John 11:35 – Jesus Wept

Why does Jesus weep in John 11:35?  The crowd assumes that it is because his friend Lazarus died, it is an emotional reaction to death.  But most commentaries point out that the vocabulary used to describe Jesus’ emotions go beyond sorrow.  In fact, the verbs in verse 33 have the connotation of indignation and anger.

Barrett says that the view that Jesus was angry “beyond question” (John, 399). Beasley-Murray argues that the verb ἐμβριμάομαι  should be read as“became angry in spirit” (John, Second Edition, 192-3).  That Jesus is moved “in his spirit” is an indication that this is a deeply internal emotional reaction.

The second verb in John 11:33 is ταράσσω, a verb associated with deep turmoil and In the next chapter, Jesus will use the same word to describe his spirit prior to the passion events (John 12:27), in Matthew 14:26 it is used to describe the terror felt by the disciples when they saw Jesus walking on the water; Luke 24:38 has a similar use, describing the terror of the disciples when they encountered the resurrected Jesus.  In both cases, there may be a feeling of dread since a sinful person is encountering a divine being.

Whatever the combination of these terms means, it cannot be said that Jesus was shaken by the death of Lazarus (he has already predicted it) and we cannot say that he is expressing emotions similar to Mary and Martha, who are mourning for the dead.  Jesus knows that he will raise Lazarus from the dead, so his tears cannot be sorrow with respect to Lazarus’ death.

A slight variation of this view is Keener, who thought that Jesus was angry at the mourners’ unbelief (John, 846). Raymond Brown suggested that Jesus was angry at Satan and the domain of death itself, or possibly Jesus is angry “at death” in general (John, 203).

When Jesus does cry, it is not the same as Mary and Martha, or the other mourners.  They are “wailing” (κλαίω), while Jesus “weeps” (δακρύω).  The word is rare in the LXX, appearing only a few times (for example, Job 3:24, Job’s tears).  I am not sure that there is enough evidence to say that Jesus’ tears were more or less sorrowful based on vocabulary.  I suspect John simply varied the terms in order to avoid repetition.

Perhaps a better way of looking at Jesus’ frustrated emotional response here is to see it in the light of Mary and Martha’s lack of understanding in his clear statement that he is the Resurrection and the Life, and their apparent unbelief in his status as the giver of Life.   He has just told Mary and Martha that he is the resurrection and the life.  Rather than some distant eschatological resurrection, Jesus is about to demonstrate that power over life and death, but none of the disciples seem to understand this!

The power of the coming age is present in Jesus’ ministry.  But even Jesus’ closest disciples do not fully understand who he is until after the resurrection.

Who Was James?

When I was in Seminary I took a class in Eccelsiology and at some point in the class I shared my thought that James was the “leader of the Jerusalem Church.”  The professor looked at me rather strangely and dismissed my comment with “well, you have James all figured out, don’t you.”  MA students are apparently not allowed to have those sorts radical of opinions, they are reserved only for PhD students.

Since that slap-down, I have had an interest in Jewish Christianity in Jerusalem in general, and James in particular.  Part of this interest is the belief that my comment in that particular class was on target, although it was probably came across arrogant (I was older back then, I am younger than that now).  I am always pleased when I read things that more or less state that James was the leader in Jerusalem, such as James Dunn in Beginning in Jerusalem, especially chapter 36, although he says things like this throughout the book.

I think a fair reading of the book of Acts will show that Twelve fade from the scene quickly.  James the Apostle is killed in Acts 12 and not replaced.  Peter sends a message to James the “goes elsewhere.”  Peter drops out of site at that point in the narrative, except for a brief report at the Jerusalem council.  Luke introduces James as a significant player in in Acts 12 and the major force behind the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15.  John, the only other apostle mentioned in Acts also disappears from the book after Acts 8 (and he was silent anytime he was in the story anyway!)

What is remarkable to me is that James appears as a leader at the level of Peter and Paul as early as 1 Corinthians.  In 1 Cor 15:7 Paul passes along the tradition that he received concerning the resurrection.  Only three names of individuals are included, Peter, James and Paul.  These are the three men to whom the Lord appeared, and at least in Peter and Paul’s case, they are commissioned to a particular ministry.

James appears as a leader in Jerusalem quite early, a point that is often missed.  Gal 1:19 describes Paul’s visit to Jerusalem after his conversion.  He met with no one except Peter and James, the Lord’s brother.  It is possible that James the apostle and James the Lord’s brother are confused in the later traditions, but there seems to be strong evidence that the family of Jesus did not believe he was the Messiah before the resurrection.  Gal 1:19 therefore can be understood as saying that within three to four years after the resurrection James not only became a believer in Jesus as Messiah, but he had already risen to some sort of leadership position in Jerusalem.

The book of James is therefore a window into an early form of Christianity, one that was comfortable with Judaism and perhaps did not see Christianity as separate from Judaism in quite the same way Paul does later in Ephesians 2 or Romans 9-11.  How would this observation change the way we read James?

Hebrews 11:1-3 – Faith is Being Sure…

One of the more common characterizations of Christians is that they live by “faith” not facts.  Sometimes this is said in the context of a “faith versus science” debate.  Scientists (we are told) hold to facts proven to be true, Christians believe in things that cannot be proven by facts.  If a Christian is telling the story, then the scientist (probably an atheist Democrat) is too close-minded and too prejudiced to accept things he cannot explain rationally.  If a scientist is telling the story, then the Christian is a soft-headed uneducated person (probably a Republican from Texas) who believes in childish things.

I am reminded of a rather funny passage in Douglas Adams’ classic Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  All science fiction stories have to come up with some explanation for why everyone in the future distant reaches of space all speak English.  Star Trek has a universal translator, for example.  In his story, Adams describes the Babel Fish, a tiny fish which, when inserted in one’s ear, translates all languages into what every language the host person thinks.  This fish is so complex it could not have possibly evolved naturally, so it is a clear proof of the existence of God.  Adams goes on to say:

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.” “But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”

“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly disappears in a puff of logic. “Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

As funny as this is, it points out a misunderstanding about faith.  Faith is not believing in things you know to be untrue, or impossible, or strange.  Having faith in the Easter Bunny does not make him real.

The writer of Hebrews defines faith is being sure of what we believe in.  When a Christian talks about having faith, they are certain what they believe is built on a proper foundation and is objectively true.

“Sure” here is an important word, used only two other times in Hebrews (1:3 and 3:14).  The NIV renders this word in three different ways, although the difference between Hebrews 1:3 and Hebrews 11:1 should not be as great at the NIV translates (substance vs. sure). Literally, the word means that which stands under, or foundation. The word began as a medical or scientific term, although nothing of that meaning remains in the New Testament usage.  The word then was used in philosophy to describe the reality of something, as opposed to the philosophical “being.”

BAGD identifies ὑπόστασις as “substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality…”  The meaning here in Heb 11:1 is most often given as “realization” or “reality.”  Or as Louw and Nida comment, faith is “that which provides the basis for trust and reliance – trust, confidence, assurance.”   The NIV’s “sure” tries to combine these meanings, the substance of hope is the thing that gives one confidence that the hope for goal will occur, something that gives assurance of an abstract concept, something that is not necessarily provable, without substance.

The “substance/proof” is for things that are hoped for, not seen.  Hope is “to look forward with confidence to that which is good and beneficial.”  In the New Testament, it is Jesus Christ that provides the basis for that hope, first in his work on the cross, and secondly in his promise to return.   In the other five occurrences of the word in Hebrews, hope is rooted in salvation, each verse is talking about the content of our salvation, and in each case that hope is certain.

Hope in modern use tends to be more “wishful thinking.”  I hope this is over soon, I hope I get that for Christmas, I hope my kids grow up right, etc. Biblical hope is an expression of something that will happen at some point in the future and it is so certain that I can live my life on the foundation of my hope.

John 10 – I Am The Good Shepherd

[Audio for this study is available at Sermons.net, as is a PDF copy of the notes.]

John 10 begins with the closest thing to a parable we find in the Gospel of John.  While parables are common in the other three Gospels, John does not record a single parable.  In this passage, Jesus uses an extended metaphor drawn from the common experience of tending sheep.  If the audience had not tended sheep themselves, they knew that these things were true from their experience.

Jesus chose this metaphor intentionally since the image of a shepherd is used in the Old Testament frequently for the leaders of the nation.  The leaders of Israel were bad shepherds who did not lead the people “beside still waters” (Psa 23). Therefore the people are like “sheep without a shepherd.”  In contrast, Jesus leads the people into the wilderness and provides food for them (the feeding of the 5000), seeking out the lost sheep wherever they are (Luke 15) and ultimately laying his life down on behalf of his flock.

The image of a God as a shepherd is found frequently in the Old Testament.  God is described as a shepherd for his people (Gen 48:15, 49:24, Ps 23:1, 28:9, 77:20, 78:52, 80:1, Isa 40:11, Jer 31:10).   The people of Israel are regularly refer to as the sheep of God’s pasture (Ps 74:1, 78:52, 79:13, 95:7, 100:3, Ezek 34:31).

What is more, this image of a true shepherd is a messianic image found in the Old Testament.  Moses led sheep for 40 years in the wilderness before God called him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, and the ideal King of Israel was David, who was first a shepherd before his was a king.  Psalm 23 has messianic overtones (“The Lord is my shepherd”), but Ezekiel 37:24-28 is the most clear use of a shepherd metaphor for the coming Messiah, the true son of David and ideal shepherd who replaces the bad leaders who have led the people into danger but do nothing to save them.

Ezekiel 34:11-31 is a prediction of the coming Messiah and messianic age using the metaphor of a shepherd to describe Israel’s future after a long exile.  In this passage the leaders of Israel are described as bad shepherds who do not care about the flock entrusted to them.  Because of their bad leadership, the flock is scattered (the exile).   Ezekiel looks forward to the end of the Exile when God will appoint a true shepherd who will genuinely care for the flock of the Lord in a way that recalls David.   This new shepherd will be the one that leads Israel back into the Land and settles them there in peace and safety.

It is possible that Jesus had Ezekiel 34 in mind, but the fact that the image of an ultimately good shepherd who will lead God’s people back to the land appears in Isaiah 40 and Jeremiah 31 as well.  These are passages Jesus uses frequently in his teaching and would have been well-known to the listeners in the Temple.

By claiming to be the Good Shepherd, Jesus in intentionally declaring that he is the Messiah and therefore God’s son.  But he will go beyond the expectation that the Messiah will be the ideal king, a new Moses and new David.  Just as both those men could be called “a son of God,” Jesus also claims to be the ideal Son of God because he is in fact God.

Logos Free Book of the Month – B. B. Warfield, Revelation and Inspiration

Logos is giving away free book for each month in 2012.  In February the free book is Revelation and Inspiration by B. B. Warfield.  Frank Gaebelein puts Warfield and this particular book in rather elite company: “those who are committed to the doctrine of Scripture believed by Christ and the apostles, taught be the reformers and expounded in a former generation by meticulous scholars like B. B. Warfield and J. Gresham Machen…”  (Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl Henry, 395).  Warfield and Machen both wrote early in the modernist / fundamentalist controversies and provided a “conservative” answer to the modernist critique of the Bible.  Warfield in particular tenaciously argued for the inspiration and authority of the Bible against the increasingly popular results of the Historical Criticism of the 19th century.

Originally published in 1932, the book contains a series of articles written by Warfield and published in various sources.  For example, the first chapter (“The Biblical Ideal of Revelation”) was original published as an entry in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915), the second chapter (“The Idea of Revelation and Theories of Revelation”) was published in the Universal Cyclopedia (1909).  Like most seminary professors of his age, he was equally proficient in biblical and systematic theology and comments on the Hebrew and Greek Bibles as well as classical literature.

This book is a classic statement of the Reformed doctrines of revelation and inspiration.  Warfield emphasizes the inspiration of scripture as “God Breathed,” a communication of God’s truth in written form.  While rejects mechanical theories of inspiration, Warfield thinks that the method is “inscrutable.”  Scripture is the conscious act of the Holy Spirit, yet also the product of human writers.  This balance between divine and human agency allows Warfield to study the scripture in a linguistic and historical level, but also to use Scripture to construct theology and address Christian practice.

This book is also important because it sets the stage for the debates within evangelicalism in the middle of the twentieth century.  It might surprise a reader of the “battle for the Bible” books of the late 1960s and 1970s to find the same arguments in Warfield.  (Actually, they are often borrowed without citation because they have become so well known in the Evangelical community by then!)  In chapter 10 (“Inspiration and Criticism,” his inaugural address when inducted as the chair of New Testament Literature at Western Theological Seminary in 1893) Warfield deals with the“assured results of modern biblical criticism” in the light of his doctrine of verbal, plenary inspiration.  Carl Henry certainly stood on the shoulders of Warfield in his classic

This is a volume from the Complete Warfield, published by Baker Books, although the book has been republished many times.  My printed copy of this book was published by the Presbyterian and Reformed Press in 1942, and the page numbers in Logos (the Baker edition) do not line up with my printed version.

Be sure to register to win the complete set from Logos when you download this free volume.

Hebrews 6:4-12 – Other Views on the Warning Passages

Collin Hansen has an excellent interview with Peter O’Brien which specifically discusses the warning passages in Hebrews.  Essentially, O’Brien makes the point that there are two kinds of faith in Hebrews, a genuine faith, analogous to the Parable of the Sower.  Some people respond to the gospel, but not fully and therefore recant their faith when a time of persecution comes.  Indeed this is usually the case when the gospel is preached, whether in the ministry of Jesus, people may respond positively but not come to real Faith in Jesus.  That inadequate response is found in John’s Gospel as well.  Nicodemus was positive towards Jesus, even friendly towards his teaching, but in John 3 I think he falls short of “saving faith.”

Scot McKnight has a response to this interview.  He does not like this two-kind-of-faith approach, stating that it “strains the very language of the letter to the Hebrews.”In essence, McKnight says that it really does not make any sense to warn someone about apostasy (falling away from faith) if they have no faith to begin with! If someone has “spurious faith” then they really ought not be encouraged to continue in that faith.  McKnight does not understand what “spurious faith” means in this context, although late in the article he offers what might be a good definition real faith “perseveres and to salvation” and spurious  faith “doesn’t persevere and that leads to judgment.”

I wonder if O’Brien’s parallel to the Parable of the Sower is not a useful way to understand these warning passages.  Within a group of followers of Jesus, there is a range of responses to the Faith.  They all have heard the real gospel and have some sort of a response to it.  They have all responded positively, but only one type of response is “salvation which perseveres.”  In the Parable, it is the person who bears fruit. To appreciate the faith, or to admire Jesus and his teaching, or to enjoy the gifts of the Spirit is simply not enough.  To be “right with God” one clings tenaciously to the Faith as it has been handed down to them, they bear fruit, and they endure whatever persecution comes their way.  In fact, suffering for the faith seems to be a hallmark of “genuine faith” (Hebrews 12:3-11).

If this analogy is useful, then the exhortations in Hebrews are trying to draw those with weak or inadequate faith into a deeper, more full understanding of this “great salvation.”  The time is coming, says the writing of Hebrews, when you cannot play at being a Christian – you may have to pay with your life!

Thanks to Brian Small at Polumeros kai Polutropos for these links as well as including Reading Acts on his January Hebrews Carnival!