Posts Tagged Augustine

Tempting a Hen to Play a Chick(en)

(Dominus Flevit Altar Mosaic; Photo credit: Tiuli.com)

In Matt 4:5–7; Luke 4:9–12, Jesus cites Deut 6:16 in response to his temptation at the temple. The full text there runs “you shall not test Yahweh, your God, as you tested him at Massah” (Deut 6:16; לא תנסו את־יהוה אלהיכם כאשר נסיתם במסה) and refers to Israel’s grumbling about their lack of water in Exod 17:1–7. In this narrative, Exodus reports that Moses “[] called the name of the place ‘Massah’ and ‘Meribah’ on account of the dispute of the sons of Israel and of their testing Yahweh, saying, ‘Is Yahweh in our midst or not?’” (Exod 17:7; ויקרא שם המקום מסה ומריבה על־ריב בני ישראל ועל נסתם את־יהוה לאמר היש יהוה בקרבנו אם־אין; cf. Num 20:2–13). Although this interpretation is Exodus’s own, Exodus does not directly narrate the people’s posing this question (Exod 17:1–6). Instead, they demand water from Moses and inquire whether lacking it indicates that they have been brought into the wilderness to die of thirst (Exod 17:2–3). Thus, the pericope’s interpretive conclusion seems to represent the recorded speech as tantamount to having asked the question “Is Yahweh in our midst or not?” (Exod 17:7; היש יהוה בקרבנו אם־אין).

When Jesus quotes Deut 6:16 to the devil, he quotes only the first part of the text about the inappropriateness of testing God and omits the direct reference to Massah (Matt 4:7; Luke 4:12). Yet, the connection with Massah apparently helps make Deut 6:16 an apt retort to the temptation in which the devil has taken Jesus to “the pinnacle of the temple” (Matt 4:5; Luke 4:9; τὸ πτερύγιον τοῦ ἱεροῦ). Once there, the devil urges Jesus to jump and trust Yahweh’s angels to catch him, in the words of Ps 91:11–12, “lest you should strike your foot on a stone” (Matt 4:6; Luke 4:11; μήποτε προσκόψῃς πρὸς λίθον τὸν πόδα σου).

Yahweh “will [indeed] command his angels” (τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ ἐντελεῖται), and they will indeed minister to Jesus (Matt 4:7, 11; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:10). Yet, Yahweh is himself one who does touch foot to stone: when Israel was at Massah, Yahweh said to Moses, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb” (Exod 17:6; הנני עמד לפניך שם על־הצור בחרב).‭[1]

Thus, even as Jesus enacts what should have been Israel’s proper response of trusting Yahweh, so he also enacts Yahweh’s faithful care over his people.[2] In Ps 91:4, somewhat earlier than the devil’s quotation, the psalmist says Yahweh “will cover you with his pinion, and under his wings you will seek refuge” (באברתו יסך לך ותחת־כנפיו תחסה). In one respect, though much differently than the devil now suggests, Jesus is the properly trusting recipient of his Father’s care (Matt 4:6, 11; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:11). In another, Jesus is the hen that would gather her chicks to protect them—even at the cost of his own life—if they would but come under his “wings” (Matt 23:29–39; Luke 13:31–35; πτέρυγες).[3]


[1] Perhaps also in the background of this interchange is an exegetical tradition about Massah like that represented in Tg. Ps.-J. Exod 17:6: “Behold, I will stand before you there at the place where you saw the mark of the foot on the rock at Horeb” (Kaufman, Pseudo-Jonathan; האנא קאים קדמך תמן באתרא דתיחמי רושם ריגלא על טינרא בחורב). Thus, on the targumist’s reading, “the foot” (ריגלא) had apparently come into contact with “the rock at Horeb” (טינרא בחורב) with sufficient force to leave a “mark” (רושם).

[2] Cf. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 40.5 (Schaff, NPNF1, 8:121).

[3] Cf. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 91.5 (ibid., 8:447); Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 570–72.

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Praying with Jesus

To demonstrate the superiority of Jesus’ sacrifice to those previously offered under the Torah, the writer to the Hebrews quotes a version of Ps 40:6–8 (Eng; 40:7–9 HB; 39:7–9 OG; Heb 10:5–9).1 In so doing, Hebrews fairly clearly situates its rendition of this psalm’s words as Jesus’ own (cf. Heb 10:10).2 If one were to read the entire psalm in this direction however,3 problems would seemingly arise (e.g., vv. 12–17 Eng).4

Nevertheless, in looking at the whole psalm from the perspective of Hebrews’ reading, one might well consider that Jesus “sometimes speaks in the name of our Head; sometimes also He speaks of us who are His members.”5 In this way, initially problematic elements (e.g., v. 12 Eng) would follow not with respect to him who is the head but with respect to those who are his members.6 Moreover,

Of all those things which our Lord Jesus Christ has foretold, we know part to have been already accomplished, part we hope will be accomplished hereafter. All of them, however, will be fulfilled because He is “the Truth” who speaks them, and requires of us to be as “faithful,” as He Himself speaks faithfully.7

Thus, it befits the church too to join in praying this psalm alongside her Lord.8


1. Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text (The New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993), 488; Richard B. Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 106–7; B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (3rd ed.; London: Macmillan, 1906), 311. On Hebrews’ quotation and its relationship to the OG, see GS, Ps 39:7–9; Franz Delitzsch, Psalms (Commentary on the Old Testament 5; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1866; repr., Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2006), 302; Geoffrey Grogan, Prayer, Praise, and Prophecy: A Theology of the Psalms (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2001), 273; Karen H. Jobes, “The Function of Paronomasia in Hebrews 10:5–7,” TrinJ 13, no. 2 (1992): 182, 184; see also Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 48–51.

2. Ellingworth, Hebrews, 499; Jobes, “Paronomasia in Hebrews 10:5–7,” 186; Delitzsch, Psalms, 299; Westcott, Hebrews, 311; cf. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 40.5 (NPNF1, 8:120–21); see also Chrysostom, Hom. Heb., 18.1 (NPNF1, 14:451). Unless εἰσερχόμενος (Heb 10:5; entering) is both substantival and anarthrous, the text omits an explicit an explicit subject for the verb λέγει (says; Westcott, Hebrews, 311).

3. Cf. Chrysostom, Hom. Heb., 18.1 (NPNF1, 451); Hays, Conversion of the Imagination, 107.

4. Delitzsch, Psalms, 299.

5. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 40.5 (NPNF1, 8:121).

6. E.g., Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 40.22 (NPNF1, 8:126).

7. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 40.1 (NPNF1, 8:119).

8. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 40.2, 5 (NPNF1, 8:119–21); cf. Walter Brueggemann, “Psalms and the Life of Faith: A Suggested Typology of Function,” JSOT 17 (1980): 3–32; Hays, Conversion of the Imagination, 101–18; Jerry Eugene Shepherd, “The Book of Psalms as the Book of Christ: A Christo-Canonical Approach to the Book of Psalms” (Ph.D. diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1995).

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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My Glory

David between Wisdom and Prophecy

David between Wisdom and Prophecy (Paris Psalter [BnF MS Grec 139], folio 7v; photo credit: Wikipedia)

Psalm 7 is an individual lament,1 and the superscript situates it as “concerning the words of Cush, the Benjaminite” (Ps 7:1 HB; על־דברי־כושׁ בן־ימיני‎).2 This situation is rather difficult to pinpoint precisely in the biblical narratives of David’s life.3 The OG reading Χουσί is reflected in Augustine’s text and leads him to relate Ps 7 to 2 Sam 15:32–37.4 Yet, this rendering seems as though it may suggest a different Vorlage than is available in the MT.5

In connection with the Ps 7’s individual perspective and taking ל roughly as “by” (Ps 7:1 HB), the psalm is ostensibly “by David.” Within Ps 7’s larger lament, vv. 3–5, 8 (Eng) particularly profess David’s innocence concerning the accusations (cf. דברים; Ps 7:1 HB) leveled against him.6 As a unit, the contribution that vv. 3–5 (Eng) makes toward this profession entails some textual difficulties.7 To demonstrate his innocence, however, one of the appeals David makes is that, if his profession should prove false, his “glory” should be set in the dust (Ps 7:5 HB; כבודי לעפר ישׁכן‎; 7:6 Eng).

Within the life of David, the setting of David’s glory “in the dust” doubtless refers to the denigration of his “personal and official dignity.”8 Even so, Yahweh’s own dignity is, to some extent, at stake in David’s experience of oppression despite his innocence.9 Yahweh is righteous, and in his righteousness, he saves the upright (Ps 7:11–12, 18 HB; 7:10–11, 17 Eng). Indeed, in delivering David, Yahweh himself becomes David’s glory (Ps 3:4 HB; 3:3 Eng),10 and failing to deliver David would lay in the dust also Yahweh’s promise to David of a perpetual kingdom (e.g., 2 Sam 7:16). Yet, in faithfulness to his servant, Yahweh is he who lifts David’s head (Ps 3:4 HB; מרים ראשׁי‎; 3:3 Eng). In so doing, he has raised David’s countenance to be sure, but still more has he raised from the dust he who is both David’s son and the perpetual head of the house from which he comes (e.g., Matt 22:41–46; Mark 12:35–37; Luke 20:41–44; Acts 2:22–36).


1. Jeffrey H. Tigay, “Psalm 7:5 and Ancient Near Eastern Treaties,” JBL 89, no. 2 (1970): 178; see also David G. Firth and Philip Johnston, Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2005), 295–300, for a survey of form-critical categorizations for the traditional Psalter.

2. The Psalms targum reads this portion of the superscript as “concerning the slaughter of Saul, the son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin” (Tg. Ket. Ps 7:1; על תברא דשאול בר קיש דמן שבט בנימן).

3. Franz Delitzsch, Psalms (Commentary on the Old Testament 5; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1866; repr., Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2006), 84; see also S. E. Gillingham, “The Messiah in the Psalms: A Question of Reception History and the Psalter,” in King and Messiah in Israel and the Ancient Near East (ed. John Day; Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement 270; Sheffield: Sheffield, 1998), 226–27.

4. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 7.1 (NPNF 1, 8:20).

5. Cf. Delitzsch, Psalms, 84.

6. Tigay, “Psalm 7:5,” 178.

7. For a discussion, see Jacob Leveen, “Textual Problems of Psalm 7,” VT 16, no. 4 (1966): 440; Tigay, “Psalm 7:5.”

8. Delitzsch, Psalms, 86.

9. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 7.4 (NPNF 1, 8:21–22).

10. On reading the Psalter as a unified collection, see Jamie A. Grant, The King as Exemplar: The Function of Deuteronomy’s Kingship Law in the Shaping of the Book of Psalms (Academica Biblica; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004), 11–19.

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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David, the Man of God

In contemporary English parlance, to call someone a “man” or “woman of God” substantially means that individual is “godly” or “pious.” As such, the phrase is a descriptor of a person’s moral or religious standing in relation to some perceived measure.

In the Hebrew Bible, however, אישׁ (ה)אלהים ([the] man of God) regularly designates a “prophet.” To be sure, these prophets were often “godly” or “pious,” but even here, there were occasional exceptions to this behavior (e.g., 1 Kgs 13). Rather, when the Hebrew Bible applies this same phrase to David, it fits him into the framework of the broader tradition of the prophet as Yahweh’s representative (Neh 12:24, 36; 2 Chron 8:14). In these particular texts, David’s status as an אישׁ אלהים (man of God) revolves around his plans for the temple’s administration. Even so, scarcely can at least the Davidic psalms be separated from vocation as a royal אישׁ אלהים (man of God).1


1. Cf. 11QPsalmsa 27; Augustine, Civ., 17.14 (NPNF1, 2:352–53).

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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The Christ of His Christ

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, "Anna Presenting Her Son Samuel to the Priest Eli"

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, “Anna Presenting Her Son Samuel to the Priest Eli” (c. 1665; photo credit: Wikipedia)

In due order within The City of God’s longer discussion of Hannah’s prayer at Samuel’s dedication,1 Augustine arrives at the clause, “[a]nd [he] shall exalt the horn of His Christ” (1 Sam 2:10). Here, Augustine ponders:

How shall Christ exalt the horn of His Christ? For He of whom it was said above, “The Lord hath ascended into the heavens,” [1 Sam 2:10 LXX; 4QSama col. 2, line 33] meaning the Lord Christ, Himself, as it is said here, “shall exalt the horn of His Christ.” Who, therefore, is the Christ of His Christ? Does it mean that He shall exalt the horn of each one of His believing people, as [Hannah] says in the beginning of this hymn, “Mine horn is exalted in my God?” [1 Sam 2:1 LXX, Vg.] For we can rightly call all those christs who are anointed with His chrism, forasmuch as the whole body with its head is one Christ.2

Although Augustine does not appear to cite 1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17 in developing his interpretation of Hannah’s prayer, these texts may well be reading 1 Sam 2:10 [LXX; 4QSama col. 2, line 33] along a similar, Christological trajectory.3 Boasting is to be in Jesus alone, who has ascended into heaven and with whom the church is united as a “collective person[—as] ‘Christ existing as church-community.’”4


1. Augustine, Civ., 17.4 (NPNF1, 2:339–43).

2. Augustine, Civ., 17.4 (NPNF1, 2:343); cf., e.g., 1 Cor 6:14–17; 12:27; 1 John 2:20, 27; Justin, Dial., 86.

3. See J. David Stark, “Rewriting Prophets in the Corinthian Correspondence: A Window on Paul’s Hermeneutic,” BBR 22, no. 2 (2012): 236–38; J. Ross Wagner, “‘Not Beyond the Things Which Are Written’: A Call to Boast Only in the Lord (1 Cor 4.6),” NTS 44, no. 2 (1998): 283–86, for discussion.

4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church (ed. Clifford J. Green and Joachim von Soosten; trans. Reinhard Kraus and Nancy Lukens; Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 1; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009), 141; cf. Eph 1:15–23; 2:4–7; N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991), 41–55.

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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Augustine on Varro on the Naming of Athens

Louis Comfort Tiffany, Window of St. Augustine...

Louis Comfort Tiffany, “Window of St. Augustine” (Lightner Museum, St. Augustine, Florida; photo credit: Wikipedia)

Citing Varro as “a most learned man among the [pagans], and [a man] of the weightiest authority” on paganism (Civ. 4.1 [NPNF1 2:64]), Augustine summarizes Varro’s account of the naming of Athens (Civ. 18.9 [NPNF1 2:365]):

Athens certainly derived its name from Minerva, who in Greek is called ᾽Αθηνη [Athena], and Varro points out the following reason why it was so called. When an olive-tree suddenly appeared there, and water burst forth in another place, these prodigies moved the king to send to the Delphic Apollo to inquire what they meant and what he should do. He answered that the olive signified Minerva, the water Neptune, and that the citizens had it in their power to name their city as they chose, after either of these two gods whose signs these were. On receiving this oracle, Cecrops convoked all the citizens of either sex to give their vote, for it was then the custom in those parts for the women also to take part in public deliberations. When the multitude was consulted, the men gave their votes for Neptune, the women for Minerva; and as the women had a majority of one, Minerva conquered. Then Neptune, being enraged, laid waste the lands of the Athenians, by casting up the waves of the sea; for the demons have no difficulty in scattering any waters more widely. The same authority said, that to appease his wrath the women should be visited by the Athenians with the three-fold punishment—that they should no longer have any vote; that none of their children should be named after their mothers; and that no one should call them Athenians. Thus that city, the mother and nurse of liberal doctrines, and of so many and so great philosophers, than whom Greece had nothing more famous and noble, by the mockery of demons about the strife of their gods, a male and female, and from the victory of the female one through the women, received the name of Athens; and, on being damaged by the vanquished god, was compelled to punish the very victory of the victress, fearing the waters of Neptune more than the arms of Minerva. For in the women who were thus punished, Minerva, who had conquered, was conquered too, and could not even help her voters so far that, although the right of voting was henceforth lost, and the mothers could not give their names to the children, they might at least be allowed to be called Athenians, and to merit the name of that goddess whom they had made victorious over a male god by giving her their votes.

By this point in City of God, Augustine has already contested a good deal of Varro’s account of the gods. However interesting this etiological tale might be in itself, then, Augustine simply subjoins the response, “What and how much could be said about this, if we had not to hasten to other things in our discourse, is obvious” (ibid.).

Elsewhere, Augustine devotes some fairly careful attention to Varro’s account of the gods, frequently seeking to show how absurd Varro’s account is on its own terms. Here, however, Augustine’s extremely brief formal rejoinder certainly still strikes a similarly mocking note: this particular account of Varro’s is “obvious[ly]” too absurd even to merit serious attention at this point in argument. Yet, this rejoinder itself keenly follows on Augustine’s summary of Varro, which he has carefully shaped explicitly to include or suggest at least some of what was “too obvious to occupy space” in the argument.

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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An Unfriendly Bodyguard

All four Gospels report Peter’s adamant affirmation of fidelity Jesus, no matter what may come (Matt 26:33–35; Mark 14:29–31; Luke 22:31–34; John 13:36–38). A key feature in the Synoptics’ presentation is Peter’s persistence about remaining with Jesus (Matt 26:35; Mark 14:31; Luke 22:33). In so presenting his declaration, Matthew and Mark focus exclusively on Peter’s commitment to die with Jesus (Matt 26:35; Mark 14:31). Beyond this affirmation, Luke also explicitly mentions Peter’s readiness to accept the lesser affliction of imprisonment with Jesus (Luke 22:33).

For John, Peter’s affirmation of fidelity still draws in Peter’s continuing presence with Jesus (John 13:37a). Here, however, Peter goes a step farther: Not only will he be present with Jesus, whatever may come, but he will die in Jesus’ behalf (John 13:37b; τὴν ψυχήν μου ὑπὲρ σοῦ θήσω; underlining added). The extent to which ὑπέρ indicates substitution (so: ὑπὲρ σοῦ ≈ in your place) is sometimes debatable.1 Particularly given the Synoptics’ preference for accompaniment language, John’s ὑπὲρ σοῦ could have a more general sense and indicate Peter’s profession of a willingness to die in keeping with how highly he values Jesus (so: ὑπὲρ σοῦ ≈ for your sake).2

Yet, in John’s Gospel, Jesus has already affirmed that the good shepherd will die in behalf of his sheep (John 10:11, 15, 17), and Jesus will shortly suggest that the one who has the greatest love will die in behalf of his friends (John 15:13). In both these analogous cases, the one who dies seems to do so at least in hopes that those may be spared in whose behalf he dies. Thus too in John 13:37b, Peter seems to be offering to serve as a kind of bodyguard for Jesus.3 Tied up as this offer is in John’s narrative with the rest of the Farewell Discourse (John 13:31–17:26), when Jesus says in this discourse “no one has greater love than this: that someone should lay down his life in his friends’ behalf” (John 15:13; μείζονα ταύτης ἀγάπην οὐδεὶς ἔχει, ἵνα τις τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ θῇ ὑπὲρ τῶν φίλων αὐτοῦ), Peter can hardly miss hearing this statement at least partly as a comment on his own offer that he has just made to die in Jesus’ behalf.

Although it would have been expressed differently in different contexts, “friendship” involves some kind of reciprocity, so that the one who lays down his life in his friends’ behalf is himself part of that friendship’s circle of influence.4 Within this circle of friendship, Jesus himself is preeminently the one who dies for his friends (John 15:13–15). Peter has promised to do the same for Jesus (John 13:37b), but Peter does not sufficiently comprehend the agenda on which Jesus is operating (John 18:10–11). So, when the time for Jesus’ death actually approaches, Peter rather distances himself from than interposes himself in behalf of Jesus (John 13:38; 18:15–18, 25–27).

Despite these failures, after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter is ready enough to confess his friendship with Jesus (φιλεῖν ≈ to love, to be a friend of) and to hear Jesus’ summons to shepherd his sheep (John 21:15–16). Jesus’ meaning has, however, not completely come home. Only when Jesus asks whether Peter is his friend does it seem that the reality his inquiry becomes clear (John 21:17).5 Semantically, ἀγαπᾶν (≈ to love) and φιλεῖν are closely related terms (John 21:15–17),6 but it is in the latter verbiage that Jesus has interpretively tied his own sacrifice to Peter’s unfilfilled promise of the same (John 13:37–38; 15:13–15).7 Although Peter has failed to make good on his friendly promise to die in Jesus’ behalf, he still affirms his friendship with Jesus (John 21:15–17). As the Chief and Good Shepherd, Jesus has died in behalf of his sheep and his friends, and this vocation he freshly commends to his friend Peter:

Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you would dress yourself and walk where you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and will bring you where you do not want to go. (John 21:17d–18; βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου. ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ὅτε ἦς νεώτερος, ἐζώννυες σεαυτὸν καὶ περιεπάτεις ὅπου ἤθελες· ὅταν δὲ γηράσῃς, ἐκτενεῖς τὰς χεῖράς σου, καὶ ἄλλος σε ζώσει καὶ οἴσει ὅπου οὐ θέλεις.)

“And he said this to show by what kind of death he would glorify God” (John 21:19a; τοῦτο δὲ εἶπεν σημαίνων ποίῳ θανάτῳ δοξάσει τὸν θεόν). Peter had shrunk back from his previous espousals, but it was still his vocation to follow the Good Shepherd and to do so faithfully to the end.8


1. See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 383–89, for a discussion.

2. See BDAG, s.v., ὑπέρ, §A.1.a.ε.

3. Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 1004–5.

4. Ibid., 1004–15; cf. Augustine, Doctr. chr., 1.30.31 (NPNF1, 2:531); Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo., 43.2 (NPNF1, 7:240).

5. Cf. BDAG, s.v., φιλέω, §1.

6. See D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996); Keener, John, 1235–36; Moisés Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 96–97, for a discussion.

7. Cf. Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 596–98.

8. Andreas J. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God (Biblical Theology of the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 495–96n151.

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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Finding Faith in Samaria

John 4:4–42 records Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Although the woman had come to the well for water (John 4:7, 15), after her conversation with Jesus, she leaves her water jar, returns to the town, and tells the people there to “come see a person who told me all the things that I have done. This one is not the Messiah, is he?” (John 4:29; δεῦτε ἴδετε ἄνθρωπον ὃς εἶπέν μοι πάντα ὅσα ἐποίησα, μήτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ χριστός;).1 Others from the town then come, presumably following the woman, to see Jesus (John 4:30, 39–40). Even before the group reaches Jesus, however, many in it have believed in him based on the woman’s report (John 4:39–40a). At the group’s request, Jesus stays with them two additional days, and upon hearing his own teaching, the group believes all the more (John 4:41–42a).2

Earlier, the woman had expressed the expectation that, when he arrived, the Messiah would teach the Samaritans (John 4:25).3 Although the woman expresses uncertainty about how far Jesus’ messiahship will seem viable to the other townsfolk, her perception of his behavior at least seems to make this claim not unreasonable for her (John 4:26, 28–29).4 Still more striking is the townsfolk’s reaction when Jesus teaches them directly: “we ourselves have heard, and we believe that this one is truly the Savior of the world” (John 4:42b; αὐτοὶ . . . ἀκηκόαμεν καὶ οἴδαμεν ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ἀληθῶς ὁ σωτὴρ τοῦ κόσμου).5 In so doing, these Samaritans recognize the particular shape in which the salvation that originates with the Jews has come,6 even when notable figures among the Jewish leadership themselves have difficulty with Jesus in this respect (cf. John 3:1–21; 4:21–24; 9:110:19).7


1. Cf. Chrysostom, Hom. Jo., 34.1 (NPNF1, 14:117).

2. See also Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 627.

3. Cf. John 4:17b–18, 29a; Augustine, Serm., 51.2 (NPNF1, 6:422–23); Chrysostom, Hom. Jo., 33.2 (NPNF1, 14:115); Origen, Comm. Jo., 1.6 (ANF, 9:300).

4. Cf. BDF, §427.2; cf. NASB95 and NET, sub. loc.; Chrysostom, Hom. Jo., 33.2, 34.1 (NPNF1, 14:116, 118).

5. Cf. Ephraim Syrus, Hymns on the Nativity, 3 (NPNF2, 13:230).

6. Keener, John, 627.

7. The phrase “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24; ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ) may include a hendiadys (Keener, John, 615–18). Or, the two objects of the preposition “in” (ἐν) may be “separate . . . but epexegetically related” (Andreas J. Köstenberger, John [Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004], 156n50). In either case, because of the close connection that John 4:23–24 proposes between “spirit” and “truth,” “truly” (John 4:42; ἀληθῶς) in the mouths of the Samaritans may well situate them as or among the “true worshipers” (John 4:23; ἀληθινοὶ προσκυνηταί) of the Father in that “hour [that] is coming and now is” (John 4:23; ἔρχεται ὥρα καὶ νῦν ἐστιν).

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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Origin, Identity, and Mission

John 1:13 describes a group of individuals “who were not born from blood nor from a fleshly will nor from a husband’s will but from God” (οἳ οὐκ ἐξ αἱμάτων οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς ἀλλʼ ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν). For John, being born “from blood” (ἐξ αἱμάτων), “from a fleshly will” (ἐκ θελήματος σαρκός), and “from a husband’s will” (ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρός) would all have been perfectly reasonable ways of describing ordinary, human generation.1 Yet, the individuals John describes as not having been born in these ways but as having been born “from God” (ἐκ θεοῦ) are still very much human beings (John 1:9–12). John’s point, then, is not to negate the reality of the ordinary, human, physical generation of the individuals he describes but to negate the significance of this origin for determining the identity of the “children of God” (John 1:12; τέκνα θεοῦ).

Not surprisingly, then, fairly soon, the Gospel’s narrative finds Jesus discussing with Nicodemus how those who have been born by ordinary, human generation must be born ἄνωθεν (e.g., John 3:3, 7). That it would make no sense for Jesus to affirm that someone, especially an older person, would need “to go into his mother’s womb and be born a second time” (John 3:4; εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ δεύτερον εἰσελθεῖν καὶ γεννηθῆναι) Nicodemus already well knows.2 What Nicodemus fails to grasp is that, for Jesus, birth ἄνωθεν is not so much about a difference of time as it is difference of location (i.e., not so much about birth “again” as birth “from above”; cf. John 3:31), along with the precise definition Jesus gives to the latter.3 Thus, to be born “from above” (ἄνωθεν) is to have a share in the same parentage as “the one who has descended from heaven” (John 3:13; ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς; cf. John 3:31). Such parentage is that of the Father who sends the Son to do his will (John 6:38) so that the Son also gives this same commission to his disciples and his siblings (John 18:36; 20:17, 21).4


1. William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel according to John (New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953), 1:82; Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 404–5; Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 39–40.

2. Nicodemus seems not quite sure what to make of Jesus’ initial response or his further clarification (John 3:3–10; cf. Chrysostom, Hom. Jo., 24.2–3 [NPNF1, 14:85–86]; Keener, John, 544–45; Andreas J. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God [Biblical Theology of the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009], 474–76). Yet, the syntax of Nicodemus’s question in John 3:4b indicates that he expects Jesus to reject the possibility he there raises for interpreting what Jesus has said about birth ἄνωθεν (BDF, §427.2; cf. NASB95 and NET, sub. loc.).

3. Keener, John, 537; Köstenberger, Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, 474–76. Of course, assuming that it would temporally follow birth according to ordinary, human generation, a birth “from above” would also be a kind of “second” birth (cf. Augustine, Faust., 24.1 [NPNF1, 4:317]; Chrysostom, Hom. Rom., 10.17 [NPNF1, 11:403]). Yet, for Jesus in John 3, this temporal sequence seems not to be nearly so significant as is the spatial distance between heaven and earth and the ideological significance that distance bears.

4. Köstenberger, Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, 259.

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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Why Seek the Living among the Dead?

In Luke 24:1, αἱ γυναῖκες, αἵτινες ἦσαν συνεληλυθυῖαι ἐκ τῆς Γαλιλαίας αὐτῷ (Luke 23:55; the women who had come with him from Galilee; cf. Matt 28:1–8; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 8:2–3; 23:49; 24:10; John 20:1–13) go to Jesus’ tomb φέρουσαι ἃ ἡτοίμασαν ἀρώματα (Luke 24:1; carrying spices that they had prepared). Instead of finding Jesus, however, the women are met with an empty tomb and two shining figures (Luke 24:2–5a). To these women, the resplendent individuals then address the question τί ζητεῖτε τὸν ζῶντα μετὰ τῶν νεκρῶν; (Luke 24:5b; Why do you seek the living one among the dead?).

From the women’s perspective, of course, seeking someone who was alive among the dead was precisely not what they were doing. They had, after all, come φέρουσαι ἃ ἡτοίμασαν ἀρώματα (Luke 24:1; carrying spices that they had prepared), which they had not had with them previously when they were at the tomb (Luke 23:55–56). Among those who were dead, they were seeking one who was dead. The figures’ point is, then, not that the women were confused about where dead or living people might normally be found but that the individual the women were seeking had a different status than they had supposed. The object of their search was alive rather than dead—and those who sought him should have known better than to think otherwise (Luke 24:6–7).1

Although Peter at least goes to see the tomb for himself and comes away θαυμάζων τὸ γεγονός (Luke 24:12; marveling at what had happened), the apostles generally fare still worse. Even on hearing the women’s report, they think it nonsense (Luke 24:10–11).2 Cleopas and his fellow traveler also know the women’s report, but neither do they have any firm convictions about its veracity (Luke 24:13, 18–24).3 Meeting Jesus, whom they do not recognize, Cleopas and his original traveling companion are also told they should have known better (Luke 24:25–26).4 They should have known to have expected Jesus’ resurrection, but they didn’t. Apparently, the unrecognized Jesus spends the rest of the trip teaching the two other travelers. Yet, seemingly nowhere along the balance of this journey are Cleopas and his companion stopped in their tracks by the realization that, of course, Jesus must have risen from the dead (Luke 24:13–15, 25–28). Normal experience was quite to the contrary, hence the two travelers’ inability to fit their experiences into another mold besides that of unrealized hopes for Israel’s redemption (Luke 24:20–24).5 Then again, their own experience of Jesus was, self-confessedly, far from “normal” (Luke 24:19).

When confronted with the fact that they ought to have known better, the women at the tomb had at least ἐμνήσθησαν τῶν ῥημάτων αὐτοῦ (Luke 24:8; remembered his words; cf. Luke 24:6). Yet, even after having new words added to those they had already heard, Cleopas and his companion come only to “burning hearts” until ἐγνώσθη αὐτοῖς ἐν τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου (Luke 24:35; he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread; see Luke 24:28–34). To be sure, the group of disciples hears the reports of Jesus’ appearance to Simon and the two travelers, but they are still joyfully incredulous when Jesus appears among them (Luke 24:33–43).6

Respecting “normal” experience, there was nothing “natural” about Jesus’ resurrection. “Normally,” dead people stay dead. “Normally,” unless the grave is disturbed, a dead body will be in the same place a few days after that body is laid to rest, and spices can be brought back for the body at a later time if such needs to happen. On the other hand, respecting the creator God’s faithfulness to his promises to his people, nothing is more supremely “natural” than that the crucified messiah should be found alive three days after he had died (Luke 24:5–7; 25–27; 44–49; cf. Rom 4:17).7 In the end—not least, in the climax of all things—neither the grave, nor indeed death itself, is a very good container for such a person, in whom all the fullness of the creator’s mighty power and purposes for his people were seen to have been at work (cf. Luke 24:19, 21; Acts 2:24; Heb 7:15–16).

Hand place a bullet into a plain paper bag, and the bag will hold the bullet well enough. Shoot the bullet into the bag with a gun, and the bag hasn’t got a chance.


1. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003), 657.

2. Tertullian, Marc., 4.43 (ANF 3:422).

3. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 657.

4. Ibid., 650–51, 657.

5. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 64.15 (NPNF1 8:266); Augustine, Tract. ep. Jo., 2.1 (NPNF1 7:469–70); Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 651.

6. Augustine, Faust., 4.2 (NPNF1 4:161); Augustine, Serm., 66.3 (NPNF1 6:456); Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 657.

7. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 64.15 (NPNF1 8:266); C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 25–37; Tertullian, Marc., 4.43 (ANF 3:422); Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 649, 651–52.

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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