May 15: John 16:11

John 16:11

In verse 11, we have the third (and final) item of the triad in the Paraclete-saying of v. 8:

“that (one) will show the world (to be wrong)…about judgment [kri/si$]”

In the previous notes on v. 9 and 10, two key points were established: (1) the Spirit will show the world to be wrong in its understanding (of sin and righteousness), and that (2) the true nature of sin and righteousness is to be understood in Christological terms—that is, in relation to Jesus’ identity as the Son sent (from heaven) by God the Father. The same two points apply to the final statement regarding judgment (kri/si$).

The noun kri/si$ fundamentally refers to a separation, often in the sense of discerning or making a decision about something. It is typically translated “judgment”, either in this general sense, or within the specific legal-judicial context of a decision rendered in a court of law (by a judge). For the most part, in the Gospel of John, as throughout the New Testament, kri/si$ specifically refers to the coming end-time (eschatological) Judgment, when God will judge the world, punishing humankind for its wickedness.

The noun occurs 11 times in the Gospel (out of 47 NT occurrences), and once in 1 John (4:17); the related verb (kri/nw) occurs 19 times in the Gospel, but not in the Letters. Occasionally, the more general sense of judgment is intended (cf. 7:24), or kri/si$/kri/nw is used in an ordinary legal-judicial context (7:51; 18:31); however, as noted above, primarily the reference is to the coming end-time Judgment (see esp. 5:29-30; 12:31, 48; 1 Jn 4:17).

Even though the eschatological context is primary, this is presented in a very distinctive way in the Gospel Discourses. At several points, we find signs of what is called “realized” eschatology—that is, the idea that end-time events, such as the resurrection and the Last Judgment, are understood as having, in a sense, already occurred, being realized in the present. This does not mean that the Gospel writer (or Jesus as the speaker) denies a future fulfillment, but only affirms that it is also fulfilled in the present. This is seen most clearly in the chapter 5 Discourse, where the resurrection is defined, not simply as a future event, but as realized in the present, through the presence of the Son of God (Jesus)—vv. 25ff; cp. 11:25-26. In terms of salvation from the coming Judgment, this is realized for believers (in the present), through their/our trust in Jesus:

“the (one) hearing my word, and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me, holds (the) life of the ages [i.e. eternal life], and does not come into judgment, but has stepped over, out of death, (and) into life.” (5:24)

If believers are saved from judgment in the present, through trust, then unbelievers correspondingly come under God’s judgment, having the judgment (already) passed against them (in the present), through their lack of trust. The key passage alluding to this is 3:19-21; cf. also 9:41; 15:22-24. In the wider Gospel tradition, the end-time period of distress, seen as the beginnings of the Judgment, commences with the suffering and death of Jesus (see, e.g., Mark 14:38-41 par, and the context of the “Eschatological Discourse” [chap. 13 par]). The Johannine tradition evinces the same basic eschatological view, and this is confirmed by Jesus’ declaration in 12:31, and is strongly implied throughout the Last Discourse.

The explanation of the Paraclete-saying in v. 8 concludes with the words of Jesus in v. 11:

“…and about judgment, (in) that the Chief of this world has been judged”

The perfect tense of the verb kri/nw (ke/kritai, passive, “he has been judged”) indicates a past event, the effect of which continues in the present. The implication is that the “chief of this world” has already been judged, just as believers have already passed through [perfect form of the vb metabai/nw] the Judgment (5:24, cf. above).

The expression “the chief of this world” (o( a&rxwn tou= ko/smou tou=tou) occurred earlier the 12:31 declaration:

“Now is (the) judgment of this world, now the Chief of this world shall be cast out!”

The idea expressed is very close to that here in v. 11: “shall be cast out” (future tense) is parallel with “has been judged” (perfect tense). Essentially the same expression was used earlier in the Last Discourse, at the close of the first discourse (14:30f):

“Not much more shall I speak with you, for the Chief of the world comes, and he does not hold anything on me, but (this is so) that the world would know that I love the Father, and, just as He laid on me (a duty) to complete, so I do (it).”

This is a rather complicated way for Jesus to refer to his impending suffering (and death). The approach of the “Chief of the world” signifies the world’s role, under the dominion of its “Chief”, in putting Jesus to death. The point is strongly made that this does not mean that the world (or its Chief) has any power over Jesus, or has anything incriminating on him (deserving of death)—cf. Jesus’ words to Pilate in 19:11, and note the emphasis in 10:18. In his own way, Pilate is one of the world’s “chiefs”, though ultimately subservient to the dominion/control of its main Chief (the Devil). Jesus’ suffering and death will happen so that everyone (“the world,” in a more generic sense) will know of the love between Father and Son, and that the Son (Jesus) is simply fulfilling the duty and mission given to him by the Father.

In speaking of the “coming” of the world’s Chief, coinciding with the onset of Jesus’ Passion, one is reminded of the Synoptic Garden scene, when Jesus announces to his close disciples that “the hour (has) come [h@lqen h( w%ra]” (Mark 14:41 par; cp. Jn 12:23, 27 in connection with v. 31). In the Lukan version (22:53), this declaration is given more vivid and personal form:

“…but this is your hour, and the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness”

In many ways, this language approaches the Johannine theme of the world’s opposition to Jesus; the plural “you” essentially refers to those people, hostile to Jesus, who belong to the current world-order (ko/smo$) of darkness and evil. Functionally, they are servants of the Devil, the “Chief” of the world.

According to the world’s view of things, Jesus was judged and punished by the world’s authority; yet this view of judgment (kri/si$) is decidedly wrong. Jesus’ suffering and death actually marks the beginning of his exaltation—of his being “lifted up” (as the Son of God) in glory. While it might appear as though Jesus was judged, it was actually the world (and its Chief) that underwent judgment. This is the true nature of judgment that the Spirit will bring to light, exposing the false understanding of the world. Jesus himself declared the true situation at the close of the Last Discourse (16:33):

“…in the world you have distress, but you must take courage, (for) I have been victorious (over) the world!”

Again a perfect tense form (neni/khka, “I have been victorious”) shows how the future (eschatological) event of the Judgment is realized in the present. That Jesus’ victory over the world includes the “Chief of the world” —something already alluded to in 12:31—is confirmed by the author of 1 John:

“Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] the Son of God was made to shine forth [i.e. appear on earth], that he should dissolve [i.e. destroy] the works of the {Devil}.” (3:8)

The mission of the Son on earth, culminating in his death, had the purpose (and effect) of destroying the ‘works’ (implying dominion/control) of the Devil. This is another way of stating that, with the death of Jesus, the “Chief of the world” has been judged.

Another way that the world is wrong about judgment relates to the future expectation of the end-time (Last) Judgment. The conventional religious view was that only at the end time, in the future (however immediate or far off), would God judge the world—judging human beings for their ethical and religious behavior. In two respects, the Gospel of John presents a very different perspective on the great Judgment: (1) the Judgment is effectively realized in the present, based on whether or not one trusts in Jesus (as the Son of God), and (2) people are judged ultimately, and principally, on their response to the witness regarding Jesus identity (as the Son). This ‘realized’ eschatological emphasis in the Johannine writings (esp. the Gospel) was discussed above, but it is worth mentioning again here. Point (2) has already been addressed in the prior notes (on v. 9 and 10), but, in this regard, the Christological emphasis of the Paraclete-saying cannot be overstated.

In the next daily note, our analysis of vv. 8-11 will be summarized, along with some exegetical comments on the following vv. 12-15.

May 6: Hebrews 9:14

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

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

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

Hebrews 9:14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 4: Ephesians 2:13-18

Ephesians 2:13-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2: Romans 8:10-11

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

Romans 8:10-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 28: Romans 7:6

Romans 7:6

The emphasis in Romans 6 was on the believer’s freedom from the power of sin. This freedom is obtained by being “in Christ” —as expressed by the idea, drawn from the symbolism of the baptism-rite, of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here in chapter 7 (vv. 1-6), Paul introduces a second, related, aspect of our freedom in Christ—namely, that we are also freed from the binding authority of the Torah regulations (i.e., the Law). This is Paul’s focus throughout his letter to the Galatians, and is also the aspect of freedom that he emphasizes in 2 Corinthians 3 (cf. my recent study on this passage). The focus on the Torah is introduced here in vv. 1-6, and then the relationship between the Law and sin is expounded in the remainder of the chapter (vv. 7-25).

Paul begins his discussion in chap. 7 with an illustration involving the binding force of the marriage bond (vv. 1-3). When a woman’s husband dies, she is no longer bound to him by law, and she is free to give herself to another. This illustration is comparable to several that Paul utilizes in Galatians (e.g., 3:23-26ff; 4:1-7), as a way of explaining how the binding authority of the Torah only applied for a certain period of time—when that time is over, a person is no longer under its authority. According to Paul, the period of time when the Torah regulations were in force, has come to an end with Jesus (Rom 10:4, etc). Here is how he states the matter in 7:4:

“So then, my brothers, you also (have) become dead to the Law, through the body of the Anointed, unto your coming to be(long) [i.e so that you might belong] to another—to the (one hav)ing been raised out of (the) dead—(so) that we might bear fruit to God.”

Notice the way that Paul weaves in the ‘dying/rising with Christ’ theme (from chap. 6) into his application of the illustration. Jesus is identified with the ‘husband’ who died, thus voiding the force of the law for the woman (i.e., the believer); then Jesus is identified further with the new husband (“another” man), under an entirely new and different kind of marriage bond—one which has the purpose of “bearing fruit” to God.

The old husband (Jesus under the law) died and the woman (the believer) marries a new husband (the resurrected/exalted Jesus). This transfer is achieved through the believer’s participation in both Jesus’ death (“through the body of the Anointed”) and resurrection (“to the one having been raised out of the dead”).

Following this explanation, Paul again mentions (in v. 5) how this participation has set us free from the binding power of sin:

“For, when we were in the flesh, (the thing)s (being) suffered of sins, which (were realized) through the Law, worked in our members [i.e. body parts], unto the bearing of fruit to sin;”

The rather complex language here, describing the relationship between sin and the Law, is expounded by Paul in vv. 7ff. The syntax reflects a certain chain of logic:

    • “in the flesh” (i.e. prior to our coming to faith)
      • “the things suffered [paqh/mata] of [i.e. involving] sins”
        “that [were realized] through the Law”
    • “worked in our members”
      • “for bearing fruit to sin”

Stated more conventionally: there were passions and impulses “in our flesh” tending toward sin; these were active and at work in our “body parts”, spurring us on to sinful action (“bearing fruit to sin”). The same verb (karpofore/w, “bear fruit”) was used in v. 4 (cf. above), emphasizing the contrast between serving sin and serving God. Regarding this motif of bearing “fruit” (karpo/$), one is immediately reminded of Paul’s contrast between the “fruit of the Spirit” and the “works [‘fruit’ in a negative sense] of the flesh” in Gal 5:19-22.

As in Gal 5:24 (cf. also 2:19-21), the main point is that believers in Christ, who have died with him, have died to these sinful impulses: we are no longer in bondage to them. By participating in Jesus’ sacrificial death, we have been set free from their enslaving power. This also applies to the binding power of the Torah regulations, as is made clear in the continuation of Paul’s thought in v. 6:

“but now, we (have) been made to cease working from (under) the Law, (hav)ing died away in that by which we were held down, so that we (are now) to be a slave in (the) newness of (the) Spirit, and not in (the) oldness of (the) letter.”

Much of this language is repeated from 2 Corinthians 3—especially the use of the key verb katarge/w (vv. 7, 11, 13-14), the contrast between the Spirit and the “letter” (gra/mma, vv. 6-7), and the implicit contrast between the “old” and “new” covenants. On the last point, the expression “newness [kaino/th$] of the Spirit” certainly corresponds with the new (kaino/$) covenant in 2 Cor 3:6, just as “oldness [palaio/th$] of the letter” corresponds with the old (palaio/$) covenant in v. 14. For more on this, cf. the recent article in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”, along with the associated set of exegetical notes.

The same noun, kaino/th$, was used in 6:4 (cf. the earlier note); it is used in precisely parallel expressions, which also have comparable meaning:

    • “in newness of life” (e)n kaino/thti zwh=$)
    • “in newness of (the) Spirit” (e)n kaino/thti pneu/mato$)

This makes explicit what was only implied in the earlier passage—namely, that our participation in the death and life (resurrection) of Jesus is realized through the presence of the Spirit. While the Spirit tends to be associated with the life, it must be understood as equally associated with the death of Jesus. This also was indicated earlier, in 5:5, where Paul describes God’s love, present in us through the Spirit, specifically in terms of sacrificial death of Jesus (His Son), vv. 6-11. Thus, the reality and power of both Jesus’ death and his resurrection are communicated to us through the Spirit.

In the next daily note, we will turn to Paul’s discussion in chapter 8, where this role of the Spirit is given special emphasis.

April 27: Romans 6:8-11

Romans 6:8-11

“Now, if we died away with (the) Anointed, we trust that also we shall live with him, having seen that (the) Anointed, (hav)ing been raised out of (the) dead, no longer dies away, (for) death no longer is lord over him.” (vv. 8-9)

In vv. 6-7 (cf. the previous note), the principal effect of believers’ participation in Jesus’ death is that they/we are freed from sin—in the specific sense of being freed from bondage to the power of sin. This, indeed, is the focus of verses 1-11 as a whole (see the opening vv. 1-2), and is also a key theme that dominates the body of the letter, becoming especially prominent in chaps. 5-7. Sin is personalized as powerful tyrant, holding rule over humankind enslaved to his power. And, in this portrait, death (similarly personified, cf. 1 Cor 15:26, 54-56) functions as a powerful subordinate (vassal) or co-ruler with sin. In 5:14, death (qa/nato$) is specifically said to rule/reign (vb basileu/w) as ‘king’ over humankind:

“But Death reigned from Adam until Moshe…”

The limitation of the period before the coming of the Torah regulations (with Moses) relates to Paul’s discussion of the Law in chaps. 5-7 (cf. the prior v. 13). The presence of sin’s rule over humankind was not made clearly manifest until the coming of the Law; yet sin still exercised reign, ruling through the figure of death.

Paul utilizes the same line of imagery here in vv. 8-9, when he refers to death acting as a lord (ku/rio$, vb kurieu/w). Death proves that he is master and ruler over humankind in that every human being dies, being forced to submit and succumb to death’s power. Only in the case of Jesus, death was not able to be lord over him, meaning that, even though Jesus did die, death could not force him to remain in that condition (i.e., in the grave). The fact that Jesus was raised from the dead shows that death has no real power over him. What this means for believers is that, because we participate in Jesus’ death, being united with him, we also share in his resurrection. We are thus truly freed from the power of death, just as we are freed from the power of sin.

“For, in that he died away, he died away to sin upon one (occasion only), but, in that he lives, he lives to God.” (v. 10)

In only one instance (and in one respect) was Jesus force to submit to sin and death; Paul uses the adverb e)fa/pac (lit. “upon one [occasion]”) to express this (cp. a comparable usage in Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10). But there is a dual meaning here to the idea of a person “dying to sin [th=| a(marti/a|]”, for it also implies the notion that a person is no longer under sin’s power. This is the aspect of our participation in Jesus’ death that is emphasized in vv. 2-7 (see especially vv. 6-7, discussed in the previous note). In a similar way, believers die to the Law, and are no longer under the binding force of the Torah regulations (Gal 2:19-21; Col 2:14), even though this aspect of our freedom in Christ is not the focus here in Romans (but is addressed specifically later in chap. 8).

The implication in v. 10 is that Jesus’ (new) life—obtained/experienced through his resurrection—is not like his death (cp. 5:15-17ff). He died one time in the past (a)pe/qanen, aorist tense), but now lives continually and perpetually in the present (zwh=|, present tense). He submitted once to sin’s power, but now is under God’s eternal rule (living “to God” [tw=| qew=|]), in a continuous relationship with Him. For we, as believers, who share in this resurrection-life, we have the same relationship to God (a point Paul will develop powerfully in chap. 8).

“So also you must count yourselves [to be], on the one hand, dead to sin, but (on the other hand) living to God in (the) Anointed Yeshua.” (v. 11)

The last phrase (e)n xristw=| Ihsou=, “in [the] Anointed Yeshua”) is key. Coming as it does at the very close of the section, it emphasizes again our participation in Jesus’ death and life (resurrection), utilizing the familiar Pauline concept of being “in Christ”. However, the opening words of v. 11 bring us back to the ethical focus of Paul’s discussion (beginning in vv. 1-2ff), and on how we, as believers, should think and act according to the reality of this identity. In other words, if we have died off to sin, and now have new life in relationship to God, then this should be reflected in our mindset and behavior.

Paul expresses this with the verb logi/zomai, in the fundamental sense of “count”; here, to “count” oneself means to “consider” oneself to be a certain way—and then to act in a corresponding way, worthy of our identity as believers in Christ. An imperative is used to indicate the force (and importance) of this exhortation.

The same contrast in v. 10 is brought out here, using a me\nde/ construct (i.e., “on the one hand…but on the other…”): on the one hand, we died to sin; on the other, we now live to God—and awareness of this reality should govern our thought and action. This is an important way of understanding the dynamic of our participation in Jesus’ death and life. The role of the Spirit in this is only implied, here in chapter 6, but Paul will develop this aspect considerably as proceeds in chapters 7 and 8. The main development occurs in chapter 8; but in the next daily note we will turn briefly to Paul’s important statement in 7:6.

April 26: Romans 6:4-7

Romans 6:4-7

In Rom 6:4-5ff, Paul expounds the theological principle laid down in verse 3 (cf. the previous note)—regarding how our baptism, as believers, symbolizes our participation in the death of Jesus. Here is how Paul continues in verse 4:

“Therefore, we were buried together with him, through the dunking [i.e. baptism] into death, (so) that, just as (the) Anointed (One) was raised out of (the) dead through the splendor of the Father, so also we should walk about in newness of life.”

He extends the idea of believers dying with Jesus to being buried with him. This may well represent a natural extension of the baptismal imagery, with the descent down into the water representing a symbolic burial. The prefix sun– (“with”) on the verb sunqa/ptw (“bury [someone] together with [others]”) conveys the aspect of our participation in Jesus’ death (and burial). Paul makes extensive use of such compound verbs (with a sun– prefix), even, it would seem, coining one or two himself (cf. below).

Clearly, death precedes rebirth, and the implication is that we cannot participate in Jesus’ resurrection without first participating in his death. In this regard, the experience of death leads to the experience of new life. This “newness of life” (kaino/th$ zwh=$), as Paul puts it, covers both our (future) resurrection (patterned after Jesus’ own) and our experience, in the present, of new life through the Spirit. That Paul has the Spirit specifically in mind is confirmed by the parallel use of the noun kaino/th$ (“newness”) in 7:6 (the only other occurrence of the word in the NT); note the precise parallelism of expression:

    • e)n kaino/thti zwh=$ (“in newness of life”)
    • e)n kaino/thti pneu/mato$ (“in newness of [the] Spirit“)

Paul’s use of the verb peripate/w (“walk about”) has ethical-religious significance, and should be understood in light of his statements regarding sin in vv. 1-2. To walk about in “newness of life” essentially means the same as walking about “in the Spirit” (pneu/mati) in Gal 5:16. This theme of new life in the Spirit, introduced here, is developed extensively in chapter 8 (to be discussed).

Paul continues his exposition in verse 5 with an illustration from nature:

“For, if we have come to be planted together [su/mfutoi] in the likeness of his death, (how much more) rather shall we also be (in the likeness) of (his) standing up [i.e. resurrection].”

The planting of seed in the ground is a natural image for death and burial. It was used by Jesus (referring to his own death) in John 12:24, and Paul earlier utilized this same imagery in the resurrection chapter of 1 Corinthians (15:35-44ff), in much the same context as we find here—viz., how the death and resurrection of believers is patterned after Jesus’ own, and derives from our participation in his own death. The idea of a pattern is clear from Paul’s use of the noun o(moi/wma (“likeness”). The Adam-Christ parallel in 1 Cor 15 should be understood here as well, given the contextual importance of that theme in chapter 5 (vv. 12-21)—note the use of the noun o(moiw/ma in v. 14. The motif of Jesus as “second” Adam also informs the use of the noun o(moi/wma in 8:3 and Philippians 2:7. Jesus takes on the likeness of sinful humanity (i.e., ‘Adam’), and redeemed humanity (believers), in turn, take on the sinless/holy likeness of Jesus.

Indeed, the emphasis here in chapter 6 is on believer’s freedom from sin—that is, specifically, freedom from bondage to the power of sin. There are certainly ethical implications to this (vv. 1-2), but the basis is essential and theological. Note how Paul continues his statement (from v. 5) in vv. 6-7:

“Knowing this, that our old man has been put to the stake together with (him), (so) that the body of sin should cease to work, (it is that) not any more (are) we to be a slave to sin, for the (one hav)ing died away has been made right (again) [i.e. acquitted/cleared] from sin.”

Paul brings in here the striking idea, which he most likely originated, that our participation with Jesus’ death extends to the specific manner of his death—that is, by crucifixion. Again Paul utilizes a compound verb with a sun– prefix, sustauro/w (sun + stauro/w), meaning “put [someone] to the stake [i.e. crucify] together with [another]”. There is a good chance that Paul himself coined this verb, which he used earlier (and most famously) in Gal 2:19-20. It is this crucifixion, in particular, that put to death our bondage to sin, as well as our bondage to the Law (i.e., binding obligation to the Torah regulations); on the latter, cf. especially the vivid wording in Col 2:14. For Paul, these two kinds of bondage go together; in Romans the emphasis on freedom from sin is primary, while in Galatians (and also 2 Corinthians 3) the focus is on freedom from the Law.

In the next daily note, we will see how Paul summarizes this exposition, regarding believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, in verses 8-11.

April 25: Romans 6:3

In these daily notes, examining the relationship between the Spirit and the death of Jesus, we turn now to the Pauline letters. Paul expresses this relationship in a very distinctive way—in terms of believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This has been summarized by the principle of “dying and rising with Christ”. I will be focusing on how Paul refers to this concept, and develops it, in his letter to the Romans, mentioning relevant passages in the other letters along the way.

The association between the Spirit and the death of Jesus is introduced at 5:5, where Paul expresses the idea that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts, through (the) holy Spirit (hav)ing been given to us”. The love of God is thus manifest, within the believer, through the presence of the Spirit. This love is connected with the believer’s hope (e)lpi/$, vv. 4-5)—by which is primarily meant our future hope (of resurrection and salvation from the Judgment). The presence of the Spirit is a promise of our future salvation (and resurrection), cf. 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Gal 5:5.

In verses 6-11, Paul explains how God’s love, present within us through the Spirit, was manifest in the sacrificial death of His Son (Jesus) on our behalf. The thematic emphasis on our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus is introduced in verse 10, where Paul uses the verb katalla/ssw to express the idea of things “being made different” for us, in relation to God, through this participation. Our participation is “through” (dia/) the death of Jesus (“His Son”), and then “in” (e)n) his life (i.e. resurrection). The presence of the Spirit is associated with both aspects. Even though the role of the Spirit in Jesus’ resurrection is emphasized (cf. already in 1:4), it must be understood in connection with his death as well. This is especially so, as Paul specifically cites Jesus’ death as a manifestation of God’s love (present in us through the Spirit).

Romans 6:3-11

This participation-theme is developed and expounded in chapter 6, in which Paul specifically emphasizes the believer’s freedom from bondage to the power of sin. Our freedom, as believers, in this regard, is expressed in terms of dying to sin:

“We the (one)s who died away to sin, how yet shall we live in it?” (v. 2)

Believers are characterized as “the ones who” (oi%tine$) have died (a)peqa/nomen) to sin. An aorist form of the verb a)poqnh/skw (“die away [from], die off”) is used, indicating that this death is something that has already occurred, in the past. The principal past event being referenced is the baptism of the believer:

“Or, are you without knowledge (of the fact) that, as many of us as have been dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death?” (v. 3)

Paul is almost certainly drawing upon established, traditional symbolism (and language) associated with the baptism-rite. In particular, the expression “into Jesus Christ” was likely part of the formulae used in the ritual. The preposition ei)$ literally means “into”, but can also carry the nuance of “unto”. A fuller expression is “into/unto the name of Jesus” (cf. Matt 28:19; Acts 8:16; 19:5, etc), the principal signification may of been that of believers coming to belong to Jesus. The same preposition was frequently used in relation of person’s faith in Jesus (e.g., Rom 10:14; Phil 1:29, etc), and this association certainly would have been intended in the baptismal formula, since baptism signifies, in a primary way, one’s trust in Jesus Christ.

However, Paul seems to be utilizing here the more concrete sense of the preposition ei)$—viz., of being baptized, quite literally, into Jesus. This also may have been part of the ritual imagery. For example, when the believer goes down into the water (at least a partial immersion should be assumed), one is cleansed of the old self, shedding one’s prior identity (bound by sin), and ‘putting on’ a new life and identity, in union with Christ. Indeed, elsewhere Paul speaks of “putting on” Christ (Rom 13:14; cf. Col 3:10ff; Eph 4:24), and, here, too, he is likely drawing upon traditional baptismal language, as seems clear from Gal 3:26-28:

“For as many of you as (have) been dunked [i.e. baptized] into (the) Anointed, you (have) put on (the) Anointed.” (v. 27)

The actual verb used is e)ndu/w, which literally means “sink in(to)” a garment. The language could apply to one’s descent into the water, but more likely it would have been tied to the symbolic act of putting on a clean new garment (perhaps a white robe) after coming up from the water; the new garment would symbolize one’s new identity in Christ. This imagery came to be especially prominent in the baptismal tradition of the Syrian Church, with the splendidly creative idea that believers would put on the “robe of glory” left behind in the water by Jesus (after his own baptism).

It would have been natural for the descent down into the water to represent a symbolic “death”, followed by a rebirth. Such ritual imagery is found in many religious contexts, including the Greco-Roman ‘mystery cults’, and it would actually be surprising if, at a very early point, Christians did not utilize it as well. However, Paul appears to be the first Christian author (we know of) to bring out this particular aspect of the the baptism rite; in any case, he was the first to develop the symbolism, giving to it a profound theological (and Christological) interpretation.

This will be discussed in the next daily note, as we examine Paul’s exposition that follows in vv. 4-5ff.

April 21: 1 John 5:6-8 (continued)

1 John 5:6-8, continued

As I discussed in the previous note, the expression “water and blood” in 1 Jn 5:6 is best understood as referring to Jesus’ human life and sacrificial death, respectively. In my view, “water” signifies specifically Jesus’ birth as a human being, though the majority of commentators would probably associate it with his baptism (marking the beginning of his earthly ministry) instead. In the prior note on 1:7ff, I offered the interpretation that the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood (i.e., his death) is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit. Here, however, in 5:6-8, the relation of the Spirit to the “blood” has a somewhat different emphasis. The focus is on the Spirit as a witness (vb marture/w) to the “water and blood”.

The thematic motif of witnessing—noun marturi/a and the verb marture/w—is prominent in the Gospel and Letters of John. The verb occurs more frequently—33 times in the Gospel, 6 in 1 John, and 4 in 3 John (plus another 3 in the book of Revelation); the Johannine instances thus comprise more than half of all NT occurrences (76). The numbers are comparable for the noun marturi/a: 14 in the Gospel, 7 in the Letters, out of 37 NT occurrences; the ratio of Johannine references is even more dominant if one includes the 9 occurrences in the book of Revelation (the related noun ma/rtu$ also occurs 5 times in Revelation).

In the theological context of the Johannine writings, this vocabulary signifies being a witness as to who Jesus is—namely, his identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God; the emphasis is thus Christological. In the Gospel, there are a number of different witnesses to Jesus’ identity (see esp. 5:32-39), but it may be said that the witness of the Spirit is most important, being a Divine witness that comes from God Himself (vv. 9-11). Even the human witness of someone like John the Baptist, or the Beloved Disciple, is dependent upon the testimony of the Spirit. This is clear, for example, by the Baptist’s witness in 1:29-34, which depends upon seeing the Spirit descend upon Jesus (vv. 32-33), in accordance with God’s own word; after this, he is able to declare that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 34).

Here in 1 Jn 5:6-8, the focus is upon Jesus’ identity as the incarnate Son of God—that is to say, in relation to his earthly life (“water”) and death (“blood”). How does the Spirit bear witness to the life and death of Jesus? The proper answer would seem to be twofold: the Spirit testifies to (a) the reality of his life and death, and (b) their meaning and significance for humankind. This seems to describe the Spirit’s role as a witness, at least within the first statement in verse 6:

“and the Spirit is the (one) giving witness, (in) that the Spirit is the truth”

The Spirit is giving witness (present participle, marturou=n) to Jesus’ coming in/through “water and blood”. We can trust that this witness is truthful because the Spirit is the truth. The association of the Spirit with truth (a)lhqei/a) is prominent in the Johannine writings (Jn 4:23-24), primarily through the expression “Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6), for which a comparable expression in Hebrew (tm#a$[h^] j^Wr) is found in the Qumran texts (1QS 3:18-19; 4:21, 23, etc). The Spirit embodies and manifests, in an essential way, the truth of God Himself. The Spirit’s witness is thus God’s own witness about His Son (vv. 9ff).

In verses 7-8, however, the Spirit’s role as a witness is described somewhat differently:

“(For it is) that the (one)s giving witness are three: the Spirit and the water and the blood—and the three are unto the one.”

Here, the Spirit is not witnessing specifically to Jesus’ coming “in water and blood”, but, rather, joins with the water and blood as a three-fold witness to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The expression ei)$ to\ e%n (literally, “into/unto the one [thing]”) indicates that the three witnesses are actually part of a single witness, giving witness to the same thing, and for the same purpose. Jesus’ identity is testified to by: (i) his earthly life (“water”), (ii) his death (“blood”), and (iii) his presence in/through the Spirit.

Regarding the first of these three, it is indicated at various points in the Gospel that both Jesus’ words and his actions (esp. his miracles) serve as a witness to his identity as God’s Son—cf. 3:32; 5:30-36f; 7:16ff; 8:13-19, 28-29; 10:25, 31-38; 11:42. At the same time, his sacrificial death gives unique and definitive testimony to this identity—cf. 3:13-15ff; 6:51-58; 8:28; 10:14-18, 25ff; 12:23-33; 14:19-20. Admittedly, the idea of Jesus’ death as a witness, in this regard, is more subtle, and has to be drawn out of the text with a measure of exposition. However, the idea is expressed clearly enough in 19:34-35, precisely where the image of “blood and water” coming out of Jesus is emphasized. A human being is witness to the appearance of blood and water, but it is the “blood and water” itself that symbolizes—and thus bears witness to—Jesus’ identity as the Son sent by God the Father.

Finally, following Jesus’ exaltation—his death, resurrection, and return to the Father—the Spirit continues to testify to believers regarding who Jesus is (Jn 15:26). Moreover, through the Spirit, Jesus himself continues to be present with believers, and to speak to them, teaching them always. This is fundamental to the ‘Paraclete’ passages in the Last Discourse (14:16-17, 26ff; 15:26; 16:13-14), and is also prominent in 1 John (2:21ff, 27; 3:24; 4:4-6). Perhaps the best explanation for the context of 5:6-8, and its parallel in 4:2 (cf. the discussion in the previous note), is that the “antichrist” opponents referenced in 1-2 John denied (in some way) the importance of Jesus’ earthly life and death. They may, I think, have relied more exclusively upon the continuing testimony of the Spirit (cf. above), in the present, rather than upon the past witness of Jesus’ life (and death) in the Gospel tradition.  For the author, however, these are all parts of a single witness, and cannot be separated. This will be discussed further in upcoming notes and articles on 1 John.

For now, we are focusing specifically on the role of the Spirit in 5:6-8, and, in order to gain a full understanding of what the author is saying in these verses, it will be necessary to continue (in the next daily note) with an exposition of vv. 9-12 that follow.

April 20: 1 John 5:6-8

1 John 5:6-8

In the previous note (on 1 John 1:7), I offered the interpretation that the cleansing power of Jesus’ death (his “blood”) is communicated to believers through the Spirit. This would be in accord with a spiritual interpretation of the eucharistic language in Jn 6:51-58, in light of the statement that follows in v. 63. There is further support, I believe, for this line of interpretation in 1 Jn 5:6-8, a passage I will be discussing over the next two daily notes (beginning today).

Within the Johannine congregations, there was apparently some controversy over the place of Jesus’ death in the Gospel message. The author of 1 John refers to ‘false’ believers (whom he calls a)nti/xristo$, “against the Anointed”, i.e. antichrist), who, by their (erroneous) view of Jesus, effectively deny him as the Messiah and Son of God. The details of their Christology are difficult to determine (I have discussed the matter at length in several prior studies, and will be doing so again in even more detail), but it can be pieced together, to some extent, by a careful examination of the main passages (2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:1-12; 2 Jn 7-11). I would maintain that the key is found in 5:6-8. A true/proper belief in Jesus (as the Anointed and Son of God) entails an affirmation that

“This is the (one hav)ing come through water and blood—Yeshua (the) Anointed—not through the water only, but through the water and the blood; and the Spirit is the (one) giving witness, (in) that the Spirit is the truth. (For it is) that the (one)s giving witness are three: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood—and the three are into the one.”

This is a most challenging passage, which commentators have sought to interpret in various ways. In my view, “the water” refers primarily to Jesus’ birth and life as a human being, while “the blood” refers to his death (as a human being). The importance the author gives to affirming that Jesus came both “in the water” and “in the blood” strongly suggests that the ‘false’ believers, in some sense, denied the second portion—the reality of Jesus’ death, and/or the significance of it. Certainly, the Johannine Gospel tends to downplay the human suffering of Jesus (compare the Passion narrative and crucifixion scene with that in the Synoptics), and some in the Community may have distorted or exaggerated this aspect of the Gospel portrait of Jesus.

One especially important Johannine tradition—that of the blood and water emerging out of Jesus side (19:31-37, vv. 34, 37, discussed in a recent note in this series)—would seem to relate in some way to 1 John 5:6-8. Here is how this passage begins:

“This is the (one hav)ing come through water and blood—Yeshua (the) Anointed—not through the water only, but through the water and the blood…” (v. 6)

The initial (emphatic) pronoun (“this”, ou!to$) picks up from the end of verse 5, and refers to Jesus, the Son of God (“…that Yeshua is the Son of God”); the same identification is specified parethetically in v. 6, thus combining the two titles marking Jesus’ identity:

    • “Yeshua…the Son of God
    • “Yeshua the Anointed (One)

As in the case of the declaration in 4:2-3, it is not enough to trust/proclaim Jesus by these titles, but also to recognize (and confess) that Jesus came “through water and blood”. This phrase, and the statement in v. 6a, has long perplexed commentators—how exactly should this phrase be understood, and what, indeed, does it mean? The first clue lies in the obvious parallel with 4:2-3; note the specific belief regarding Jesus which was the point of contention between the author and the “antichrists”:

    • Jesus…has come in the flesh [e)n sarki/] (4:2)
    • Jesus…is the one (hav)ing come through water and blood [di’ u%dato$ kai\ ai%mato$] (5:6)

While the preposition dia/ (“through”) is different, that it may be understood as synonymous with e)n (“in”) is clear from the phrasing which follows: “in water and blood” (e)n tw=| u%dati kai\ tw=| ai%mati). Thus the parallel is even more precise:

    • in the flesh
    • in water and blood

In other words, to say that Jesus came “in water and blood” is generally the same as saying that he came “in the flesh”. At the same time, the phrase in 5:6 also appears to build on that in 4:2, indicating a development of thought. If “in the flesh” indicates that Jesus was born as a real flesh-and-blood human being, taking on the human condition, then the expression “water and blood” must relate to this in some way. Again, I would maintain that “water” refers to Jesus’ earthly life (his birth, or possibly the baptism that begins his public ministry), while the “blood” refers to his death.

The central theological point in 1 Jn 5:6-8 is that the Spirit conveys the meaning (and reality) of both Jesus’ human life (“water”) and death (“blood”) for believers—uniting both aspects together into a single, life-giving power. This very symbolism is expressed in the Gospel, following the death of Jesus, when “blood and water” came out of him (19:34), parallel with the earlier notice that, at the moment of his death, he “gave along the Spirit” (v. 30).

In the next daily note, we will give further consideration to the relationship between the Spirit and the “water and blood”.

Textual Note:

I should point out that many Greek manuscripts and versions have a different reading of the first phrase in verse 6 (“the one coming through water and blood”), variously adding “and (the) Spirit” (or “and the holy Spirit”), to form a triad. That this reading is secondary, and not original, is strongly indicated by the fact that the reference to the Spirit appears at different points in the phrase; the most widespread of these variant readings is: “through water and blood and (the) Spirit” (a A 104 424c 614 1739c, etc). It may simply reflect the influence of what follows in vv. 6b-8. However, if early Christians understood the verse as referring to Jesus’ birth (cf. above), then the addition of “and (the) Spirit” in 6a could have theological significance (i.e. to safeguard the idea of the virginal conception, and the role of the Spirit in Jesus’ conception); on this, cf. Ehrman, pp. 60-1.

References in these notes marked “Brown” are to R. E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 30 (1982). Those marked “Ehrman” are to B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford: 1993).