“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Mark, pt 2)

Mark 8:31 / 9:31 / 10:33, continued
The First Passion-Prediction: Mk 8:31

“And he began to teach them that ‘It is necessary (for) the son of man to suffer many (thing)s, and to be removed from examination [i.e. rejected] under the Elders and the Chief Sacred-officials and the Writers [i.e. Scribes], and to be killed off, and (then), after three days, to stand up (again).”

The principal action that will take place is indicated by the verbal infinitive paqei=n (“to suffer“)—that is, there will be considerable suffering for Jesus in Jerusalem. The extent (and severity) of this suffering is suggested by the substantive adjective polla/ (“many [thing]s”). This is informative for an understanding of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), as it is used here.

On the surface, this prediction of suffering is completely at odds with Peter’s confession identifying Jesus as the “Anointed One” (v. 29), especially if that title was referring to the royal Messiah of the Davidic Ruler figure-type (cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). It was certainly not thought that the Davidic Messiah would experience intense suffering when he arrived in Jerusalem; rather, he was expected to subdue the nations and establish a new (Messianic) kingdom on earth, centered at Jerusalem. The context in Luke 17:20-21 and 19:11ff suggests that at some of Jesus’ followers and observers expected the establishment of this Messianic kingdom when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. The entire Triumphal Entry scene reflects this same expectation (cf. the recent notes on this scene, in this context of the Synoptic narrative).

With regard to the Passion-prediction, there may be an intentional distinction being made (by Jesus) between the title “Anointed (One)” and “Son of Man”. Peter’s confession emphasizes Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah (who was to appear in victory and glory), while the Passion-prediction, emphasizing Jesus’ impending suffering, focuses on his identity as “Son of Man”.

There can be no doubt that “son of man” in the Passion-prediction is a self-reference by Jesus (on the basis for this usage of the expression, see the Introduction, and Part 1). In other words, for Jesus to say “it is necessary for the son of man to suffer”, this is much as if he had said “it is necessary for me to suffer” (cf. the Matthean version of the prediction mentioned below, and discussed briefly in Part 1). At the same time, “Son of Man” here also functions as a kind of title, especially insofar as the Passion-prediction represents a response to Peter’s confession identifying Jesus as the “Anointed One” (Messiah). While Jesus affirms Peter’s confession, he also, at the same time, points the disciples in a different direction, emphasizing his suffering as the “Son of Man” (see the Summary section below).

Even as there was no expectation of a “suffering Messiah” in Judaism at this time (for more on this, cf. my article in the series “Yeshua the Messiah”), so also there is no evidence for the idea of a “suffering Son of Man”. Conceivably, the idea could have developed from reflection on the famous ‘Suffering Servant’ passage in Isa 52:13-53:12, which early Christians did apply to Jesus’ suffering and death (Lk 22:37; Acts 3:13; 8:32-33, etc); but it hard to see how this passage would have related to the specific title “Son of Man”, prior to its application to Jesus.

In my view, a better explanation for Jesus’ usage here in the Passion-prediction involves the fundamental significance of the expression (cf. references in the Introduction)—as relating to the human condition, especially in its limitation, weakness, and mortality. By applying the expression “son of man” to himself in the context of his Passion, Jesus is identifying with the human condition, particularly with regard to the experience of weakness, suffering and death. For an objective statement to this same effect, cf. the wording in the famous Christ-hymn in Philippians (2:6-11).

The use of the modal verbal form dei= (“it is necessary”) to introduce this announcement of the Son of Man’s suffering is also significant. It is relatively rare in the core Synoptic tradition, occurring only several times in the words of Jesus. The verb is more frequent in Luke, including several important instances in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, where the necessity of Jesus’ suffering is predicated upon the fact that it was prophesied in the Scriptures (22:37; 24:7, 44). This idea, however, was scarcely a Lukan invention; it reflects early Christian belief, and is stated equally clearly (by Jesus) in the Matthean Passion narrative (26:54). Indeed, it seems likely that the force of dei= in the Passion-prediction relates to the same prophetic mandate, and that this is how Jesus intended it to be understood.

As I have noted, the form of the Passion-prediction is relatively fixed within the Gospel Tradition. There are some notable differences, however. Matthew’s version (16:21), in its initial wording, reads:

“…that it is necessary (for) him to go away into Yerushalaim and to suffer many (thing)s”

The italicized portion marks the variation from the (shorter) Markan version. Since the prediction is couched within the Synoptic narration, the Gospel writer has a bit more freedom to add explanatory detail, such as the phrase “go away into Jerusalem”, which also serves to emphasize the location where these events will take place (and the goal of the coming journey). Also noteworthy is the way that the author essentially explains the title/expression “Son of Man” as a self-reference by Jesus. Luke’s version (9:22) here, by contrast, is identical to Mark.

The Second Passion-Prediction: Mk 9:31

The second prediction begins as the first did, with a warning by Jesus (8:30), not to tell anyone about his Messianic identity. In this instance (9:30), he warns his disciples not to inform anyone about his travels. The reason, indicated by the opening words of v. 31, is that he wanted privacy so that he could teach his disciples about what was to come in Jerusalem. This provides the setting for the second Passion-prediction:

“For he was teaching his learners [i.e. disciples], and said to them that ‘The son of man is (about to be) given along into (the) hands of men, and they will kill him off, and, (hav)ing been killed off, after three days, he will stand up (again).'” (9:31)

This second prediction has a simpler and shorter form, omitting mention (except in an indirect way) of the suffering the “son of man” will experience in Jerusalem. Here, the focus is not on suffering, but on process of death and resurrection. The process has three connected components:

    • “he will be given along into the hands of men” —alluding to his betrayal, arrest, and interrogation/trial
    • “they will kill him off” —his death at the “hands of men”
    • “he will stand up (again)” —his resurrection

The last two components are most closely connected, as indicated by the temporal/relational clause between them: “and, (hav)ing been killed off…”. Matthew’s version (17:22-23) differs only slightly in wording, while the Lukan version (9:44) is abbreviated, including only the first statement (“the son of man is about to be given along into [the] hands of men”), along with a solemn introduction by Jesus (“You must set these words into your ears…”).

The Third Passion-Prediction: Mk 10:33f

The third prediction is the longest, and appears to be a conflation of the first two, but with other expanded detail as well. In the context of the narrative, it has a climactic position, marking Jesus’ impending approach to Jerusalem:

“See, we step up (soon) to Yerushalaim, and the son of man will be given along to the Chief Sacred-officials and the Writers, and they will judge against him to death, and (then) will give him along to the nations, and they will toy with him and spit on him, and they will scourge him and kill him off, and (then), after three days, he will stand up (again).” (10:33-34)

The expansions give more detail to both the suffering the “son of man” will experience, and the process of his being put to death. Thus, suffering and death are the main points of emphasis. The Matthean (20:17-19) and Lukan (18:31-33) versions generally follow the Markan, but in a simpler and more streamlined form. Luke notably frames the saying in terms of Jesus’ suffering (and death) as a fulfillment of Scripture (v. 31). This introduces a theme that will play an important role in the narrative of Luke-Acts: the need, as part of the early Christian mission, to offer Scriptural support for the problematic idea that the Messiah (identified as Jesus) would suffer and die.

Summary

Scholars have debated whether the three Synoptic Passion-predictions should be regarded as three separate traditions, or variations of a single tradition. The similarity in formulation would tend to argue in favor of a single underlying tradition, which could be transmitted or presented in various forms. This variation may reflect Markan literary handling of the tradition, or it may pre-date the Gospel writer. One might be inclined to explain the second prediction as a simpler or abbreviated form of the first, and the third as a more expansive version (including more detail from the wider Passion tradition).

In any case, the use of the expression “the son of man” would appear to be the same in all three sayings. It is probably best to focus on the first saying, as I have done above, in the context of the Synoptic tradition. If the connection between the first saying and Peter’s confession (8:29f) is original, then it could indicate that the expression “the son of man” connotes something significant, beyond its use as a self-reference by Jesus (see above).

If so, what is this significance? The idea that Jesus, as the Messiah, would suffer and be put to death in Jerusalem seems to have shocked and scandalized the disciples—as represented in the tradition by Peter’s response (and rebuke) to Jesus (8:32 par [omitted by Luke]). The teaching Jesus gives in v. 31, following as it does Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, may be intended as a point of contrast (and warning). He would not arrive in Jerusalem in glory, victoriously establishing the kingdom of God on earth—at least, not in a way that would conform to popular expectations. Instead, as a “son of man”, he would experience suffering and death.

If the expression connotes anything specific in these sayings, it surely involves an allusion to the poetic tradition, by which the parallel “man / son of man” indicates the weakness and mortality of the human condition (cf. again the references in the Introduction). By calling himself “the son of man”, Jesus is identifying himself with this aspect of the human condition.

At the same time, one could argue that the expression was primarily intended by Jesus as a self-reference, and that, on this basis, the expression came to be preserved in the Greek text of the Passion prediction(s). The definiteness of the articular expression in Greek (or the determinate state in Aramaic, av*n`a&-rB^) could carry much the same meaning (and emphasis) as in the earlier sayings of 2:10 and 28 (discussed in Part 1). Jesus would then be referring to himself as “this son of man” —i.e., as for myself, as this son of man… .

The centrality of the Passion-predictions, among of the Synoptic “son of man” sayings, is significant in this regard. For they emphasize both the suffering of Jesus, and his subsequent exaltation. The primary focus is on Jesus’ suffering, yet the promise of exaltation (in the resurrection) is also present. Still, the association of the expression “son of man” with this latter aspect will not come clearly into view until the climactic sayings, in 13:26 and 14:62 par.

In Part 3 of this article, we will give consideration to  the Passion predictions as they govern the Synoptic (Markan) narrative (in chaps. 9-10), while also examining the other “son of man” sayings that occur in the narrative (prior to 14:62).

Saturday Series: John 1:29 (continued)

John 1:29, continued

Today, we continue with our previous study from last week, on John 1:29, the first sin-reference in the Gospel of John. It was mentioned that the text of this verse is secure, and yet a precise interpretation has proven somewhat difficult for commentators. In this study, I wish to focus on two areas of interpretation: (1) the expression “the lamb of God”, and (2) the force of the verb aírœ. It will be necessary to adopt an historical-critical (and intertextual) approach to these topics, looking at the historical background to the language used by the Gospel writer (and John the Baptist as speaker).

“Lamb of God”

Commentators have struggled to determine precisely the origins and significance of the expression “the lamb of God” (ho amnós tou Theoú), which occurs only here (being repeated in verse 36) in the Scriptures. A number of sources of influence have been proposed and discussed, with commentators differing on their relative plausibility. There has, however, come to be something of an emerging consensus that the two main sources are: (a) the figure of the Passover lamb, and (b) the reference to the Servant-figure in the Isa 52:13-53:12 Servant Song as a lamb (53:7). The relatively recent article by Jesper Tang Nielsen, “The Lamb of God: The Cognitive Structure of a Johannine Metaphor” (published in Imagery in the Gospel of John: Terms, Forms, Themes, and Theology of Johannine Figurative Language, eds. Jörg Frey, Jan G. van der Watt, and Ruben Zimmermann, WUNT 200 [Mohr Siebeck: 2006], pp. 217-56) discusses the conceptual blending of these two specific background-aspects of the expression (I refer to this study below as “Nielsen”).

1. The Passover lamb

Some commentators have argued that the Isaiah 53:7 reference is primary for the expression “the lamb of God” in Jn 1:29. I would strongly disagree; in my view, the Passover lamb represents the principal point of reference. This seems to be quite clear, based on two points of evidence. First, we have the specific identification of Jesus with the Passover lamb in 19:14, 36, where the lamb-identification is made in the context of Jesus’ death—being ‘lifted up’ on the cross. Second, the foreshadowing of this moment in the reference to the ‘bronze serpent’ tradition (Numbers 21:9) in 3:14-15 strongly suggests the parallel of the lamb, once it has been ‘lifted up’, giving life-saving healing to all those who look at (i.e., believe in) it.

And yet, as many commentators have noted, there is no indication, either in the Old Testament or in later Jewish tradition, of a direct connection between the Passover lamb and sin. In particular, there is no evidence that the Passover lamb (or the ritual as a whole) was ever thought to take away sin (see on the verb aírœ below). I have discussed the Passover tradition in several recent articles, and will here only mention three aspects of its significance that seem relevant to the sin-association in Jn 1:29:

    • The apotropaic function of the Passover lamb’s blood in the original Exodus-tradition (Exod 12, esp. vv. 7, 13, 22-23), as protection against death.
    • The idea that those participating in the ritual must purify themselves in preparation—represented primarily through the symbolism of the leaven that is removed (see vv. 14-20, and compare Paul’s interpretation in 1 Cor 5:7); note also the purity regulations in Numbers 9.
    • The symbolism of the historical context of the Passover—the Exodus as freedom from bondage (in Egypt).

One can see how each of these aspects could be related to the removal of sin (and its effects); yet were any of these particularly in view for the Gospel writer, or did they specifically influence the sin-association in Jn 1:29? Philo of Alexandria, in his allegorical interpretation of the Passover tradition, blends together the second and third aspects in a unique way. In his work On the Special Laws, in the section on the Passover (2.145-149), the festival is interpreted as figuratively representing the purification of the soul. He utilizes the wordplay between the Hebrew word for the festival, pesaµ (transliterated in Greek as páscha), explained as deriving from the root psµ I (“pass over”), and the Greek verb páschœ (“suffer”, i.e., being affected, specifically by the passions), so as to explain the Passover as symbolizing the “passing over” of the soul, away from the body and its passions (2.147).

An even closer parallel can perhaps be found in Josephus’ brief discussion of Passover in Antiquities 2.311-14 (see Nielsen, p. 238). Josephus shifts the meaning of the lamb’s blood somewhat. Instead of its apotropaic function (see above), with the blood being applied to the house of the Israelite family (thus protecting the people inside), a spiritualizing ethical interpretation is given, whereby the blood actually purifies (vb hagnízœ) the individual who faithfully observes the ritual. This concept of the purification of the devout/faithful Israelite by the lamb’s blood is not that far removed from the Christian idea of Jesus’ blood cleansing the believer from sin (1 John 1:7).

Already in the Exodus tradition (Exod 12:27), the Passover (lamb) is referred to as a sacrificial offering (ze»aµ)—that is, an animal that is ritually slain as an offering (to God). In Israelite and Jewish tradition, the Passover would increasingly be recognized as a kind of sacrifice. It clearly is not an offering for sin; it has much more in common with the šelem offering (Leviticus 3), in which the worshiper eats the meat of the animal as part of a ritual meal. Even so, the traditional conception of the Passover as a sacrifice may well have led early Christians to connect it with other aspects of the sacrificial offerings, such as the offerings for sin—including the expiatory offerings of the Day of Atonement festival (Leviticus 16), which involved the ritual/symbolic removal of sin. That early Christians did, in fact, associate the Day of Atonement offerings with the person of Jesus (and his sacrificial death) is clear from Hebrews 8-10. It would not be unreasonable for an early Christian to blend this sin offering imagery together with the motif of Jesus as a Passover lamb that is slain, bringing life and salvation to those who believe.

2. The lamb in Isaiah 53:7

(I discuss Isa 52:13-53:12 at length in an earlier article and set of notes; see the note on 53:7)

The “Suffering Servant” figure in this famous Isaian Servant Song (52:13-53:12) is compared, in verse 7, to a lamb brought along to the slaughter. This is one of the very few Old Testament passages that could be cited by early Christians as prophesying the suffering and death of Jesus. As the repeated references in Luke-Acts make clear, it was vitally important for the early (Jewish) Christian missionaries to demonstrate (for their fellow Jews) that Jesus was the Messiah, even though his suffering and shameful/painful death made such an identification difficult. They sought to prove from the Scriptures that it was necessary for the Messiah to be put to death (see Lk 18:31ff; 24:25-26, 46; Acts 3:18; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28; 26:23), and Isa 53:7ff is one of the few passages that could reasonably be quoted in support of this.

Indeed, Isa 53:7-8 is specifically cited in Acts 8:32-33ff, applied to the suffering and death of Jesus. Since the lamb in John 1:29 also is connected with Jesus’ death (as the slain Passover lamb, see the discussion above), it would be natural for the lamb in Isa 53:7f to be similarly applied to Jesus by the Gospel writer.

In the Septuagint (LXX) of Isa 53:7, the Hebrew nouns ´eh and r¹µel (referring to a male and female sheep, respectively) are translated by the Greek nouns próbaton and amnós. The noun próbaton is a descriptive term that denotes a quadruped animal that “walks forward”, referring particularly to sheep or goats; amnós, the word used in Jn 1:29, properly designates a young sheep (lamb).

The LXX of Isa 53:7-8ff seems, in particular, to have influenced the Johannine use of the lamb-motif (see Nielsen, pp. 231-3). First, there is the idea of the Servant being “taken up” from the earth (v. 8), using the same verb (aírœ) as here in 1:29 (see below). Beyond this, in 52:13-15, and again at the end of the passage (53:10-12), there is an emphasis on the glorification of the Servant, tying his vicarious suffering/death to his exaltation. Of particular note is the occurrence of the noun dóxa and the related verb doxázœ (twice) in the LXX of 52:13-14, which is significant, given the importance of these words in relation to the “lifting up” of Jesus (death-exaltation) in the Gospel of John (12:23, 28; 13:31-32; 17:1, 4-5, 22, 24; see also 7:39; 12:16).

In Isa 53:10, the suffering of the Servant is specifically connected with the idea of a sin offering, helping to explain the sin-association that is notably absent from the background of the Passover lamb (as mentioned above). The vicarious nature of this offering is clear from verse 12, where it is stated that the Servant “lifted up” (vb n¹´¹° ac*n`) the sins of many people, bearing them himself, in a way that intercedes (vb p¹ga±) for the people (on their behalf) before God. In the LXX, this is expressed in a way that better fits the vicarious suffering of Jesus: “and he (himself) brought up [i.e. carried] the sins of many, and he was given over through [i.e. because of] their sins”.

The use of the noun amnós can serve as further evidence that Isa 53:7 is in view here in Jn 1:29, since different nouns (ar¢¡n, próbaton) are used in the LXX for the Passover lamb. As I have noted, it seems likely that the Passover lamb is the main point of reference in Jn 1:29, but that the nuances of meaning from Isa 53:7ff have also shaped the “lamb of God” concept. This Johannine lamb-tradition continues in the book of Revelation, where the noun arníon (diminutive of ar¢¡n) is used for Jesus as the lamb that was slain (and now has an exalted status in heaven). The noun amnós, by contrast, is rather rare in the New Testament; apart from here in Jn 1:29 (and 36), it occurs only in Acts 8:32 (citing Isa 53:7, see above), and in 1 Peter 1:19, where the Passover lamb (with its unblemished character) may also be in view.

The noun amnós is used in Exod 29:38-41 for the lamb that is presented as a twice-daily burnt offering, while próbaton is used in Leviticus for the various sacrificial offerings (sin offering, 5:6ff, etc). Thus there is some precedence in the tradition for understanding an amnós-lamb as a sacrificial offering; and, as mentioned above, it would have been natural for Christians to extend this association, when applied to the person of Christ, to include offerings for sin as well.

The use of the verb aírœ

John 1:29 uses the verb aírœ (ai&rw), which has the basic meaning “take up”. It is a common verb, used without any special meaning in many of the Gospel references (2:16; 5:8-12; 8:59, etc). There are two possible ways of understanding its meaning here: (a) take away (i.e. remove), or (b) the act of lifting up (i.e., bear/carry). The verb is used both ways in the Gospel, equally for lifting/carrying (5:8-12) and removing (e.g., 11:39, 41). What is the principal emphasis here? Does Jesus, as the “lamb of God”, remove sin, or does he bear/carry it?

If, as I discuss above, Isa 53:7ff is an important influence on Jn 1:29, then we might assume the latter. In verse 12, it is clearly stated that the Servant, in his suffering, “lifted up” (i.e., carried) the sins of many. In Hebrew, the verb n¹´¹° is used, which certainly could be translated in Greek by the verb aírœ, even though in the LXX of v. 12 it is the more concrete verb anaphérœ (“bring up”) that is used, denoting an act of lifting/bearing/carrying. The verb aírœ does occur in LXX Isa 53:8, but in reference to the death of the Servant—i.e., his being “taken up/away” from the earth. However, since the death of Jesus is also in view in Jn 1:29 (see the discussion above), and as the departure of the Son (Jesus) from the earth (back to God the Father) is a key Johannine theme, Isa 53:8 could very well be influencing the use of aírœ here (compare the use of aírœ in a similar Passion context, 19:15; 20:13ff; see also 16:22; 17:15).

At the same time, the idea of the removal of sin is also found throughout the Johannine writings, most notably in 1 John 1:7, where it is stated that the blood of Jesus (i.e., through his death as the slain ‘lamb’) cleanses the believer from sin. Perhaps the strongest argument for this meaning of aírœ here in Jn 1:29 comes from 1 John 3:5, where it is indicated the purpose of Jesus’ appearance on earth was to “take away” sin (“…that he might take away [ár¢] sin”).

The most significant (and relevant) use of aírœ elsewhere in the Gospel occurs in the Shepherd-discourse of chapter 10. The context of Jesus’ death, as a self-sacrifice, is clearly indicated:

“Through this, the Father loves me, (in) that [i.e. because] I set (down) my soul [i.e. lay down my life], (so) that I might take it (up) again. No one takes [aírei] it away from me, but (rather) I set it (down) from myself; I hold (the) authority to set it (down), and I (also) hold (the) authority to take it (up) again—this (is) the charge (laid) on (me) to complete (that) I received (from) alongside my Father.” (10:17-18)

The verb aírœ is used in the sense of Jesus’ life being “taken away”; however, when he speaks of his actual death, as a self-sacrifice, he uses the verb pair “set/lay (down)” (títh¢mi) and “take (up)” (lambánœ). No one “takes away” his life; rather, he himself sets it down (dies) and takes it back up again (returning to life). This use of aírœ , paired with the Johannine references in 1 Jn 1:7; 3:5, seems to confirm that the principal aspect of meaning for aírœ in 1:29 is the removal (“taking away”) of sin.

In next week’s study, some concluding comments and observations on 1:29 will be made, along with a brief examination of the context of the second sin-reference in the Gospel (5:14).

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.