Biblical Studies Carnival November 2012 Is Here!




Bob MacDonald at Dust posted the November Carnival and it is an impressive effort.  Certainly this is one of the best carnivals of the year.   Head on over to Dust for a comprehensive list of contributions to online scholarship in November.  (Click on all the links at least once, everyone will be happy with that.)

As Bob says, “If the shadow of one link against another has offended, think but this and all is mended – that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear and this weak and idle theme no more yielding but a dream. (Puck)”  I was unaware Puck was a BiblioBlogger, but the Top Fifty list has not been updated for a while.

Actually the Bibliblog Top Fifty is showing signs of stirring after a period of dormancy, Steve reports that he now manages ten gigabytes of data.  The site is working faster than I recall in the past, and the Top Fifty is updated for November.  (I am holding steady at #7, thanks to Jim West and Scot McKnight for not runner the tracker.) Hopefully Steve will be able to get many of the blogs which have started this year into the listing, there are quite a few good blogs that are hoping to get into the mix.

Abram K-J from Words on the Word is on tap for the December Carnival (coming January 1).  I know he would appreciate any nominations for the final carnival of 2012.

Which brings me to January 2013.  I am looking for volunteers for the 2013 Carnival Season.  Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of bibliblogs.  If you would like to host a Carnival in 2013, send me an email (plong42), or a comment on this post and I can contact you.


John 2:13-25 – The Temple Incident

Jesus with a WhipThe vast majority of scholars think there was one temple clearing, at the end of Jesus’ ministry, resulting in the execution of Jesus. The synoptic gospels have the story in the right place, chronologically and John has moved due to his theological motivations. What that motivation is varies from scholar to scholar, but usually it has something to do with foreshadowing the Passion from the beginning of the gospel. This would not be unlike Luke moving the rejection at Nazareth to the beginning of his gospel and making the reading of Isaiah 61 a “programmatic statement” for Jesus’ mission.

A growing minority of scholars, mostly evangelicals, consider that there were two separate events, an early clearing at the beginning of Jesus’ career and a late one during the passion week. As Leon Morris observes, aside form the central event (clearing the temple) there are only five words common to both the synoptic clearing story and the John clearing story. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Rev Ed.; NICNT, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995), 167, n. 55. But as D. A. Carson observes, “Against Morris, distinctiveness in detail and in vocabulary is so typical of John’s handling of any event reported both by Synoptists and John that the independence of narrative detail and locutions in the Fourth Gospel” (Matthew, PNTC, 177)

Yet there is resistance to this view. Borchert thought that the idea of two temple clearings is a “historiographical monstrosity that has no basis in the test of the Gospels.” G. L. Borchert, John 1-11 (NAC 25A; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 160. He goes on to say that the Temple incident was moved to point in Jesus’ ministry because of John’s theological agenda: “By letting John write from his own postresurrection perspective, we do not give up on history but allow the book to be what the author intended it to be—a testimony.”  Similarly, Craig Keener thinks it is historical implausible that Jesus would have over-tuned the tables then engage in public ministry for two or three years before being arrested (Keener, John 1:518-9).

A very small minority of scholars lead by J. A. T. Robinson argue that there was only one clearing, and it is John that got the timing right. The synoptic gospels have moved the even from the beginning of Jesus career to the end as an explanation for why the Jewish leadership wanted to kill Jesus.There are a few scholars that consider the story a creation of the early church. George Buchanan (“Symbolic Money-Changes in the Temple?” NTS 37 (1991): 280-90, 284) thought that the Gospel writer created the story out of the Jewish messianic hopes for what the Messiah ought to do when he comes.

Craig Blomberg discusses this in his Historicity of John’s Gospel and concludes that there may have been two clearings of the temple, the first was overlooked by the ruling Jews since the selling in the temple had only just begun, and Jesus; attack was on the buying and selling specifically, not the temple institution itself (as it is in the final week.) Beasley-Murray compares the shift of the temple incident to the beginning of the gospel to Luke’s shift of the rejection at Nazareth to the beginning for programmatic reasons.

As an evangelical who has a theological commitment to the truth of scripture, is there a problem with John “moving” a historical event from the end of Jesus’ life to the beginning?  Is he creating a false history?  Can an evangelical say that John was manipulating history for theological reasons and not open the door to all sorts of other less-than-orthodox possibilities?

John 2:1-11 – The First Sign

The first of Jesus’ seven signs in the Gospel of John occurs at a wedding celebration. When the party begins to run out of wine, Jesus turns several jars of water into fine wine. The only witnesses to the miracle are the his mother, his disciples and the servants who brought the water. This is a “private” sign in contrast to very public the second sign in the second half of John 2.  What is the point of the water-to-wine miracle in John?

John intends each of the seven signs to point to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God (John 20:30-31). In this case, the provision of abundant wine at a wedding is a pointer that Jesus is initiating the long-awaited Kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is often described in the Hebrew Bible as inaugurated with a banquet of some kind. The key text for this is Isaiah 25:6-8, where the eschatological age begins with God himself preparing a banquet of fine foods on Mount Zion. The same image appears at the end of Psalm 22:29 (“all the rich of the earth will feast and worship” and Psalm 23 (a table spread in the presence of enemies). Even Revelation 19:7 and 19:21 describes a “wedding banquet” of sorts at the beginning of the eschatological kingdom, although it is quite shocking that the meal consists of the corpses of the enemies of God!

Because weddings were common events in the life of a community, Jesus uses wedding imagery in several parables (Mat 22:1-12, 25:1-14). Food and wine was provided in abundance, perhaps the best meal that an ordinary villager in Cana would expect to enjoy. Music and dancing would have been common as well. It is therefore no surprise that John first reveals who Jesus is at a wedding banquet.

Jesus “manifest his glory” to his inner circle and they “believed in him” (John 2:11). From this point on those who see his miracles will either accept or reject Jesus as the messiah, the respond to his invitation to join the celebration of the wedding, to enter into the Wedding Banquet which is the Kingdom of God. John 3:27-30 makes this theme of the messianic bridegroom more clear. John the Baptist returns as a witness and declares that Jesus is the bridegroom and that he was only the “friend of the bridegroom.”

John’s presentation of this first sign is ironic. The glory of God has come to live among men, and it has finally revealed itself for what it is, yet only a very select few were aware of the miracle (Jesus’ disciples). Most people at the wedding were unaware of what occurred, just as most people in Galilee will be unaware that Jesus is the Messiah.

Yet those who did see the sign believed.  This is the pattern for the rest of the gospel – seeing the sign and responding properly to the revelation of who Jesus is.  What other examples of this sort of pattern appear in the rest of John’s gospel?

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

In my previous post, I wondered why the Gospel of John is considerably different than the other three Gospels.  One of the reasons that the Gospel of John seems so different is that the three synoptic gospels are so similar.  Because of the similarities between Matthew, Mark, and Luke some theory of literary dependence must be given to explain the close relationship.  For example, there is no birth, baptism or temptation in John.

While Jesus does seven miracles, they are called “signs” and there are no exorcisms. There are no parables, despite Mt 13:34 and Mk 4:34 which indicate that Jesus primarily spoke in parables in the second half of his ministry.  The Last Supper is not described as an ongoing celebration, rather, John describes Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (13:1-16).  While the arrest and crucifixion is described in similar ways to the synoptic gospels, there is no agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

Andreas J. Köstenberger provides a reasonable “working hypothesis” to account for the differences in his recent A Theology of John’s Gospel and his Letters (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2009). Köstenberger follows B. F. Wescott’s observation that John’s Gospel was written after the success of the (Pauline) Gentile Mission, after the destruction of Jerusalem, and at the same time as the emergence of Gnosticism as competitor to Apostolic Christianity.

For Köstenberger, the Fall of Jerusalem is the most important factor.  I am sure that the development of Gnosticism was factor, but I am not sure that the success of the Gentile mission is as much of a factor than sometimes assumed.  John wrote the gospel some thirty years after the death of Paul, from Ephesus, the city where Paul had his most success among Gentiles. Yet the Gospel has very little to say about Gentiles. The Samaritan Woman (John 4) is a possible example, but Samaritans are in many ways “neither Jew nor Gentile.”  The healing of the official’s son in John 4:46-54 is sometimes offered as an example of a Gentile who encounters Jesus, but if he is John certainly does not make this explicit.

The Gospel of John is therefore a window into the end of the apostolic era.  On the one hand, the Gospel is evangelistic.  John wrote to Jewish readers who might be open to Jesus as an alternative to the Temple and the festivals. Given the number of allusions to the Hebrew Bible and the importance of the Jewish story of redemption, it is clear that the main target of the Gospel is Jewish.

On the other hand, the Gospel is apologetic.  John wrote to Christians (either Jewish or Gentile) in order to clarify who Jesus was as an answer to growing questions raised by developing Gnostic theology.  This is why I said (in class 11/26) that John’s Gospel  is a kind of “insider literature” aimed at answer questions which might be asked by second and third generation Christians about the validity of their faith.  The primary apologetic thrust the the Gospel is to strengthen the faith of the faithful, in the face of growing persecution as well as misunderstandings about who Jesus was.

Did John Know the Synoptic Gospels?

Scarcely is there a subject in Johannine studies that is fraught with more mines in the field than the relationship between John and the Synoptics.  G. L. Borchert, John 1-11 (NAC 25a Nashville: Broadman & Holman), 37.

One of the reasons that the Gospel of John seems so different is that the three synoptic gospels are so similar.  Because of the similarities between Matthew, Mark, and Luke some theory of literary dependance must be given to explain the close relationship.  John appears to be quite independent of the synoptics.  There are a number of key omissions in John’s gospel.  For example,  There is no birth or baptism story, nor is there a temptation in the wilderness.  Jesus casts out no demons nor are there any real parables (although there are some parabolic actions).  There is no “communion” established at the Last Supper.  Instead, John describes Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (13:1-16.)

Remarkably, there is no prediction of the fall of Jerusalem.  I find this interesting since one of the key arguments for a date after A.D.70 is this predication placed on Jesus’ lips.  The Gospel of John is universally thought to be written in the 90’s, well after Jerusalem was destroyed.  If the gospel writers were inclined to create things to make Jesus appear to be a prophet, where is any hint of the coming Jewish war?  Perhaps this is related to another issue, the complete lack of prophecies concerning a second coming.  Instead, Jesus promises to send the Paraclete to the disciples after he returns to heaven (14:25-26, 16:7-15).  Where is the Olivet Discourse in John’s Gospel?  I suggest that this material was omitted since it was included in the Apocalypse of John.

Stanley Porter lists four possible positions on John and the synoptics:

  1. John knew the synoptics, or at the very least he knew Mark, which he used in writing his gospel,  This “restricted dependence” theory is often complicated by arguing that it was not a canonical Mark he read, but rather a proto-Mark. Few (if any) advocate this position today.
  2. John and the Synoptics used interlocking sources.  This “flexible dependence” is advocated by D. A. Carson, C. Blomberg,  D. M. Smith, B. de Solages, and G. Beasley-Murray.  John may not have used the synoptics, but he was aware of them.  Some things are made more clear in John (that Jesus knew his disciples prior to their call, how did Peter get into the courts, why did people think he was going to destroy the temple?)   Some things in John are more clear after reading the synoptics (Jn 12, why is Philip hesitant to bring a Gentile to Jesus? Mt 10:5, do not go to the Gentiles)
  3. John used a combination of written and oral sources, some of which were known to the writers of the synoptics.  This is a semi-independence theory, advocated by Gordon Smith, C. K. Barrett).  A potential problem is that it is hard to imagine that independent oral traditions continued well into the 90’s if the synoptic gospels were well used by the churches.
  4. John used written or oral sources that the synoptic gospels did not know.  This is a complete independence theory.  C. H. Dodd (1958, 1963) is the chief commentary here, there is no literary use of the synoptic tradition at all!

Even if the gospel of John is independent literarily, it is hard to imagine that John was not aware of the preaching of the gospel (the kerygma) that lay at the foundation of the synoptics. Carson and Moo call this an “interlocking tradition”  – they use each other without betraying dependance.  John was most likely aware of the contents of the three synoptics.  This may account for the large amount of unique material; what the synoptics chose to omit John decides to include (such as visits to Jerusalem prior to the crucifixion), but also details are added with help us to understand the synoptics – Jesus already knew the disciples before he called them (John 1).

These differences may include the more advanced theological agenda found in John compared to the synoptics.  The idea of who Jesus was has developed from the time of Mark, perhaps as many as thirty years of thought has gone into who Jesus was and what Jesus did on the cross!  John is interpreting the life of Jesus with the understanding that some 60 years have passed since the crucifixion – providing a theological hindsight to understand the words and deeds of Jesus more clearly.

Are there other reasons John chose to be so different from the synoptic Gospels?

Bibliography: D. M. Smith, John Among the Synoptics: The Relationship in Twentieth-Century Research (Minneapolis:  Fortress, 1992).

Stanley Porter, “The Sources of John’s Gospel,” an unpublished paper read at the 2003 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

2 Thessalonians 2:1 – “Our Being Gathered”

[Audio for this study is available at, as is a PDF copy of the notes. You may right-click and “save as….” ]

The reason that the church has become unsettled is a misunderstanding over the return of the Lord and “our gathering” to him. The word for the coming of the Lord is παρουσία, the most common word for the return of Christ.

The noun παρουσία simply means “presence” or “arrival,” and is used in a variety of ways. The noun can refer to the arrival of a human (Paul in 2 Cor 7:6), but it is also used for the visit of a person of high ranking, such as a king (3 Macc 3:17). This use usually included flattery, tributes, delicacies, transportation, and gifts of golden wreaths or money. If a god was active in history helping a human that presence of the god is called a παρουσία. Josephus uses the word to describe God’s presence in helping Israel (Antiq. 3.80). The word is used often in connection with sacred events where the presence of a god is assumed.

Paul uses this word not only to refer to the presence of Jesus, but also of the Man of Lawlessness (the Anti-Christ and has his own anti-parousia). The word can be stretched to cover all of the events associated with the eschatological age, similar to the “day of the Lord” in the Hebrew Bible.

The second word, “gathering” is ἐπισυναγωγή, is quite rare in the New Testament, used only here and in Hebrews 10:25 where it refers to the gathering together of believers for worship. The obvious meaning of the term here is that Paul is referring to the Rapture, using similar terminology to 1 Thess 4:13-18.

There are a number of Old Testament passages that teach that Israel will be re-gathered prior to the Messianic kingdom. For example, in Isa 43:4-7 God gathers the children of Zion from the east, west, north, and south, a clear reference to Jews living in the Diaspora. When the eschatological age begins, God will gather his elect (the chosen) from the four winds and bring them back to Zion. (Compare this to LXX Isa 52:12, God is the “gatherer of Israel.” See also Isa 56:8; Jer 31:8. Ezek 20:34; 34:16, Ps 106:47.)

This noun is used in the Second Temple Period for the gathering of Israel at the beginning of the eschatological age. In 2 Macc 2:7 the secret place where the Ark is hidden will not be revealed until “God gathers his people again” (using the verb συνάγω and the noun ἐπισυναγωγή). The word also appears in T.Naph 8:3 where it describes the gathering of the righteous out of the nations at the beginning of the eschatological age. Similarly, T.Ash 7:7 the Lord will gather Israel on account of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The idea of Israel being re-gathered is the point of Jesus’ words in Matt 23:37 / Luke 13:34. Jesus contrasts God’s desire to gather Israel together under his wings with their rejection of him as the Messiah. A bit later in the Gospels Jesus uses the noun to describe the gather of the elect from the four winds when Messiah judges the world (Matt 24:31). In fact, in Matthew there is a loud trumpet call that draws the elect from the four corners of the world. The parallel is not precise, however, since Jesus is referring to the gathering of Jews in dispersion together just prior to the establishment of the kingdom. Paul is addressing a Gentile congregation

It is better, therefore, to see Paul’s use of the word as an extension of the Jewish idea of a gathering together prior to the coming of Messiah. Prior to the Day of the Lord there will be a “gathering” which is described more fulling in 1 Thess 4:13ff. Paul takes other elements of Jewish theology and tradition and expands them in the new Christian ways in this present age of Grace, this appears to be another of these adaptations.