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Biblical Interpretation XIII

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Question #1:

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
Matthew 15:26 NIV

In Matthew 15:26, why does our Lord refer to the Syro-Phoenician woman as a dog?

Response #1:

On Matthew 15:26: It certainly is true that such an appellation would have been off-putting for someone not totally convinced that Jesus was who He said He was and who alone could do what she needed to be done. Which is why He says when she passes this test, "O woman, great is your faith!" (v.28).  Sometimes we need to be tested to demonstrate that we do indeed trust in God's faithfulness, no matter what.

Question #2:

In Matthew 11:23-24, why does our Lord say that Sodom would have been saved?  Why then did God not provide the miracles necessary for them to be saved?

Response #2:

On Matthew 11:23-24: If those other cities had been blessed to have the miracles displayed that our Lord's kindred did, they would have repented. Why, then, did they not receive such miracles, since God wants all to be saved? The only answer I can discern to that is that – in their case – such demonstrations of divine power would have been impossible for many there to ignore to the point that they would not really be making free will decisions. God alone knows the free / not free break point. The fact that our Lord's contemporaries could watch, e.g., the dead being raised and still not accept Him, certainly goes a long way to revealing the depth of their hardness of heart – and that is His main point in this passage, something we should not allow our questions about His comments on those earlier cities to make us lose sight of.  It's an important point for us all today as well.  People often say, "if only I'd had a miracle or an epiphany like Paul".  But we DO have the gospel and the ministry of the Spirit.  Regardless of what others have done or failed to do, what others have received or failed to receive, we are responsible for our own lives and free will decisions – and it is for these that we will be evaluated.  God is being fair to us.  He could not be otherwise.  We need never to forget that.  And let us not forget that Sodom DID receive the miraculous deliverance of their entire population through the intervention of Abraham and his small force to rescue Lot and his family.  But instead of responding to that great miracle, they attacked the angelic messengers who came to rescue Lot and his family before the city's destruction for good cause. 

As to our Lord's way of putting things, "it would have remained to this day", we are not required to change this counterfactual to factual in only one respect. What I mean by that is that to follow our Lord's reasoning, we have to imagine everything else that would have been necessary to make the counterfactual true, specifically, some willingness of heart that would have led to a response. But in spite of God's goodness to them for Lot and Abraham's sake, there weren't even "ten righteous" when the city was destroyed.  In fact, there was only one (2Pet.2:7).

For more on this, please see "Gospel Questions VIII", Q/A #10.

Question #3:

In Matthew 12:1-5, can you explain our Lord's answer as to how the disciples were not in fact profaning the Sabbath, especially in light of the strict treatment in the stoning of the man who gathered wood on the Sabbath in the Law.

Response #3:

On Matthew 12:1-5: The Law is meant to exemplify the truth. The reason for the Sabbath day observance was for having the time and leisure to rest and take in the truth. Those who condemned the disciples had already rejected the truth, but the disciples were expending effort and incurring hunger (and had not had the opportunity to prepare food) because of their service to the truth. So of course they were guiltless. In Numbers, the Lord had just given the command to put to death anyone who sinned "presumptuously", that is, in arrogant defiance of the Lord (Num.15:30 ff.). It would have undermined the entire authority of the Law to let this "in your face" arrogant act – an unnecessary act not done in service to the truth – committed in the presence of the whole congregation go unpunished. This punishment establishes the importance of the principle: no doubt everyone in the congregation then or at some time later would be technically guilty as well, but of all the millions upon millions of such violations throughout the period of the Law, this is the only stoning for such cause we hear of. 

What the disciples did, therefore, does not invalidate the purpose behind the Sabbath. In fact, since the Sabbath is all about taking time out for the truth, they were establishing that purpose (which they would not have been able to do if collapsing from hunger).  Those who do necessary things on the Sabbath are not the same as this man who had no dire need of sticks at the moment; those who like the disciples are engaged in the Lord's business for the sake of the truth and do necessary things are doubly innocent.

Question #4:

A question about Thomas' statement at John 11:16:  "Let us also go, that we may die with Him" (NKJV).  You said that he was speaking ironically: "Thomas is expressing a lack of faith. Not the last time he would do so".  But is it not possible that Thomas is here expressing his willingness to die with our Lord (John 11:7-8)?

Response #4:

On John 11:16: I don't see it that way. This would take Thomas' skepticism over the top in assuming that the Lord would be killed as a result of their journey back to Judea, and we see from all the gospels that the disciples were completely taken by surprise by the crucifixion in spite of the fact that the Lord was continually warning them about it. In terms of willingness, I don't read this as a positive statement at all, and to do so would require factoring all manner of positive things into Thomas statement which the context won't support (let alone his subsequent behavior).

I understand that point of view, but to me it rings false. After all, the disciples were always getting it wrong. James and John wanted to blast a Samaritan village with lightning bolts (and had their mother lobby for them for the left and right hand positions); Philip didn't get that the Lord would have no problem feeding the large crowd; Peter struck off the temple servant's ear with a sword (and denied the Lord three times); and they all thought Jesus was talking about bread when He told them to beware about the leaven of the Pharisees. One could go on. I'm amazed at the Lord's patience, because these twelve who were the closest to Him were always getting it wrong, and consistently so, it seems. In fact, if this statement of Thomas is to be read as one of courage and solidarity, it would seem to be absolutely unique in the gospels for that reason (I don't know of anything else that would fall into this category), and also completely out of character with how the disciples generally responded to difficult news (cf. their resistance to the idea of the crucifixion) – not to mention being out of character with what we see of Thomas later, if the only courageous and pure-hearted disciple (according to this interpretation) became such a doubter just a few weeks later.  In other words, he's called "doubting Thomas" for a reason. 

But in spite of that, Thomas will have his name emblazoned on one of the foundation stones of the gates of New Jerusalem.  All of the apostles shared in our Lord's earthly sufferings before the gauntlet that led to the cross (and if Paul did not do so in person, he certainly "filled up the suffering of Christ" after his conversion: Acts 9:16), and that is something the importance of which not to be underestimated:

"But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.  And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
Luke 22:28-30 NKJV

Question #5:

On your interpretation of Luke 2:7, you've convinced me that a phatne is a feeding trough and that this is what "manger" means.  Bu when you say that "no place" means "no [specific] place to put the child" rather than "rooms for them to lodge in", I believe Luke makes the point that Mary put Jesus in the manger-trough, because there was no place for them - as an entire family - in the inn. The fact that there was no place for them as a family needs not imply that phatne, "manger", must be meant as a lodging place for the entire family, because the point of this clause is where our Lord was put and His humble beginning.

Response #5:

On Luke 2:7, if you accept that a phatne, "manger", is a trough for feeding animals, then what we have in this verse is a completely illogical sequence. It makes no sense whatsoever to say, "Since there was no room for the family to stay in the inn, they placed the child in a manger-trough. First, having introduced the idea that lodging was a problem (if that were what the verse meant), we should get some resolution about where they stayed next; but instead, in this reading, we are told that they put the child in a trough. Lack of a place in the inn does not necessitate an action of this sort at all. Throughout history, mothers have held their newborn children close when unable to find shelter. Further, the shepherds are told to look for the child "in a manger". This assumes that, of course, they will be able to locate the family, but indicates that the sign of this being the right child will be the use of a phatne as a crib. Where will they look? They would start at the inn, no doubt. And if this obvious approach were not correct, then we can assume that the angel would have told them where to look. Finally in verse sixteen they "hasten" and have no trouble locating the family (again, this suggests they are staying in the one place where lodgers could be expected to stay), and they discover "Mary and Joseph . . . and the Babe lying in a manger"

While the English might be misunderstood, the Greek makes it clear that it is the infant who is "lying in a phatne", but no mention is made of where Mary and Joseph and the child are staying. This is now Luke's third chance to tell us that, and it seems to me beyond odd that he would not if it were the case, that they weren't able to lodge at the inn but were staying in a barn instead. As it is, "there being no [suitable] place (i.e., crib)" is given as the explanation of why they did lay the child in a manger-trough, the reason being that there was no crib for them in the inn, rather than "no place [for all of them to lodge]" which is an assumption which then does not conform at all with the explanation Luke introduces here . . . unless we understand a phatne as a barn (which in Greek it most definitely is not).

Question #6:

Are not these two passages contradictory?

"If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true."
John 5:31 NKJV

Jesus answered and said to them, "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going."
John 8:14 NKJV

Response #6:

John 5:31 and 8:14: one can't look at these two statements independent of the circumstances in which they were made. In the first instance, His enemies were trying to kill Him for healing on the Sabbath, and His discourse in response is to show that He is merely doing and saying what the Father told Him to do; so our Lord's answer says to them, in effect, "If I were the only one witnessing here you might have grounds; but I'm not alone in this witness". In the second instance, it is the Pharisees who are disputing His witness; so His response is to first affirm that His witness is indeed true, and would be even if He were testifying on His own. But in both instances He is not alone in His testimony, so in neither case is the protasis, the "if clause" a basis for any logical conclusion since it is not in fact the case that He was alone in His testimony. So these statements are only contradictory 1) taken completely out of context, and 2) if assumed to be stating a fact (whereas they are not facts in either case but merely rhetorical devices used to refute His enemies, "the Jews" in the first case and the Pharisees in the second).

I think the crux is that the two statements appear at first blush to be contradictory. As believers, we understand that this cannot be the case. That is where we start. We are seeking resolution both for ourselves (we want to understand) and perhaps also for apologetic purposes (to be ready to give a good answer to naysayers or to those likely to be tripped up). For me, the fact that both are conditional and bound to the particular occasion – and in practical terms potentially counterfactual in each case – solves everything (except perhaps just why the Lord chose to say it the way He said it). I take the force of the first passage to be: "You are mistaken in your thinking because the Father and the Spirit are in fact testifying to the fact of Me being the Messiah"; and the force of the second passage: "Even if what you were saying about Me was true – to the effect that I am only testifying about Myself – though you are deadly wrong about this, what I say would be true even so in that hypothetical case, and here is the reason (given in what follows)". This has been my understanding of the issue from the start and it hasn't changed. I suppose I could say it differently, and am happy to discuss the whys and wherefores if you wish, but I don't think I can give a much better answer than this one.

Question #7:

Cannot we take "poor spiritually" in Matthew 5:3 as referring to humility?

Response #7:

On Matthew 5:3, here's the way I've translated it in the past: "Happy are ye, even though you are poor, because . . ."

The text says, literally, "Blessed are the poor spiritually"; the question is whether this means that they are spiritually blessed "only" (so they might not receive material benefit from this blessing, wonderful though it is), or whether this lowliness is meant in some spiritual sense (referring to their humility), but the two are not unrelated. If a person is literally poor, he/she can be spiritually rich/blessed, by responding to the Lord the right way; and if a person is responding to the Lord the right way in all humility, then the person is blessed spiritually.

Question #8:

"Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."
Luke 21:36 NKJV

I’m not clear why Jesus says that we should pray to have the strength “to escape” these things – rather than, for example, to endure them.

Response #8:

Luke 21:36: ekphygein means to "get safely through", and that would require endurance on the way through and out. In legal parlance it means "to be acquitted", and anyone who's been through a trial knows that this requires a great deal of endurance (which is why it's called a trial). So our Lord is focusing on the end result – our deliverance or "escape" – rather than on the process.

Question #9:

Luke 23:40 (NASB)
But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

I think the explanation that makes the best sense here is that the criminal was referring to “the sentence of condemnation” being a sentence to death and so one that should cause on to fear God as the one they would shortly have to face. This fear of judgment must have also played a big part in him believing in Christ.

Response #9:

Luke 23:40: I think it's pretty clear that being on the point of death is the key thing; this man invokes the "fear of God" and that means he understands that he will have to face God very soon – so that is strong motivation to get "right with Him" before hand.  And there is only one way to do that, namely, accepting Jesus Christ as Savior.

Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:42-43 NKJV

Question #10:

Can you explain who our Lord's statement justifies His conclusion here about the Pharisees being complicit in the murder of the prophets?

"So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you built their tombs".
Luke 11:48 NKJV 

Response #10:

The tomb building is hypocritical in light of the fact that they call the murderers "our fathers" – because even though they accuse them, they still do not disown them.  So this demonstrates that they too would have done the same had they been there (as will be shown by their eagerness to crucify the Lord).

Question #11:

Luke 16:10-13: How should we then understand verses 9-12 and what is their main thrust? The reason I have been gearing towards the interpretation I described is that our Lord's point there goes beyond the warning to consider more important than other things.

Response #11:

"And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings."
Luke 16:9 NKJV

I take this to mean that we are to take the example of this parable and make use of the resources we have in this life to earn a good reward, rather than foolishly spending our time trying to store them up (as if we lived forever here).

"He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much."
Luke 16:10 NKJV

Means that what you have now is really very little (like the minas or the talents); if you are faithful in the use of your resources here, you will receive great rewards in the kingdom; but if you waste the time and resources I'm giving you here, you will not earn a great reward (verse 11-12).

Question #12:

On Luke 9:46-48: It is true that the child has a trusting attitude, but since our Lord's argument is not about being like a child, but accepting a child, I meant us "lowering" ourselves in humility to accept the truth (message of which I thought the child can be taken to represent), just as we, in a sense, display a humble attitude when receiving a child, whose status is considerably lower to ours. I'm not sure if you see what I mean.

Response #12:

I think the child represents anyone who is willing to come to the Lord and to the truth: whether we are naturally disposed to accept such a person or not, we should do so for the sake of the Person of Christ. As Paul says:

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.
Romans 12:16 NIV

Question #13:

Luke 18:7-8 (NASB)
7 now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? 8 I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

Can you explain the phrase in bold?  KJV has "though he bear long with them".

Response #13:

Luke 18:7-8: On God "having patience" with us (which is what makrothumeo means in Greek), I think the real problem is that the idea is backward from the way we think of it. The force is: "And indeed, you need to understand that God is doing this in the proper time and so YOU need to have patience in waiting for His deliverance"; that is what "God having patience with us" as we struggle in hope really means.

Question #14:

Luke 16:10-13 (NASB)
10 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. 11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

I’m wondering how we should understand the transition from the parable of the unrighteous steward to these verses. I would assume there must be some link, but it’s not entirely clear to me.

Response #14:

Luke 16:10-13: The link is that considering money more important that anything else is a mistake. It only has value in this life (so kudos to the unrighteous steward for acting accordingly), and money, the love of it, can be very detrimental to spiritual life (1Tim.6:10).

Question #15:

Luke 15:7(NASB)
7 I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

How should we understand the righteous persons here? Are they meant to be actually righteous, or only from “the legal standpoint” as Meyer puts it, which I would understand referring to the external appearance, making a comparison to the Pharisees.

Response #15:

Luke 15:7: The elect angels are watching this earthly combat. They rejoice over new victories, not over past ones. Similarly, we can't afford to sit on our laurels either. Did we win a victory yesterday? Fine. No doubt those in heaven rejoiced over that. But that was yesterday. And in like fashion, we can't be caught up in being distressed about yesterday's failures either. Did the heavenlies weep over our failures yesterday? They have moved on to other things today – and will rejoice over our victories today, should we have some.

Question #16:

I still wonder, however, why Luke expressed himself the way he did. I will soon be completing re-reading his gospel (I followed your advice and have not been interrupting the reading unless I felt it was necessary and I have been enjoying it a lot) and even a novice like me can see that the Greek in it is smooth, especially when compared to a book like Revelation. But some things are very hard to understand in terms of interpretation.

Response #16:

It's often the case in reading the New Testament that problems of interpretation arise because 1) we are not privy to many of the relationships between individuals and churches that were taken for granted by the writers, and 2) even if we make a detailed study of the world of that time, it's not our time, not our world, and there is very much that we will never know for certain this side of heaven.

I often tell my classes that if this civilization were to be wiped out by catastrophe and things grew back from the ground up, 5,000 years from now those digging up our remains would be confused by a great deal – and half of the jokes on comedy programs wouldn't make sense to them for obvious reasons (or they would think they "got it" but actually didn't). Anyone reading Luke's gospel nearly contemporaneously would not have the issues of interpretation we do, and not just because their Greek would be better but because it was their world.

Question #17:

You wrote: "Augustus decreed that a census should be taken; now this was a census [not THE census] which took place before the one when Quirinius was governor [that was THE census]".

However, one of the reasons why I have been finding it difficult to take the census as indefinite is that the other census to which you are referring in the above translation is not mentioned in the Greek, as the text only says "before Quirinius was governor":

Response #17:

That's true, but the whole reason to bring up Quirinius (as opposed to any other governor) is because Luke is trying to keep readers from getting the two censuses confused – hence rendering it as indefinite makes good sense.

Indefinite subjects occur with copulas all the time, "A man's a man, after all", as Zorba says. And that's true even though he is referring to his own situation. "Augustus decreed that a census should be taken; now this was a census [not THE census] which took place before the one when Quirinius was governor [that was THE census]". It works in English and it works in Greek.

Question #18:

Hebrews 2:14-15 (NASB):
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

How should we understand the slavery in Hebrews 2:15? What type of slavery caused by the fear of death does Paul mean here?

Response #18:

Fear of death is universal in human experience.  And fear of death either leads to response to God or the opposite. Those who refuse to respond have to blot out the truth from their hearts in order to be able to function in this life and not be paralyzed by that fear. Religion has always been the primary means of this hardening against having to deal with the truth, and religion (as opposed to a saving relationship with Christ) has always been not only the main means of the human race's enslavement of itself but also of turning itself over to the devil to do his will as expressed in religious dicta. This was pretty much how the Romans thought about these things without much subterfuge. Religion is something you involve yourself in in order to be "left alone" by the forces you can't see.

Question #19:

In your Eschatology study you wrote:

In that antichrist is described here as leading "the kings of the earth", we are meant to understand that all the standing armies of the world, now under his power, have been assembled in Israel. Further, this verse makes it quite clear that the true, mad purpose of this assembly is "to make war" with Jesus Christ! Therefore antichrist's immediate purpose of destroying Israel is merely "bait" to bring our Lord to battle.

This is a point I find hard to understand – it assumes that Antichrist is expecting our Lord to come, but I’m not clear why Antichrist would be confident that Jesus Christ is about to come and engage in this battle.

Response #19:

Well, 1) the beast's entire purpose is wipe God's people Israel off the map once and for all in this campaign, 2) he and the devil are not entirely uniformed about the divine time-line (they can read Revelation too), meaning that time is of the essence if they are going to accomplish that purpose before the Lord returns, and 3) Revelation seems to make that very point too by telling us that the devil understands this is all coming to an end in short order (and the return of Christ is "the end"), hence the impetus to undertake this campaign with all energy and speed:

"Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short."
Revelation 12:12 NIV

I have often made the point that the devil is essentially "mad" to oppose God.  If anyone should have known that it was futile to do so, it was Satan, the one who held the preeminent place of honor before the divine throne until he rebelled.  But arrogance blinds any free-willed creature to the truth.  Consider unbelievers.  They know they will die, but they don't take that to heart.  If they did, the would seek out the Lord, and He is "not far from any of us" (Acts 17:27).  But instead they harden their hearts and live as if they were going to live forever, or delude themselves with religion so as to assume that there will be oblivion, or reincarnation, or salvation by works for the "good" they have done, or simply just putting things off until it's too late.  Insanity, it seems, is the default for most of the human race.  No one would take the mark of the beast if they accepted the truth in humility.  Since humility is the last thing the devil and his son would exemplify, this insane action should really come as no surprise.

Question #20:

Romans 10:5-6 (NASB):
5 For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. 6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down).

I'm still not entirely clear about this passage. If we take the righteousness in verse 5 as referring to not being put to death as a criminal or being judged by God as an apostate (because we know that righteousness from sin in God’s eyes was not achievable through the Law), then I'm not sure how the link between verses 5 and 6 should be understood, because the meaning of righteousness is different in the two. In verses 3 and 4 Paul speaks of God’s righteousness which comes as a result of placing the faith in Christ and which brings salvation, but in verse 5 a different type of righteousness is referred to.

Response #20:

Indeed, the two types of righteousness are different. The one God gives is perfect, positional and based on faith; the one arising from the Law is necessarily limited, behavioral, and based on actions. The latter one cannot save while the former is basis for salvation. For the godly man in Israel, he/she did believe the truth and was saved in the manner of Abraham (Gen.15:6), and that resulted in "righteous behavior" which reflected salvation. But it doesn't work the other way around. THAT was the mistake of legalistic Jews then and now, namely, the idea that "doing" the things the Law required would work backwards and provide the perfect righteousness that God demands, and do so without faith. But of course no one could ever actually "do" what the Law requires, let alone accomplish its underlying tenets (Matt.23:23). And such "doing" doesn't replace faith; in fact it rejects it. And not only that. Such an approach always produces a false appreciation of what the Law actually says and in fact replaces it with a sort of pseudo-law which those who embrace it foolishly imagine they can actually accomplish. But that means nothing to God. So the Law is good, and accomplishing its true, inner righteousness is good – the OT equivalent of experiential sanctification -- but this is only so in the case of those who have God's righteousness through faith and are walking closely to Him as a result; that cannot be an effect, only a result.

Question #21:

Romans 2:6-10 (NASB):
6 who will render to each person according to his deeds: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

We could understand this whole passage as essentially saying - “God will render everyone according to his deeds, to those who do good – glory and honor and immortality and to the wicked – wrath and indignation. But what you need to understand is that no one can live by only doing good, there is no such a person, and for this reason, we are all guilty before God”.

Response #21:

I think you are on the right track. A person who is saved by faith and who is growing spiritually and moving forward in the way described here is certainly accomplishing what the Lord desires and will have these blessed results; but those who reject Christ and embrace the wrong way will experience the opposite which Paul very graphically includes here as well. This is true for all human beings.

What Jewish readers need to understand is that 1) they are not the only ones for whom the good track is true, and 2) the bad track is also not just for gentiles but also for Jews who reject Christ and the true righteousness which comes through faith by grace – and that is so even if they (wrongly) assume that Law-keeping puts them in the first category absent such faith in Christ.

Question #22:

Back to Romans 10:5-6, I'm still not entirely clear about this passage. If we take the righteousness in verse 5 as referring to not being put to death as a criminal or being judged by God as an apostate (because we know that righteousness from sin in God’s eyes was not achievable through the Law), then I'm not sure how the link between verses 5 and 6 should be understood, because the meaning of righteousness is different in the two. In verses 3 and 4 Paul speaks of God’s righteousness which comes as a result of placing the faith in Christ and which brings salvation, but in verse 5 a different type of righteousness is referred to.

Response #22:

Again, the difference is between the righteousness which is God's evaluation of a person as righteous (based on said person's faith in Christ) versus responding to the Law in whole or in part, rightly or wrongly. For those who do so rightly, the best that can be hoped for is the blessing that comes to anyone (even a gentile with such truth written on his/her heart) who does "what is right" in this life; for those who are practicing a religious system which emphasizes appearances, they do not even receive that benefit, even though they may term such legalism "righteousness" (God certainly doesn't; this is "trying to establish their own righteousness"). Our only hope for true righteousness is to stand on someone else's, namely, Christ's . . . by grace through faith.

Question #23:

On John 5:39, you wrote: "'Search the scriptures' is a command. There is no indication here or elsewhere that these individuals where actually "searching the scriptures" for anything. Our Lord is commending the word of truth to them, the very scriptures whose keeping (in their flawed way) they think give them live eternal, when in fact these scriptures tell of the coming of the One who would give them life eternal . . . through faith in Him".

This is a clear and coherent interpretation, but it seems to me that it could be equally valid to take the words in the sense that they search the scriptures and yet do not understand them, the same as with seeing and not perceiving, hearing and not understanding. To paraphrase our Lord's words according to this interpretation:

"You claim to search the scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life - and it is these scriptures that you read and don't understand which testify about Me".

Response #23:

John 5:39: While you make a good case, our Lord doesn't say "you claim . . ."; if it is not imperative, this would be a statement of fact to the effect that "you are searching the scriptures"; I don't disagree that these individuals were "not perceiving", but to take this as indicative attributes to them some genuine interest in finding the truth, and I don't see any of that either in this context or anywhere else.

Question #24:

I understand your points, but I still take the indicative as possible, if not probable. Jesus does not say "you claim", but He did not do that in any of the parallel situations (Matthew 13:13 or John 9:39) and the words "you are searching the scriptures" in my view don't need to be taken as indicating a genuine interest in the truth. The Jews were searching, but without the desire for the truth they were not finding it, the same as with seeing and not perceiving.

Response #24:

The following indicative is based upon our Lord's assessment which is a function of the second half of the preceding verse even more than the first. It flows nicely, in English as well as Greek, with an imperative followed by indicative:

"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me."
John 5:39 KJV

So I don't see the passages cited as parallels. The objection that the indicative says that these individuals actually were searching the scriptures for divine guidance – when everything else suggests that they most definitely were not searching, merely using – is one that trumps other considerations in my view.

Question #25:

I understand both your points, but here also I don't think I have a basis to go one way and see the other as definitely incorrect. In my view "searching", as I said previously, does not need to be taken as searching for divine guidance with a genuine desire for the truth and this is the key issue in the passage. The parallels may not be exact, but I do see them as such. In fact, the whole point could be that they read and search the scriptures, but their disposition of the heart makes it impossible for them to come to the truth. I admit, however, that the text reads well and makes very good sense if we take the verb "search" as an imperative.

Response #25:

I don't see these men as searching anything whatsoever. They are most content with their vile, incorrect use of the Law. Nicodemus was an exception – but he came to the Lord for answers, and eventually responded to the truth as a result. He who seeks, finds; he who is not seeking, does not find (Matt.7:8; Lk.11:10).

Question #26:

John 5:7-9 (NASB)
7 The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me." 8 Jesus *said to him, "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." 9 Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.

This really is a unique case. It doesn't seem to be the case, but I thought I would ask anyway - do you think that verses 9-15 give us any reason to think that this man did become a believer?

Response #26:

While I hope so, context suggests the opposite. People who are grateful for things tend to be more grateful immediately and less so as time goes by (that's human nature); this man, instead of expressing gratitude immediately went and informed on our Lord.

Question #27:

These are valid arguments, Professor, but I don't want to be dogmatic on this point and I also don't know what is gained from that. I agree that your interpretation is probable, but scripture teaches the most important truths in such a way that it is not a question of probability, but of certainty. Now I know that you think that this is the case here, but for the reasons I explained I don't believe that to be the case. That's true, the scripture records no sign of his appreciation and it is quite probable that he did not express that. And if he did not appreciate what the Lord has done for him, you would be right, but I don't know if we have got enough to be absolutely certain that he didn't.

The words "lest a worse thing come upon you" should not in my view (as you wrote previously) be reserved for unbelievers whose portion is in this life - if someone is miraculously delivered from a lifelong illness through which they come to see the truth, then giving oneself over to sin after such experience is far more damnable than before - since now one has had the opportunity to experience God's work and see the truth. In case this experience should result in someone coming to faith, there is the issue of divine discipline - reserved for believers.

As for the potential reasons he could have gone back to the Jews, I mentioned some which did not have to stem from a malicious intent and this also applies to him telling it was Jesus.

This did result in our Lord being persecuted - but so did everything else He has done according to the Father's will.

As I said, I don't believe the scripture leaves absolutely no possibility of this man not acting in malice and since this is so, I don't see the need to be dogmatic about his intention.

Response #27:

I don't know what you mean by "I don't believe the scripture leaves absolutely no possibility of this man not acting in malice and since this is so, I don't see the need to be dogmatic about his intention". Could you rephrase that? On the substance, can you think of any other place where our Lord tells someone not to sin? Usually He says "your sins are forgiven". The latter is said to those whose "faith has saved them"; but without faith, not sinning is the best advice short of faith.

Question #28:

That's been the key question for me, but although the answer you propose is more probable, it seems impossible to say with absolute confidence whether he maliciously reported on our Lord to the Jews or whether it was just an act of naivety or potentially even of testimony before them.

Response #28:

There's no indication here to me that this reporting was a good thing or meant for a good purpose. If I want to glorify God for something me someone has done for me I tell my family and friend – not the police.

Question #29:

Good point, but I will refrain from making a definite judgment here. I don't think we have enough information to judge this man's motives with certainty and he could have gone to the authorities for a variety of reasons (and he could have gone to his family and friends too)

Response #29:

Again, you generally don't go to the police if you're not informing on someone.  That's not the behavior of someone who's been saved and is joyous about it.  Such people let everyone know the wondrous things the Lord has done for them –like the man delivered from the "legion" of demons who "began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him" (Mk.5:20).  Going to the police to report that it was Jesus who had told him to commit the "crime" of carrying his pallet on the Sabbath is not believer behavior.  And it certainly isn't gratitude.

Question #30:

"This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day."
John 6:39 NKJV

The NIV Study Bible says "True believers will persevere because of Christ's firm hold on them", and you wrote about that: "The NIV SB is written from a Calvinistic perspective and understands this verse from the standpoint of "perseverance of the saints". It is the case that all believers are saved, and that all who do persevere in fact (as opposed to any theological interpretation of that word), maintaining their faith in Christ to the end, are saved, are part of Christ's Church, and will be raised "on the last day" when our Lord returns (the second advent)."

I must say I'm still not clear about the thrust of our Lord's words in this verse - "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing". In what sense Christ could "lose" a believer given to Him by the Father?

Response #30:

The point is that He did not lose anyone "given" to Him; so if we are in the plan as believers, we are saved; the problem was with the note that seems to want to make that into hyper-Calvinistic predestination where our free will is not really involved in responding to God's grace with the faith He's given us.  We are saved "by grace" . . . "through faith" (Eph.2:8-9).  Leaving the first one out is the Arminian fallacy; leaving out the second is the Calvinist fallacy.

Question #31:

I think I see your point about the NIV SB - the note states that "True believers will persevere because of Christ's firm hold on them" when in fact it's the opposite. But I must say I still don't know what our Lord here means by "lose" - since He is the One who in fact brings us to salvation and if anyone is eventually not saved, it is only through their own choice.

Response #31:

Scripture presents both points of view: 1) the ineluctable plan of God; 2) our necessity to choose; and it's always possible to be put off when thinking of the one when the other is in view. The only way for Him to "lose" someone was if that someone was determined to be lost. So this tells us that He, at any rate, did everything from His end – the cross is beyond all else and destroys all arguments to the contrary.

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6-8 KJV

Question #32:

“Moses therefore [dia touto, "because of this"] gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.
John 7:23 NKJV

You wrote about this:  "The Greek phrase dia touto, "because of this", harkens back to the giving of the Law in John 7:19: circumcision is a sign of keeping the commandments of God even before the Law but even more so afterwards (another reason for our Lord to bring in Moses here), but keeping all the commandments of God is impossible – which is why the Law leads us to grace, properly appreciated and understood (Galatians 3:24).

But what is the precise reason for giving the rite of the circumcision that our Lord is referring to by saying διὰ το το? Meyer's explanation makes sense and I wonder if we should interpret the verse in such a way - that Moses for this reason gave them the circumcision for them to see that it is above the Sabbath to which they so legalistically cling.

Response #32:

I stand by my original answer.  Attributing to Moses circumcision as a demonstration that the Law is not absolute has many problems (not the least of which are 1) it's not the only thing that must be done on the Sabbath, and 2) Moses, as our Lord says too, was not the originator). The phrase dia touto can go either way; I think commentators put way to much weight on it and trying to figure it out; it's a transition marker not meant to skew interpretation because of over-emphasis.

Question #33:

John 7:37-38 (NASB)
37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "[a]If anyone is thirsty, [b]let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'"

a. John 7:37 Vv 37-38 may also be read: If anyone is thirsty,...let him come..., he who believes in me as...

b. John 7:37 Or let him keep coming to Me and let him keep drinking

You wrote in response to these footnotes:  "The second one has to do with the fact that there is only one way to represent the present tense in Greek whereas we have three in English (simple: "drink"; progressive: "be drinking"; emphatic: "do drink"). As to the first note, it makes no sense to comma-splice the two sentences; but this may reflect the difficulty with the meaning which the overall incorrect rendering produces. In fact, there should be no comma after "believes in Me", because Jesus is saying to "believe in Me as the scriptures tell you to do". This is a misunderstanding of the passage common to all versions I have been able to check (i.e., the promise of the Spirit is not a quotation from the Old Testament; rather, faith in Christ has always been the prerequisite for blessing from God: Genesis 15:6)."

Would you use simple or progressive present tense to translate this verse?

Response #33:

On John 7:37-38: English is funny about simple and progressive presents. You would think we could substitute any time, but in fact what works and what doesn't work is somewhat fossilized in the language for particular verbs and expressions. So "let him come to Me" is understandable; "let him keep coming to Me" is odd. What does that mean or imply? Does it mean if there is not a continual coming that there is no benefit? So I would not use such a translation, not, that is, without an specific commentary. This is a salvation appeal, and while it is true that we have to "keep believing", the main point of the gospel is an encouragement to "put your faith in Christ" so as to be saved (Acts 16:31). Once you're a believer, we can talk about the need for spiritual growth et al.

For more on this passage, see the link.  Here is my translation:

(38) "The one who believes in Me as the scripture has said [to do], out of his belly will flow streams of living water". (39) [Jesus] said this about the [Holy] Spirit (i.e., the One who illuminates the life-giving "water of truth") which those who believe in Him were destined to receive: [at that point, however,] the Spirit was not yet [being poured out in Spirit baptism], because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
John 7:38-39 (cf. Jer.17:13; Is.12:3; 55:1)

Question #34:

What is your take on the point made in the Macmillan Bible Atlas that the designation “Ur of the Chaldees” (Genesis 11:28) is an anachronism, since “the Chaldeans arrived there only in the eleventh century B.C.”? That is also after the time of Moses who wrote Genesis.

Response #34:

It's a much made point, but not an important one. If I were writing a book about the Mongols I might refer to Kazakhstan – even though it didn't exist as such at the time – in order to help my present day readers get their geographical bearings. That's all that's going on here. Here is something I've written on this:

On the Chaldeans, we get that name from the Septuagint's translation of Kasidiym. This translation (i.e., the LXX) is also much overrated. It is occasionally helpful for vocabulary studies (almost never for textual questions), but in many cases, as here, the translators, who lived in the third century B.C. and who had less access to information about the distant past than we do today, merely guessed when they didn't know. The Chaldeans are the Babylonians of the Babylonian empire (where Daniel was exiled and which was destroyed by the Persians). But Kasidiym seems to be a generic term for the people who lived in that area rather than a specific ethnic term – as in "Europeans" (as opposed to, e.g., "Germans"), a term which would work for all who populate that continent today and also those who did so in the third millennium B.C., even though the population and language maps have changed completely.

Question #35:

1 John 5:6-8 (NASB)
6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

We have spent some time on this passage, but I must say I have never found peace with it. I read through all your responses, I read all the major commentaries based on original languages. At the moment the interpretation I would still be inclined to consider is the following:

1. In his epistle John is addressing incipient gnosticism and according to the teaching of Cerinthius the divine Christ came upon Jesus at His baptism and departed before his crucifixion.

2. John opposes this false teaching by stating that Christ did not come “in water only” – referring to His baptism – but He came also “by/in His blood”. I know you are sceptical about equating water with baptism, but our Lord did receive the water baptism from John and this would also fit with Cerinthius’ false teaching. So if the audience really were under the influence of gnosticism – as we can assume – then I would think they would make this association.

3. It is still hard for me to see the expression δι ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος as referring to John 19:34. You explained it as aeons being made of water, but on my initial research on this I haven’t found anything on this. In any other interpretation, however, the emphasis that it is not just by “water” is difficult to explain.

I’m not yet completely certain about this interpretation either, it just still seems less problematic to me than the alternative.

Response #35:

I have never identified aeons in any such specific way.

The key point of interpretation here is that when our Lord's side was pierced, blood and water came from the body of our Lord, and that made clear a) that He was indeed dead of His own will after His spiritual death on the cross which atoned for all of our sins, and b) that He was most definitely a human being, for the body was clearly human, having reacted in this way.

Gnostics who would reject His humanity are brought up short by John's witness in John 19:34, repeated and expanded here with the symbolism discussed previously (see the link).  Here's a link on where to find information on Gnostics and Gnosticism at Ichthys.

Question #36:

On 1 John 5:6-8 - it is always hard to accept, but after all the reading and thinking I am still not sure how to understand this verse.

On aeons you wrote:  "John is also the one who reports that when Jesus' body was pierced by the lance "blood and water" came out (Jn.19:34) -- and this could never have happened if He were an "aeon"."

Going back now to "not with the water alone", this does make some sense to me in the context of John combating incipient Gnosticism. In the Gnostic system, water is one of the original elements (along with darkness and chaos et al.), whereas blood is entirely related to living creatures in any appreciation of these matters. So while some might be convinced of Christ's genuine humanity by "water", that might not be true of the Gnostics; blood, however, seals the deal (so to speak), and the testimony of the Spirit to the truthfulness of John's report (here and in his inspired gospel) makes for a triad of witnesses to the truth that Jesus really did take on a human nature in addition to His divine nature.

I see your points here with taking the water and blood in their literal meaning, but the interpretation according to which John is opposing the false teaching of Cerinthius has advantages also.

Response #36:

I think it is unlikely that John wrote in response to Cerinthus. In my understanding of things, John probably was taken home ca. 68 A.D. If traditional conjectures about Cerinthus are correct, he couldn't have been old enough by then to have written anything important nor for it to have time to circulate to cause such a stir. I'm aware that there are many theories that put John's gospel much later, but I don't agree with them at all. The gospel was written ca. 60 A.D. in my view, which would make the Cerinthus-reaction theory unworkable. But it is certainly possible that Cerinthus was reacting to / working off of John's work. That, after all, is the time-honored satanic method, namely, to glom onto a genuine work of the Spirit in some way and thus to attack it.

Question #37:

The point about dating is a good one and one that I didn't consider, but I think it applies at least to a degree to both interpretations. Early dating of the gospel doesn't give Cerinthius' view much time to become widespread, but this also brings the question of how John's words "not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood" were meant to be understood by his audience, as I would assume they are referring to some sort of heresy.

My knowledge on gnosticism is only rudimentary, but from the limited research I've done I have not been able to find references to water being a key element of this false doctrine and the constituting element of the aeons. And based on how John makes his point ("not with the water only"), I would assume that this should perhaps be some allusion to a false doctrine. So if we were to take, for example, that gnostics believed aeons to constitute of water, then this false teaching would also have to become known well enough by the time John wrote for his audience to interpret his words correctly. Otherwise, to say "not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood" as referring to the body liquid seems to make little sense, since it is the blood in the first place that we would expect to flow out in any case, not the water.

Response #37:

The heresy is the false view that Christ was not really human but an apparition or whatever "of the divine". But having literal blood and sera flow from His body after death proves that He had a body just as we do, and that, therefore, in addition to being deity, our Lord is genuinely human.  Taking on true humanity was the only way for Him to bear our sins. Throwing in His lot with us, becoming human as we are, was the only way for Him who made us to save us to, because He had to have a human body to bear our sins and to be judged for them, paying the entire fiery price of judgment for them in our place.  What an eternal debt of gratitude we owe to our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for His ineffable sacrifice and to God our Father for the Gift of His dear Son!

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
“For who has known the mind of the LORD?
Or who has become His counselor?”
“Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11:33-36 NKJV


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