Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Da Vinci Code vs. Left Behind


Denny Burk (NT prof at Criswell) has some good thoughts on Brian McLaren's lack of discernment with the Da Vinci Code vs. some problems he finds with Left Behind.

Monday, May 29, 2006

An Argument for Altar Calls: Part 3

Luke 8:41

Here are several different ways parakaleo is translated in Luke 8:41: “desiring” (BBE), “implore(d)” (ESV, NASU), “besought” (KJV, RSV), “entreat” (NASB), “plead…” (NET, NIV, NJB, NLT), and “begged” (NKJV, NRSV).

In Luke 8:41, parakaleo has zero denotation nor connotation of “coming” or “inviting,” that is the job that eiserchomai (“to come, enter”) employs. Every single translation correctly relays the concept of “asking for something earnestly” (see Louw & Nida, 33.168). However, Louw & Nida include Luke 8:41 under 33.315: “to ask a person to accept offered hospitality – ‘to invite.’” But parakaleo does not mean invite here, but simply to urge, implore, or even beg someone to do something. It just so happens that the urging is to “come,” but the “coming” is communicated by a different word: eiserchomai.

Therefore, there is nothing in the use of Luke 8:41 to justify translating parakaleo as “invite.”

Saturday, May 27, 2006

An Argument for Altar Calls Analyzed

Part 2

The first correction to Fordham is a very minor one: parakaleo occurs 110 times. Below is the list of the 110 occurrences. The numbers in parentheses is the subtotal for the word count.

Matt. 2:18; 5:4; 8:5, 31, 34; 14:36; 18:29, 32; 26:53 = 9
Mark 1:40; 5:10, 12, 17, 18, 23; 6:56; 7:32; 8:22 = 9 (18)
Luke 3:18; 7:4; 8:31, 32, 41; 15:28; 16:25 = 7 (25)
Acts 2:40; 8:31; 9:38; 11:23; 13:42; 14:22; 15:32; 16:9, 15, 39, 40; 19:31; 20:1, 2, 12; 21:12; 24:4; 25:2; 27:33, 34; 28:14, 20 = 22 (47)
Rom. 1:12; 12:1, 8; 15:30; 16:17 = 5 (52)
1 Cor. 1:10; 4:13, 16; 14:31; 16:12, 15 = 6 (58)
2 Cor. 1:4 (x3), 6; 2:7, 8; 5:20; 6:1; 7:6 (x2), 7, 13; 8:6; 9:5; 10:1; 12:8, 18; 13:11 = 18 (76)
Eph. 4:1; 6:22 = 2 (78)
Phil. 4:2 (x2) = 2 (80)
Col. 2:2; 4:8 = 2 (82)
1 Thess. 2:12; 3:2, 7; 4:1, 10, 18; 5:11, 14 = 8 (90)
2 Thess. 2:17; 3:12 = 2 (92)
1 Tim. 1:3; 2:1; 5:1; 6:2 = 4 (96)
2 Tim. 4:2 = 1 (97)
Titus 1:9; 2:6, 15 = 3 (100)
Phlm. 1:9, 10 = 2 (102)
Heb. 3:13; 10:25; 13:19, 22 = 4 (106)
1 Pet. 2:11; 5:1, 12 = 3 (109)
Jude 1:3 = 1 (110)

So, parakaleo occurs 110 times. Now, there are several categories of usage. For example, it can refer to:
“to request/beg/plead/appeal,”
“to exhort/urge,” or
“to implore (to come), invite.”

Examples of parakaleo referring to “comfort” may include Matt 2:18; 5:4; Luke 16:25; Acts 20:12; 2 Cor. 1:4 (3 times), 6; 2:7; 2 Cor 13:11; Eph 6:22; 1 Thess 3:7; and 2 Thess. 2:17. For example, Ephesians 6:22 says, “I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts” (New American Standard [1995]). The word translated “comfort” by the NASU translators was parakaleo (an AAS3S). It was translated as “comfort” by the NASU (and NASB), KJV, NKJV, YLT (Young’s Literal Translation), and the BBE (Bible in Basic English) and “encourage” by the NET, NIV, NLT, ESV, NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), NRSV, and the RSV.

One example was found of parakaleo possibly meaning to “apologize” in Acts 16:39: “So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city” (ESV). The ESV, NLT, NRSV, RSV, and NET translates parakaleo here as “apologize” (similar to the NIV’s “appease”) while the BBE uses “made prayers,” the KJV and YLT read “besought,” the NASU says “appealed,” and the NJB (similarly) uses “pleaded”. Lexicographically speaking, it may be safer to include this use under “to appeal” or “to urge,” even though the context seems to urge for the meaning “apologize.”

Examples for “to request/beg/plead/appeal,” and “to exhort/urge,” are so numerous they aren’t necessary. However, several that I believe should fit into this category deserve further consideration since they may be the one’s referred to by Keith Fordham.

Here are the verses (in NASU) that contain a usage of parakaleo that could refer to an invitation (with the word translated from parakaleo in bold italics):

Luke 8:41 “And there came a man named Jairus, and he was an official of the synagogue; and he fell at Jesus' feet, and began to implore Him to come to his house”

Luke 15:28 “But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.”

Acts 2:40 “And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’”

Acts 8:31 And he said, "Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

Acts 16:9 “A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’”

Acts 28:14 “There we found some brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome.”

Matt 8:5 “And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him”

Each of these will be looked at throughout the next few days to see if parakaleo ever means “to invite” in the New Testament and therefore if it should be used as an argument for altar calls.

Friday, May 26, 2006

An Argument for Altar Calls ... from parakaleo

The following excerpts were taken from the Christian Index and were written by J. Gerald Harris in February of 2005. It was an article about Keith Fordham, an evangelist, who was nominated for the position of 1st Vice-President of the Southern Baptist Convention recently.

“The Christian Index recently interviewed Keith Fordham of Fayetteville, who is serving as president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE). The national organization provides networking between churches and evangelists across the denomination.”

“Fordham, a member of Harp's Crossing Baptist Church, addressed the need of using harvest evangelists in revival services.”

“Fordham: I believe it is a Biblical command. Of the 108 times the Greek verb parakaleo is used in the New Testament, five times it is used in conjunction with preaching and means ‘give a come forward, stand by the preacher’ invitation. In Acts 2:40 Peter exhorted [parakalei] the people on the day of Pentecost. He asked those who believed on Christ to come forward and stand by him publicly and 3,000 came. He kept on calling them and they that received Christ were baptized.”

“Furthermore, public decisions bless the church. When people see the lost come forward to give their hearts to Christ it does something to the church that is glorious and unexplainable. When you take the crowd out of a Falcon's game at the Georgia Dome the Falcons are easier to beat. When the church sees people come to the altar it lifts the morale of the church. The people of the church need to know that Jesus is invincible and that He still saves.”

The next few posts will analyze the 110 (not 108) occurrences of parakaleo … don’t worry, each text won’t be analyzed individually. Does parakaleo ever mean to “‘give a come forward, stand by the preacher’ invitation”? This is not going to be a series on altar calls, but on this particular defense of altar calls.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Seven texts (or motifs) have been analyzed to discover that the concept of repentance is present in the FG. Not all of the arguments are equally convincing. Here is the list of arguments in order from the strongest to the weakest:

(1) The FG’s Paraphrase of Isaiah 6:10: 12:40
(2) Stop sinning: 5:14 (8:11)
(3) Light and Darkness Motif: 3:19–21; 8:12; 9:5
(4) The Snake in the Wilderness: 3:14–15 and Num 21:4–9
(5) Born Again or Born From Above: 3:3–5
(6) Belief and Obedience: 3:36
(7) Abiding in the Vine: 15:1–5

The Abiding Passage in John 15 contained three possible arguments, but only one stood the test: “apart from me” is conceptually the opposite of repentance. In John 3:36, obedience was described as the outcome of both belief and repentance. While the discussion about being “born from above” has its exegetical difficulties, the translation of “from above” over “again” or “anew” and Ezekiel 36 being an OT background are a fairly solid foundation to understanding the passage. Since regeneration is the overall theme, of which repentance is a part, the concept is contained within this passage. This is, admittedly, a veiled reference to our concept. The background text to John 3:14–15 fairly clearly contains the picture of Israelites repenting. The Numbers 21 text is specifically the background text and there are no reservations in commending a reference to repentance in this text. The light and darkness motif contains the third strongest argument for repentance. The picture of those in unbelief fleeing the Light and those who believe coming to the Light portrayed the previously understood definition of repentance. The analysis of this passage concluded that every time the FG mentions believing (after 3:21), the concept of repentance should be kept in mind. The man whom Jesus healed in John 5 and then told to “stop sinning” contained the second strongest connection to repentance. Finally, the Johannine paraphrase of Isa 6:9–10 actually contains the term used for repentance in the LXX.

While repentance cannot be said to be an overwhelming theme of the FG, it should not be considered absent. Those claiming that since the FG contains no references to repentance then Christians should avoid referring to the concept in evangelism and gospel presentations may not have studied close enough the conceptual links to repentance in the FG.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Abiding in the Vine

John 15:1–5

The exegetical issues involved with this passage are too numerous to even begin to approach a detailed discussion and interaction with scholarship. However, these will be steered clear of while still attempting to discern if this passage contains the word-picture of repentance.

Three aspects of these verses could possibly portray the concept of repentance. (1) Does the concept of “bears fruit” allude to John the Baptist’s teaching in Matt 3:8? (2) Can the idea of being cleansed be related to repentance? (3) Does the phrase “apart from me” mean the opposite of repentance (turning away from God, not away from sin)?

The relationship between the Synoptic Gospels and the FG obviously can not be examined in detail at this time. Scholarship has mostly come to the consensus that the FG is independent. However, several commentaries link the author of the FG as being a disciple of John the Baptist (like Morris). This would leave the possibility that the author (and Jesus) could be drawing from John the Baptist’s words. While the phrase appears to be functioning in the same way with the same meaning (see discussion above under Matt 3:8), this appears to be too far of a stretch to put any significant weight upon.

Can kathairein be connected to repentance? In 15:2 it is used metaphorically, referring exclusively to pruning, with no moral or cultic imagery. But it is used differently in 15:3: here it does not, however, refer to conversion. The logon is the reason for the disciples’ purity. According to Bultmann, “this logos includes the forgiveness of sins, but does not refer specifically to it.” The theme of outward ritual purification (John 2:6; 3:35) may be held in contrast to this cleansing. The previous use of this word in the FG was at 13:10.

In 15:5, being “apart from” the vine is contextually the opposite of abiding. The idea of being apart from the vine contains slight connotations to being the opposite of repentance. Repentance is the turning away from sin and is demonstrated by bearing fruit (Matt 3:8); abiding is remaining in God and is demonstrated by bearing fruit. Regarding feron karpon in John 15, Bultmann says that it is not specifically missionary work, nor does it refer to success or reward; rather, “similarly to Mt. 3:8,” it “signifies the evidence for vitality of faith.” Abiding appears to be the other side of the same coin as repentance: abiding is loyalty, a remaining in God; repentance is turning away from sin. This final proposal is the most helpful one in seeing the concept of repentance in this passage. Again, repentance is linked with faith.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ryken, Calvinism, and Election

Philip Graham Ryken, senior minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA, said in an article “Hearts Aflame: Reformed Piety” (in Tabletalk, a magazine by Ligonier Ministries) that Christians were chosen “in Christ for the very purpose that we would be holy.” His discussion is on personal holiness, not positional holiness. He continues: “To see this, we only need to follow the logic of Paul’s opening argument in Ephesians. There the apostle praises God for choosing us in Christ ‘before the foundation of the world’ (Eph. 1:4a). But why did God give us this blessing? What was His purpose for choosing us in Christ? It was so ‘that we should be holy and blameless before him’ (Eph. 1:4b).”

Does Ephesians 1:4 contain a call to personal holiness? If so, then 1:4b is a reference to personal holiness and not positional holiness. However, contextually, positional holiness seems to be the much preferred reading. For example, while 1:4 says that His choosing leads to our holiness, 1:5 says that Him predestining us leads to our adoption … a positional concept. In fact, the whole context of 1:4-13 relates more to positional concepts than “personal” (see also our “inheritance” in 1:11).

This is not to deny Ryken’s statement that Christians are chosen to live a holy life. Ephesians 2:8-10 - especially 2:10 (which says that the purpose for our salvation was for us to do good works) – affirms Ryken’s theology, but not 1:4. Did I miss something or has this convinced Calvinist read his thoughts into Eph 1:4?

Friday, May 19, 2006

The FG’s Paraphrase of Isaiah 6:10 - Part 2

John 12:40

There are two major, conflicting, ways to understand this verse. First, this hardening in no way rejects human responsibility. Israel had consistently been confronted with being born from above and consistently rejected it. Unbelief is not blamed upon a harsh, predestinarian God, but is portrayed as a punishment. This punishment takes the form of abandoning them in their unbelief “as a result of which whatever God gives them to see and hear can no longer lead to salvation, that is, to repentance and healing” (so Ridderbos, 444-45).

The second way views the original Isaiah text as a use of irony. Hollenbach is the major promoter of this view.[1] First, Hollenbach defines irony as “an expression of scorn directed against someone made by the speaker taken at face value.” The problem with irony is that, especially in English, there is no way to communicate it in the text. Therefore, context remains determinative in deciphering where irony exists.

Hollenbach says, “Isaiah 6.9, 10a serves largely to characterize the audience to which Isaiah’s message will be directed.” It was not that Isaiah was told to command them to be hardened (as the Hebrew text appears to indicate) but that he was told that they would be hardened (as the LXX appears to indicate). It appears, then, that the translators of the LXX were making the irony more explicit. This can also be seen in Matt 13:15 and Acts 28:27, in which they say, “they have closed their eyes.” Therefore, it was the people who rejected God. “John 12:40a basically quotes Isaiah 6.10a to show that the whole of Jesus’ ministry was prophesied by Isaiah to effect stubborn unbelief.” Since Jesus is the subject in 12:40, it would be him who was blinding the people. This makes his appeal in 12:35–36 seem disingenuous. Hollenbach concludes that the most plausible way of understanding Isa 6:10b (and John 12:40b) is as a statement of irony “showing God’s disgust with the unwillingness of his people to respond to Him.” If that is true, then the attitude of God toward his people in Isaiah is parallel to Jesus’ attitude toward the crowd in 12:35–36: “although time is running out, they are reluctant to respond.” According to Hollenbach, this verse is used by the Evangelist to explain why the crowd did not want to repent.

Both of these views have much to merit them, but since the evidence for Johannine irony has been mounting in recent research, Hollenbach’s argument has more to favor it. With this understanding, the theme of believing and repentance have come to the front as the themes for this passage.

Against this, it could be argued that the mentioning of strefo is inconsequential to the argumentation of this passage (especially if the first view is taken) and that the author of the FG is not, himself, using the word, but he is just quoting the Isaiah passage. In response to the former, 12:39 and Hollenbach’s hypothesis argue against strefo being an inconsequential word in this passage. This verse frames the discussion into a salvific context by the use of “believe.” The argumentation is as follows: “The Jews refused to believe and repent and have hardened their minds and eyes to the signs of Jesus.” The inclusion of the statement in 12:42 that nevertheless many believed gives an “implicit appeal to believe” to 12:37–40. The closing words of John 12:40 discuss “turning” and “healing.” Taken as irony, these words are a condemnation to the Jews who have hardened their hearts and blinded their eyes because they did not want to repent and be healed. The latter argument, that the author of the FG is not actually employing the term himself, is a little hazy. While it is true that the FG is referring to Isa 6:10, it is not a quote from the Hebrew nor the LXX. The LXX used a different (though definitely related) word; the Hebrew has many differences from this reference, also. Therefore, the author of the FG is probably reciting the verse from memory, paraphrasing it for convenience, or making the original authorial intent (irony) clearer. Regardless, it is his own words, not a slavish copying of Isa 6:10, that occurs in John 12:40. This makes his use of strefo even more compelling.

[1] Hollenbach, “Lest they should turn and be forgiven: Irony,” Bible Translator 34 (1983): 312–21. The following discussion is heavily dependent upon his article.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The FG’s Paraphrase of Isaiah 6:10 - Part 1

John 12:40

Another candidate for repentance in the FG occurs in John 12:40 with the Evangelist’s use of strefo. The FG paraphrases Isaiah saying, “He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted (or turn back) and I heal them.” This text (which is closer to the Hebrew than the LXX) from Isa 6:10 (also quoted in Matt 13:13–15; Mark 4:11–12; 8:17–18; Luke 8:10; 19:42; Acts 28:26–27), while it could be understood as referring back to the rejection described in 1:11, is better understood in the immediate context of 12:36–39, 41–42. Craig Evans rightly concludes that John 12 functions “to explain how a messianic claimant who performs one messianic sign after another finds himself rejected and crucified.” The context in Isaiah 6 is that after Isaiah had a vision which resulted in his “repentance and cleansing” (Carson, John, 448), he offers to serve the Lord saying, “Here I am.” God informs Isaiah of the response he will receive from the people. What is God saying to Isaiah? Keener notes that “Later rabbis emphasized the note of repentance” in this text. Most all scholarly research on repentance has connected the underlying Hebrew word used in Isa 6:10 (shub) with the concept of the definition of repentance presented in this research: that of turning away from sin. The Greek word used here, strefo, means to turn.[1] It is the word the LXX used for repentance.

The paraphrase in 12:40 is connected to the quote in 12:38. The main theme connecting them is the question of why the Jews did not believe; but they also contain themes of being lifted up, glory, and sin. The aspect of their unbelief addressed is that of hardening (obduracy), which is essentially the opposite of repenting.

The author of the FG has taken some liberties in his citation of Isa 6:10: he emphasizes the blinding of eyes and hardening of hearts, and changes (from the LXX) the passive (“has become hardened”) to the active (“He blinded”). This change presents the peoples hardness as regrettable. The Hebrew uses an imperative: “Make the heart of this people.” He has not included the “deafness” mentioned in Isa 6:10. Goodwin concludes that the text that the Evangelist was using was, nonetheless, the LXX.

Part 2 will discuss two major ways of viewing this passage and the implications for repentance in the FG.

[1] In the LXX, the word used is epistrefo; the Hebrew word is shub. For shub meaning “repent,” see 1 Kgs 8:47; 2 Chron 6:37; Psa 7:12; Jer 5:3; 8:4; 15:7, 19; 18:8; 31:19; 34:15; Ezek 14:6; 18:30, 32; Hos 11:5; Zec 1:6; Job 36:10; Isa 30:15; 59:20. Regarding strefo, Brown (John, 1: 484) says that it “really has the sense of a middle voice: ‘turn themselves.’” Anderson, “Repentance,” 19, concludes that in Isa 6:10 it must refer to an external turning, not an internal. Therefore, turning from sins would then be the fruit of repentance and believing. His definition: “an internal resolve to turn from one’s sins.”

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Repentance found in the phrase "Stop Sinning"

John 5:14; 8:11

Two passages exist where Jesus tells an individual not to sin: 5:14 and 8:11. In 8:11, the woman caught in adultery is told to go and sin no more. While an analysis on how this phrase may be linked to repentance could be convincing (and I think it is), because I don't accept this text as an original part of the text of the FG, it would be inappropriate to utilize it for the current purposes (for support, see a recent work giving solid evidence for the spuriousness of this text: William L. Peterson, “OUDE EGO [KATA]KRINO. John 8:11, The Protevangelium IACOBI, and The History of the Pericope Adulterae,” in Sayings of Jesus: Canonical and Non-Canonical: Essays in Honour of Tjitze Baarda, eds. Willaim L. Peterson, Johan S. Vos, and Henk J. De Jonge (New York: Brill, 1997), 191–221.

However, the text in 5:14 does not pose the same textual problems. While the connection between the sin and the disease may be unclear, Jesus’ words about what he is supposed to do are not. Jesus’ words have been translated in two ways: “stop sinning” and “do not continue sinning any longer” which essentially mean the same. Grammatically, some have assumed that a present imperative that is prohibitive must be understood as “stop” doing something. However, while “that may be the correct interpretation in this instance, … there are too many exceptions to this grammatical ‘rule’ to base the interpretation on the present tense" (see Carson, John, 246, n. 1). Carson points out that the present imperative is used to stress urgency (as compared to an aorist imperative). Therefore, this is essentially an injunction to repent. Jesus is telling him to change his ways, turn his life around, and turn to God. The command to “stop sinning” is conceptually equivalent to “turn away from sin.” The narrative about the man who received sight in chapter 9 may be viewed in contrast to the lame man in chapter 5: while the blind man is viewed positively, the lame man is portrayed negatively. As the pericope closes, the reader is left viewing the lame man as unbelieving. Yet, Jesus confronts one who does not believe with these words: “stop sinning.” The context is salvific, not of progressive sanctification. The conclusions by some that calling for unbelievers to turn from their sin is adding works to the gospel is seriously questioned by this verse. It is fascinating that in the discussions on repentance in the FG, no one was found who raised this verse as a possibility.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Belief and Obedience

John 3:36

The inclusion of a discussion on 3:36 is based primarily on three reasons: (1) the relationship between believing and obedience has been controversial; (2) the relationship is significant for understanding believing; and (3) the lack of attention given to this verse in relationship to this discussion.

The primary purpose of this verse is twofold: (1) unbelief is shown by disobedience; and (2) a contrast in the results of each. The verb apeitheo is in an antonymous relationship to pisteuo. Obedience is presented as a natural result of one who believes. Therefore, the Evangelist’s portrayal of people’s belief can be known by their actions of obedience or disobedience to Jesus. Part of our understanding of repentance relates to this: one aspect of repentance is the changing of one’s actions to line up with God’s Word. This is what obedience is, also. Therefore, while obedience and repentance are not synonyms, nor nearly synonymous, obedience in 3:36 is a result of belief and it is also a result of repentance.

Similarly, Riddlebarger (“Faith,” 104) says that “one who has exercised faith in Christ, and is united to Christ by that faith, will repent and will struggle to obey and yield. But these things are not conditions for nor component parts of faith itself. They are fruits of saving faith. They are the inevitable activity of the new nature.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Light and Darkness Motif: 3:19–21; 8:12; 9:5

The main passage to discuss for the light and darkness motif is 3:19–21. It was very convenient for Bing (“John’s Gospel,” 4) to consider 3:14–15, but not mention 3:16–21. While 1:4–9 uses similar terms to 3:19–21, this latter passage can be distinguished since light and darkness in John 3 “have clear moral connotations” (so K√∂stenberger).

3:19–21 comes at the end of the Nicodemus narrative with the Evangelist reflecting upon believing in Jesus, which leads to eternal life. Jesus is the Light who has come into the world so that people could have eternal life, rather than judgment. However, people love darkness. Why? Because by staying in darkness the evil deeds that they practice can stay hidden. They did not want their life to be examined and shown wanting; they did not want to cease from these deeds. This reflection by the Evangelist tells why Nicodemus’ belief was inadequate, and consequently, why those in 2:23–25 had an unacceptable faith: men love the darkness rather than the light. Rather than coming to the Light (Jesus), they flee from it so they do not have their sins exposed. The word elegxo refers to “not only exposure but shame and conviction” (Carson, John, 207). The Evangelist continues (3:20) by saying that those who refuse the Light actually hate the Light. This is followed by a contrast with those who “practice the truth.” These one’s do not flee from the Light because their life is full of deeds “worked in God.” The comparison is between those who believe in Jesus and those who do not. The description of those who believe is that they are obedient, abiding, and following the commands of Christ (thereby loving Him). The description of those who do not believe is that they have refused to turn from their evil ways: this is a description of those who have refused to repent. They do not turn from their sins and turn to God in belief. Therefore, one who believes is characterized as having turned from their evil ways and is living a life where their deeds are “accomplished in God.”

This passage is paradigmatic for the concept “believing” in the FG. Whenever the concept of believing is discussed, readers of the FG would (at least from this point on) understand that one who believes is one who has changed his life, been radically transformed. Also, future passages that refer to light (8:12; 9:5) should be viewed alongside this passage: Jesus, as the light of the world, causes people to choose sides. Some walk in darkness and are judged; others do not walk in darkness and possess eternal life.

A verse that may not seem connected on the surface to believing and the motif of light and darkness is 16:9. While the FG describes sin in 15:21–25, it is now explicitly defined in 16:9 as unbelief: Bultmann aptly notes: “The world reacts to Jesus by clinging on to itself, by menein en te skotia.” In 16:9, the problematic elegxo occurs: “in every instance the verb has to do with showing someone his sin, usually as a summons to repentance” (Carson, John, 537). Therefore, to convict the world is shaming it and attempting to persuade it of its guiltiness, and in this way “calling it to repentance” (ibid.). The goal of the Holy Spirit is to convince the world that it is guilty in sin so that it will turn to God and stop sinning. Repentance is always turning from sin; the FG defines sin as unbelief. Therefore, when one is said to believe, they have repented from the unbelief, the sin. The concept of repentance in the FG is turning away from unbelief.

When a character in the FG is portrayed (positively) as believing, there is always a description of action in the context to communicate to the reader what Johannine belief demands of one who responds to Jesus. Those who are portrayed negatively are not described as having these actions; therefore, their response of belief is less than what Jesus was demanding. John 3:19–21 connects the ideas of believing and moral actions. Those who do not believe have their “moral actions” described as “evil deeds.” Those who believe have ceased from doing “evil deeds” and now are doing works “wrought in God.” They have turned away from their sinful lives; in John 3 terminology, they are now born from above, born of water and spirit. They have been cleansed and have a new heart; this has been evidenced by their changed life (see Ezek 36:27). These words are reminiscent of John the Baptist’s preaching in Matthew 3: “bring about fruit worthy of repentance.” Those who the FG describes as pisteon are also described as having a changed life (not just mind). No one is portrayed positively as believing when this component is missing. Therefore, the concept of repentance has now been located in the Fourth Gospel. Any challenges?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Snake in the Wilderness

John 3:14–15 and Numbers 21:4–9
The primary connection being made between John and Numbers is the lifting up of the serpent to the lifting up of Jesus. Secondarily, as the Israelites were to turn to the serpent to preserve (physical) life, people are called upon to believe in Jesus for eternal life. In Num 21:4–5, the sin of the Israelites is referenced. 21:6 relays the consequence of that sin (serpents attacking and killing the Israelites). 21:7 becomes very significant as the people came to Moses and said: “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.” This verse describes the repentance of the Israelites from their sin. In response, God told Moses to place a serpent upon a bronze pole and whoever looked at it would not die. Therefore, the connection between Numbers and the FG is two-fold. Primarily, the author of the FG is discussing Jesus’ lifting up (which Nicodemus probably did not understand until sometime after the crucifixion). Secondarily, just as the Israelites “looked” at the serpent and were given life, so belief in Jesus gives life. However, Numbers 21 portrayed the Israelites as repenting, turning from their sin, and then “‘looking’ in faith.” While the background of Ezekiel 36 proposed for John 3:3–5 was not a direct reference, this background is a direct reference. While Bing has examined the idea of “looking,” he failed to examine the context of the passage and its OT background.
For reference to Bing, see:
Bing, Charles C. “The Condition for Salvation in John’s Gospel.” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 9, no. 16 (1996): 25–36.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

John 3:3-5: Born Again or Born From Above ...

Jesus informs Nicodemus that he must be gennethe anothen. The first problem is the meaning of anothen: is it “again” or “from above”? The occurrence of this same word in 3:31 with the unquestioned meaning “from above” quickly tilts the evidence in that direction. It also has that meaning in 19:11, 23. (Note that when some [i.e. Ridderbos and Hendriksen] go back to the underlying Aramaic the discussion quickly gets muddied.) So, what does the phrase “born from above” mean in this context? While the expression likely harkens the readers of the FG to think back to 1:12–13 (which it then would mean “born of God”), Jesus himself explains it again to Nicodemus in 3:5: to be born from above means to be born of water and spirit. While water has been interpreted as a reference to baptism, purification, and natural birth, when the background to this verse is seen as Ezek 36:25–27, an explanation becomes easier. The themes in the Ezekiel 36 passage are of cleansing (“sprinkle clean water … and you will be clean”) and a new spirit (“put a new spirit within you”). The result of this action that God will take is that the people will “walk in My statutes” and “observe My ordinances.” The whole passage is a call to repentance, to return to God, and a description of what God will do: “cleans(e) human hearts” and “inner transformation by his Spirit” (so K√∂stenberger, “John,” 35). In fact, according to Keener, “Qumran’s Manual of Discipline connects Ezek 36 with an immersion in conjunction with repentance (1QS 3.8–9).”

However, Ezekiel 36 is not quoted nor directly alluded to in John 3. Therefore, this (likely) background text should not be pressed too far. Regardless, enough exists in Jesus’ own words to formulate a conclusion: be born from above means to be born of water and spirit. To be born of water refers to being cleansed and being born of the spirit refers to the spirit that God will place in Christians. This “water-spirit” is the origin of the regeneration that is demanded. Both of these result in living a radically different life; they involve changing. Jesus is exhorting Nicodemus to change his life, not just his way of thinking, but all of himself. Hendriksen refers to being born from above as a “radical change,” and Morris as a “divine remaking.” Certainly, Carson’s understanding that this passage’s focus is on “the need for transformation” fits the current understanding as well. This is related to the concept of repentance, whereby someone is called to turn from their sins.

Summary of Parts 3-7

Part-way Summary

These five arguments are listed below in order of strongest argument to weakest:

(1) Lamb of God: 1:29
(2) Passages Referring to Hearing, Keeping, Perseverance, and Love
(3) John the Baptist and Baptism: 1:25ff 3:23 10:40
(4) The Stone Waterpots at the Wedding in Cana: John 2:1–12
(5) The Samaritan Woman: 4:16–18

The final two essentially contain no connection whatsoever to repentance; the first three may allude to repentance, but the exegetical ground was somewhat shaky.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Repentance and the Fourth Gospel: Part 7

The Samaritan Woman: 4:16–18

Though the discussion on repentance in the FG has been extremely limited, when it was discussed this text was typically raised. Jesus is talking with a Samaritan woman and asks for her to go get her husband, knowing that she has had many husbands and the man she was now with was not her husband. While some may want to say that Jesus was calling for her to repent, that is, turn from her wicked ways, the text never says that. Jesus simply points out her sin (rather than ignoring it) and she counters by changing the subject rather quickly. Therefore, this passage does not contain the concept of repentance.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Repentance and the Fourth Gospel: Part 6

Passages Referring to Hearing, Keeping, Perseverance, and Love

Some passages in the FG discuss the relationship between hearing and believing (5:24),[1] keeping Jesus’ word and never seeing death (8:51), the concept of continuing to follow (8:31), and love and obedience (14:15, 21, 23–24). While these passages contain some hope for containing the concept of repentance, the last one (John 14) may be the closest. In 14:15, Jesus says that you show your love for him by obeying his commands. Therefore, obedience, which is (somehow) related to repentance, is a proof of genuine love. After 14:15 is restated in the first part of 14:21, Jesus continues and stresses the relationship between obedience and love. This is again reiterated in 14:23–24. This theme re-emerges in the account of Peter’s restoration (21:15–17, 19b). These verses strengthen the argument that love is tied to action, but they still fall short of containing the concept of repentance.[2]

[1] Carson, John, 256, says that “Hearing in this context, as often elsewhere, includes belief and obedience.” Keener, John, 1:653, translates the word as “heed.” When “obey” is used, repentance is not necessarily in mind (cf. 8:55 “keep,” “obey”). But when a change is called for, and the result is obedience, then repentance is in mind. Bing, “John’s Gospel,” 4, says hearing means more than physical hearing, but means listening, as in “I hear you.” He never wrestles with whether or not the connotation of obedience is present.

[2] Bultmann is convinced that this passage does not portray him repenting: “Surely the denial and the repentance of Peter ought to have found mention! And nothing like an absolution is expressed in the statement of Jesus” (Bultmann, John, 712). Instead, he views this as Peter’s commission for the leadership of his current congregation. In 21:19, when Jesus calls Peter to follow him, it is a call to tell people to follow me (ibid., 712–13).

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Hardest NT Texts to Interpret

Surfing around the biblio blogosphere, I saw a comment by Michael Bird about Romans 7 being one of the hardest NT texts to interpret. That got me thinking: what are some of the hardest texts?

Romans 7 is surely difficult, but I'd place 1 Cor 15:29 ("baptized for the dead") as more puzzling. Also, 2 Thess 2:8 (restrainer), Luke 22:36 (why do they need a sword), Mark 16:16-18 (the teaching on baptism and snake handling ... if it's original which I don't think it is), John 1:16 ("grace upon grace"), 1 Cor 11:16 (is it a practice in the church or not), Romans 11:26 ("all Israel will be saved"), Matthew 16:18 (is Peter the rock), John 20:22 (Johannine Pentecost?), and 1 Pet 3:18-21. Also, the divorce texts can be very frustrating when attempting to apply them to real life church situations. Any others you'd like to add?

Also, how about passages that are frequently mutilated? Like lukewarm Christians in Revelation 3:15-16 or "stumbling block" theology (Rom 14; 1 Cor 8) or 1 Thess 5:22? Those are really not difficult passages, but they sure are mishandled a lot.

Repentance and the Fourth Gospel: Part 5

The Stone Waterpots at the Wedding in Cana: John 2:1–12

This passage describes Jesus’ first sign in Galilee. Why not just take the sign at face value and move on? In the Fourth Gospel, one has not truly “seen” the sign until one understands its significance. According to Brown, the focus of this passage is the “replacement of Jewish institutions and religious views” which points to “Jesus as the one sent by the Father to bring salvation to the world.” Bultmann describes the main significance of passage as communicating Jesus’ divinity as Revealer. The only way a connection to repentance could be made is by combining the idea of the Jewish ritual purifications with forgiveness; then connecting forgiveness to repentance. This, admittedly, appears to be a stretch in light of the conclusions just discussed. Also, Moloney finds essentially no significance in the purification rituals mentioned: “There is no need to link the purification mentioned here with any particular feast, or with rites before or after a meal.” Essentially, it is not what the story is about. Therefore, no connection to repentance should be emphasized.