Category Archives: Gospel of John

What Are You Studying?

Pastors, teachers, and other students of God’s Word, you might enjoy supplementing your studies with some unique and accessible commentary.  My Bible Journal posts have followed the haphazard course of my own studies recently, largely focused on the New Testament.  Here’s an attempt to organize my offerings for you.  Please pass these links on to others if you think they would be helpful!

Remember, you can follow the Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo, or sign up for email notifications (see the button below).

Bible Journal entries are listed below under the relevant books or sections of the Bible.  Find a match with what you are studying, and read along!

**GENERAL BIBLE STUDY TOOLKIT**

Bible Study Strategies (Audio)

Genre Judgment Calls

Pickup Theology

Redemptive-Historical Reading

Self-Evaluation Tool

A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology

 

** OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY**

Christ in the OT

The Messiah in the OT

**GENERAL NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY**

Christ in the NT

Christ Jesus Our Lord

Invitational Imperatives (various Epistles)

Providing Perspective (various Epistles)

**GOSPELS**

General Gospels

Eyewitnesses to a Transfiguration

Mapping the Parables

On the Unforgivable Sin

Prompted Parables

Prophetic Puzzle Pieces

Samaritan Stories

“Shhh – don’t tell!”

Mark

Mark is Longer

Luke

Death Meets Life at the Gates of Nain

“Follow, Fast!”

The Cost of Salt

John

Curious Questions (Woman at the Well)

Naming Names

**ACTS**

Paul the Governed (see also Romans)

Prison Diary (Acts 16)

Greek Gods in the NT (Acts 16-19)

Take-Aways from Philippi (Acts 16)

Rome Meets Paul

Before Speaking, Listen (Acts 17)

 **PAUL’S EPISTLES**

Mutual Autobiography

What Paul Said About Jesus (Comprehensive Chart)

Paul on Jesus, Part 1 (The Lord of Time)

Paul on Jesus, Part 2 (History, Salvation, Obedience)

Paul on Jesus, Part 3 (Benefits & Realities)

Romans

Chronology and Meaning (see also James & Galatians)

Paul the Governed (see also Acts)

The Metaphysical Situation (see also 1-2 Corinthians)

1-2 Corinthians

Fortune Cookies

Pickup Theology

Riff on 1 Cor. 13

The Metaphysical Situation (see also Romans)

Theo-logic

Examining Ourselves

 Galatians

A Tale of Two Jerusalems

Chronology and Meaning (see also James & Romans)

In Step with the Spirit

Ephesians

Military Mnemonics

Philippians

Providing Perspective

Philemon

The Mouse that Roared

**NON-PAULINE EPISTLES**

James

Chronology and Meaning (see also Galatians & Romans)

A Topical Concordance of James (includes link to pdf resource)

1 Peter

Providing Perspective

123 John

Euphemistic Faith

**REVELATION**

Hang On ‘Cause Jesus Wins

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Filed under 1&2 Corinthians, 123 John, Acts, Biblical Genres, Biblical Literacy, Christ, Ephesians, Epistles, Galatians, Gospel of John, Hebrews, Instructing the Body, James, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Old Testament, Parables, Paul, Peter, Philemon, Philippians, Redemptive History, Romans, Synoptic Gospels, The Revelation

Euphemistic Faith

[Texts: 1 John 3 & 4; John’s Gospel & Epistles generally]

Euphemism isn’t a word we toss around very often in our everyday speech, though we actually use euphemisms every day.  “My great aunt passed away.” “Where’s the restroom?” “He’s a few crayons shy of a full box.” “So, when are you two going to tie the knot?”…etc.  See how it works?  It’s a way of communicating something without saying it directly – often because we’re avoiding the social taboo of naming an off-limits idea, but sometimes also because we’re being funny or clever.

Something to notice in John’s little letters is his propensity for euphemisms about Christian faith.  Since these letters are mostly about faith – how to detect it (or its absence) in others, or in oneself – the euphemisms add color and variety to John’s message.  They also offer the reader memorable phrases that highlight encouraging aspects or implications of faith in Jesus Christ.

Here’s a sampling of the euphemisms for faith that occur in the third chapter of John’s first epistle:*

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  Here John evokes the tenderness of the Father-child relationship, applying this to God and his people.  This status as God’s children can only come about through faith in the Son of God; it isn’t inherent to being human, as some would have it.  So being “called children of God” is indicative of faith.

…everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.  To “hope in” God is an aspect of believing: it means that we are taking God at his word, trusting that the things he has promised are true, even if they haven’t arrived yet.  So “hoping in” God represents a stance of faith.

No one who abides in him keeps on sinning… “Abiding” is a frequent verb in John’s writings.  As per Jesus’ promise in the Gospel of John, if we abide in Jesus the Son, then the Father will abide in us.  But the only way anybody can “abide” in Jesus is to belong to him in the first place; in other words, “abiding” is the same as believing.  So John’s statement here means that those who belong to Jesus by faith will not continue in their sin.  (Note that this is presented as a promise, not as a command!)

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him…  John is making the same point here (and again, this is a promise!), now indicating faith with the phrase “born of God.”  (Notice an echo of the prologue to John’s Gospel here with this particular metaphor?)

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him… This is another reference to belonging to God through Jesus.  Not only do we belong to his Family, but we also belong to the truth.  It’s just another way of saying that we are believers.

Acknowledging John’s use of euphemisms may seem an interesting but relatively unimportant exercise, but as a matter of fact it’s an observation that can save us some grief as we try to understand his densely packed epistles.  If instead we approach each of these phrases as the introduction of an entirely new idea, we’ll get tangled up trying to decide whether we qualify.  Are we, in fact, God’s children?  Do we truly hope in him, and abide in him?  Have we been born of God, and do we belong on the side of the truth?

If we don’t feel that we do some of these things well, if we’re not certain that our identity is really being described here, we might become anxious rather than assured as we read John’s words.  But realizing that John is just saying “believers” over and over in different ways lets us breathe easy.  He really is talking about us!

One last lesson from John’s many names for faith comes in 1 John 4, where missing the euphemism used in v.18 can (and often does) result in a worrisome theological conclusion:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

If you read this sentence without realizing John’s range of terms for Christian belief, you may well conclude that it isn’t talking about you, since you do, in fact, experience the emotion of fear from time to time.  Should you conclude from your experience that you haven’t encountered “perfect love” yet (or maybe that you aren’t loving God “perfectly”)?

Not according to John.  Just a few verses earlier he closely ties abiding in God (and God in us) – which we’ve already seen is a euphemism for faith – with perfect love:

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.  These three things – our loving one another, God abiding in us, and God’s love perfected in us – are all speaking to the same condition, namely salvation by faith in Jesus.  In fact, the “fear” referenced in v.18 above is identified as the fear of God’s wrath,* not the everyday sort of fear that comes from living in a fallen world and growing up gradually in our trust of God.  If we were paying attention back at v.12, we’d know that the “perfect love” that “casts out fear” is the love that is ours simply because we have already believed God’s words about his grace to us in Jesus.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see that John’s many euphemisms enrich our understanding of faith – and that recognizing his many euphemisms for faith enriches our understanding of John.

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*Quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.

*V.18 ends with the words “For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”  Notice the euphemism for unbelief at the end, there – “not being perfected in love” is the condition of someone who does not have faith, and who therefore has every reason to fear the Judgment Day.

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Filed under 123 John, Epistles, Gospel of John, Instructing the Body, Literary Devices

The Messiah in the Old Testament

In two previous posts I outlined how the word “Christ” changed in its reference over the course of the books of the New Testament and those of the Old.  The big-picture sweep of that change goes like this:

Slide18

So in the Old Testament Christ (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Mashiach), with its literal meaning of “anointed one,” mainly referred to kings – sometimes specific kings, like David or Solomon or even Cyrus of Persia; sometimes any king of David’s line; and rarely, with much mystery, to a particular figure who would come in the unspecified future and set everything to rights.

But by the time we get to the Gospel accounts, the reference of the term Christ has obviously narrowed from this broad OT usage.  At this point, whenever anybody uses this word he or she is consciously referring to that mysterious Coming One, on whom all of Israel’s hope seems to depend for defeating the Roman overlords and reestablishing the Davidic monarchy in the Land.  Those who interact with Jesus, both enemies and friends, must contend with his claim to the title and decide if he is the one who fits the bill.  As we advance into the Epistles in our Bibles, we see that Christian believers, at least, have made that judgment in the affirmative:  for now the word Christ is used as a shorthand name-title for Jesus, who, they assert, has powerfully proven himself worthy of it.

The question I want to consider in this post is how the word Christ (or Messiah) gained this specific, exciting meaning in the Gospels, given the rarity of the term itself being used in the OT to describe what a special Coming One would be or do.  How had the people in Jesus’ day gotten to the point where they all agreed (in its broad outlines, at least) on a job description for THE Christ?  They must have had some idea in their minds already of what to expect, before they could connect the dots and decide whether Jesus matched that expectation.  So where did their mental “Wanted” poster come from?  How did they get from “king” to “Expected One”?

Apparently, it was sometime during the centuries in between the end of the OT and the beginning of the events described in the Gospels, this “Intertestamental Period” of about 400 years (see the lavender bar on the timeline above), that the word Christos or Mashiach began to take on that full-fledged, pregnant meaning, so that when people wrote or spoke the word they were consciously referring to that Expected Figure, the Jewish Messiah.  That’s when this idea seems to have congealed in history around the term, during this time when the Jews labored under so many oppressive conquering regimes.

And for the most part, the first-century idea of the Christ or Jewish Messiah wasn’t tied to the word Mashiach or Christos, but was an amalgam of different descriptions and expectations found throughout the Scriptures.  I invite you to listen to my 2015 talk “Traces of the Christ” to hear a creative rendering of this big sweep of messianic expectation in the Hebrew Scriptures, narrated as if Jesus were “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets” to explain himself to his despondent disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Here’s just a sketch of some of the things he might have told them, giving them a picture of the Messiah from the Old Testament:

  • In the Garden we learned that the Coming One was to be a human being who would suffer but have the victory;
  • from Abraham’s time and Jacob’s and Judah’s, that he would be Jewish, and royalty, and a blessing to many nations;
  • from Moses’ day, that he would be a prophet who would speak the very words of God;
  • from David’s story that he would be of this particular kingly line;
  • from Isaiah, that he would bring forgiveness through suffering.*

Remember, too, that by Jesus’ day, whatever had been the biblical expectation of the Christ had become encrusted with folk legend and popular yearnings for a powerful political and military leader — maybe somebody like Judas Maccabeus and his brother Simon, who for an all-too-brief time had managed to restore to Israel an independent monarchy about 160 years before Jesus. This event is fresh in the people’s historical imagination by Jesus’ day; and it turns out that, even for Jesus’ followers, unless someone set those imaginings aside and were steeped in the words of the Scriptures instead, they might well miss seeing how Jesus fit the bill for the Lord’s Christ – and so the seeming end of his story would be especially shocking for them.

The key piece that people tended to miss was Isaiah’s, this idea that the Expected One, THE Christ, would be a king who would suffer.  But for those who grasped this crucial element of the Messiah’s job description – usually after the fact, with some help from Jesus himself or his messengers – the details of Jesus’ story clicked into place and revealed his worthiness to bear the title.  And this is, ultimately, the Christian confession:  that Jesus of Nazareth truly did meet all of the scriptural requirements, even the ones that had dropped off the popular radar.

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*The verses that supply these ideas are, respectively: Gen. 3:15; 17:6; 49:10; Deut. 18:18; 2 Sam. 7:13; and Is. 53:5. Note that this list of messianic references is representative, not comprehensive.

Parts of this post were adapted from my 2015 talk “Traces of the Christ.”

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Filed under Biblical Theology, Christ, Epistles, Gospel of John, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Messiah, Old Testament, Prophets, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels, Talks

New Talk: Traces of the Christ

I’m excited to share with you the final product of a lot of research, writing, and talking to the furniture in my office!  This is a 36-minute talk that offers a sense of the historical continuity of the Christian Scriptures, observed through the lens of “the Lord’s Christ.”  The talk was originally commissioned by and delivered to participants in the 2015 Women in the Word Workshop, a Bible study conference held in Willow Grove, PA in October of this year.  (Please note that while the context was a women’s Bible conference, the content is not gender-specific!)  It’s on YouTube not because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I made some snazzy slides to illustrate it.  Enjoy!

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Filed under Acts, Biblical Genres, Biblical Theology, Christ, Epistles, Gospel of John, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Messiah, Prophets, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels, Talks, Women in the Word

Christ in the New Testament

[Texts: Gospels, Acts, Epistles]

Having accomplished my recent speaking assignment on this subject, I can now spill more beans about what I discovered about the word Christ in the NT without stealing my own thunder.  I wrote earlier about the surprising significance of the name Christ Jesus in its appearance in the Epistles; now here’s some further insight into the progressive development of this figure and this idea through the three main sections of the New Testament, the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles.

Let’s start by taking a look at a few select verses from the NT that involve the word “Christ.”  I’m assuming that you know this is not Jesus’ last name; there’s a specific meaning to it (which I’ll explore in a future post); but have you ever really noticed the variety of uses it’s put to, in the Gospels, and in Acts, and in the Epistles?  See what you can observe here:

Gospel:  All were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ.

Acts:  Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Epistle (Paul):  But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Epistle (Peter):  Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.

Do you notice a difference in the way this word Christ is used in these examples?* Think you could explain what you’re seeing?

As you’ve probably figured out, two of the verses include the article (that’s the label we give to little words like the and a), and two of them don’t.*  There’s a difference in reference in each case, isn’t there?  When someone is thinking about THE Christ, they have in mind what we’ve learned to call the Jewish Messiah, an anticipated figure who will somehow spectacularly set the whole world to rights.  It’s an ambiguous reference, because at this point in these particular narratives (Luke and Acts) the actual identity of this Expected One is as yet undetermined for at least somebody in the scene.

But when Peter and Paul use the word Christ in their letters, they’re referring to a specific man, Jesus of Nazareth, who is now designated by this name, Christ. It’s really the title of a particular role, and somehow it has come to be used as a name when the NT writers refer to Jesus in the Epistles.  So there’s a suggestion here, just among these four verses, that there’s something different going on between the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles regarding this word Christ.

This apparent difference sparked my curiosity, which is why I did a detailed survey of the NT books to find out how the writers employed this word Christ.* Here’s what I noticed.  First of all, the word Christ appears in four different forms: sometimes it’s used alone, sometimes with the article, and sometimes with Jesus’ name – Jesus Christ, or Christ Jesus.  You can see on this graph, where I’ve set out the percentage of the time that Christ is used in any of these ways in these three different sections in the NT.*

Christ Graph

What I found was that in the Gospels, it’s almost always the case that people are wondering about the Expected Figure –THE Christ – while in the Epistles it’s almost always the case that the writer is using the word to express truth about the specific God-man, Jesus.  So that’s where we’re more likely to see Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus, or just plain Christ. In fact, when we get to the Epistles, Christ MEANS Jesus for these writers and readers.

But almost nobody has gotten to that truth in the Gospels yet; they’re all still trying to figure it out.  Who is THE Christ?  When is he coming?  What will he do? In fact this use of Christ (with the article) in the Gospels should reinforce to us that we’re still in an OT context when we read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The people in these narratives are still looking forward to a fulfillment, and we’re watching that fulfillment take place as we read these books.

In Acts, as you might expect, there’s a transition in the usage of the word.  That’s in keeping with this transitional part of biblical history, when Christians are actively engaging a culture that doesn’t know the gospel yet.  On the one hand, when Christ is used by itself, without Jesus’ name, it’s always in the context of somebody explaining to a Jewish audience about the Expected One, and we always see the article – it’s always “THE Christ”; but now that more people are versed in the Christian storyline, either Luke in his narration or the people in these scenes will sometimes refer to Jesus as “Jesus Christ.”

All this to say, there’s a historical development going on right there in the NT, visible in the way the word Christ is used.  We might say that the people in the narratives are progressing in their understanding of THE Christ, moving from wondering about that Expected Figure to embracing the specific identification of the Man who embodies that expectation.

We see those dots being connected in Acts as people learn about the Lord Jesus; and in the Epistles we find that the transition is complete, and writers can refer to Jesus with this shorthand name-title, Christ, because they’re writing to Christians who have made that transition in their minds, too.

Read more about the progressive development of the meaning of the word Christ in my next post!  Remember you can follow this Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo!

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*These verses come from Luke 3:15, Acts 9:22, Rom. 5:8, and 1 Pet. 3:18 (ESV), respectively.

*Fun fact:  What I noticed in my English translation about the article (“THE Christ”) is only visible in languages that typically use the article before nouns.  Some don’t.  For example, it has recently been brought to my attention that a Russian translation of the Greek doesn’t retain the articles from the original!  An interesting and somewhat rare instance of the English language paralleling the NT’s highly inflected koine Greek.  And another research moment where it’s handy to know some Greek.

*My research steps to discovering the use of Christ in the NT went like this:

  • I did a word search for the use of Christ in the ESV through https://www.biblegateway.com/, turning up 534 results.
  • I created a table to record the reference & the text of the verses, copying and pasting the texts from the search results (dismissing those that were counted because Christ was mentioned in the heading!).
  • I color-coded (using highlighter & font color) to show the different usages.
  • I double-checked the Greek text wherever Christ appeared in the ESV without the article (the), discovering that sometimes the word Christ was not in the original text at all (the editors just thought we needed it, I guess!), and sometimes the word actually DID have an article attached in the Greek. (See second note, below.*)
  • I tallied usage according to the different arrangements of the title, keeping separate tallies of the preferences of different NT authors & Paul’s usage by book.
  • Using my totals for the different main sections of the NT (Gospels, Acts, & Epistles), I calculated the percentage of time that each of the four forms of the word appeared in each of these sections, and created this graph.

*Pace Greek scholars:  I realize that there are a few anarthrous “Christs” scattered among Matthew, Luke, John and Acts; but since in context these are all ambiguous references to the Coming One, I have counted them with the Messianic collection (yellow bar).

*Our English translations hide a couple details, though.  For one, as I mentioned already, sometimes the translators add “Christ” to make sure we know who the writer is talking about (where the Greek just says “he” and leaves the identity ambiguous).  Also, there is sometimes a subtle distinction between “the Christ” and just plain “Christ.”  Although it’s not uncommon in Greek to add a definite article (the) before a proper noun (“the Jesus,” “the John,” etc.) without affecting the meaning, in the case of “the Christ” one of two things may be happening:  either the writer is merely referring to the Savior Jesus by this shorthand name-title, or he is referring to – or especially emphasizing Jesus’ fulfillment of – the specific Jewish Messiah figure.  Evidently the ESV translators voted in favor of the first option more often than the second in the Epistles (83 times vs. 7 times!).  But I think a few occurrences of “the Christ” in Greek, translated merely as “Christ” in the Epistles, could arguably have possessed that specific Messianic emphasis in the original.  Maybe I’ll write you a paper on this someday.

Portions of this post are taken from my recent talk, Traces of the Christ.”

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Filed under Acts, Biblical Genres, Biblical Theology, Christ, Epistles, Gospel of John, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Messiah, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels, Women in the Word

Bible Journal Recap (1)

Here’s what I’ve been writing about, this spring and summer — this is a topical index for those of you who’d like to read something you missed from my earlier posts, or something related to whatever you are studying.  I’ll pause to create lists like this one every few months to remind you what’s here.

If you’re interested in guides for your own personal Bible study, you’ll find some suggestions on the “Short Takes” shelf.

****Bible Journal Posts on the Epistles:

Mutual Autobiography1 Cor., Gal., Phil., Thess. (5.18.2015)

Invitational ImperativesVarious Epistles (5.27.2015)

Pickup Theology1 Cor. (6.3.2015)

Fortune Cookies1 Cor. 10:31 (6.18.2015)

Riff on 1 Cor. 13 (6.8.2015)

Theo-logic1&2 Cor. (6.25.2015)

Christ Jesus our LordSurvey of Epistles (7.4.2015)

The Metaphysical SituationRom. 6 (7.13.2015)

 

****Bible Journal Posts on the Gospels:

Prophetic Puzzle PiecesSynoptic Gospels (3.30.2015)

Mapping the ParablesSynoptic Gospels (3.16.2015)

Samaritan StoriesMatt., Luke, John (3.23.2015)

“Follow, Fast!”Matt., Luke (2.23.2015)

Eyewitnesses to a TransfigurationMatt., Mark, Luke (2.17.2015)

On the Unforgivable SinMatt., Mark, Luke (2.15.2015)

Mark is LongerMark in comparison (4.29.2015)

“Shhh! Don’t Tell!”Mark (3.1.2015)

Prompted ParablesLuke (3.9.2015)

Death Meets Life at the Gates of NainLuke 7  (2.18.2015)

The Cost of SaltLuke 14 (5.12.2015)

Curious QuestionsJohn 4 (4.7.2015)

Naming NamesJohn 12 (4.22.2015)

 

****Bible Journal Posts on Acts:

Prison Diary: A Brief Play in Three ActsActs 16 (5.5.2015)

 

****Bible Journal Posts on Bible Study:

Genre Judgment Calls (4.13.2015)

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Filed under 1&2 Corinthians, Acts, Biblical Genres, Epistles, Gospel of John, Hard Sayings of Jesus, Historical Context, Instructing the Body, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Parables, Paul, Romans, Synoptic Gospels

Christ Jesus Our Lord

[Texts:  The New Testament Epistles]

You probably already realize that “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name.  You may even be aware that it’s the Greek version of the Hebrew word for “Messiah,” naming that Davidic, anointed-king figure who was eagerly expected to come one day and set the whole world to rights again. But you may not have ever sorted out for yourself the multiple uses and appearances of this title in the New Testament, both in combination with Jesus’ name and alone, or noticed the significance of each variation for the NT writers’ purposes.  In this forest of occurrences of “Christ” (480+!), it’s easy to assume there’s only one kind of tree.

Here’s the fruit of some research that I’ve been doing in preparation for a talk I’ll be giving this fall. I don’t want to steal my own thunder, so these are some details that will mostly not be included in that little lecture on the Christ.  They’re just the results of a basic tallying of the frequency of the different uses of the word “Christ” – but I find them fascinating, and maybe you will, too.  I’ve included some further notes at the end for those of you who are interested in knowing the research steps I followed to these intriguing observations.*

Just considering the Epistles, it turns out that there are three main uses of the Greek title Christos with reference to Jesus, with a couple other rare ones making a cameo now and then.  Each conveys a different aspect of Jesus’ identity, corresponding to the writer’s purposes in a passage.  The different letter writers show individual preferences for particular uses of “Christ,” with Paul taking the lead for variety and also uniqueness in his usage of the word.  My findings are sketched for you below.

Jesus Christ:  Whether combined with “our Lord” or alone, this straightforward title has the most formal feel to it, emphasizing Jesus’ Lordly authority; so I’ll call it the Kingly Title.  This is especially apparent in Paul’s usage, where we find it most often in the formal opening and closing sections of his letters.  It almost never appears in the Gospels, except at the very start of Matthew, Mark, and John – the points at which the author is most transparently present in his text, explaining Who it’s going to be about.  The Kingly Title is preferred by Peter, John, and Jude, who use it almost exclusively.  Atypically for Paul, he refers to Jesus almost solely by this title in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

Christ:  In our English translations, Jesus is simply called “Christ” 220 times in the Epistles (compared to about 112 for “Jesus Christ” and 78 for “Christ Jesus”).* Paul, Peter, and the writer to the Hebrews are most likely to adopt this usage.  In Paul’s case especially, the single word “Christ” tends to occur in the thick of his most energetic communication, leading me to call it the Shorthand Name-Title.  Where it occurs without the article (see second note below), it is most clearly being used as another name for Jesus, not so much as a formal title – as we might call our minister “Pastor,” intending only to refer to the man, not his job, even though the name could only result from his having that position.  (But put “the” in front of “Pastor” or “Christ,” and the emphasis changes!  See it?)

Christ Jesus:  This is really my favorite discovery.  You think it’s just “Jesus Christ” backwards, right, thrown in here and there to add a little variety?  That might be the case if everybody occasionally used it, but in fact this one is exclusive to Paul.  The one occurrence outside Paul’s letters is when Luke tells what Paul was up to in Caesarea: “After some days Felix came . . . and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus,” Acts 24:24 – which is exactly how Felix would have heard it come out of Paul’s mouth.  There is a tenderness to Paul’s choice of name-title here, as if he were speaking of someone very precious to him:  not only the lofty King of kings, not only the God-man who fulfilled the Jewish Messiah’s role, but also Paul’s own personal Friend and Savior.  And it’s when Paul is feeling especially tender towards his readers, when he urgently wants them to know the heart of God for them, that this name for his Friend and Savior spills out of him.  Though it occurs in almost all of his letters, it comes especially thick and fast when he writes to Timothy, as if he especially wants to pass on knowledge of the gracious Lord, Christ Jesus, to his dearest child in the faith.  Pay special attention to this one when it occurs in Paul’s writing, recalling that Christ Jesus is our tender Shepherd, too.

 

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*My research steps to discovering the use of “Christ” in the NT went like this (so far):

  • I did a word search for the use of “Christ” in the ESV through https://www.biblegateway.com/, turning up 534 results.
  • I created a table to record the reference & the text of the verses, copying and pasting the texts from the search results (dismissing those that were counted because “Christ” was mentioned in the heading!).
  • I color-coded (using highlighter & font color) to show the different usages.
  • I double-checked the Greek text wherever “Christ” appeared in the ESV without the article (“the”), discovering that sometimes the word “Christ” was not in the original text at all (the editors just thought we needed it, I guess!), and sometimes the word actually DID have an article attached in the Greek. (See second note, below.)
  • I tallied usage according to the different arrangements of the title, keeping separate tallies of the preferences of different NT authors & Paul’s usage by book.

*Our English translations hide a couple details, though.  For one, as I mentioned already, sometimes the translators add “Christ” to make sure we know who the writer is talking about (where the Greek just says “he” and leaves the identity ambiguous).  Also, there is sometimes a subtle distinction between “the Christ” and just plain “Christ.”  Although it’s not uncommon in Greek to add a definite article (the) before a proper noun (“the Jesus,” “the John,” etc.) without affecting the meaning, in the case of “the Christ” one of two things may be happening:  either the writer is merely referring to the Savior Jesus by name-title, or he is referring to – or especially  emphasizing Jesus’ fulfillment of – the specific Jewish Messiah figure.  Evidently the translators voted in favor of the first option more often than the second in the Epistles (83 times vs. 7 times!).  But I think quite a few occurrences of “the Christ” in Greek, translated merely as “Christ,” could arguably have possessed that specific Messianic emphasis in the original.  Maybe I’ll write you a paper on this someday.

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Naming Names

[Texts:  Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8]

The Gospel of John is different.  Writing much later than the seeing-together Synoptic authors, John decided not to cover the same territory – quite literally, since he concentrates most of his vision on Jesus’ several trips to Jerusalem, rather than on his itinerant ministry in the Galilee.  And one significantly different thing that John does from his location far down the timeline is name names.

For example:  you remember the time when Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, and one of his disciples lops off the ear of the high priest’s servant?  John is the one who informs us that this hot-headed disciple was Peter, and he even names the servant, Malchus.  This suggests that the other Gospel writers were being careful when they wrote, perhaps protecting the culprit while angry leaders were still in power.  It also helps us see that Peter had some very personal reasons to switch into denial mode before the cock crowed!  He himself was now wanted for a crime:  even though the deed itself had been patched up by Jesus, he was still a wanted man.  No wonder he wanted to deflect attention from his association with the Master.

It’s John who also sheds some valuable light on the identity of the players at a certain dinner party, where a woman anoints Jesus with a costly perfume.  As told by Matthew and Mark,* this anonymous prodigal is publicly shamed by the guests (“This perfume should have been sold, and the proceeds given to the poor!”) and then publicly commended by Jesus:  “She has done a beautiful thing.  The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have ME.”  In fact, where others see a wasteful mismanagement of resources, Jesus identifies a perceptive confirmation of his mission:  “She has anointed my body beforehand for burial.”  It’s a perspective that even his closest disciples seem to have missed.

John’s freedom to name names enables us to connect some surprising dots between this narrative and others.  First off, when John recounts this scene, he gives it a setting and context that the others pass over, perhaps, again, in order to protect people.  This dinner party is in the neighborhood of Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus, who has just been raised from the dead.  At the time of the party Lazarus was, in fact, very much on the hit list of the Important People in Jerusalem – they wanted to kill him again, and do away with the evidence that pointed to Jesus’ power – so his name and his sisters’ names and even that miracle are suppressed at this point in the Synoptics.

But from John we learn that this woman is Lazarus’ sister Mary.  And you may remember another story about this family, in which Martha has something to complain about; and you may recall another good choice that Mary made, for which Jesus also publicly commended her.   It was at another, less formal dinner, when Mary sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha did the dishes.  In that setting, too, Mary made the best choice.

Now, normally it’s not a good idea to sit around doing Bible study while your sister handles the hostessing – just as normally it’s probably not good form to spend extravagantly rather than caring for the poor.  But in both settings the timing made ordinarily good choices the wrong ones.  Jesus even says to Martha, in effect, “Martha, Martha, you will always have dirty dishes to wash – but you won’t always have ME.”

What Mary doubtless heard, sitting there at Jesus’ feet, was something like what he conveyed later to the sorrowful disciples on the road to Emmaus, where “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).  Jesus was always trying to get people to see from those texts that the role of the Christ, the Jewish Messiah, had both a triumphant, kingly aspect and a suffering servant expectation to it.  And Mary took him seriously.

She doesn’t say a word in either scene, but at the dinner party her silent actions reveal what she has learned at his feet, as she imitates the anointing of a king – and prefigures the anointing of a corpse for burial.  She’s done the math, put two and two together, from what she has heard directly from Jesus; and now she demonstrates her profound understanding that the King must die for his people.  And in striking contrast to the conventional practice of dismissing a woman’s testimony as invalid, Jesus so validates Mary’s wordless witness that he ties it for all time to the proclamation of the gospel.

And John makes sure we know her name.

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*Luke also contains an account of an anointing (see Luke 7:36-50), but as the timing, setting, and object lesson differ from those in this scene as told by Matthew, Mark, & John, I vote that it’s a separate incident.

Credit to Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, for the insight about Peter, Lazarus, and the Gospel Witness Protection Program.

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Curious Questions

[Text:  John 4]

I’m growing increasingly convinced that the woman who met Jesus at the well in Sychar is included in John’s account primarily because of her intelligent, curious questions.  I don’t mean that I think John set her there as an example and a model for us, though as an instructor I’d sure love to see such persistent inquisitiveness among Christians. I mean that I believe John transmitted her story because it was precisely these curious questions that gave Jesus an opening to speak about his identity and what God was up to.

Actually, at their meeting it is Jesus who provides the first conversational opening — to a woman who obviously has been doing some intense thinking, perhaps with very little hope that anyone would ever take her seriously enough to engage her in a dialogue about these things.  Merely by asking for a drink, Jesus communicates his willingness to do just that, sweeping away centuries of ethnic antipathy and rabbinic propriety with one courteous request for refreshment.

Throughout their exchange, this woman evidences an alert and organized mind.  Weighing what she knows against what’s being presented to her, she puts her finger square on the disconnect every time and boldly articulates it:  “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”  “With no bucket and a deep well, how will you get water?”  “Are you greater than our father Jacob?”  Each time, Jesus gently parries with an intriguing statement that prompts even more inquisitiveness.  (I have a friend who delights in the same pedagogical pattern, so I can imagine the twinkle in Jesus’ eye – he knows the mind he’s working with!)

Having established that yes, he is greater than their father Jacob, because this living water is a different sort of beverage altogether, Jesus leads his wellside student to the brink of a drink and then shifts the conversation abruptly:  “Go, call your husband and come back.”  When he reveals what he knows about her rocky marital history, her response is neither chagrin nor defensiveness.  Instead, she blurts out the theological question she has been saving up for ages!  And why not?  This rabbi has already shown a willingness to take her seriously, and if he is a prophet to boot then surely she will finally get to the bottom of something that has been puzzling her!

It’s a question of mountains this time:  ours or yours?  What, in other words, is the God-pleasing place of worship?  And here is the opening that allows Jesus to lay out the Father’s plans, and finally to identify himself for his curious listener.  Spirit and truth are eventually going to trump place – and in fact, from this time spirit and truth are on the ascendency, even though mountain worship continues.  (Is there, perhaps, a hint in his words there of a time when worship on Mt. Zion will be forcibly and finally eliminated?)

It would be simple math to conclude that this prescient distributor of “living water” will play some part in realizing the revolutionary idea that worship need not be tied to a physical location at all.  He has already clearly demonstrated that he does things radically differently.  So perhaps this woman’s final statement to him is as much a guess as it is a profession of faith:  “I know that Messiah is coming.  When he comes, he will tell us all things.”  Could she ever have imagined that one of the people the Messiah would explain things to would be herself, the inquisitive outcast?

Jesus leaves her no room for doubt, unhesitatingly presenting to her the gift of a secret he has not yet shared with his own people.    I wonder whether it was the knowledge of his identity or the memory of his kindness that was more like a spring inside her afterwards, welling up to eternal life.

 

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Samaritan Stories

[Texts:  Matthew 10:5-6; Luke 9:51-56; 10:25-37; 17:11-19; John 4; 8:48]

It’s rather odd that we always refer to her as “the Woman at the Well,” as if, like the Oracle at Delphi, this was where she could regularly be found, just in case an itinerant rabbi cared to drop by for a chat.  Same goes for the fictional “Good Samaritan,” whose traditional handle implies that he is the sole exception to the racist rule that “nothing good can come out of Samaria.”  These are the two most familiar Samaritan figures from the Gospel writers’ stories, but there’s more to the intersection of this people group with Jesus’ path and his imagination than this memorable pair.  Taken collectively, the Samaritan stories hint at the role God’s Messiah would have in reconciling ancient enemies, and fixing what had been broken.

The first-century Samaritans had no doubts about who their neighbors were.  Bordered on the north by the Jewish region of Galilee and on the south by Judea, they occupied what had been the allotments of Manasseh and Ephraim in ancient days.  To the Jews, who alternately avoided and insulted them, the Samaritans were like so much ethnic debris from Assyria’s resettling of the neighborhood.  They had their own mount of worship, Gerizim, although it no longer held a temple; and while their religion was rooted in the Pentateuch, they were considered by the Jews to be an unclean people.  Neighbors, perhaps, but not good ones.

Jesus used this inevitable antipathy to his advantage as a storyteller, riveting his audience’s attention to his point with the unpredictable identity of the hero in his exemplary tale of bad and good neighbors.  It seems that the Pharisees also harnessed this common attitude in order to more deliberately insult the rabbi from Nazareth:  “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48).

All of this may explain why, of the ten lepers, only one returned to give thanks – “and he was a Samaritan” (Lk. 17:16).  Whatever solidarity there had been in sickness, with health it vanished; only the nine healed Jews would have been accepted in the Temple to make sacrifices for their cleansing.  Significant, then, that Jesus faults the nine for not turning back as well.  Had they recognized him, nine Jews and one Samaritan would have been united in worshiping him, in gratitude and health.

It was early days yet for such unity, though.  That the breach between these peoples would eventually be healed through the Christ is an unspoken possibility suggested by his conversation at the well in Sychar – “neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you (pl.) worship,” but rather “in spirit and truth” (John 4:21, 23).  But the time was not yet, as indicated by Jesus’ instructions when sending out the Twelve:  “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 10:5-6).  Perhaps it was this consciousness of the proper order of events that led him to rebuke the Sons of Thunder for their drastic response to an inhospitable Samaritan town along their road (Lk. 9:51ff.); at the time, they needed to know that it was the Jewish towns who would bear the fires of judgment for their rejection of him (Matt. 10:15).

Meanwhile, no harm in keeping an appointment at a well, and leaving living water behind for everybody in the neighborhood.

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Filed under Gospel of John, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Parables, Redemptive History, Synoptic Gospels