospel message:

    • The Word (i.e. Jesus, the Son) shares the Life of God and holds it in himself (cf. 5:26, etc)
    • This Life is communicated to human beings in the world (i.e. believers) through/by the Son (Jesus, who is also the [living] Word)

The sense of verse 4, in my opinion, becomes quite confused if one adopts the second punctuation (#2) cited above: “That which has come to be in him was life…”. First it mixes together the verbs gi/nomai and h@n in a way that is most difficult to interpret. What exactly does this statement mean? The difficulty is reflected by the fact that there are two distinct ways of interpreting this reading:

    • That which has come to be in him was life…” or
    • “That which as come to be was life in him

The first phrasing suggest that Life (zwh/) was the thing which “came to be” in the Word. The second phrasing allows for the idea that something which “came to be” in the Word was given life, or was identified with Life. In either instance, there is a strange mixing of Creation with the Divine Life which is not at all clear. Admittedly, within the thought and theology of the Gospel, believers come to be “in” Christ, united with him (and God the Father), but this idea does not seem to be in view at this point in the Prologue. Rather, it is introduced in vv. 12-13, only after it is stated that the Word was [h@n] “in the world” (e)n tw=| ko/smw|) [v. 10]. This a foreshadowing of the incarnation, of the Word coming to be born as a human being (vv. 14ff).

What does it mean to say that the Life (h( zwh/) was “the Light of men”? As in the case of the noun zwh/, the word “light” (fw=$) has a special significance in the Gospel of John. It does not typically refer to ordinary light (except in a symbolic sense), nor of human reason, etc as “light, enlightenment”; rather, it relates specifically to the knowledge and awareness of God the Father (and his Truth, etc) which is revealed and manifest in the person and work of Jesus. The Life which Jesus (the Son and Word) possesses is communicated to human beings (believers), bringing Light to them. While this is almost certainly the sense of verse 4, many commentators recognize that the Johannine Prologue likely draws upon ancient Wisdom traditions. In this regard, the “light of men” could be understood in a more general sense—i.e. God and the Divine Word as the source of enlightening wisdom. However, such Wisdom traditions are sublimated in the Prologue as we have it, having been reinterpreted from a Christological viewpoint. We will see further examples of this as we continue through the remaining passages in the Gospel dealing with the motifs of “Life” and “Spirit”.

The Resurrection in Luke: The ‘Western’ Text

The major text-critical question in the Resurrection Narratives involves the so-called “Western Non-Interpolations” in the Gospel of Luke. This rather awkward term stems from the analysis by Westcott & Hort (principally Hort) in their landmark The New Testament in the Original Greek (1881, vol. II pp.175-177), regarding situations where, despite superior manuscript evidence to the contrary, the Western Text may have the original reading. In general, the “Western Text” (as represented by Codex Bezae [D], key Old Latin [and Old Syriac] MSS, and other versional witnesses), was deemed inferior to the so-called “Neutral Text” (exemplified esp. by Codex Vaticanus [B])—this view, with some modification (and different language), continues to be held by most critical scholars today. Particularly in Luke-Acts, the “Western Text” tends to have longer readings at key variation-units—expanding or adding clarifying detail to the text. It is all the more noticeable, then, on those rare occasions when D (and other Western witnesses) happen to contain a shorter reading. When this fact (cf. the principle lectio brevio potior, “the shorter reading is preferrable”) is combined with intrinsic or transcriptional probability in favor of the shorter text, one must then contend with the possibility that the Western reading is original. Hence the term “Western Non-Interpolation”: i.e., the majority text contains an interpolation (an added verse or phrase), contrary to the shorter (original) Western text.

Westcott & Hort identified 27 shorter Western readings of note: six were deemed unlikely to be original, twelve others considered possibly (but probably not) original, and nine regarded as “probably original”. These nine (the “Non-Interpolations”) are: Matthew 27:49; Luke 22:19b-20; 24:3, 6, 12, 36, 40, 51, 52. For some time, critical scholars tended to favor this approach; however, in recent decades, with the discovery of the Bodmer Papyri (esp. Ë75), the pendulum has swung decidedly in the opposite direction—the majority of scholars, on the whole, now reject these shorter Western readings. Indeed, Ë75 (early 3rd century?) contains the longer (majority) reading for all 8 Lukan “Non Interpolations”, greatly strengthening the already impressive external evidence for them. On the other hand, the strongest argument in favor of the shorter readings is one of transcriptional probability—no one has really been able to offer a good explanation as to how (or why) the longer readings, if original, would have been deleted. Moreover, nearly all of the majority readings in these instances involve (possible) harmonizations to other portions of the New Testament (see notes below) as well as significant Christological details, both of which are more likely to represent scribal additions than details scribes would have ever deleted. For a fairly thorough defense in favor of the Lukan “Non-Interpolations”, see B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture Oxford:1993, pp. 197-232.

There is the problem: on the one side, the external manuscript evidence is decidedly in favor of the longer readings; but on the other, internal transcriptional evidence seems clearly to favor the shorter. Interestingly, all of the nine “Non-Interpolations” are from the Passion and Resurrection narratives (8 from the Lukan), and all but two (7) from the Resurrection/Ascension accounts in Luke 24 (common to virtually the same set of manuscripts). This cannot be coincidental, nor do I think it can be accidental. In other words, whichever set of readings (longer/shorter) is correct, the changes seem to have been both deliberate and consistent in Luke 24. Either scribes added text (interpolations), perhaps to harmonize with John’s account (see below) etc. and/or enhance the Christological portrait, or they deleted the text, for reasons that are as yet not entirely clear.

Luke 24:3

Here is a translation of the majority text of vv. 1-4, with the words in question italicized:

1And on (day) one of the week, of deep dawn [i.e. early at dawn], upon the memorial [i.e. tomb] they came carrying spices which they had made ready. 2And they found the stone having been rolled (away) from the memorial, 3but going into (it) they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it came to be in their being without a way-through [i.e. as they were at a loss] about this, and see!—two men stood upon [i.e. next to] them in flashing clothes…

Manuscripts D a b d e ff2 l r1 do not include the words tou= ku/riou  )Ihsou=. They may have been added to specify and make clear what would otherwise be implied: that it was truly Jesus’ body missing from the tomb. If the words did not drop out by accident, it is hard to explain why a scribe (on orthodox one, at least) would have removed them. A few manuscripts (579 1241 pc syrs, c, p bohms) read simply tou=  )Ihsou=.

Luke 24:6

The same group of Western manuscripts (along with Georgian MS B) do not include the words ou)k e&stin w!de a)lla\ e)ge/rqh from the angelic announcement. Here is a translation of the majority text (with italicized words):

5And at their [i.e. the women] coming to be afraid and bending th(eir) faces into the earth, they [i.e. the men/angels] said to them, “(For) what [i.e. why] do you seek the living amid the dead? 6He is not here, but he has risen! Remember how he spoke to you…”

Luke 24:12

Almost the same group of Western MSS (along with several Syriac witnesses [and Marcion?]) do not include verse 12 at all. The majority text reads:

o( de\ Pe/tro$ a)nasta\$ e&dramen e)pi\ to mnmei=on kai\ paraku/ya$ ble/pei ta\ o)qo/nia [kei/mena] mo/na, kai\ a)ph=lqen pro\$ e(auto\n qauma/zwn to\ gegono/$

But Peter, standing up, ran upon [i.e. ran to] the memorial [i.e. tomb] and bending alongside he saw the cloths [laying] alone, and he went from (there) toward his own (home), wondering at the (thing which) had come to be [i.e. what had happened]

This is of course quite similar to the account in John 20:4-5f, enough that scholars who favor the shorter reading view the verse as a harmonizing interpolation. The word kei/mena (not in Ë75 a B W etc) is probably a simple harmonization; however, otherwise, there are enough differences (including all of 12b), that this is less likely for the verse as a whole. On the other hand, the sequence from verse 11 to 13 reads smoother without v. 12:

11and these words [i.e. the women’s report] shined in their face [i.e. appeared to them] as if idle-talk, and they [i.e. the apostles] did not trust them [i.e. the women]. 13And see—two of them [i.e. disciples/apostles] in the self(-same) day were traveling unto a village…

It is also much more effective dramatically without v. 12, leading up to the revelation at Emmaus; it can be argued that the announcement in v. 34 (“the Lord has been seen by Simon!”) is more dramatic this way as well. That being said, what of the (internal) evidence—the intrinsic or transcriptional probability—for inclusion/exclusion of the verse? I find the argument for simple harmonization with John to be weak; I am also unconvinced by the idea that the verse was added to make better sense of v. 34. A much stronger argument is that the verse was added (whether from John, or more likely a separate tradition) to soften the image of the unbelieving apostles in v. 11—not all of them mistrusted the women, Peter responded aggressively to see for himself! What of reasons for scribes’ deleting the verse? Apart from the fact that the narrative reads better without v.12 (the plural pronoun and copulative kai arguably connect more readily with v.11), it is hard to come up with a good explanation.

Luke 24:36

Here the opening of Jesus’ introduction—kai\ le/gei au)toi=$: ei)rh/nh u(mi=n—is not included by the same group of Western manuscripts (D a b d e ff2 l r1). Again, let us examine the context in translation (disputed words italicized):

36And as they spoke this, (Jesus) himself stood in the middle of them and says to them: “Peace to you”. 37But being terrified and coming to be in fear, they seemed to gaze at a ‘spirit’. 38And he said to them, “(For) what [i.e. why] are you disturbed…?”

The scene makes more immediate sense without the words—Jesus suddenly appears in their midst and they are terrified (presumably not recognizing him, cf. v. 16ff). There would seem to be less reason for such sudden, extreme fear, after the words of greeting (“Peace to you”). In this instance, a harmonization with John (20:19) is perhaps more likely than in Luke 24:12. As for omission, if the words did not fall out accidentally, why would they have been deleted? Again, it is hard to come up with a reason.

Luke 24:40

Here, as at 24:12, and entire verse is missing from (the same group) of Western manuscripts, along with the Curetonian and Sinaitic Syriac. The verse reads:

kai\ tou=to ei)pw\n e&deicen au)toi=$ ta\$ xei=ra$ kai\ tou\$ po/da$
“and having said this, he showed them the hands and the feet”

A harmonization with John 20:20 is certainly possible. On the other hand, I would say that there is at least a plausible reason for scribes omitting the words, as they may have appeared superfluous or redundant directly following v. 39.

Luke 24:51-52

These two variations units are, in some ways, even more controversial, and are better left to an (upcoming) article on the Ascension.

One of the reasons earlier scholars more readily favored the “Non-Interpolations” of vv. 12, 36, and 40, was the understandable assumption that these were scribal harmonizations (of a sort all too common in the manuscripts) with the parallel passage in John. However, commentators today tend to prefer the view that Luke and John (in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, at least) both draw from a common tradition, which explains their sharing certain details not found in Matthew-Mark.

From a text-critical point of view, however, it should be reiterated that the internal evidence favors all of the Lukan “Non-interpolations” (in chapter 24). The two overriding arguments:

    1. Scribes are more likely to have harmonized the text (to another Gospel passage) by adding to it, than to eliminate a harmonization by deleting the text.
    2. Scribes are more likely to add details enhancing or expanding the portrait of Christ, than to delete them. One indisputable fact is that for all seven instances in Luke 24, the longer (majority) text adds vivid or significant detail related to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection not found in the corresponding Western text.

All things considered, it is safest to defer to the overwhelming external evidence in favor of the longer readings. Yet, in studying and meditating upon the Resurrection accounts in Luke, I would urge care and consideration—if we wish to understand the inspired original text, such significant textual variants must be given their due.

March 11: Matt 6:12; Luke 11:4a

Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4a

The next petition of the Lord’s Prayer, and the 2nd of the second part of the Prayer, has traditionally been translated in terms of forgiveness. While this is generally correct, it obscures the actual Greek vocabulary that is used. There are again certain differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions, but the basic form of the petition is the same; it begins as follows:

kai\ a&fe$ h(mi=n
“and may you release for us…”

The conjunctive particle (kai, “and”) indicates the close connection, in thought and form, with the previous petition, though this may not be immediately apparent to the average reader. This connective sequence for the petitions will be discussed as we proceed. The verb a)fi/hmi, usually translated “forgive” is more accurately rendered as “release”, though a more literal rendering would actually be “set/send (away) from”. In the New Testament, it is used regularly (along with the related noun a&fesi$) in connection with the sins of a person (or people), i.e. “releasing” sin, in the sense of sending it away. The ancient Day of Atonement ritual gives a concrete symbol for this in the “scapegoat” that is sent away into the wilderness carrying the sins of the people (Lev 16:20-22). Of the many New Testament examples where the verb and noun are used in this sense (for release of sins), cf. Mark 1:4; 2:9-10 par; 3:28-29 par; 11:25; Matt 18:35; 26:28; Luke 1:77; 7:47-48; 17:3-4; Acts 2:38; 5:31; Col 1:14; James 5:15; 1 John 1:9, etc. The opposite of releasing sin is to hold it, using a verb such as e&xw or krate/w, as in the famous formula in John 20:23 (cp. Matt 16:18):

“Anyone (for) whom you would release th(eir) sins, they have been released for them, and anyone (for) whom you would hold (them) firm, they have been held firm.”

Indeed, it is the release of sins that is expressed in the Lukan form of the petition: kai\ a&fe$ h(mi=n ta\$ a(marti/a$ h(mw=n, “and may you release for us our sins“. In Matthew’s version, however, the wording is different:

kai\ a&fe$ h(mi=n ta\ o)feilh/mata h(mw=n
“and may you release for us our (deb)ts (we) owe

The Didache (8:2) follows Matthew’s version, but uses the singular noun instead of the plural: “…our (deb)t (we) owe [th\n o)feilh/n h(mw=n]”. The difference here between Matthew and Luke is just part of the textual complication related to the form of this petition. First, we must note that Matthew is consistent in the wording used in both parts of the petition:

“and may you release [a&fe$] for us our (deb)ts (that we) owe [o)feilh/mata], even as we (have) released [a)fh/kamen] our (deb)tors (who) owe [o)feile/th$ pl] (to us)”

In Luke, however, the wording is different, resulting in a (partially) mixed metaphor:

“and may you release [a&fe$] for us our sins [a(marti/a$], for we (our)selves also release [a)fi/omen] every (one) owing [o)fei/lonti] (anything) to us”

How are we to account for these differences? Some commentators would chalk them up to different ways that the original (Aramaic) words of Jesus were rendered into Greek. This is certainly possible. In particular, it is likely that the Lukan form attempts to explain a (Semitic) concept of sin as (religious) debt which might have seemed strange to Greek hearers and readers. In this regard, Matthew’s version is almost certainly closer to the original, the Aramaic of which might have been something like (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 901):

an`y+b^oj Hn`l^ qb%v=W
an`y+b^Y`j^l= an`q=b^v= yd]K=
ûš®buq lán¹h µôbayn¹°
k§dî š§báqn¹° l§µayy¹bayn¹°

Fitzmyer (p. 906) also cites an interesting example (in Aramaic) from the Qumran texts (4Q534, col. ii. 17) in which “sin” “debt” (i.e. guilt) are juxtaposed: “its sin and its debt” ([htb]wjw hafj).

In any case, the Lukan ‘modifications’ clarify the text in several important ways:

    • That the debts a person owes to God are to be understood in terms of sin, as opposed to money or other ‘ordinary’ debt.
    • Retaining the specific idea of debt in the second half of the petition implies that what a person must forgive for others includes things like ‘ordinary’ debt—i.e., wrongs and injustices brought about during the course of daily life and business.
    • The final pronoun makes clear that the wrongs to be forgiven are things done specifically to us (believers).
    • The use of the adjective pa=$ (“every [one]”) also gives to the petition a universal context and setting which otherwise has to be inferred in the Matthean version.

The meaning of this petition, both within the Prayer and the wider Gospel context, will be discussed in more detail in the next daily note. However, before continuing it is worth pointing out a couple of other textual variants which can affect how the passage is interpreted. In Matthew’s version, for the second occurrence of the verb a)fi/hmi

    • The majority of manuscripts have the present tense, a)fi/emen/a)fi/omen, “even as we release…”.
    • The aorist form (a)fh/kamen), adopted above, is read by a smaller (but diverse) range of witnesses: a* B Z 1 22 124mg 1365 1582 vulgatemss, and some Syriac and Coptic manuscripts (Metzger, p. 13).

These readings each give a slightly different nuance to the petition. The use of the present tense suggests that the disciples are to follow God’s example—as He has cancelled our debts, so we will forgive the debts of others. The aorist implies a different sort of reciprocal principle, such as Jesus emphasizes in vv. 14-15 (and elsewhere in his teaching): if we want God to forgive us, we must (first) forgive any wrongs others have done to us. Both external evidence, and the context of the Sermon on the Mount, argue in favor of the aorist form. The Didache has the present (a)fi/emen), which also appears in some manuscripts of Luke (instead of a)fi/omen).

References marked “Fitzmyer” above (and throughout this series) are to  the Commentary on Luke by Joseph A. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible [AB] series, Vol. 28/A, 1985. References marked “Metzger” are to the UBS/Metzger Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd edition).

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

March 9: Luke 11:2 v.l.

Luke 11:2c (continued)

(This Monday Note on Prayer continues the current series of daily notes on the Lord’s Prayer.)

Today’s note on the Lord’s Prayer will examine the interesting variant reading for the petition at Luke 11:2c. Instead of the majority text, “May your Kingdom come” (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou), a few witnesses read (with some variation):

e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ u(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$
“May your holy Spirit come [upon us] and cleanse us”

Two minuscule manuscripts (162, 700) have this version of the petition, but it is attested even earlier in the writings of Maximus Confessor (Commentary on the Our Father §4ff, c. 650? A.D.) and Gregory of Nyssa (Sermon 3 on the Lord’s Prayer [PG 44:1157C, 1160], c. 370? A.D.), upon whom Maximus may be relying. Thus it must have been present in some manuscripts as the Lukan reading by at least the middle of the 4th century. Even earlier, Tertullian may refer to such a reading when he briefly discusses the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer in his treatise Against Marcion (4:26). In between comments on the invocation to the Father and the request for the Kingdom to come, he speaks of an invocation for the coming of the Spirit, which could indicate that it took the place, not of the Kingdom-petition, but the sanctifying of the Father’s Name. However, in his earlier work On Prayer, commenting on the Lord’s Prayer, Tertullian makes no such reference to the Spirit.

The majority text of Luke 11:2 is secure, and there is little chance of this variant reading being original. It may be the result of a marginal note, or interpretive gloss, that somehow made its way into the text proper. Many commentators feel that it stems from early liturgical practice, associated with the Baptism ritual, and this would seem to be confirmed by Tertullian’s discussion in On Baptism (§8). But how did this invocation become specifically associated with the coming of the Kingdom? And why did it end up modifying the Lukan version of the Prayer but not the Matthean? It is worth devoting a little space here to address these questions, as it sheds some light on certain aspects of early Christian thought.

To begin with, once the eschatological orientation of the Prayer began to be lost for early Christians, it became necessary to interpret these petitions in the Prayer in a different way, applying them more directly to the life and experience of believers in the Community. What would be more natural than to associate the coming Kingdom of God with the divine Presence, manifest in the Spirit, which was envisioned as coming upon believers following Baptism and the laying on of hands, etc. Some manuscripts (e.g. Codex Bezae [D]) of Luke 11:2c have the longer reading “May your Kingdom come upon us [e)f’ h(ma=$]” which certainly could suggest the descent of the Spirit.

The Lukan context of the Prayer also has a much stronger association with the Spirit than does the Matthean. The Spirit (Pneu=ma) is not mentioned once in the Sermon on the Mount (though there may be a play on the meaning of pneu=ma in the first Beatitude [5:3]). By contrast, the climax of the section of Jesus’ teaching on Prayer in Lk 11:1-18 involves the Holy Spirit (v. 18). So, too, does the Lukan portrait of Jesus give greater attention to the Spirit, as we see especially at the beginning of his public ministry, following the Baptism (when the Spirit descends upon him, ‘anointing’ him)—3:22; 4:1ff, 14, 18ff. Prior to chapter 11, when Jesus himself prays to God the Father, he is said to be “in the holy Spirit” (10:21). If we consider 11:1-18 as a narrative unit, it is clear that the Lord’s Prayer, for the Gospel writer (trad. Luke), is connected with the idea of the Holy Spirit as the ultimate purpose and goal of the disciples’ prayer. If his followers are expected to ask God for the Spirit, it would be natural enough for early Christians to interpret the Prayer with that in mind. The Kingdom-petition is the best fit to represent a request for the Spirit.

When we turn to the author’s subsequent work on the early Apostolic period (i.e. the book of Acts), the role of the Spirit takes on even greater prominence. At the beginning of the narrative, in a key passage, the disciples ask Jesus if now, as the Messiah, and following his resurrection, he is about to “restore the kingdom to Israel” (1:6). This reflects the tradition eschatological and Messianic expectation of many Israelites and Jews of the period—that the kingdom of God would be manifest, in earthly form, along the lines of the earlier empire of David and Solomon. The actual verb used by the disciples is a)pokaqi/sthmi, literally “set (something) down from (where it was before)”, i.e. restore, re-establish. It would be easy enough to envision this in terms of God setting back down (from heaven) the Kingdom, now under the rule of his Anointed representative (the Messiah, Jesus). Jesus himself never answers the disciples’ question directly. However, without explicitly denying the validity of it, he clearly points them in a different direction for understanding the nature and character of the Kingdom—in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel and the presence and power of the Spirit among believers (v. 8). And, indeed, this is the only idea (and manifestation) of the Kingdom which the author presents in the book of Acts (on the identification of the Kingdom with the proclamation of the Gospel, see esp. the closing words of 28:31). Thus the identification, or association, of the Kingdom with the Spirit is, I would say, a thoroughly Lukan theme.

Paul, in his letters, makes this identification at several points as well. For example, in Galatians 5:21-22, the traditional motif of inheriting the Kingdom of God is connected with the fruit of the Spirit in believers. Similarly, the statement that “flesh and blood” cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:50) implies that it is only through the Spirit (of God and Christ) that this occurs. In Rom 14:17, Paul states bluntly that “the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but justice/righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit” (cf. also 1 Cor 4:20, where “power” can be understood in terms of the Spirit). In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses another traditional motif (“entering the Kingdom”) and, like Paul, defines it in terms of the Spirit (3:5).

It would seem that originally, in the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus, there was, in fact, a general connection between the coming of God’s Kingdom and the work of the Spirit, and that it was understood primarily in an eschatological sense. This is reflected at several points in the Gospel tradition, notably the saying(s) of the Baptist in Mark 1:8; Lk 3:16-17 par, which Luke carries over into the narrative of Acts. In the opening section, a central reference to the Kingdom of God (1:3) is surrounded by two references to the presence and work of the Spirit (vv. 2, 5). Another interesting tradition is the (“Q”) saying in Luke 11:20 (following the section on prayer, 11:1-18):

“if I cast out daimons in [i.e. with] the finger of God, then (truly) the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you”

The Matthean version of this saying (12:28), however, reads:

“if I cast out the daimons in the Spirit of God, then (truly) the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you”

The parallelism between Spirit and Kingdom (in the Matthean version) is especially clear when we look at the syntax of the saying:

    • in the Spirit of God
      • I cast out daimons [i.e. the work of Jesus]
      • it has come/arrived upon you
    • the Kingdom of God

The connecting point between Spirit and Kingdom is the person of Jesus, a fact central to the Sermon on the Mount, as well as the entire witness of the New Testament and the Christian faith.

Finally, perhaps the closest parallel to the Lukan version of the Prayer (with the variant reading on the Spirit) comes from Paul’s letters. Twice (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), he refers to believers praying to the Father, using the Aramaic aB*a^ (a)bba=), just as it presumably would have been spoken by Jesus in the Prayer. In both instances, the presence and work of the Spirit in believers is central; the wording in Gal 4:6, in particular, is significant:

“and, (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God se(n)t out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying ‘Abba, Father'”

Conceptually, this is quite close to the Lukan context of the Prayer, which culminates in the promise that God will give the Spirit to Jesus’ disciples when they ask him (11:18).

Saturday Series: John 14:7, 17

John 14:7, 17

We have been looking at a variety of passages from the Gospel of John, using them as the basis for exploring important issues of New Testament criticism and exegesis. Today I wish to turn to the last of the Johannine discourses of Jesus—the great “Last Discourse”, set in the narrative at the time of the Last Supper, prior to Jesus’ arrest (chapter 18). It is comprised of the material in 13:31-16:33—the Discourse proper—and is followed by the famous prayer-discourse of Jesus in chapter 17. I divide the Discourse into three main parts, each of which functions as a distinct discourse itself, containing as a central theme the impending departure of Jesus from his disciples.

The character and orientation differs somewhat from the prior discourses, since here Jesus is addressing only his close followers, at the beginning of his Passion. The departure of Judas from the scene (13:30) is significant for two reasons: (1) it means that only Jesus’ true disciples remain with him, and (2) it marks the onset of his Passion, a time of darkness (“and it was night“, v. 30b). The latter motif is expressed elsewhere in the Gospel tradition (Luke 22:53; 23:44 par), and foreshadowed earlier in John as well (11:9-10; 12:35). Thus Jesus has occasion to speak with his followers in a way that he could not (or chose not to) before.

The discourses of Jesus in John are carefully constructed—almost certainly reflecting both Jesus (as the speaker) and the understanding/artistry of the Gospel writer. While the vocabulary of the Gospel is relatively simple (by comparison with Luke, for example), the thought and logic of the discourses is often complex and allusive. Each word and form used, every nuance, can carry tremendous importance as well as theological (and Christological) significance. Textual variants, however slight, can affect the meaning and thrust of the passage in a number of ways.

The two verses I wish to look at today are found in the first division of the Discourse (14:1-31), which I would outline as follows:

  • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
    • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 1-4)
      • Question by the disciples [Thomas] (v. 5)
      • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 6-7)
      • Question by the disciples [Philip] (v. 8)
      • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 9-11)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 12-14)
    • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
      • Instruction to the Disciples: Love and the Commandments (vv. 15-24)
        —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 15-17)
        —Instruction: Relation of the Disciples to Jesus and the Father (vv. 18-21)
        —Question by the disciples [Judas] (v. 22)
        —Jesus’ response: The disciples and the world in relation to Jesus and the Father (vv. 23-24)
      • Exhortation for the Disciples: Farewell Promise of Peace (vv. 25-27)
        —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 25-26)
        —Exortation: Jesus’ gift of his Peace (v. 27)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 28-31)

The two verses relate to the two thematic sections—the first (v. 7), to the relationship between Jesus and the Father (with the central “I Am” sayings in v. 6 and 10-11), and the second (v. 17), to Jesus’ closing words for his disciples, with the two-fold promise of the Spirit (vv. 15-17) and Peace (vv. 25-27) which will be given to them.

John 14:7

This statement by Jesus follows the great “I Am” saying in v. 6. It is a conditional statement, marked by the particle ei (“if”). However, the exact force and meaning remains uncertain, largely due to variant readings involving the four verbs (indicated by placeholders with braces):

“If you {1} me, (then) you {2} my Father also; and from now (on), you {3} Him and {4} Him”

There is little or no variation in terms of the verbs used; rather it is the specific form which differs. Let us briefly consider each of these in turn:

Verb #1ginœ¡skœ (“know”). The manuscripts show a surprising variety, indicating a lack of certainty among scribes; however, the options can be reduced to two—the difference being one of verb tense: (a) perfect (egnœ¡kate), “you have known”, or (b) pluperfect (egnœ¡keite), “you had known”. Just one or two letters are involved, but it creates a distinct difference in the force of the condition:

    • “if you have known [i.e. come to know] me…”, assuming a positive condition: as indeed you have.
    • “if you had known [i.e. come to know] me…”, assuming a negative condition: as indeed you have not (yet).

The former is the reading of several key manuscripts (Sinaiticus [a], the original copyist of Bezae [D], and the minuscule 579; see also the Bodmer papyrus Ë66). The latter is read by the majority of manuscripts, including Codex Vaticanus [B].

Verb #2ginœ¡skœ/eídœ (“know”). There is even more diversity with the form of this verb, though again it comes down to two options regarding the tense: (a) future (gnœ¡sesthe), “you will know”, or (b) pluperfect (¢¡deite or egnœ¡keite), along with the subjunctive particle án, “you would have known”. Again, the latter is the majority reading, including Codex Vaticanus [B], while the former is essentially the reading of the Bodmer papyrus Ë66, Sinaiticus [a] and Bezae [D]. Thus the text-critical choice comes down to two pairs of verb forms:

    • (1) “If you have known me [i.e. as indeed you do], (then) you will also know my Father…”
    • (2) “If you had known me [i.e. as yet you do not], (then) you would have also known my Father…”

Verbs #3 and 4ginœ¡skœ (“know”) and horᜠ(“look/gaze [at]”). Despite some minor variation, in this case we can be fairly certain of the text—a present indicative form (ginœ¡skete) “you know”, followed by a perfect form (heœrákate) “you have seen”. The form of these two verbs, in my view confirms option (2) for the first pair, specifically the use of the verb eidœ (instead of ginœskœ) in #2. Now both eidœ and ginœskœ can mean “know”, but the former verb literally means see, often taken in the sense of “perceive, recognize” (i.e. “know”). Thus internal considerations confirm the majority reading of v. 7a, and yield a text for the verse which would be translated:

“If you had known me, (then) you would have seen [i.e. known] my Father also; (but) from now (on) you (do) know Him and have seen Him”

Keep in mind that verses 9ff deal specifically with the idea of seeing God the Father (in the person of Jesus), while the earlier vv. 5ff emphasize knowing. Verse 7 combines both motifs—seeing/knowing—as is often the case in the Gospel of John.

If this reading is correct, how is it to be understood? The key, I believe, is the setting of the Last Discourse, in the light I have discussed above. It is only now that Jesus can begin to reveal the truth fully to his disciples. Before this point, even his close disciples have not really known him—that is, his true identity in relation to the Father. Now, with this revelation (in the Last Discourse), and through his coming death and resurrection, they do truly know him. And, since, knowing him means seeing him, they also have seen the Father, as it is only through Jesus that we come to see/know the Father.

John 14:17

In this verse, there is again a pair of verbs, for which there is an important variant. The saying of Jesus here follows upon the basic idea (and language) in verse 7. The first part of the saying, which I present along with v. 16 (as a single sentence), may be translated:

“And I will ask (of) the Father, and he will give to you another (one) called alongside [parákl¢tos], (so) that he might be with you into the Age—the Spirit of Truth, which the world is not able to receive, (in) that [i.e. because] it does not see/observe him and does not know him; but you know him…”

The contrast between believers and “the world” is introduced, a theme which will take on greater prominence in chapters 15 and 16 of the Discourse. While the world is unable to recognize the Spirit of Truth (the one “called alongside” [parákl¢tos], i.e. ‘Paraclete’), Jesus’ true disciples (believers) are able to see and know him, since they (and we) now know and see Jesus. The concluding portion of verse 17 contains the variant. Again it will be helpful to examine each of the two verbs:

Verb #1ménœ (“remain, abide”). Here there is no variation, the manuscripts being in agreement on its form: present tense (ménei, “he remains”). This is perhaps a bit surprising; we might have rather expected the future tense (i.e. “he will remain”), since, from the standpoint (and chronology) of the narrative, the Spirit has not yet been given to believers (see 7:39, 16:17 and, of course, 20:22). This apparent discrepancy may help to explain the variant readings for the second verb.

Verb #2eimi (verb of being). The manuscript evidence is rather evenly divided between present and future forms: estín (“he is”) vs. éstai (“he will be”). The present tense matches that of the previous verb; but this could reflect either the consistency of the author or a harmonization by the copyists. On the other hand, the future tense better fits a future coming of the Spirit (in 20:22); but copyists might have modified the present form for just this reason. In my view, the present of the first verb (“he remains”) + the future of the second verb (“he will be”) is the more difficult reading, and best reflects both the most likely original of the text and the context of the discourse. Here is how this portion would be translated:

“…you know him, (in) that [i.e. because] he remains alongside you and he will be in you.”

Why the present tense if the Spirit has not yet been given to the disciples? This is sometimes described as a proleptic use of the present (i.e. anticipating something in the future). However, in my view, a better explanation is at hand here in the discourse. The expression is “remains alongside [pará]”. This reflects the very title given to the Spirit—as “one called alongside [parákl¢tos]”. Note that here Jesus refers to the Spirit as “another parákl¢tos“, which suggests that Jesus himself was a parákl¢tos (“one called alongside” believers, by the Father). An important idea, introduced in the Last Discourse, is that the Spirit/Paraclete takes the place of Jesus with believers. This sense of continuity is expressed both by the present tense of the verb, and by the verb itself (“remain”). Through the Spirit, Jesus remains with believers.

Why then the shift to the future tense? Why would Jesus not say “he remains alongside you and he is in you”, as some manuscripts indicate? While Jesus remains with believers through the Spirit, the coming of the Spirit also indicates something new, a new condition. This condition—the indwelling of the Spirit—does not begin until after Jesus’ resurrection, during his appearance to the disciples in 20:19-23. This is stated in verse 22: “And, having said this, he blew in(to them) and (then) says to them, ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit…'” While the preposition en (prefixed to the verb, “blow in/on”) could be read “he breathed on (them)”, it is better to translate literally here: “he breathed/blew in(to) (them)”. This may reflect the original creation narrative, in which God breathed life into the first human being (Gen 2:7). The coming of the Spirit would then indicate a new birth (“from above”) for believers, by the Spirit, as expressed in 3:5-8.

I hope this study demonstrates how carefully one must read and study the Greek, especially in the context of passages such as the Last Discourse, where even small differences in the form of a word can significantly affect the interpretation. For next week, I would ask that you continue reading through to the end of the Last Discourse, including the prayer-discourse of chapter 17. I will be looking at a couple of verses in that chapter which also involve text-critical questions, and which have proven challenging for commentators over the years.

If you wish to study the Last Discourse, and the Passion Narrative, in more detail, I would recommend that you explore the series Jesus and the Gospel Tradition, being (re-)posted here on this site. I will begin posting the notes and articles dealing with the Passion Narrative this week.

February 18: The Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:10; Lk 11:2)

The Lord’s Prayer is undoubtedly the most familiar passage in the New Testament. For centuries it was an essential part of the catechism (basic instruction) of Christians, and has been recited regularly in public worship from the early Church period until the present day. So familiar is the Lord’s Prayer, that one may not realize just how remarkable a text it is.

The Prayer is found, in two forms: in Matthew (6:9-13, part of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’), and in Luke (11:2-4), both in the context of Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Critical scholars generally hold that the Prayer is part of a collection of common sayings and traditions (designated as the source document “Q”, Quelle) shared by Matthew and Luke; however, in the case of the Lord’s Prayer, it could just as easily have come by way of a separate tradition. As with the Beatitudes, the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer is shorter, made up of four imperatives (compared with seven in Matthew), with some differences in wording as well.

In these few, concise verses, one finds a multitude of difficulties and questions of interpretation, such as:

    1. What exactly does it mean to “make holy” (a(gia/zw) the name of God?
    2. What does it mean for the kingdom of God to come, and what is the force of the request?
    3. Similarly, what is the force of the request for God’s will to be done w($ e)n ou)ranw=| kai\ e)pi\ gh=$ (“as in heaven and/also upon earth” [only in Matthew])?
    4. What is the meaning of the word e)piou/sio$ in Matthew 6:11 (request for bread)?
    5. What are the “debts” (o)felei/mata) we ask to be released from? and what of the variant form of the request in Luke 11:4 which parallels “sin” (a(marti/a) and “debt” (vb. o)fei/lw)
    6. Is our releasing the “debts” of others a prerequisite for God releasing our “debts”, or does it follow as a consequence, or both?
    7. In what sense does God “lead” us into (“bring into”, ei)sfe/rw) testing/temptation (peirasmo/$)? And what does it mean when we pray that he not lead us so?
    8. What exactly is “the evil” (to ponhro/$) and what does it mean to be “rescued” (lit. “dragged [away from]”, r(u/omai) from it/him?
    9. How does the traditional doxology relate to: the prayer as whole, its context in the Gospel, its use in early Christian worship?

For the moment, I will discuss just one phrase, as found in Matthew 6:10a and Luke 11:2b—e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou (“[let] come your kingdom”, or “[may] your kingdom come”); for two reasons: (1) this request seems to be the focal point of the first half of the prayer, and (2) there is most interesting textual variant here [in Luke] that is worth discussing.

1. Position of the phrase in the Prayer

In Matthew, there are three imperatival phrases in the first half of the prayer:

  • God’s namea(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou (“[let/may] your name be made holy“)
  • God’s kingdome)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou (“[let/may] your kingdom come“)
  • God’s willgenhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou (“[let/may] your will/wish come to be“)
    to which is added the qualifying phrase w($ e)n ou)ranw=| kai\ e)pi\ gh=$ (“as in heaven and/also upon earth”), a phrase which, in a real sense, can be applied cumulatively to all three imperatives

Note that kingdom is in the center, between name and will, and closely connected to both. The “kingdom of God” is traditional Jewish language encapsulating and signifying God’s power, authority, sovereignty, His attributes, and everything related to his work (both in Creation and on behalf of His People). It is a simple, mighty concept, providing (for the ancient world, at least) an immediate sense of greatness and rule. The earthly metaphor of a kingdom is not merely fortuitous: for it expresses, or at least promises, the presence of (God) the king on earth—an expression also at the center of the Gospel message, and centered in the message of the incarnate Son of God—h&ggiken h( basilei/a tou= qeou=, “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15 par.)

In Luke, there just four imperatival phrases in the prayer, the two in the first half identical with the first two in Matthew:

  • God’s namea(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou (“[let/may] your name be made holy“)
  • God’s kingdome)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou (“[let/may] your kingdom come“)

2. A textual variant in Luke 11:2

There are actual two substantial variants in this verse: (1) at the end of the verse, the majority of witnesses include the text of Matthew 6:10 (the third petition), but almost certainly an interpolation and probably not original to Luke’s version.

(2) The second variant is most interesting: in two late (11th-12th c.) manuscripts (162 700), instead of the petition regarding the kingdom (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou, “[let/may] your kingdom come”), we find (with slight variation): e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$ (“[let] come your holy Spirit upon us and cleanse us”). The same basic variant is also attested in Gregory of Nyssa (4th cent., Sermon 3 on the Lord’s Prayer), and in Maximus Confessor (7th cent., Comm. on the Our Father §4, probably dependent upon Gregory). Earlier, Tertullian (Against Marcion 4:26) mentions a petition for the Holy Spirit along with the petition for the Kingdom; however, the reference is ambiguous (it may have been in Marcion’s version of Luke). There is also a similar petition which occurs in the (Greek) Acts of Thomas (§27). It is possible that the variant is the result of a liturgical notation (an adaptation for Baptism?) which accidentally made its way into the text. However, it is very much worth considering why such a connection might have been made in the early Church.

Perhaps one does not tend to think of the Kingdom of God in terms of the Holy Spirit; but how else are we to experience the Kingdom, how else is it to come upon us—”as in heaven also upon earth”? Gregory, in his Sermons on the Prayer was keenly aware of contemporary disputes—the so-called Macedonian heresy (Pneumatomachoi), which denied full deity (in the orthodox sense) to the Spirit—and took pains to emphasize, on the basis of this passage, that the Spirit possesses all the attributes, including power and sovereignty, of God the Father (and Son). He even goes so far to state, succinctly: to\ de\ Pneu=ma to\ a%gion baslei/a e)stin, “but the holy Spirit is kingship” (PG 44 col. 1157 C). In this regard, the coming of the (Holy) Spirit parallels closely the sanctifying (‘making holy’) of God’s own Name (which, in ancient thought was a way of signifying the Person himself), with the cleansing work in hearts and lives of God’s People: that is, in the temple (or palace—closely related in the ancient world) of the King. Is this not also where we most fully find the God’s will being done…or, at least to pray that it be so?

For more on this particular variant, see the Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (second edition, pp. 130-131), and the standard Critical Commentaries.

There is a third ancient version of the Lord’s Prayer, found in the so-called Didache (“Teaching [Didakh/] of the Twelve Apostles”)—an early Church manual, probably dating from the mid-second century, but perhaps containing older material. The second half of the work (chapters 7-15) provides instructions for congregational worship and practice—ch. 8 briefly discusses prayer and fasting, and the text of the Lord’s Prayer is found in verse (or section) 2. This is the longest of the three versions, including the doxology, and is probably derived from the text in Matthew; however, it is at least possible that it came into the Didache through a separate tradition.

Saturday Series: John 5:39

John 5:39

In a previous Saturday post, we studied John 3:16, as a famous verse often cited completely out of its context in chapter 3. Today we will be looking at another verse that is frequently referenced outside of its context—the statement by Jesus in 5:39. It happens to involve a variant reading, though not a textual variant as such. The Greek of the verse is secure—in particular, the first word (eraunáte), a form of the verb ereunáœ, “seek, search” (in the sense of “search out”, “search for”, “search after”).

There is ambiguity, however, in that the form eraunáte (e)rauna=te) can be read as either (a) an indicative (“you [do] search”) or (b) an imperative (“you [must] search”, “search!”). Many commentators have understood it as the latter (an imperative), and those who cite the verse out of context invariably read it this way: i.e., “Search the Scriptures…”. Traditional-conservative Protestants have been especially prone toward referring to the verse (out of context) this way, as a kind of proof-text demonstrating the view held by Jesus on the authority of Scripture. When quoted outside of its context in chapter 5, the verse gives the impression of being an exhortation by Jesus, to his disciples, on the importance of studying Scripture. While this is a noble and true sentiment, it would appear to be off the mark in terms of what Jesus is actually saying in this passage. In order to gain a proper understanding, it is necessary, as always, to look carefully at the place of the verse in the passage as a whole.

Chapter 5 is an extended discourse—one of the great discourses of Jesus that make up the core of Gospel (especially the ministry period spanning chapters 3 through 10). There is a major discourse in each of chapters 3-6, each of which is based upon a central historical tradition—in chs. 3 and 4 it is an encounter episode (Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman), while in chs. 5 and 6 a miracle story is involved, similar to ones we see narrated in the Synoptic Gospels. The miracle story in chapter 5 functions as part of the narrative introduction (vv. 1-16), which may be divided as follows:

    • Narrative setting (vv. 1-3)
    • Healing miracle by Jesus (vv. 5-9a)
    • Reaction to the miracle (vv. 9b-16)

Central to this narrative, though introduced only in v. 9b, is the fact that this healing occurred on a Sabbath. In terms of the Gospel Tradition, this marks the episode as a “Sabbath Controversy” scene, similar to a number of such scenes in the Synoptic Gospels. There is a block of episodes in Mark 2:1-3:6, all involving negative reaction to Jesus’ ministry (and/or debate with him) by religious authorities—that is, the experts on Scripture, the Law (Torah) and related matters of religion, typically identified as those among the Pharisees (i.e. “Scribes and Pharisees”). In Mk 3:1-6 (par Matt 12:9-14; Lk 6:6-11) the Sabbath controversy is centered on a healing miracle, as in Jn 5:1-16, though in some ways in the miracle narrated in Mk 2:1-12 is closer to John’s account. Luke records two other Sabbath miracle scenes (13:10-17; 14:1-6), which are similar in tone and structure.

In all of these “Sabbath Controversy” episodes there is a negative (even hostile) reaction to Jesus. This is implied already in v. 10, but is not made explicit until the end of the narrative in v. 16: “And through [i.e. because of] this, the Yehudeans {Jews} pursued [i.e. persecuted] Yeshua, (in) that [i.e. because] he did these (thing)s on a Shabbat (day)”. This is the setting for all that follows in verses 17-47, which means that Jesus is not addressing his disciples, but his opponents. In all of the Synoptic Sabbath controversies, the negative reaction comes from religious authorities (“Scribes and Pharisees”, etc). While this is not stated specifically in chapter 5, it may be assumed fairly from the overall context; and it is more or less confirmed by the close points of similarity between chap. 5 and the episode in chap. 9, where the opponents of Jesus are identified as Pharisees (vv. 13-16, 40).

The negative reaction to Jesus (by his opponents) sets the stage for the central saying of the discourse (5:17): “My Father works (even) until now—and I also (do this) work!”. It draws upon the ancient Sabbath theme of God’s work and life-giving power in creation. Jesus identifies his own working of healing miracles—i.e. giving (new) life to those suffering from illness and disease—with this same creative power exercised by the Father. The implications of this were not lost on Jesus’ opponents—indeed, it only increased their hostile reaction, according to the statement by the Gospel writer in verse 18. A lengthy exposition by Jesus follows in vv. 19-47 covering the remainder of the chapter. This exposition has two main divisions:

    • 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

It is the second division that supplies the immediate context for verse 39. The interpretive key lies in the opening verses (30-32), in which Jesus expounds the principle that a person who gives witness about himself cannot be considered reliable (v. 31). On this point, see, Deut 19:15, where the testimony of more than one witness, in a legal/judicial setting, is necessary to secure valid evidence (Num 35:30; Deut 17:6; Matt 18:16, etc). Jesus makes precisely this point later on in the Gospel (8:14-18). Verse 32 is vital for an interpretation of what follows:

“There is another [allos] th(at is) witnessing about me, and I have seen that the witness which he witnesses about me is true.”

The Greek word állos (a&llo$), “(someone) different, another”, is in an emphatic position at the start of the verse. Who is this “other”? There are two possibilities:

    1. It simply means “another” in the general sense—i.e. someone different from Jesus, or
    2. It refers primarily (and fundamentally) to God the Father as the one who gives witness about Jesus

The initial context of vv. 30-32 suggests #1, but the overall context of the passage makes it likely that #2 is intended—i.e., God the Father is the ultimate source of this testimony. Actually, there are four different witnesses, or sources of testimony, referenced by Jesus in this section:

  • John the Baptist (vv. 33-35)
  • Jesus himself—specifically the works (miracles) which he does (v. 36)
  • God the Father—his Word (vv. 37-38)
  • The Scriptures (vv. 39-40)

Each of these is connected in important ways; note the chain of relation:

  • John the Baptist
    • Jesus himself (greater than John)—does the Father’s work
      • The Father who sent Jesus—His Word abiding in believers
        • (His Word) manifest in the Scriptures

The Scriptures come at a climactic point in this chain of testimony. Verses 39-40 also serve as a transition into the declaration of judgment against Jesus’ opponents in vv. 41-47. Clearly, verse 39 is not an exhortation to study the Scriptures, but rather a strong rebuke against those who fail to accept Jesus. The reference to the Scriptures, in this regard, is especially significant if, as the context suggests, Jesus is addressing the supposed experts (Scribes/Pharisees) in Scripture and the Law. Almost certainly, the initial word of verse 39 (eraunáte) should be read as an indicative:

“You search the Writings [i.e. Scriptures], (in) that [i.e. because] you consider (yourselves) to hold Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life] in them, and those are the (writing)s witnessing about me, and (yet) you do not wish to come toward me, (so) that you might hold Life” (vv. 39-40)

The force of the contrast (and rebuke) is largely lost if eraunate is read as an imperative. Indeed, the context would seem to demand the indicative:

    • “You (do) search [eraunate] the Scriptures…(which witness about me)
    • and (yet) you do not wish [thelete] to come toward me”

The idea that a person might gain (eternal) life from the Scriptures (and a study of them) was not uncommon in Judaism, especially in the Rabbinic tradition, with its strong emphasis on a detailed study of the Torah. Consider the following statements from the Rabbinic collection “Sayings of the Fathers” (Pirqe Abot):

“He who has acquired the words of the Law has acquired for himself the life of the world to come” (2:8)
“Great is the Law for it gives to those who practice it life in this world and the world to come” (6:7)
(Translation by R. E. Brown in The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29, p. 225)

Paul declares virtually the opposite in Gal 3:21b:

“For if (the) Law was given being able to make alive [i.e. give life], (then indeed) justice/righteousness would (have) been out of [i.e. from] the Law”

Note also Romans 7:10: “and it was found with/in me (that) the (commandment) laid on me (which was to be) unto life, this (turned out to be) unto death”.

The Scriptures are not the source or means of Life; this is only found in the person of Jesus—the Son who makes God the Father known to us. He possesses the Father’s Life in himself (Jn 5:26), and gives that same Life to those who trust in him (the Elect/Believers). Yet the Scriptures bear witness to Jesus, and his identity as the Son sent by the Father. Protestant Christians have, at times, perhaps, been guilty of placing too much emphasis on the Scriptures (the Bible), and too little on the person of Christ, and his presence in and among us through the Spirit. Fortunately, if we really do study the Scriptures carefully—particularly, the Gospels and writings of the New Testament—we will never lose sight of the centrality of Christ (and the Spirit). The Gospel of John is especially valuable in this regard, which is one of the main reasons why I often use it as the ground for Bible study and instruction in methods of interpretation.

I would encourage you to read the entire discourse of chapter 5 (again), giving careful consideration to what has been discussed here, and then proceed to do the same with the following discourse in chapter 6—the great “Bread of Life” discourse. Analyze the chapter as whole—are you able to detect the points of the Johannine discourse-format, used throughout the Gospel? Where is the central saying of Jesus in this discourse? (Recall that it was verse 17 in chapter 5). Is there more than one central saying? Examine the structure of the dialogue in verses 25-58. How would you divided this? What patterns in the text do you see? In particular, consider how verses 51-58 relate to vv. 35-50. What do you make of the apparent Eucharistic imagery in vv. 51ff? This has been the source of considerable difficulty (and controversy) for commentators over the years. We will be examining Jesus’ words in vv. 53-58 when we meet again here…next Saturday.