An Exegetical Walkthrough of John 16:12-15

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The seventeenth-century “non-conformist” English pastor, Ralph Venning, is famous for immortalizing the following line regarding Scripture:

it is deep enough for an elephant to swim in, and yet shallow enough for a lamb to wade through.

No truer does this speak to both the complex richness and visual clarity of the Gospel of John. John is traditionally regarded as one of the last written books of the New Testament canon at the tail-end of the first-century CE. When compared to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John is written in a style all its own — comparable only to the letters of John.

Of the significant unique features of John is the tightly bound chapters, known by many as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse (John 14-16). It is prudent to consider a few preliminary matters to appreciate the way John 16:12-15 delivers on the themes of John and the coming of the Holy Spirit with a view to some application for the modern church.

Genre and Interpretation

John, as the so-called Fourth Gospel, has presented itself with challenges of every kind. As Gary M. Burge observes, the study of what is a gospel genre and its interpretation has been an intense one, especially as it relates to the Gospel of John.[1] The nature of the genre of the gospel as a narrative is still in somewhat of a debate, and in particular how John’s structural stability or instability is appreciated and explained.[2]

The question about gospel genre speaks to what is its purpose and goal(s). This has troubled the academic community for some time. For example, a gospel is a biography but it is not what a modern person thinks of as a biography since so many anticipated features are missing. An examination of the early chapters of each Gospel reveals a thumbsketch history of Jesus’ “early years.” As Craig Blomberg demonstrates, modern perceptions of biography are misleading and resulted in earlier scholars questioning the historical value of the Gospels on false assumptions.[3] However, Blomberg continues, “when they are set side by side with various ancient sources, the Gospels compare quite favorably”:

Ancient historical standards of precision in narration and in selection and arrangement of material were much less rigid than modern ones. Few, if any, ancient works were written merely for the sake of preserving the facts; almost all were trying to put forward and defend certain ideologies or morals. But propaganda need not distort the facts, though it sometimes does. Of course, any genre may be modified, and there are uniquely Christian features in the Gospels.[4]

Consequently, while scholars acknowledge the formal critical parallels between the Gospel accounts and other ancient historical and biographical documents, there are unique features in matters of content and emphasis.[5] Some students have even cautioned that there are significant variations even between the four Gospels based on their own internal agendas, sufficient enough to make Larry Hurtado caution, “it wise to treat them individually.”[6]

John on His Own

The Gospel of John bears features that stand uniquely against the Synoptics. This, however, does not suggest a contradiction. This proclivity of John to emphasize unique material does not disassociate itself with the themes of the Synoptics. For example, instead of a nativity narrative, there is an emphasis on the pre-incarnate narrative (John 1:1-14ff) serving as a prequel to their nativity storyline (Matt 2:1-23; Luke 1:26-52). Moreover, an emphasis upon miracle narratives and extensive dialogs and discourses, take precedence over parabolic instructions and pronouncements.[7] 

Despite the material that is unique to John, C. K. Barrett calls attention to the fact that events in John and Mark “occur in the same order.”[8] And while Barrett stresses that John most likely borrowed from Mark, Leon Morris responds that such features found to be common with John and the Synoptics “is precisely the kind that one would anticipate finding in oral tradition.”[9] In short, John is certainly unique in many significant ways, but it follows the same structure of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

A Broad Layout for John

John may be divided broadly into two thematically arranged halves (1:19-12:50; 13:1-21:25), despite some disagreement regarding the structural integrity of the fourth Gospel, due to certain aporia (i.e. any perplexing difficulty).[10] Jeffrey Staley suggests these tendencies are set forth in the prologue (John 1:1-18) and bolsters the viability of the approach taken here.[11] John 1:19-12:50 (“book of signs”) and John 13:1-21:25 (“book of glory”) are consequently the main divisions taken in this study.

The last nine chapters focus great attention upon the last few days of Jesus’ life,[12] where the focus is on the “Upper Room” and his “Farewell Discourse” (13-17), the crucifixion and resurrection narratives (18-21). Even more specifically, the text under consideration (John 16:12-15) finds its niche as the last of five discourses that speak of the Spirit as the Paraclete (John 14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-11, 12-15).[13]

Book of Glory 13:1-21:25

Upper Room/Farewell (13-16)

Prayer (17)

Crucifixion and Resurrection (18-21)

A Brief Exegetical Walkthrough

This paper sets out to examine John 16:12-15 as the last of five segments that place emphasis upon the Paraclete’s role in the ministry of the apostles; furthermore, to examine the nature of the Paraclete’s role in the early church, as set forth by Jesus, as an apostolic “Aid,” guiding them in the ways that pertain to truth.

Verse 12: I have many things left to say to all of you, but you are not able to endure it at the present time. (Author’s Translation)[14]

Following George Beasley-Murray’s lead, the final Paraclete passage brings the discourse to a “climax” emphasizing the role the Spirit’s ministry.[15] The adverbial eti here takes the sense of “what is left or remaining”[16] and in concert with all’, which contextually appears to function as a transition marker placing emphasis on “the other side of a matter or issue,”[17] suggests that verse 12 begins to further demonstrate the importance of the Spirit’s coming presence. Eti and all’ are pivotal phrases for they describe the tension of the situation in which the disciples are to be found. Consequently, this climactic Paraclete discussion may be viewed in terms of two perspectives: the disciples’ and the Lord’s.

First, from the disciple’s perspective, one wonders how much more Jesus withheld from them during his personal ministry. However, earlier in this context Jesus clearly told them, “I did not speak about these matters to you, because I was among you” (John 16:4b). As a result of disclosing the impending future events, Jesus observes their plight and says, “pain has filled your hearts” (16:6b). The thought of loss and loneliness, without access to the presence of Jesus, made the disciples at that moment (arti) incapable (ou dúnasthe) to carry the burden (bastádzein) of what appears to be doctrinal and prophetic significance (14:26; 16:14). The anarthrous adverbial infinitival construction ou dúnasthe bastádzein stresses purpose; namely, the disciples do not have adequate capacity in order to “sustain the burden” of what Jesus has left to teach them.[18] Thus, in essence, because the disciples are currently unable to carry more weight (upon the sorrow?) in their hearts, there remains future spiritual growth.

Second, from the Lord’s perspective, he looks forward to a future event. This observation is made on the basis of the present lack of capacity of the disciples to carry the burden of what Jesus has to further instruct them in. If ou dúnasthe bastádzein arti is to be taken as a present reality, then Jesus looks forward to a future reality-event when they will have the capacity to bear his teaching. This is one of the blessings already referred to previously that flow from the arrival of the Paraclete (14:25-27; 15:26-16:11).

The Paraclete[19] is viewed as an “Aid” in John 14:25-27 as one who will “teach” the disciples and “remind” them of the teaching of Jesus eventuating in “peace”; in contrast to the “sorrow” that they are now experiencing (16:6). And with the arrival of the Paraclete, the disciples will have an “Advocate” for their defense from the world (15:26-27), and a “Counselor” to give guidance in accusing the world (16:8-11).[20] In each circumstance, Jesus says, “the Father will give you another Paraclete” (14:16), “the Father will send” (14:26), “but when the Paraclete comes” (15:26), “when he comes” (16:8), “when the Spirit of truth comes” (16:12). Hence, Jesus already anticipates a time when the disciples overcome both their sorrow and the corresponding incapacity to bear more of his teaching.

Verse 13: However, when that one has come – the Spirit of Truth – he will guide you in all the truth; for he will not speak from himself, on the contrary, to the extent of what he will hear, he will speak. And he will announce to you the things that are to come.

Preliminary to discussing the continued flow of thought from verse 12, there is a text-critical matter that needs some attention. Verse 13 bears two significant variants. The first is the dative construction en te aletheía páse (dative of sphere) following hodegései humas, which according to other textual traditions has an accusative construction eis pasan tèn alétheian (spatial accusative). The committee of the UBS4 textual apparatus has given en te aletheía páse a B rating; meaning, that they view the dative construction as is almost certain,[21] being witnessed by notable uncials Aleph1 (4th century), W (4/5 centuries). Meanwhile, the accusative construction is witnessed by notable uncials A (5) and B (4th century) with variation, and 068 (5th century). Along with early translations and early patristic witnesses, the evidence appears somewhat fairly divided. Bruce Metzger suggests, however, “the construction of eis and the accusative seems to have been introduced by copyists who regarded it as more idiomatic after hodegései[22] than en with the dative.[23]

Despite the pain that filled each disciple’s heart, the disciples were directed to a future event – the work of the Spirit of Truth (16:13ff.). “However” () marks that Jesus is developing a new topic ( of “switch subject”).[24] Moreover, this contrast is temporal as demonstrated by hótan élthe (“when that one has arrived”). Furthermore, following Buth’s discussion on δὲ as a mark of switching subjects, it is proposed that the new subject is ekeínos, which refers to ho parákletos. Daniel Wallace proposes that this is a more solid linguistic connection between this pronoun and its antecedent (ekeínos = ho parákletos).[25] Consequently, tò Pneùma tès aletheías serves as an appositional phrase expanding and further defining ekeínos; hence the translation, “when that one has come – the Spirit of Truth […]” (John 16:13a). Instead of the present reality of pain that the disciples feel, Jesus focuses on the guidance that ho parákletos[26] will bring to the disciples.

Ancient sources point to a Jewish background the Spirit of Truth motif. This vocabulary was typical when admonishing obedient and moral lives by using concepts that are dualistic. For example, we find a proverbial discussion of “the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” with “the spirit of discernment” standing between them urging there to be a selection of truth (T. Jud 20). Observe the full quote:

Learn therefore, my children, that two spirits wait upon man—the spirit of truth and the spirit of error; and in the midst is the spirit of the understanding of the mind, to which it belongeth to turn whithersoever it will.  And the works of truth and the works of error are written upon the breast of men, and each one of them the Lord knoweth.  And there is no time at which the works of men can be hid from Him; for on the bones of his breast hath he been written down before the Lord.  And the spirit of truth testifieth all things, and accuseth all; and he who sinneth is burnt up by his own heart, and cannot raise his face unto the Judge. (italics added)[27]

Moreover, in the Qumran cache there is a discussion of God allotting two spirits to humanity, “the spirits of truth and perversity” in between which humanity must walk, again choosing between the two. As a result, walking with the truth is to “walk in the ways of light,” and the converse is true of walking with perversity – to walk in darkness (1QS 3:18-21). Again, observe:

[God] allotted unto humanity two spirits that he should walk in them until the time of His visitation; they are the spirits of truth and perversity. The origin of truth is in a fountain of light, and the origin of perversity is from a fountain of darkness. Dominion over all the sons of righteousness is in the hand of the Prince of light; they walk in the ways of light. All dominion over the sons of perversity is in the hand of the Angel of darkness; they walk in the ways of darkness. (italics added)[28]

These resonate strongly with the positive guidance the disciples will receive from the Paraclete.

The source of the Paraclete’s teaching is external to him, “for he will not speak from himself, “on the contrary” (all’), to the extent of what he will hear, he will speak.” Since earlier the Paraclete is said to be like Jesus (14:16-17), and Jesus also said that his teaching was not his own (3:32-35; 7:16-18; 8:26-29, etc.), it would make sense that the teaching of the Paraclete would originate from the Father. As F. Moloney observes, “neither Jesus nor the Paraclete is the ultimate source of the revelation they communicate.”[29] And his work is, in part, to remind the disciples of the teaching of Jesus (14:26).

In addition to this call to remembrance, “he will announce” (lalései) to them “things that are to come” (tà erchómena anangeleì), which presumably are the things that he will also “hear” (hósa akoúsei). Some view this last phrase (tà erchómena anangeleì) as eschatologically prophetic.[30] Others view it as instructional content yet to be expanded upon.[31] D. A. Carson proposes that this phrase has to do with “all that transpires in consequence of the pivotal revelation bound up with Jesus’ person, ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation.”[32] These matters, Carson views, are the subject of what we now call the New Testament Canon; consequently, this anticipates further canonical development by the new prophetic office – the apostleship.[33]

Verse 14: That one will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and he will report it to you.

Still looking to the arrival of the Paraclete (e.g. ekeínos), Jesus expands further upon his ministry – he will glorify Jesus. The word doxásei was often used in LXX to glorify God (2 Sam 6:20; 1 Chron 17:18), so also is used to describe one of the roles the Paraclete will have.[34] The term hóti has been ignored somewhat here among commentaries, where it could potentially be employed epexegetically; saying, “the Paraclete will glorify (honor) Jesus; namely, by taking the teaching that goes back to the Lord’s ministry and announcing it afresh to the disciples.” Such is not an unlikely view of the grammar; however, viewing hóti as causal (i.e. “because”) the sense changes slightly. Overall, the idea that the Paraclete’s glorifying of Jesus directly relates to him taking the teaching that was Jesus’ remains the same.[35]

This is borne out by Carson in three related ways. First, the Paraclete’s work is Christ-centric. Second, based upon the implication drawing from ek tou emou lépsetai “from what is mine,” Carson draws the conclusion that “the Spirit takes from this infinite sum and gives that truth to the disciples.” Third, Christ is the center of his teaching ministry, and it is through the Spirit’s work that Jesus is glorified.[36]

There is a rather important emphasis that should be laid upon the phrase ananggelei humìn. The term has to do with providing information; hence, may be translated “disclose,” “announce,” “proclaim,” or even “teach.”[37] What is contextually significant is that ananggéllōα carries an implicit understanding that it is a report of what one has heard.[38] Incidentally, the Paraclete will speak whatever he has heard (hósa akoúsei lalései 16:13), and here Jesus says that the Paraclete will take from what is his (Jesus), from where he will provide information to the disciples. Again, this highlights two matters: first, that the Paraclete will not speak independently; and second, the content of his teaching is all truth and Jesus. As Barrett observes, in John, ananggéllō (4:25, 5:15, 16:13-15) “is applied to the revelation of divine truth, and it is apparent that it is so used here.”[39]

Furthermore, Lawrence Lutkemeyer observes, that ananggéllō is “never” used in a predictive sense; instead, it is employed to report the way things were, are, or as they come into realization.[40] Therefore, what is under consideration is a reporting of the teaching and implications that flow from Christ and the Gospel message. This reporting is deposited within the pages of what is now the New Testament canon and serves as demonstrative proof that they have understood the Lord’s teaching.[41]

Verse 15: All things whatsoever the Father has are mine; for this reason I said, [hóti] he takes from what is mine and will report it to you.

When Jesus says, “All things whatsoever the Father has are mine,” it is in a sense logical to deduce that the content of what the Spirit is to announce or report to the disciples is under consideration. Carson again observes:

Therefore if the Spirit takes what is mine and makes it known to the disciples, the content of what is mine is nothing less than the revelation of the Father himself, for Jesus declares, All that belongs to the Father is mine (v. 15). That is why Jesus has cast the Spirit’s ministry in terms of the unfolding of what belongs to the Son: this is not a lighting of God, or undue elevation of the Son, since what belongs to the Father belongs to the Son. It is therefore entirely appropriate that the Spirit’s ministry be designed to bring glory to the Son (v. 14).[42]

It is precisely because they share this content and revelation (dià toùto) that the Paraclete will draw out from what belongs to Jesus (16:14), and that he will only speak what he has heard (16:13). There is a very similar statement in Luke, but here it speaks in reference to Jesus as he was sent from the Father (Luke 10:16).[43] The parallel is striking to this context regarding the Paraclete, of which Jesus by implication is the first and the Spirit is the second (14:16).

Precisely because of this shared content and revelation (dià toùto), Jesus retrospectively points out that he had spoken certain words to them (eìpon).[44] And here, John employs the recitativum hóti, meaning that the use of this conjunction is designed to introduce a direct quotation and is usually left untranslated.[45] Often hóti functions as an indicator of direct discourse.”[46] It serves only “to call attention to the quotation,” thus it functions in the same fashion as do quotation marks;[47] hence, in the translation above, hóti is emboldened and bracketed to demonstrate the origin of the quotation marks. What Jesus points to then, is the role of the Paraclete, he takes from what is mine and will report it to you.”

It is interesting to note that the first quotation, he takes from what is mine” (ek toù emoù lambánei) is a present indicative as opposed to the future indicative in 16:14 (lémpsetai). The shift in the tense of activity to the present as Christ views the Spirit’s work retrospectively may point back to 14:17, where Christ apparently speaks in both present and future tenses. Jesus says, “You know (present) him, for he dwells (present) with you and will be (future) in you” (14:17b). However, to be fair, the UBS4 committee had difficulty to decipher between a variant here (giving it a C rating) that relates specifically to the tense of both verbs ménei and éstai. If the wording of 14:17 stands as the majority of the UBS4 committee suggests,[48] then the Spirit was already in some sense active in the apostolic circle, and will in the future be in them.

This reflects what is happening here. Jesus notes that the Spirit is, in some sense, already taking (lambánei) from the reservoir of revelation and that he will when the time is ready, report this information to them (ananggeleì humìn). There is little by way of academic support of this approach to provide a resolution for the tense change from lémpsetai to lambánei (except Moloney).[49] Barrett’s terse statement, “the change of tense (cf. lémpsetai, v. 14) does not seem to be significant,”[50] needs revision on the grounds that 14:17, assuming its textual basis is the weightiest available, transitions from present to future with reference to the Paraclete’s work as does the tense shift in 16:15.[51]

Endnotes

  1. Gary M. Burge, “Interpreting the Gospel of John,” Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues, eds. David Alan Black and David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2001), 357-70.
  2. Burge, “Interpreting,” 376-78.
  3. Craig Blomberg, “The Diversity of Literary Genres in the New Testament,” Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues, eds. David Alan Black and David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2001), 274.
  4. Blomberg, “The Diversity of Literary Genres,” 274.
  5. Blomberg, “The Diversity of Literary Genres,” 275.
  6. Larry W. Hurtado, “Gospel (Genre),” DJG 278.
  7. Hurtado, “Gospel (Genre),” 281.
  8. C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, 2d ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1978), 43.
  9. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, rev. ed., NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 45.
  10. Burge, “Interpreting,” 376-78.
  11. Jeff Staley, “The Structure of John’s Prologue: Its Implications for the Gospel’s Narrative Structure,” CBQ 48.2 (April 1986): 241-49.
  12. Burge, “Interpreting,” 382.
  13. C. H. Dodd takes note of the significant fact, that John 15.1 to 16.15 is a pure monologue, and is in fact, the longest monologue in the entire Johannine Gospel (The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel [New York, NY: Cambridge at the University Press, 1965], 410).
  14. The translations are the author’s unless otherwise noted.
  15. George R. Beasley-Murray, Gospel of Life: Theology in the Fourth Gospel (1991; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 78.
  16. BDAG 400.
  17. BDAG 45.
  18. BDAG 171; Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 590.
  19. “The principal difficulty encountered in rendering parákletos is the fact that this term covers potentially such a wide area of meaning. The traditional rendering of ‘Comforter’ especially misleading because it suggests only one very limited aspect of what the Holy Spirit does” (L&N 12.19). There are three semantic domains in which it overlaps: (1) psychological factors of encouragement, (2) definite communication aspects, and (3) intercessory aspects leading towards certain legal implications and procedures (L&N 35:16, fn. 4).
  20. Beasley-Murray, Gospel of Life, 71-72.
  21. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2d ed. (1994; repr., Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 2001), 14*.
  22. Metzger, A Textual Commentary, 210; cf., Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2d ed. (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2005), 151-52.
  23. Interestingly, Stanley E. Porter discusses the morphological connection between eis and en, noting that eis “may have been formally derived from the preposition ἐν, through the process of adding a final sigma (ens), the nu dropping out, and compensatory lengthening of the vowel from e to ei” (Idioms, 151) As a result, there is evidence of connection, observing that “eis in its basic meaning is concerned with the movement of the sphere toward and into” a location, “as if this were the action that resulted in the condition of en” (Idioms, 151). There is much, therefore, to agree with Barrett’s observation that: “The difference in meaning between the two readings is slight, but whereas eis t. al. suggests that, under the Spirit’s guidance, the disciples will come to know all truth, en t. al. suggests guidance in the whole sphere of truth; they will be kept in the truth of God […] which is guaranteed by the mission of Jesus” (Gospel According to St. John, 489).
  24. Randall Buth, “Oun, De, Kai, and Asyndeton in John’s Gospel,” Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Discourse Analysis, eds. David Alan Black, et al. (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1992), 145, 151.
  25. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 331-32.
  26. That one who is ho parákletos will come as a guide in all truth, and it is only fitting then that ho parákletos is called “the Spirit of Truth” (tò pneùma tés aletheías). The two titles are complex conceptions; however, they appeal to certain Hebrew motifs that need some attention here. Without developing too deeply some of the backgrounds of each of these phrases, John employs the phrases ho parákletos (5 times) and tò pneùma tés aletheía (4 times) exclusively among New Testament authors. However, cognates are used by other authors.
  27. T. Judas 20, ANF 8:20.
  28. 1QS 3:18–21 as quoted in Craig A. Evans, Word and Glory: On the Exegetical and Theological Background of John’s Prologue, JSNT Supplement 89 (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 147.
  29. Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, SP 4 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998), 441.
  30. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 490.
  31. George R. Beasley-Murray, John, 2d ed., WBC 36 (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1999), 283; Rodney A. Whitacre, John, IVPNTC, eds. Grant Osborne, et al. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999), 392-93.
  32. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 540.
  33. D. A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14:-17 (1980; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988), 149-51.
  34. Ceslas Spicq, “dóxa, doxádzō, sundoxádzō,” Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, trans. James D. Ernest (1994; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 1:376-78.
  35. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 459-60.
  36. Carson, The Farewell Discourse150.
  37. BDAG 59.
  38. BDAG 59.
  39. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 490; Carson, According to John, 540.
  40. Lawrence J. Lutkemeyer, “The Role of the Paraclete (John 16:7-15),” CBQ 8.2 (April 1946): 228.
  41. Andreas J. Köstenberger, The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples According to the Fourth Gospel: With Implications for the Fourth Gospel’s Purpose and the Mission of the Contemporary Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 173-74; Lutkemeyer, “The Role of the Paraclete,” 228; Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 490-91.
  42. Carson, According to John, 541.
  43. “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 16.10 ESV).
  44. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 333.
  45. Matthew S. DeMoss, Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament Greek (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 107.
  46. James Allen Hewitt, New Testament Greek: A Beginning and Intermediate Grammar (1986; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004), 52.
  47. A. T. Robertson and W. Hersey Davis, A New Short Grammar of the Greek Testament, 10th ed. (1958; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1979), 364.
  48. Metzger, A Textual Commentary, 208.
  49. Moloney, The Gospel of John, 447.
  50. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 491.
  51. Moloney, The Gospel of John, 447.

Bibliography

Barrett, Charles K. The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text. 2d edition. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1978.

(BDAG) Bauer, Walter, F.W. Danker, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 3rd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Beasley-Murray, George R. Gospel of Life: Theology in the Fourth Gospel. 1991. Repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995.

Blomberg, Craig. “The Diversity of Literary Genres in the New Testament.” Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues. Edited by David Alan Black and David S. Dockery. Nashville, TN: B&H, 2001.

Burge, Gary M. “Interpreting the Gospel of John.” Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues. Edited by David Alan Black and David S. Dockery. Nashville, TN: B&H, 2001.

Buth, Randall. “Oun, De, Kai, and Asyndeton in John’s Gospel.” Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Discourse Analysis. Edited by David Alan Black, et al. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1992.

Carson, Donald A. The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14:-17. 1980. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988.

—-. The Gospel According to John. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

DeMoss, Matthew S. Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament Greek.Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001.

Dodd, C. H. The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel. New York, NY: Cambridge at the University Press, 1965.

Evans, Craig A. Word and Glory: On the Exegetical and Theological Background of John’s Prologue. JSNT Supplement 89. Library of New Testament Studies. England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.

Hewitt, James Allen. New Testament Greek: A Beginning and Intermediate Grammar. 1986. Repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004.

Hurtado, Larry W. “Gospel (Genre).” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Edited by Joel B. Green, et al. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992.

Köstenberger, Andreas J. The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples According to the Fourth Gospel: With Implications for the Fourth Gospel’s Purpose and the Mission of the Contemporary Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998.

(L&N) Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. 2d edition. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Lutkemeyer, Lawrence J. “The Role of the Paraclete (John 16:7-15).” CBQ 8.2 (April 1946): 220-29.

Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2d edition. 1994. Repr., Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 2001.

Moloney, Francis J. The Gospel of John. SP 4. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Revised edition. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995.

Porter, Stanley E. Idioms of the Greek New Testament. 2d edition. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2005.

Robertson, Archibald T., and W. Hersey Davis. A New Short Grammar of the Greek Testament. 10th ed. 1958. Repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1979.

Spicq, Ceslas. “dóxa, doxádzō, sundoxádzō.” Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Translated by James D. Ernest. 1994. Repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996.

Staley, Jeff. “The Structure of John’s Prologue: Its Implications for the Gospel’s Narrative Structure.” CBQ 48.2 (April 1986): 241-63.

“Testimony of the Twelve Patriarchs.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 8. American Edition. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. 1886. Repr., New York, NY: Scribner’s, 1903.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.

Whitacre, Rodney A. John. IVPNTC. Edited by Grant Osborne, et al. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999.

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The Gospel of Luke

Reprinted with permission from the July 2017 issue of Gospel Advocate Magazine.

20170626_144252.jpgThe Gospel of Luke, like Matthew, Mark, and John, provides a narrative of Jesus that dramatically emphasizes the story and significance of His life and ministry, His rejection and crucifixion, and His resurrection and exaltation. Yet, despite bearing strong similarities with the other inspired accounts, Luke’s approach expands our understanding of Jesus and the working out of God’s plan to bring salvation into the Jewish and Gentile world.

In fact, Luke is the first book of a two-volume set. Luke and Acts are joined at the proverbial hip by their prologues styled in the manner of ancient historical accounts (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3). If one is to truly appreciate Luke, one must understand that the ministry of Jesus is but a beginning —a prelude— to the establishment and expansion of the church. Luke is the only Gospel Account that has a sequel (i.e., Acts). Said another way, in relation to Acts, Luke is a prequel. From this broad perspective, then, we can see that Luke purposefully expanded the stories of Jesus’ ministry to include more genuine details, to provide unique emphases, and to show that the ascension was not the end of the redemption story but that it was to be continued by the church.

The Prologue and Purpose

When one pauses to appreciate how each gospel accounts begins, Luke’s prologue to “book one” is set with a series of unique features. In Luke 1:1-4, the inspired text reads in such a way that the reader should see early on that this account is framed along different lines than previous accounts:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (ESV)

This one sentence in the Greek outlines very clearly the overarching concern of Luke’s gospel account, and it does so in a formal way consistent with ancient Greek historians and medical writers according to Graham N. Stanton in his classic work, The Gospels and Jesus.[1]

Here, Luke acknowledged the presence of other narratives preexisting his own account (Gk. diégesin). Despite their existence, it appeared to be the right time to provide his own inspired account. Luke told us explicitly that his gospel is in keeping with three aspects of early Christian testimony: (1) these preexisting accounts, (2) earliest eyewitness testimony, and (3) those who served to deliver the Word to the world. To be clear, Matthew, Mark, and John demonstrate to have the same concerns, but regarding emphasis, Luke’s account is the clearest. And this feature is most likely due to the sort of audience he seeks to reach that is, people like Theophilus who are interested in the certainty of the events of Jesus’ life and ministry, death and resurrection, and the progress of those who followed Him afterward.

Luke’s Author and Audience

Two more unique feature of Luke is seen in both its author and its recipient, and this speaks to Luke’s heavy emphasis on providing a closely followed and orderly account. Luke, a physician by profession (Col 4:14), is the only known gentile author in Scripture period. That alone is a spectacular fulfillment of the end goal of the gospel to reach the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles (Rom 1:16; Acts 1:8, 13:46-48). Accordingly, Luke became a participant in the work of the Apostle Paul at some point before entering the province of Macedonia (Acts 16:10). Luke includes himself in many of the journeys of Paul, marking them with the terms “we” and “our” or “us” (Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, 27:1-37, 28:1-16).

These “we” sections tell us something very rich about Luke. He is not just an author. Luke was a collaborator and eyewitness of the continuing story of the redemption in the church, who then investigated the origins and narratives regarding Jesus by interacting with eyewitnesses and early teaching of the Word. Luke was a Gentile convert who joined Paul’s missionary fellow workers, and now offered an inspired history of the full gospel story. For this reason, Luke bears many similarities with Matthew and Mark, gospel accounts based upon eyewitness testimony. And, the book of Luke shows that his missionary itinerary screeches to a halt in Jerusalem when Paul is arrested in the Temple and after meeting with James the brother of Jesus (Acts 21:17). It is within reason to point out that Luke had over two years in the Judean region to collect eyewitness accounts while Paul is detained in Caesarea, Philippi, until Paul appealed to Caesar (Acts 21:1-26:32). 

Moreover, unlike Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke names the immediate recipient of his two-volume work, Theophilus (Acts 1:1; Luke 1:1). Many theories and speculations abound regarding the nature of the relationship Theophilus had with Christianity in general and Luke in particular. While his name means “lover of God” or “friend of God,” this was not uncommon in the ancient world, nor in the New Testament (cf. Diotrephes, “nourished by Zeus,” 3 John 9). So, it is not as reasonable as one might think to suggest it is a “code name” for a believer.

What helps our understanding of Theophilus’s connection to Luke is the way he was honored with the term “most excellent” (Gk. kratiste). The word is used four times in the New Testament and all by Luke (Luke 1:3; Acts 23:26, 24:2, 26:25). In Acts, it used when addressing the governors Felix and Festus respectively. In Luke 1:3, there is not enough evidence to suggest such a political status, but it points to, at minimum, the upper-class status of Theophilus and his social circle. This would not be the first time Christianity intersected this social sphere (Romans 16:1-2; Acts 13:1; Philippians 4:22). Thus, Luke’s audience is probably of the intellectual kind, and this fits with his stated purpose and the “better” Greek he used.

It is not surprising then, given Luke’s research and experience, his relationship to Theophilus, and his social circles, that Luke would “write an orderly account for you… that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4). Luke promises that he is framing his account with an attention to detail —that is, with a strong historical emphasis.

Luke’s Unique Framework

Not a lot of disagreement exists concerning the general outline of Luke. The narrative is relatively straightforward. The following outline of Luke not only provides a survey of the book, but also points out the unique features of this gospel. The Gospel of Luke cannot be understood a part from an emphasis upon the intertwining of history and faith.

Book One: Prologue (1:1-4). As emphasized thus far, Luke begins with a prologue all its own. Like John 20:31, Luke 1:1-4 states the purpose of his Gospel. This is reinforced by Acts 1:1-3, which summarizes that Luke is but the beginning story of “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” There is more to the story of Jesus, and Luke provides a detailed account of it.

Birth Narratives of John and Jesus (1:5-2:52). It is not without significance that Luke provides interwoven birth and youth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. Matthew recounts elements of the nativity story during the period of Herod the Great as does Luke. Luke intertwines divine events surrounding John and his family, and Jesus and Mary, anchoring them to real life with the historical lead in “in the days of Herod, king of Judea” (Luke 1:5) and “in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus” (2:1). Such passages like Mary’s magnificat (1:46-55) and the two stories of Jesus in the temple (2:22-52) are recorded only here.

Anticipating the Ministry of Jesus (3:1-4:13). Among the “time stamps” Luke employs, 3:1-2 is layered with seven political figures that suggest a window from 27 to 29 for the beginning of the ministries of John the Baptist and the Lord. The intertwining of their stories continue, as John is set up as the voice to anticipate the coming of the “salvation of God” —Jesus (v. 6). Jesus is again anchored to not just history but biblical history and creation itself, as His genealogy begins with his adoptive father’s lineage down to Adam, “the son of God” (3:38), the phrase Jesus would identify with (1:35, 4:3, 9, 41, 20:36, 22:70; Acts 9:20). These are significant unique elements of Luke.

Jesus Ministers in Galilee (4:14-9:50). If one were to read Mark, this section would have many similar events recorded, but Luke expands on them or gives them a fresh twist. One event that is of particular importance for its uniqueness is Jesus reading the Isaiah scroll (Luke 4:17-21; Isaiah 61) in the synagogue, during which He not only declared its fulfillment in Himself, but also revealed what His ministry would look like. It will be a series of reversals (blind see, captives free, etc.). Jesus’ concern for the disenfranchised is witnessed in all the Gospel Accounts, but Luke strongly emphasizes it.

Jesus Travels to Jerusalem (9:51-19:44). This section is often called the “central section” of Luke as it roughly covers ten of its twenty-four chapters. Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem” in anticipation of being “taken up” (9:51). It is unique in that Luke is the only gospel account to record Jesus’ travel route on the eastern side of the Jordan River. It contains some of the most memorable events (rejection in Samaria, the seventy-two sent), parables (Good Samaritan, the Rich Fool, Prodigal Son, Rich Man and Lazarus), encounters (Mary and Martha), and sayings of our Lord (return of the unclean spirit, sign of Jonah). This section is bursting with teaching and events unique among the gospel accounts.

The Passion Week in Jerusalem (19:45-21:38). Here, Luke recounts a series of controversial events leading up to his betrayal and rejection. One immediately sees the unity between the way Matthew, Mark, and Luke chronicle the “passion week.” This includes the challenge of Jesus’ authority, paying taxes to Caesar, the resurrection, the question regarding the lordship of Christ, and the prediction of the destruction of the temple in AD 70. The section concludes with a summary statement.

From Shame to Exaltation (22:1-24:53). One of the unique elements in this section is the portrayal of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and the cup-bread-cup scenario. It is not that Luke makes a mistake here, but that it perhaps reflects the practice of having four cups employed during the Passover. Another unique feature of this section is in the resurrection appearances —in particular, on the road to Emmaus where two disciples find a Jesus “in hiding.” They recount this event along with their sense of a loss of hope until they connect the dots that this was Jesus. These are the details that provide a sense of uniqueness of Luke’s gospel.

Conclusion

Luke, along with Acts, were probably published and sent to Theophilus around AD 70. Acts ends with Paul under house arrest for two years in Rome, awaiting his case to be heard by Caesar (Acts 28:30-31). This is a few years before his death, which is traditionally dated to the time of Nero (AD 54-68; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.5). At the time of publication, we should picture Luke as a veteran evangelist, an experienced missionary who has researched the ancient origins of the faith. He was addressing those engaged by the story of Jesus who wish more details and certainty. His inspired record, then, is offered as a powerful demonstration of the historical basis of the claims of Christianity.

Endnotes

  1. Graham N. Stanton, The Gospel and Jesus, eds. Peter R. Ackroyd and Graham N. Stanton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 83.

Jovan Payes preaches for the Highland Church of Christ in Bakersfield, California.

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Defining Gospel: A New Testament Glance

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Words are strange creatures. Often, they mean what we want them to mean. It has been said that words are the patterns by which people think. Since words frame our thinking world, it is really important that we correctly shape our ideas with properly defined words. In the case at hand, understanding the meaning of the Christian word gospel depends on understanding how the word gospel is presented in the New Testament.[1] 

The English word Gospel most likely derives from the Old English word gōd spell, which meant “good story” or “good message.” William Deal points out that gōd spell meant a good mystery, doctrine, or secret, something hidden which was being brought out.[2] And the gospel is definitely a mystery revealed (Ephesians 3:1-14). The words translated gospel is, however, roughly the result of the combination of two Greek words: eu (good) and angelia (message, news). It roughly approximates “a good message,” but even this is not enough to tell us how the word is shaped by the New Testament.

Within the 27 New Testament volumes, the gospel is connected to three focuses: (1) “the gospel” as a message (euangelion), (2) the action of “preaching/bearing the gospel” (euangelizo), and (3) those individuals who proclaim the gospel (euangelistes). These words have a combined total of 133 instances, scattered over 20 of the 27 New Testament books.[3] The only books that do not use these words are the Gospel of John and his three Letters, and James, 2 Peter, and Jude. These books tend to use other words which emphasize the same ideas (cf. truth, proclaiming, hope, light, the message, etc.).

Let us consider a few lines of thought that will help us define and shape an accurate understanding of the gospel message.

How do you Define Gospel?

First, the gospel is not the result of religious evolution and philosophical development. In the ancient world, a number of religions and beliefs often blend into each other or break out into their own religions. For example, the far eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism resulted from a philosophical and religious reaction to their view of social order (the caste system) and how to become one with the ultimate reality of the universe. This development of ideas is not along parallel lines with how the gospel message is defined in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  

Second, the gospel is not the result of social progress. One of the modern concerns in the industrial world is that of social concern for equality. These social concerns tug at our values, our ethics. Equality is the hallmark (gospel) of the modern social order, and because of it, we are seeking ways to save everything. Yet, as the late atheist and satirical comedian George Carlin quips against this elevation of self-importance:

“Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails.” And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet. […. explicit deleted] Save the planet[?], we don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet […][4]

I would argue that here inlays the problem of a socially derived “good news”; The gospel must be defined by other means. Humanity needs help from the Creator.

Third, the gospel is the result of divine revelation (Galatians 1:11-17). The authors of the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular assume and argue that their religious instruction is not the result of human philosophy or development. For example, Paul affirms his source is Jesus Christ:

For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ. (1:11–12).[5]

The contrast between “not after man” and “through revelation of Jesus” is clear. The gospel of the New Testament is, by definition, from God and not from the insights of humanity (1 Corinthians 2:1-16). 

The New Testament Gospel

But how should we understand the word gospel? At its basic sense, the word gospel is focused on something positive being announced (military victory, news, etc). This meaning is older than New Testament times but it is found in a few verses. For example, Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica about the good feelings they felt for him and his ministry, he writes,

when Timothy came even now unto us from you, and brought us glad tidings [euangelisamenou] of your faith and love, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, longing to see us, even as we also to see you. (1 Thessalonians 3:6).

The report of Timothy was positive, a good report, an enjoyable announcement (cf. Galatians 3:8, proeuangelizomai).

More significantly, when the Gospel of Mark —a biography of Jesus’s ministry— opens we read, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). This tells us something about the story of Jesus. It starts out by anticipating a message to embrace as a celebration and victory (Matthew 11:5). The content of the gospel not only includes the ministry and message of Jesus, but also his rejection, crucifixion, resurrection, glorification of Jesus.

The four Gospel Accounts (Matthew-John) are so named because they provide the “building blocks” of what is to be proclaimed as the message of the gospel (Mark 1:14-15), by those whose role it is to proclaim it and bear it to the world (Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5; Mark 16:15). At the beginning, Jesus proclaimed a message based upon the kingdom of God, repentance, his role as the son of God, and the gospel’s role to change people’s lives (Matthew 4:23; 9:35). Later, after the resurrection of Jesus, the gospel is to be proclaimed on behalf of Jesus throughout the world (Matthew 24:14, 26:13; Colossians 1:23).

It is not surprising, then, to see the apostle Paul in Athens described by onlookers as one who “preached Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18). Paul made it a ministry goal to “to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man’s foundation” (Romans 15:16, 19-20). Indeed, he explains his “aim” as a sense of indebtedness to mankind to share this message (Romans 1:14-15). For this reason, he affirms clearly:

I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16-17)

Paul would seek to pass along this conviction to his protégé Timothy (2 Timothy 1:8-10). It is the responsibility of every Christian to boldly share this victorious good news (2:2). 

The Earliest Gospel “Statement”

Among the New Testament writers, the earliest statement of the content of the preaching of the gospel is found in Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Paul’s activity in ancient Corinth is around the early fifties of the first century AD, and this letter is dated to this timeframe no later than AD 55.[6]

In this letter, Paul presents a lengthy discussion —and definition— of the gospel message that he preached. The passage of 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 can be outlined based upon key elements of the gospel message:

(1) the preaching of the gospel word provides salvation to the believer (15:1-2),

Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain.

(2) the compelling force of the gospel is from the foretelling of events fulfilled in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (15:3-4),

For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures;

(3) the gospel is based upon eyewitnesses testimony of those who witnessed Jesus, resurrected bodily from the dead (15:5-8), and

and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also.

(4) the gospel is based upon God’s offer of unearned grace and humanity’s response of faith (9-11).

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not found vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Whether then it be I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

The passage is significant, first, because Paul has an early and authentic message. Paul even “checked in” with Peter in Jerusalem and at some point compared notes regarding the gospel (Galatians 1:18). Second, the outline of this passage is significant because of its point by point details. Thirdly, it shows that the gospel bridges the gap between earth-history and God. The victory message of the gospel is based upon the supernatural events firmly established in the historical life, ministry, death, resurrection, and exaltation as Lord and God (John 20:24-29).

Concluding Thoughts

In short, to understand the gospel one must understand Jesus, the purpose of his teaching and his ministry, the death-burial-and-resurrection of Jesus, and the life-changing message of the kingdom of God. It is not insignificant to point out that gospel obedience is described as an imitation of Jesus death, burial, and resurrection in baptism. In this way, the gospel is lived out in the Christian life manifested in obedience (Romans 6:1-10; Colossians 3:1-3).

Endnotes

  1. See, Doug Burleson, “Gospel,” in One Word Study Guide, eds. Chad Landman, et al. (Mt. Juliet, TN: Mt. Juliet church of Christ, 2016), 134-36. Burleson provides a perfect snapshot of “good news” in the Hebrew Bible (besorah) and the New Testament (euangelion).
  2. William S. Deal, Pictorial Introduction to the Bible, 3rd ed. (1982; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997), 246.
  3. Figures worked out based upon calculations from the Logos Bible platform’s “Bible Word Study” for euangelion (76), euangelizo (54), euangelistes (3).
  4. George Carlin, “The Planet is Fine” routine in the 1992 HBO George Carlin: Jammin’ in New York Comedy Special (Cable Stuff Productions).
  5. All Scripture references are from the American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
  6. This is argued on the basis of two points. First, the Book of Acts recounts his trip to Corinth (18:12-17), during which time he stands for religious accusations before the tribunal of the governor (proconsul) of Greece (Achaia), one L. Junius Gallio. Because this was a matter of Jewish religion and not Roman law, Gallio lets Paul go. Second, an inscription was found from Delphi with Gallio’s name on it. Most likely it refers to his proconsulship during July 51 to July 52, which means Paul’s year-and-a-half stay began a year or so before this time (ca. 50-51). This is often regarded one of the surest historical points of New Testament chronology. A few years later, Paul’s writes to the Corinthians. This would be no later than 55 AD. See, Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 545-86. For an online source see, Mark Cartwright, “Corinth,” Ancient History Encyclopedia.

This is a reformatted and expanded version of the article originally published in The Glendale Gleaner (Newbern, TN: Glendale church of Christ).

Leaving a Street Gang for Christ

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Reprinted from the April 2015 issue of Gospel Advocate Magazine, this article describes one man’s struggle to escape a street gang lifestyle and turn to Christ.

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Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV). It has been my experience that I am often unaware of the transforming process of the gospel until I see the contrast of who I used to be and who I am now. The transformation Paul speaks of reflects a fundamental change in character, and such change does not happen except by a “renewal” of the mind over a consistent and indeterminate period of time.

My story is of one foolish soul who was transformed by the gospel. I am afraid that at times I feel that I carry the memories of another man. Nevertheless, I was what I was, and I am what I am; may God be glorified by this thorn-riddled soul only to the extent that I find closure in my weaknesses and glory in His strength (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Before you are the beginnings of a hoodlum who was transformed by Christ, and that hoodlum (spoiler alert) was me. This is how I tell it.

The Transformation

One day in the summer of 1996, I was sitting on a rest stop at the corner of 24th and Mission streets in San Francisco, Calif. The intersection is a major hub in the Mission District, a major Latino district. Amidst the sounds of cars and bus traffic, the commotion of people talking and shopping, and bullhorn preachers shouting aloud, I came to a personal decision that would change my life forever.

At the time, I was a member of a local gang. I used drugs and alcohol. I was a high school drop out. I tried drug dealing. I was a thief. I was violent. The picture is rather rough, and the only reason I believe it is because I still have most of the memories.

That day I just wanted to relax. I was tired of it all. I saw girls calling home informing their families that they were never coming home (prostitution). I saw children in waves seeking to join our gang because they had created enemies in their own neighborhoods. I realized that I was just exhausted by the lunacy of it all.

I found myself at a fork in the road. What I wanted was an afternoon of drinking with my friends. What happened is that I realized that I had created a life full of potential dangers that forced me to think of ways to handle them. “If I go to the park,” I was thinking, “there is a good chance that along the way I would face the potential of retaliation.” At this point, I was not afraid of dealing with the problem. It was just that I was tired of the problem.

My mind raced with other options. I could take the 14 Mission (a bus) toward downtown, headed toward Pier 39. I had spent quite a bit of time there as a younger child, breakdancing for tourists with my big “brother” Rick (technically my cousin) on Fisherman’s Wharf. That thought quickly faded with the reality that I would pass through rival neighborhoods with those who would hurt me simply because of the color of my clothes (this is gang-banger logic). Again, I just wanted to relax.

I turned my attention southward, toward Daly City, a suburb of San Francisco. The broken record continued, “I just want to relax.” The last time I was on that bus route, some friends and I were shot at. In all fairness, we instigated it; still, I felt no need to travel alone just to prove a point. So I canceled that plan. It really dawned on me how much destruction and danger surrounded me because of my choices.

I said to myself, “go home and go out tonight.” I counseled myself, “make sure no one follows you.” I have gone to people’s homes banging on their doors in order to elicit a fight, so it was not beyond the possibility that I could be followed at some point. It was a life of paranoia. It was at this point when my heart uttered the words that would change my life forever: “I just want to go to heaven.” Those words made so much sense to me.

At some point, I found a Bible under my bed. It was inexplicable. I had no idea I even possessed a Bible! I began to search and read through the Bible with the feeling that I was getting closer to God. I look back at this moment much like I do when I read the conversion story of Cornelius in Acts 10 – yet in my sins, reaching for God, searching for His words to save me.

Many Hands

A few months later, Rick was visiting home while on leave from the Army. I didn’t know he had been baptized into Christ earlier in the year by his superior officer. He approached me in our living room with these words: “Jovan, I found the church.” I sarcastically responded, “Yeah, you found a church, great.” I was thinking in terms of the city cathedrals like St. Paul’s Catholic Church, which was down the street, or Mission Delores, or even the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. Pick a saint, we Catholics had a cathedral for them.

Rick said, “No, I found the church that you can read about in the Bible.” This intrigued me, and I asked him to tell me more. By this time, I had read most of the New Testament, and I was already trying to be “Christian.” We proceeded to talk for a few months, and a couple of days after Christmas 1996 I was convicted by the gospel. I realized I needed to follow through with my change of heart, so I was immersed in water for the remission of my sins. I was added to the redeemed (Acts 2:47).

By and by, as we say, I became a member of the Civic Center Church of Christ in San Francisco. This is where my education in the gospel would lead me to face a series of challenging events and point me down the path to prepare myself for ministry. Much like the eunuch from Ethiopia (Acts 8), I had a wonderful mentor in Donald W. Hinds. If ever I had a father in the gospel, it was him; if ever there was a troubled child in the gospel, it was me. Don received me as Christ receives us all (Romans 15:7). I am forever indebted to his influence on my life, along with his son, David Hinds; together, they planted God’s Word in my heart, watered it, and in due season it bore fruit (2 Timothy 2:2; Amos 7:14-15; Psalm 1).

The truth is, I had no aspirations of preaching. Don had another thought altogether. Don sat me down every chance he could to teach me something new – well, new to me – during our Sunday lunch break between services. From studying the Bible to inspiring me to teach the gospel to believing in me to preach the gospel, it was in a very real way a tangible experience much like Paul and Timothy. Brethren, hands-on mentoring transforms young people.

One Wednesday afternoon I faced the consequences of leaving the gang life behind. I was confronted with the decision to return to the street life I had left behind. I was surrounded by my former “associates” with an ultimatum. My conviction to Christ led me to be beaten and left lying in a driveway in some small street in the Mission. I remember telling my family that I had left the gangs behind. I remember attending Wednesday night Bible study that very night, telling my friend and mentor Don, “I sowed to the flesh, and I hope I reaped its final harvest.”

My wife has also been a transformative figure in my life. On March 3, 2001, I assumed the challenge of being the head of my own household; actually, I believe Cindy Tuggle accepted the challenge of being my wife. I would love to say that I have been the best husband ever, but I can only say that I have been a better man and husband because we have overcome so much together. The reason for our success has been trusting in God’s transforming Word to take what we have made of our lives and reform it to His glory. Today after 14 years of marriage, we are blessed with three children – something I never thought possible.

Pressing Forward

I have made many mistakes along the way, so it is hard for me to speak of transformation. God’s grace continues to inspire me to renew my mind and transform. This much is certain, transformation through the gospel is possible – no matter who you are, no matter where you have been, no matter what you have done, there is a place for you in the kingdom of God. I was a knuckle-headed thug from the streets of San Francisco who became a Christian, and through the grace of God a husband, a father, a preacher, and at times a mentor. Pray for me that I may:

“know him and the power of his resurrection, and [that I] may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).

Jovan Payes preaches for the Highland Church of Christ in Bakersfield, Calif.

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The Divisions of the Bible: A Starting Place

The Bible is a library of 66 books, composed over a period of fifteen hundred  years. The authors involved in this inspired anthology come from a variety of  backgrounds, locations, historical situations, professions, and ethnicities.

While each book has its individual purpose, each work develops the overarching theme that humanity is the creation of an eternal Creator, and due to personal sin has fallen spiritually. This fallen state is addressed both historically and theologically in the development of the scheme of redemption, finally materializing in the ministry of Jesus.

In order to appreciate this history of redemption and the books of the Bible, it is vital to have a working knowledge of the divisions of the Bible. Moreover, a better understanding of the Bible improves one’s comprehension of sermons and Bible classes. The following is an extremely brief sketch to the Bible and its arrangement of content as we have it in our modern Bibles.

Chronological Divisions

The Patriarchal Period

The name of this period derives from the method God communicated his will, by  speaking the “fathers” of the family (Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc.); hence, the term “patriarch” which means “the male head of a family” (Heb 1:1). The biblical content covering this period is Genesis 1-50 and Exodus 1-19, that of the creation and the fall, the flood, and the call of Abraham to be in covenant with God and to be the father of “many nations”.

Through the nation of Israel, God would bring about the redemptive “seed” (Jesus, Gal 3:15-16) to bless all the nations of the world (Gen 12:3). Moreover, this covenant promise was reiterated to Isaac (Gen 26:1-5), Jacob/Israel (Gen 35:9-15), and the children of Israel after the exodus from Egypt on Mt. Sinai.

The Hebrew Period

While technically the story of the Hebrews in the biblical record goes back to Abraham the Hebrew (Gen 14:13), as a major division of the biblical story the Hebrew period reflects the story of God and His covenant people Israel (cf. Acts 7:2-53). This period covers Exodus 20-Malachi, and the time period of the ministry of Jesus (Matt–John). The historical story of the Exodus transitions into the giving of the Law at Sinai.

During this period, Israel received “the law”, wandered in the wilderness for forty years, conquered and settled into the Promised Land, transitioned from a theocracy (where God ruled through prophets) to a monarchy (where God ruled through kings). This period also covers the history of the divided kingdoms of Israel (North) and Judah (South) and their eventual demise. The kingdom and the covenant were both to be superseded by a new kingdom (Dan 2:44-45), and a new covenant (Jer 31:31-34); the design of which was to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus (Gal 3:19-29; Heb 9:11-28).

The Christian Period

The Christian Period technically begins upon he death of Jesus of Nazareth, when the “testament” came into effect (Heb 9:16-17); however, the teaching of Jesus as it anticipated the Christian era is found in the Gospel Narratives and occurred while under the Law of Moses was still in effect (Matt–John; Gal 4:4-6). Moreover, the confirmation of this “new” testament was accomplished in Christ by God in the resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4-5; Acts 2:14-36; 1 Cor 15:1-11).

This period begins then with the establishment of Christianity in Jerusalem (Acts 2), and continues on through the expansion of the Christian faith not only geographically (Acts 1:8) but also ethnically (Acts 2:39, 10:28, 11:18). The Christian era will continue, time-wise, until the return of Jesus, at the Second Coming (Matt 28.20; 1 Cor 15:22-28); and at this time the present world will dissolve away and we will be with our God (2 Pet 3:8-13; 1 Thess 4:13-18).

Division of Books by Category

The following is a listing of the books of the Bible according to category, along with a useful numeric memory tool to learn the divisions of each section.

The 39 Old Testament Books (5, 12, 5, 5, 12)

Books of Moses (5). Written by Moses to provide the origins of the human family, the Hebrew nation, and incorporates the Law of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).

Hebrew History (12). Follows the story of Joshua and the conquest and settlement of Canaan to the rise and demise of the Hebrew Kingdom, and the exile into Babylon and their return (Joshua, JudgesRuth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther).

Hebrew Poetry (5). A series of volumes set in Hebrew poetic prose, written by a number of authors, designed to impart divine wisdom and perspective (Job, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Song of SolomonProverbs).

Major Prophets (5). Popularly so-called due to the size of each work, and not for their spiritual value. (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel).

Book of the Twelve (12). Grouped together from ancient times, the “Minor” prophets are brief volumes that pack spiritual “punch” (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, HabakkukZephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). Both the Major and the Minor Prophets are from various time periods, these works contain words of woes, judgments, and hope; moreover, they provide a great wealth of messianic prophecies.

The 27 New Testament Books (4, 1, 21, 1)

Gospel Narratives (4). Written to chronicle the teaching and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, his rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection. Two of the four authors are apostles (Matthew, John), one known to be an associate of Paul (Luke), and the other believe to be of Peter (Mark).

Acts of Apostles (1). As the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, Acts covers the beginning of the church, its expansion from Jerusalem to Rome; a period of some 30 plus years.

Apostolic Letters (21). Written to churches and individuals teaching and exhorting  Christian to live faithful; furthermore, the letters address false teachings and local issues (Roman, 1-2 CorinthiansGalatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, TitusPhilemon, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude).

Revelation (1). Addressed to seven churches in Asia, this final “revelation” is a message of victory of God and His people over their enemies. It is rich in apocalyptic language, much like Daniel, Ezekiel, and other prophetic books.

Concluding Thoughts

When Vince Lombardi took the helm of the coaching staff of the Green Bay Packers, it is said that he gave a speech which established clearly the importance of the basics. It runs as follows:

“Everybody stop and gather around,” he said. Then he knelt down, picked up the pigskin, and said, “Let’s start at the beginning. This is a football. These are the yard markers. I’m the coach. You are the players.” He went on, in the most elementary of ways, to explain the basics of football.

The team became very successful, and this anecdote reminds us of the importance of getting back to basics. Understanding the fundamental components of the Bible are essential to obtaining the wisdom needed to know what to do to be saved (2 Tim 3:13-14). May we all be so blessed.

Lessons from a “Sinful” Woman

washing-jesus-feet

On one occasion in the ministry of our Lord, Jesus accepted a dinner invitation from a Pharisee named Simon (Luke 7:40); interestingly, a woman with a reputation for being a “sinner” had heard of Jesus’ arrival and interrupts the dinner by cleaning his feet with her tears and hair, and anointing them with oil (Luke 7:36-38).

Simon recoils at the woman’s act, and has an internal monologue which essentially questions the validity of the Lord’s ministry: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39 ESV).

As in other occasions, Jesus answers this unspoken criticism (Luke 7:40; cf. Matt 9:4, Mark 2:8). The Lord responds with a “parable of two debtors” (Luke 7:41-43), which has as its main thrust the point that “our sense of forgiveness will evidence itself in love and service.”[1]

There are points in the narrative which suggest that the woman and the Lord had known each other previously. The woman’s act of service and love (Luke 7:44-46) is a demonstration of her gratitude. This gratitude is based upon the fact that her sins “are forgiven” (Luke 7:47-48).

In the first instance, Jesus speaking to Simon the Pharisee states that this woman’s sins “stand forgiven” (v. 47). The phrase is one word in the original and is in the perfect passive indicative form. The verb reflects that her sins were forgiven at some point previous to their encounter at Simon’s house, and remain to be so. This would explain her great demonstration, of which Simon was critical.

In the second instance, Jesus turns to the woman and speaks the exact same phrase (v. 48). This time, the Lord encourages her – your sins remain to be forgiven. The woman “stands saved” (Grk. sesoken) because of her faith in the Lord; consequently, the Savior could send her into a life of “peace” (v. 50). The Lord emphasizes the abiding results of her forgiveness received prior to this dinner.

Moreover, Jesus concedes the point that the woman’s life had been ravaged by sin: “her sins, which are many” (v. 47). This strikes at one of Simon’s criticisms raised by the woman’s action, and Jesus demonstrates his full knowledge of the situation. He knew “what sort of woman” she was. Now, she is different; now, she is saved and forgiven, commissioned to live a new life embraced by the peace of God (Rom 5:1).

If Service is the Symptom… Stay Sick

It ought to go without saying that this encounter with our Lord is one that should pull at our heart, for we share, as Christians, the same plight as this woman. Knowing the debt of forgiveness we owe to our God, knowing that the Lord went behind enemy lines to rescue us from a calamity worse than death, we too should be of similar passions to show our love through service.

The idea of service is not an abstract notion that we subscribe to, service is an expression of love. It is a symptom of our love for God. Consequently, if service is a “symptom,” then love and gratitude generated by salvation is the “infection.” And in this analogy, we would rather be sick than cured.

The Christian, therefore, should never be complacent in their service to God. Packed pews look nice, but if that is all we offer to God, we have failed. Service, as demonstrated by this woman, sacrifices time, resources, energy, and offers it to her Lord. Can we do any less?

When there are cards to mail, people to visit, broken hearts to help mend, and souls to invite to our Father’s promises in the Gospel, it should be done by our hands – not by the hands of another. The most natural explanation for this behavior is our gratitude and love for our Lord.

Lessons to be Learned

Besides the principle emphasis from this passage that forgiveness leads to a sense of gratitude which showcases itself in acts of love and service, there are a few other lessons which may be observed.

(1) This passage highlights the divinity of Jesus, bearing witness that He has the right to forgive sin.

Jesus’ claims to divine authority are well documented in the New Testament, and even was a basis for the plots against his life (John 5:17-18; 7:1).

In Luke, Jesus declared that the woman’s sins stand forgiven (7:47-48), and this offended the group of Pharisees among the dinner party. They reasoned, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” (v. 49). They understood Jesus’ claims were not idealistic (mere wishful thinking), but were literal claims to divine authority (cf. Luke 5:17-26).

(2) A person’s new life may be overshadowed, for a time, by their past moral failures.

We know virtually nothing about this woman only that she is labeled as “a woman of the city” (v. 37) and “a sinner” (vv. 37, 39). This is not just a note from Luke, the narrator, but this was the Simon’s understanding of who this mysterious woman was.

Nevertheless, critics will come and go, but the peace of God lasts forever (v. 50). The unrelenting critics who so often affirm, “you’ll do it again”, will be silenced and shamed by service to God (1 Pet 3:13-17; 2:11-12).  We do not serve to prove others wrong, we serve to love God. The motivation behind our service must be fueled by our gratitude; as it is written:

Now which of them will love him more? Simon [the Pharisee] answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” (Luke 7:42b-43)

 (3) A life troubled by the ravages of a sinful life can become a life of peace devoted to godly service to God.

The change of life brought about by a new way of thinking in light of God’s forgiveness has the overwhelming power to transform a person (Acts 2:38; Rom 12:1-2). Experiencing the grace of God, understanding that we who were once dead are now made alive in Christ brings tremendous peace, for our Lord never leaves us (Heb 13:5-6; 1 John 1:7).

Indeed, Paul writes, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). This new birth (John 3:4-5) brings with it the  “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Phil 4:7); moreover, this peace guards our hearts and minds. In this new life, in true appreciation of the grace of God we are qualified not only to experience a heavenly reward (Col 1:12) but are also sanctified for service (Eph 2:10; 1 Cor 6:19-20).

There is no person that God cannot use in holy service, especially his children whom he has “delivered… from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son” (Col 1:13).

Concluding Thoughts

I remember seeing an article entitled, “Sluggish Slumbering Saints”, and the essence of the piece was to wake up Christians and call them to their responsibilities as servants of God to serve their Lord (Rom 6:16-18). Indeed, perhaps one of the more critical questions we must ask is this: if the lack of service is the symptom, then what is the infection? The sad answer is: lack of love and ingratitude for all of God’s demonstrations of love.

This spiritual malignancy will only go into remission once we see afresh the great debt we owe our Lord. Should it be that a renewal of this kind is needed in the Christian’s life, then we are to seek Him in repentance and faith knowing that He will receive us and reward us (Heb 11:6; Acts 8:22).

You can be a servant like this wonderful woman, who despite her sin-filled past has been immortalized in the pages of God’s book for posterity so that all may see their own story of salvation and love, and be moved to faithfully serve Him from whom all blessings flow.

Sources

  1. Wayne Jackson, The Parables in Profile: Exegetical Outlines of the Parables of Christ, rev. ed. (Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications, 1998), 70.

So Close: Jesus, the Pharisees, and His Divinity (Luke 5)

jesus_00251342By the language of the text, it appears to have been an average day during the Lord’s ministry in Galilee. The multitudes had flocked to the Good Master wishing to hear him speak and to request of him to heal their infirmities. In this particular case, the Lord was teaching in a house and a paralyzed man was dropped down through the roof by his inventive and determined friends.

They trusted that Jesus could heal him, but it seems safe to ponder that they did not expect the Lord’s gracious response. Luke chronicles the narrative in the following manner:

And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (Luke 5:18-20 ESV)

The Lord’s first response was to give the paralyzed man pardon. The Jesus cancelled the man’s transgressions. He overrode the situation and removed the burden of the man’s sins. What a profound event!

Many today wonder why the Lord forgave the man of his spiritual infirmities first, instead of meeting the principal need for which the man was brought – physical restoration. It could be the case that He had already intended to substantiate his Divine claims to forgive sins by means of a miracle, but we simply do not know why with any degree of absolute certainty.

In some sense, the question is irrelevant because the Lord’s activities are interrupted by the scribes and Pharisees. This gives rise to a unique situation where the Lord boldly argues for and asserts His Divine prerogative to forgive sins.

We continue Luke’s narrative:

And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—”I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (Luke 5:21-24)

The miracle was immediate, the crowd was amazed, and the scribes and the Pharisees received an answer they would never forget – Jesus of Nazareth possess the ability and right to forgive sins!

On the Divinity of Christ

Tremendous amounts of energy and ink has been spent discussing the Divinity of Christ. The canonical documents are quite clear as to the Lord’s divinity. John 1:1-3 describes the existence of the Word, who was the agent to create the universe at the beginning (Gen 1:1; cf. 1 John 1.1). In conjunction with these thoughts are the words of John 1:14 that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (cf. Phil 2:5-10). The divine Word has made a human and his habitation was among mankind: he was a living and breathing human (in form and substance) capable of dying.

Paul speaks of the supremacy of Christ by saying that in Jesus the universe stands in “perfect equilibrium,” for in him it is “held together” (Col 1:17; Grk. sunistemi). If Jesus pre-existed in eternity, and then became human, and lived a human life in preparation for his divine ministry, it is not surprising, therefore, that Jesus incorporates the miraculous in His ministry. And though we cannot precisely and neatly slice Jesus’s into his divine and human sides, this is the great mystery of God in the flesh (1 Tim 3.16).

Yet for some who initially beheld his ministry, this was difficult to absorb. The scribes and the Pharisees, the noted Jewish leaders of the day, heard the words of Jesus, “your sins are forgiven you,” and immediately catalogued His action as blasphemous. How did they come to this conclusion? They properly reasoned “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” If Jesus is the son of Joseph and Mary, then it is logical to assume that Jesus is only human.

They were so close! The presupposition of the scribes and Pharisees is correct. Their working knowledge of biblical data and their perception of the situation is, upon face value, true. This act of Jesus of Nazareth was therefore viewed as an arrogant hostile takeover of the prerogative of God (Exod 10:17, 32:31-33; Jer 31:34 etc.).[1]

Had Jesus simply been a mere mortal, they would be completely correct; however, they were dealing with a unique situation – Jesus is no mere mortal. He is the “Everlasting Father” (Isa 9:6), a Hebrew idiom meaning that he has an eternal existence (Micah 5:2; John 1:1).[2] Jesus is Immanuel, which means God among us (Matt 1:21-23). The Lord forgave the paralyzed man of his sins because He had the authority to do so. His authority derived from His Divinity.

Was Jesus a Moralist?

Many have stumbled and erred regarding the nature of Jesus. To some, he is a great teacher, one that should stand at the top of the world’s “Top 10” of most influential religious leaders of human existence. They over emphasize his humanity and praise his ethical and moral teachings (e.g. the golden rule). However, they cannot view him as a wonderful teacher of ethics and morals and at the same time deny his claims to divinity.

He was not a mere moralist who “inherited” and “perfected” a preexisting moral tradition from the Jews! And those who are so persuaded to think of Jesus in this light, C. S. Lewis stressed the inconsistency of this view:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said [in his teaching and about himself] would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising [sic] nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that [option] open to us. He did not intend to.[3]

We believe that the Pharisees and Scribes held a similar view that many hold  – that Jesus was a just great teacher. They were so close, but still so tragically far away from the real nature of God-Man Jesus.

Are You Close, or Yet so Far?

What will you do with Jesus? How will you view his teaching? His claims to Divinity? His claim to be your Redeemer? You will make a decision either way – actively or inactively – and that decision will ripple its effects in the deepest crevices of your life. Again, we ponder over this decision with the words of Mr. Lewis:

We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form.[4]

The is a passage in the Gospel accounts that is often nicknamed “the Great Invitation.” It is in Matthew 11.28-30. In it, Jesus invites all who believe in him and his teaching.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

He promises that the life that he promises stems from his gentle and lowly heart, and promises rest for your soul. Someone has wonderfully said, that in verse 30 the pressure to successfully live out the teaching of Jesus “fits just right” according to each person’s burdens. We finally ask you: will you come so close to the truth of Jesus and his claims to divinity, or will come so close but yet stand so far off from the good life he promises. The answer is left into your hands. God bless you to do the right thing.

Endnotes

  1. Note: Special thanks to Dr. Earl D. Edwards, Head of the Freed-Hardeman University Graduate School of Bible, for introducing me to this observation in a Bible class. It is not enough to simply observe that the Pharisees and scribes were wrongly charging the Lord with blasphemy, but we must also appreciate that they had correctly reasoned that a human did not have this right or power – this was the sole possession of God.
  2. Wayne Jackson, Isaiah: God’s Prophet of Doom and Deliverance (Abilene, TX: Quality Publications, 1991), 25.
  3. Clive S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, rev. ed. (New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 52 (emphasis added).
  4. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 53 (emphasis added).