Sunday Morning Greek Blog

May 17, 2023

Life in the Spirit (John 14:15–21)

Message preached on Sixth Sunday of Easter 2023 (May 14) at Mt. View Presbyterian Church. I added some technical details about the text for the blog article that I did not cover in my sermon.

Acts 17 is perhaps the most significant event we have recorded from the life of Paul in terms of his ministry. No, that chapter doesn’t recount any of his appearances before Roman rulers in defense of his faith and ministry. Rather, Paul attends a meeting of philosophers at a place called the Areopagus in Athens. It is safe to say that the Areopagus represented the “melting pot,” as it were, of worldviews and ideas on the meaning of life and purpose of humankind. Two of the more prominent philosophies mentioned in Acts 17 are Epicureanism, which originally focused on pursuing happiness, and Stoicism, which originally focused on living according to nature and suppressing one’s desires. Now I say “originally,” because by Paul’s time, Epicureanism had become more focused on sensuality than happiness, and Stoicism had just made its adherents prideful.

But we also learn from Acts 17 that most of the Roman gods and goddesses, or at least the Roman versions of the ancient Greek gods and goddesses, were still quite popular still in the day, so much so that Paul comments on and is distressed by the number of idols and other symbols of pagan worship that fill the city. Apparently, the Athenians were even afraid of leaving out a forgotten deity, so they had a statue with the inscription: “to an unknown god” (Acts 17:23).

Paul would use that statue as an object lesson to introduce these philosophers to a God they knew virtually nothing about: the God of the Jews, Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts, the One True God. Paul spoke of the resurrection of Jesus, a truly foreign concept to them. He spoke of the Creator God who “does not live in temples built by human hands.” Paul’s message certainly stirred the philosophical pot of thought in Athens, as a several who’d heard him at that meeting wanted more information from him, and an even smaller group actually started following Paul.

In our gospel passage today, Jesus stirs the pot in his own way by talking about someone called “The Advocate.” Sounds like a John Grisham or James Patterson title, right? Jesus introduces his disciples to a familiar concept with an unfamiliar application: the concept of the Holy Spirit guiding each of us, not just the prophets. Let’s take a closer look at the passage, beginning in John 14:15.

Our reading printed in the bulletin is from the New Revised Standard Version. Depending on which version you read, you may see a few different English words in your translation, so I want to help clear that up a bit. These differences by themselves don’t mean that any one version is better than another. Translation committees often will have a certain audience in mind or a certain writing style or worldview that governs the words they choose, especially to translate complex concepts from the source language into English.

Verse 15 says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Sounds pretty straightforward, right? It seems that the last part of the sentence naturally follows from the first part. “If you love your kids, you’ll give them attention.” “If you love your mom, you’ll buy her flowers occasionally.” You get the idea, right? But if you were to read it in New International or King James Version, it sounds more like a command: “If you love me, keep my commands.” I won’t bore you with the technical details of why there is such a difference, but the end result is the same in Jesus’s mind: he wants us to obey his commandments. I do prefer the NRSV translation in our bulletin, because it’s closer to what the original language says, and it sounds less authoritarian.

[For my blog readers, I will give you some of the technical details here. First, verse 15 is a third-class conditional sentence. That means, according to Daniel Wallace in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (GGBB)[1], that often, “the condition [is] uncertain of fulfillment, but still likely” (emphasis in original). The third-class condition can take any mood-tense combination in the apodosis (the last part of an “if-then” or conditional statement), and therein lies the second technicality. There are three variant spellings of the verb in the phrase in question. The chosen reading is the future tense form of τηρέω (tēreō, “I keep”), τηρήσετε (“you will keep”), being found in its most prominent witness B. The Aleph (א) witness has τηρήσητε aorist subjunctive (“you would keep my commands”). The witnesses A and D have τηρήσατε imperative (“keep my commands”). Notice, for all three variants, there is a difference in spelling of one vowel, which could have easily been confused in a scriptorium where the copy was read aloud for scribes to transcribe. Metzger says the editorial committee for the UBS text felt the future tense reading best fit the context.[2]]

Verse 16 is where you really start seeing the different ways the description of the Holy Spirit is translated. In our text today, Jesus says “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate [capital A], to be with you forever.” The current version of the NIV, which was updated in 2011, has “another advocate [lower case A] to help you and be with you.” So the NIV uses a phrase to translate the word to uncover a bit of the meaning behind what the role of the advocate is. Notice that the NIV doesn’t interpret it as a title like our current text in this verse, but later in the chapter, they do treat it as a title. Some other translations of this word you might see are “Comforter” (KJV); “Counselor” (older version of the NIV); or “Helper” (ESV, NASB).

If you’ve been in the church for a while, you’ve probably heard the Greek term that is behind these English translations: paraclete. The word is not used in the Greek version of the Old Testament, so we can’t make a connection to the “Wonderful Counselor” in Isaiah 9. In ancient Greece, it carried the idea of a helper or assistant in a court of law. John is the only NT writer who uses the word. He uses it of Jesus in 1 John 2:1–2 to speak of Jesus’s role in advocating for us before the Father: “If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins[3]

But the Holy Spirit’s role as the Advocate in our lives is different than that of Jesus’s role before the Father. It opens the door to a new concept: that God’s Holy Spirit would soon be available to all his disciples, and indeed to all believers, once Jesus ascended to Heaven, not just to a select few as in the Old Testament. We see that in the promise of the prophet Joel that Peter cites in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit’s role really does seem to be best described by the word Advocate. The NIV I think does the best job of explaining the role when the translators added “to help you” as a gloss to “advocate.” The Holy Spirit’s role is twofold: First, he is the living representative of Christ and God in us. Verse 17 says “You know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” In verse 18, Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans.” The Holy Spirit’s presence will be a constant reminder that God loves us, just as he loves his one and only son. And it’s because of that love, as John indicates in vs. 15 above and reemphasizes in vs. 21. John also closes out this short section by saying Jesus will show himself to his disciples through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Beyond our passage, we see in 14:26 that our Advocate comes in the name of Jesus “will teach us all things and will remind us of everything [Jesus] said to us.” In saying this, Jesus also says he’ll leave us with peace and assurance that he will come and ultimately rescue us from the evil one himself.

The Holy Spirit’s first role, then, is ultimately to help us mature in our faith. As we spoke about a couple weeks ago when we looked at the “I am the door” passage, Jesus’s sheep know his voice. The Holy Spirit IS the voice of Jesus, the good shepherd, in our lives. The more we love God and Jesus, the more we will come to recognize the Holy Spirit’s voice speaking into our lives.

The second role of the Holy Spirit is to testify about Jesus through us, John 15:26–27. As we begin and continue to grow in our understanding of what life in the Holy Spirit means, we begin to recognize when the Holy Spirit is prompting us to act and to testify about who Jesus is. People will challenge us, and indeed are challenging us today, about our faith in God. According to Jesus in John 16, these challenges to our faith are not new and should not surprise us when they happen. Jesus reminds his disciples in John 16:7–11:

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.[4]

John goes on to say that when persecution starts to come our way, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will guide us into all truth. We won’t have to worry about what we’ll say, because the Holy Spirit will be directing us straight from the heavenly throne.

How does this look in real life? I want to close by giving an example from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Five times in that letter, Paul emphasizes that believers on earth have a connection to “the heavenly realms.” In 1:3, Paul says we, that is, the corporate body of Christ, together, have been “blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” This comes from the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. I want to emphasize that this a corporate gift, that is, no one person has every spiritual blessing, but as a body of believers, in the aggregate, we have on earth everything God wants us to have to carry out the ministries he’s called us to.

We learn toward the end of chapter 1 that the heavenly realms are where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and all things have been placed under the rule and authority of Christ for benefit of the body of Christ. A few verses later, in 2:6, we find out that when Christ calls us and saves us, we too already have the blessing of being raised up and seated with Christ “in the heavenly realms.” It is from that vantage point, our souls connected to heaven, and our feet touching the ground, that we can “do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

In chapter 3 vs. 10, Paul reveals that God’s intent was that as the corporate body of Christ, the church, “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” Without getting too involved in the concept of spiritual warfare, this speaks to our role of testifying about Jesus to the world as we saw in John 14–16 above. That is our purpose: to speak forth the word of God in both action and deed. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul affirms who we are in Christ and what our exalted position is before him. In the last three chapters of Ephesians, he gives several examples of what it means to live in the heavenly realms, culminating with chapter 6 about putting on the armor of God, where we find his final reference to the heavenly realms:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then…”[5]

Paul goes on to describe the armor of God, for that is what it truly is. If you were to look up the references to each of the pieces of armor mentioned in the Old Testament, you would find that every one is mentioned in the context of God wearing it or wielding it. That armor isn’t a cheap imitation or a mass-produced copy. It’s the protection and strength of God himself. That’s what Jesus was affirming for us by speaking of our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, coming to dwell within us to teach us, empower us, and embolden us to speak his word.

It seems like the days of evil are fast encroaching on us. Don’t get left behind. Believe in Jesus if you don’t already. Commit yourself to loving him and receive the strength and power of the Advocate for our souls, the Holy Spirit. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus! Amen!

[1] Wallace, Daniel B. 1996. Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan (Logos version).

[2] Metzger, Bruce M. 1971/1975 (corrected). A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Stuttgart: United Bible Societies.

[3] 1 John 2:1–2. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] John 16:7–11. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Ephesians 6:10–14a. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

August 24, 2019

The Lord’s Prayer: Deliver Us From the Evil One (Matthew 6:9–13)

Filed under: Ephesians,Greek,Matthew Gospel of,Prayer,Spiritual Warfare — Scott Stocking @ 2:19 pm

Nothing is perhaps more common among the diverse branches of Christianity as the Lord’s Prayer. Aside from the occasional hesitation in the public setting about whether the church that’s reciting it says “trespasses” or “debts,” the basic form of the prayer is well established. Jesus implies in the text leading into Matthew 6:9–13 that it is a model prayer, not something intended to be formulaic or ritualistic (the surrounding context makes that crystal clear!), but rather a pattern for how we approach God the Father in prayer.

Many have proposed legitimate ways of outlining or summarizing the prayer, so my own comments are not intended to suggest those other ways are any less valid than what I am proposing here. We all have our own experiences and filters through which we come to the Father, and he really doesn’t care what, if any pattern we use. He just wants us to come and talk to him. But being a preacher, and an old-school one at that, I thought an alliterative outline would be good to organize my thoughts for my sermon on the passage this past Sunday.


Praise: Jesus gives praise to the Father in vv. 9–10 for who he is and what he is doing.

Provision: Jesus asks that God provides with the basic necessities of life, represented by bread.

Pardon: Jesus exhorts us to ask the Father’s forgiveness for our sins even as we (can and should) forgive those who sin against us.

Protection: Jesus asks God not only to keep us away from temptation, but also to deliver us from the evil one (or if you’re old school, from evil).


Verses 9–10 are structured as an inclusio, a literary technique that begins and ends a section with the same word or concept. It’s easy to see in English that the repeated word is “heaven.” The concept (“kingdom”) is repeated in the middle of the three praiseworthy items between the opening and closing lines of the inclusio. How can we be sure of this? In the opening line, “heaven” is actually plural: literally, “Our Father who is in the heavens.” In Matthew’s 32 exclusive uses of the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” “heaven” is always plural.

The fact that “heaven” is plural also calls to mind Ephesians, where five times Paul refers to the “heavenly realms” (a different Greek word formed from the root word for “heaven”) in reference to our proximity to Christ. In Ephesians, we see that we are with Christ in the heavenly realms. Jesus as much as acknowledges that in the closing line of the inclusio: “on earth as it is in heaven.” Actually, the word order in Greek for that phrase is transposed: “as in heaven [singular], so on earth.”

Another interesting tidbit about this section is that the three praise items are all written with third person imperative verbs. English doesn’t have a third person imperative, so we usually translate it something like “Let your name be holy; let your kingdom come; let your will be done.” Those three items are something we can’t command God to do; that totally comes from him, so the standard second person imperative in English wouldn’t do. We’re asking God to will and continue to will those things to be or become true.

Now before moving on to the other three points, I think the use of “heaven” as the key word in the inclusio is no accident. Not only does “kingdom of heaven” always use the plural form of “heaven,” but all references to the “Father…in heaven” also use the plural form. When “heaven” and “earth” are used together in the same phrase, “heaven” is often singular. I think we can look to Paul’s epistles to see how we’re to understand the reference to heaven. Philippians 3:20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Five times in Ephesians, Paul mentions our relationship to Christ “in the heavenly realms.” I’d never really heard this aspect of the Lord’s Prayer emphasized before, but I believe Jesus is emphasizing the dual citizenship of his followers. Just as we see God acting in heaven, we should work in concert to make it happen on earth. If God’s name is to be considered holy, we should be careful to live in such a way that those on earth can clearly see that. If God’s kingdom is to come, we should be working to make sure it is advancing here on earth. In fact, the final five lines of the prayer go back and forth between God’s work in heaven and his (and our) work on earth. Let’s look at those now.


“Give us today our daily bread” is a typical second person imperative that we might expect. It’s a simple request of God that he provide our daily, basic needs—not just food, but whatever we need to get through each and every day. It’s focused on our life here on earth, with God acting from heaven to move all the pieces in place for us. And because it’s “daily” bread, Jesus is saying that we should come to God each and every day, not just once in a while.

Asking for God to provide our daily bread does not absolve us from the responsibility to work. If we’re able and have the opportunity, we can and should work for a living. Paul says in Thessalonians that the one who doesn’t work shouldn’t eat. In times we face need, then, we can lean a bit more on this promise. Additionally, those of us here on earth, through compassionate and charitable efforts, can work to provide daily bread for those less fortunate and bring them to a place of self-sufficiency.


In the next phrase, Jesus switches the focus to heaven: “Forgive us our debts.” This action again is a second person imperative, and the focus of the action takes place in heaven. Jesus declares us forgiven from the right hand of the Father. After all, it is his shed blood that purchased forgiveness, and his resurrection confirmed that he is both the Son of God and the one that has authority to forgive sins.

The next phrase is the only first person statement in the prayer, and as such, I think an important focus in the prayer. The scene moves back to earth: “As we also have forgiven our debtors.” Verses 14–15, immediately following the prayer, are an important contextual clue that this phrase is the focus of the Lord’s Prayer. If we forgive others here on earth, God forgives our sins; if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive our sins.


God providing our needs and forgiving our sins is essential for our physical and spiritual well-being. It is the best protection we have against the corruption of our souls and against falling into sin. But sometimes, the evil that comes at us may seem larger than life, and we need God’s extra protection to get through the really difficult times.

“Lead us not into temptation” brings the focus back to earth, and returns to the use of a second person verb, but this time, it’s subjunctive. In English terms, that means it rises to the level of an earnest plea: “Please, please, O God, do not lead us into temptation!” It’s one thing for us to ask God to help us in this way; it’s quite another if we intentionally put ourselves in a position to be tempted. The plea recognizes that sometimes, we can’t keep the birds from flying overhead, as Martin Luther put it, but that we can keep them from building a nest on our head. In the modern media and Internet culture, temptation is just a click away. We often need to rely on God’s strength and guidance to keep us out of situations where we might be compromised.

The final phrase, “Deliver us from the evil one,” (back to a second person imperative) returns the focus to heaven again, and brings to mind the passage in Ephesians 6 about the armor of God. Paul says in 6:12 that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This is why the modern translations say “from the evil one” instead of the classic “from evil.” The Greek word for “evil” in the Lord’s Prayer has the definite article with it, and that implies that it’s not talking about a concept, but an actual evil person, someone who intends you harm. Jesus intends us to put a face on the concept. And that doesn’t necessarily always refer to Satan. It can be anyone here on earth or any of the forces Paul mentions above from the heavenly realms who intend us harm.

When Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 6:13 to “put on the full armor of God,” this is our God-given arsenal to “deliver us from the evil one.” What many people don’t realize about that phrase is that the armor of God doesn’t come from some divine arsenal that has an unlimited supply of breastplates, helmets, and shields. Every reference to a defensive piece of armor or the dual-purpose sword has its origin in the Old Testament, and they are all pieces that God himself wears. So “armor of God” means God’s own personal armor! In other words, we’ve got the best!


The Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer, but it is so much more as I’ve tried to show here. As a model, it serves as a daily defense against the things that would try to rob us of our spiritual health and joy in Christ. It encourages us to forgive as we have been forgiven so we can have healthy relationships with family and friends. It shows that we rely on God to give us just what we need each and every day. It is our way to stay connected to the Savior and know his love and protection each and every day.

My thoughts are my own,

Scott Stocking


April 22, 2012

Sing a New Song (Psalm 98; Ephesians 5:18–21)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Ecclesiology,Ephesians,New Testament,Old Testament,Psalms — Scott Stocking @ 7:34 am

NOTE: The following is revised and expanded from an article I wrote that appeared in the February 4, 2001, edition of The Christian Standard.

Sports fans are passionate people. They love their favorite teams and cheer them on with great enthusiasm. But sometimes their passion gets out of control, and violence erupts. We have seen this on a number of occasions, especially when a favorite team wins a big game or a national championship. Revelry and carousing take place in the streets, some even firing guns into the air, while others are hurt or injured from brawls that break out.

Don’t Get Drunk on Wine. . .

The country witnessed this behavior in 2000 when Los Angeles residents rioted after the Lakers won the NBA title. No doubt in many of these incidents of individuals or crowds getting out of hand, alcohol was a major contributing factor. Alcohol breaks down our inhibitions and our sense of self-control, and leads to all kinds of misbehavior. Although Midwesterners are a little more subdued in their celebrations, I have no doubt that St. Louisans lined Busch Brewery’s pockets after Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series.

Expressing passion for a sports team can be turned into a positive model of worship. After all, the word “fan” comes from the word “fanatic.” Do we love God and express our praise for him as much as we do our favorite teams? Hasn’t God done much more than win a World Series or an NBA title? Now granted, I don’t want us going out and getting drunk for Jesus. Eph 5:18 provides a good balance for us when celebrating what God has done in our lives: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Paul warns that controlled substances and uncontrolled behaviors are not the proper way to celebrate or to let off steam at the extremes of life. These only lead to trouble, hardship, and sin.

Instead, Be Filled with the Spirit

Instead, Paul exhorts his readers to “be filled with the Spirit.” The similarity here with the negative command against alcohol may escape some: with alcohol, we give up control of our faculties to a mindless substance, and our corrupt flesh nature rises to the surface. If you’ve ever had too much to drink, you know what I mean. You say things when you’re tipsy that you wouldn’t say when you’re sober. Your ability to drive and walk is impaired. Being filled with the Spirit, however, implies that we are giving up control to “the mind of Christ” and to the God who created us for his purposes—our “new man” shines forth.

Understanding this truth is one key to getting a handle on the “worship wars” that many congregations have experienced in the past twenty years. Many in the older generations (“the builders” and to a certain extent, the “boomers”) fuss at the younger generation because of the latter’s desire to have more contemporary choruses and the additional accompaniment of guitars, drums, and so on. At the same time the younger generations (“busters,” “X,” and “2K”) complain about the slow tempo of some traditional hymns and the unpopularity (from their perspective) of the piano or church organ, or both. (One is hard pressed to find a successful radio station today that plays only piano and organ music!) When I moved back to Nebraska in 2010, I got reconnected with the congregation that sent me off to seminary. The sermon series that first Sunday I was back was “I Love the 80s.” Each week, the worship team performed a different (secular) hit song from the 80s, and the pastor used Scripture to highlight the significant themes of the song.

The one who is critical of the worship style a congregation uses is equally as guilty as the one who condemns another for not jumping on board a congregation’s preferred worship style, or a congregation’s desire to establish a more culturally relevant style. Neither group is filled with the Spirit. Neither group is more holy or righteous than the other is simply because of what its preferred style of music is. If we are filled with the Spirit when we come to worship, we allow the Holy Spirit to break down our inhibitions about style, while he directs our attention to the substance of the hymn or chorus.

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

When we get beyond our personal preferences about style, only then can we truly appreciate the command to “sing a new song” to our Lord. Paul goes on in Eph 5:19–20 to explain what he means by being filled with the Spirit. The first aspect is “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” Paul here seems to bring the old (psalms, hymns) and the new (spiritual songs) together for the mutual edification of the body, and for the purpose of expressing thanks to our God. In fact, the five verbs that come after “be filled with the Spirit” are all subordinate to that command in some way, because they are all participles. Here is my outline for the organization of those verses:

Be filled (πληρόω) with the Spirit

    Speaking (λαλέω) to one another with psalms (ψαλμός), hymns (ὕμνος), and spiritual songs (ᾠδή)

        Singing (ᾄδω) and

        Making music (ψάλλω) in your hearts to the Lord,

        Always giving thanks (εὐχαριστέω) to God the Father…

    Submitting (ὑποτάσσω) to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The passion in that exhortation is self-evident. The musical expression of God’s Word was a vital part of the fellowship experience of first century Christians. This has been true throughout the centuries in the Christian faith, and still holds true today. Passionate worship is one of the signs of a living, growing, fruit-bearing congregation. Passionate worship shows the world that we really do love our Lord with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.

The second aspect of being filled with the Spirit is that we “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). Like the Fifth Commandment (Ex 20:12), this command serves as general statement of transition between our spiritual relationships (worship of God within the body) and our earthly relationships (family and work). In the context of the former (worship), submitting to one another implies that we show mutual respect for each other’s preferred styles. If the Spirit is present, style is at best a secondary concern. What matters is keeping the unity of the Spirit with the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).

The New Song

The most common hymnbook in the pews of the churches I served in the past twenty years was Favorite Hymns of Praise (Tabernacle Publishing, Wheaton, IL) copyrighted in 1967. One day while preparing a sermon on the topic of the “new song,” I thumbed through the hymns and browsed an Internet site with hymn histories. I discovered that most of the hymns were in the public domain or the copyright had expired. In other words, they were written before copyright laws went into effect in the early 1920s. Although many of these hymns contain important, timeless truths about God and our faith, they are nonetheless “old.” The fact that they are old does not detract from their value, but it may detract from their appeal to younger generations.

The command to “sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 98:1) is not one which was negated by the New Covenant. All nine occurrences of the phrase “new song” in the NIV are connected with the victory, salvation, and justice of God.

God is still winning victories today, every time someone professes faith in him and receives baptism by immersion. In Luke 15, we see that the angels throw a heavenly party over each sinner who repents. Each soul has a unique story of how he or she came to know Christ, and each story is worthy of a “new song.”

Psalm 98

Psalm 98 is by far the most vivid statement of the “new song” in Scripture. The psalm consists of three stanzas of three verses each. In each of the first three verses, God’s salvation is mentioned. Verses 2–3 are particularly prophetic: the word for “salvation” (יְשׁוּעָה) is related to the word translated elsewhere as “Joshua,” or to the Greeks, “Jesus.”

Verses 4–6 make it clear that enthusiasm and passion are important, if not necessary, elements of worship. This second stanza begins and ends with the command to “shout for joy” (רוע). Verse 4 in the NIV is rendered “burst into jubilant song with music,” but the KJV reveals that the phrase is actually made up of only three verbs. “Burst” (KJV has “make a loud noise”; פצח) has the image of flood waters built up behind a dam or levee that suddenly break through clearing out everything in its path. “Jubilant song” (KJV has “rejoice”; רנן) is used of the mountains in vs. 8. “Music” (KJV has “sing praise”; זמר) is actually the root word for “psalm” (see the Ephesians passage above), which is a song sung to musical accompaniment.

God as Audience

Verse 6 is the crux of the entire psalm. The word “before” can also be translated “in the presence of.” When we “shout for joy in the presence of the Lord, the King,” the obvious conclusion here is that God is the audience. Those of us who worship, then, are the performers. The condition in Psalm 33:3 makes a great deal of sense, then: “play skillfully.” God wants us to give our best. Our best may not win us any recording contracts, but he does want us to worship with all that we are.

God wants us to praise him even when we do not feel like praising him, or even when we do not think our talents are good enough to contribute to the body. Jehoshaphat placed the choir out in front of the troops, and ultimately they did not have to lift a finger in violence against their enemies. God won the victory. Praise has a power that goes far beyond our ability and our comprehension. The point is: “SING!”

The final three stanzas reveal that worship is for all of God’s creation, not just his chosen people. In part, it is evangelistic. 1 Corinthians 14 indicates that orderly, comprehensible worship is a powerful tool for reaching the unsaved. If our forms of worship are foreign to the culture around us, we will not have a significant impact on our culture.

A Bold Example

One congregation I served in had a “talent” night. Two high school freshmen boys “rapped” Will Smith’s song “Just the Two of Us.” The “rap” is about Will Smith’s desire to be a good father to his son, in spite of his divorce from the boy’s mother. Nothing in the song is offensive to the Christian values of parenthood. I know some of our elderly members were squirming, if not fuming, from allowing that song to be performed in the sanctuary. But neither of these two young men has significant contact with their biological fathers. I interpreted that song as a heartfelt prayer of those two young men for a relationship like the one Will Smith sang about.


In worship, we long to draw near to our heavenly Father, just as those two teenagers longed to have a close relationship with their earthly fathers. Singing a new song to the Lord is one way to praise God for his victories in our lives, both past and future. If we are not singing new songs to the Lord, the rocks themselves will cry out declaring the righteous rule of our Savior and Lord.


Scott Stocking

March 23, 2012

Helmet of Salvation (Isaiah 59:17, Ephesians 6:17)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Ephesians,Isaiah,Old Testament,Spiritual Warfare — Scott Stocking @ 7:37 am

NOTE: I beefed this up from a Word of the Week e-mail originally sent in May 2001.

When my kids were learning how to ride their bicycles, I was a bit obsessive about them using a helmet. Now when I was a kid (many moons ago, now), neither my parents nor I ever gave a second thought to riding my bike without a helmet. Helmets were for football, not bike riding. Granted, the helmet cannot save you from any and all injuries, which is one of the common arguments used by motorcycle riders opposed to mandatory helmet laws. But it is a measure of protection that gave me an added sense of security as a parent as my kids were learning how to be more independent. Now that my son has his driver’s license and my daughter is only weeks away from getting her learner’s permit, I’m obsessing about safety all over again. I’m not making everyone wear helmets when he drives, obviously. But Solomon was right. “There is nothing new under the sun.”

In three passages of Scripture, God uses the “helmet” (Heb. כֹּובַע) image to describe the salvation he freely offers (Isaiah 59:17; Ephesians 6:17; and 1 Thessalonians 5:8). In Isaiah 59:17, the prophet says that God “put[s] on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on His head.” In the context of Isaiah 59, God is “displeased that there [is] no justice” (vs. 15b). God’s salvation and righteousness are necessary to turn the tide of injustice in Israel. This word for helmet is only used six times in the Old Testament, but the Isaiah passage is the only time where God is said to wear this piece of armor. If God is all powerful, he doesn’t need armor, so obviously this is figurative language here. But this also betrays another myth we have about spiritual armor. We think it is defensive. But in this passage, God is not on the defense. He is moving forward in an offensive against injustice. He’s getting ready to execute his vengeance!

As I have mentioned before in other contexts, God’s salvation here goes far beyond our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, each of us individually can personally receive God’s salvation, but not solely for our own benefit. God’s salvation here has national (and international) implications. God wants the nation of Israel to be saved, as well as the individuals within the nation.

The apostle Paul has this multifaceted view of salvation-justice as well. In 1 Tim 2:1–4, Paul urges everyone to pray for “kings and authorities” so we may lead “peaceful lives,” because God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Isaiah’s image of the helmet fits well here. God wants you and I to serve as ambassadors who will proclaim his salvation not only to individuals, but his justice to our leaders as well (see also Eph 3:8–11, Romans 13:1–7). We do this by our behavior as well as by the words we speak. As Christians, we are not primarily on defense. We should be advancing in the power of the gospel, taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:3–6) and storming the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18).

For too long the more conservative, non-mainline denominations have put justice on the back burner, usually treating symptoms (soup kitchens, used clothing stores, etc.) while not addressing the causes (economic oppression, government policies, waste, etc.). Fortunately, more and more Christians are beginning to recognize that a witness of social justice is an important part of declaring God’s salvation to the lost, hopeless, and oppressed. And interestingly enough, the more it seems we concern ourselves with social justice, the more intense the persecution becomes against Christians. I’d say that means we must be doing something right to concern ourselves with God’s salvation-justice.

The bicycle helmet cannot protect us from skinned knees and elbows. We need kneepads, elbow pads and wrist braces if we are really serious about protecting ourselves as we ride the highways and byways of this nation. God’s helmet of salvation is only part of the “whole armor of God” that defends us against the onslaught of Satan and his forces. Not only is it defensive, but His armor terrifies our foes and causes them to retreat as they see us advancing against them in God’s might.


Scott Stocking

November 3, 2011

Qualifications of Male and Female Leaders in the Church (1 Timothy)

Filed under: 1 Timothy,Biblical Studies,Ecclesiology,Ephesians,Titus,Women in Leadership — Scott Stocking @ 11:32 pm

I would have to venture a guess that 1 Timothy 3 is a close second to Ephesians as a section of Scripture to which I have devoted a significant amount of scholarly research through the years. In 1995, I presented my first professional paper at the Fellowship of Professors (now the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference) at St. Louis Christian College on 1 Timothy 3 and 5 and the leadership roles and qualifications Paul assigns to women in those passages. After reading through 1 Timothy 2 and 3 this weekend, I can see that, although my original paper was respectable, I have learned a great deal more about Greek structure, syntax, and semantics in the last 16 years that would greatly enhance my initial offering.

The appendix table at the end of this post catalogs significant word usage in 1 Timothy primarily, but also in the pastoral epistles generally, especially where gender and leadership roles not only are discussed but intersect. A quick glance at the table demonstrates first and foremost the overlapping language applied to men and women, whether the regular saint or the recognized leader. At the very least, being a faithful Christian undoubtedly made one notable as leadership material.

Women in Leadership?

I’ve spent considerable time putting that table together, so let me cut to the chase here, since my main purpose is talking about women in leadership in the body of Christ. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul is addressing the leadership core Timothy was responsible for training. The passage mentions the “elder” (ἐπίσκοπος episkopos \eh PEE skaw pawss\, lit. “overseer” [one who holds the title]; note that the word is singular in this passage) and “deacons” or “ministers” (διάκονος diakonos \dee AH kaw nawss\ also “servant”), but it also mentions “women.” If you look at any Bible with footnotes, you will see there is some significant difference in how the translations understand the reference to “women” in 3:11. I have arranged the following verses (all from Logos versions of the respective Bibles) in the order I consider to be the most literal translation to the freest translation, highlighting the English word translated from γυνή (gynē \goo NAY\, “woman, wife”) and the respective versions’ footnotes under each verse:

‎‎‎‎AV    Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.

‎‎ESV    Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.

Wives likewise must or Women likewise must [i.e. no “Their”]

‎‎NASB95    Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.

i.e. either deacons’ wives or deaconesses

NIV84    In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.


‎‎NIV    In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

possibly deacons’ wives or women who are deacons

‎‎‎‎NLT    In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do.

or the women deacons; the Greek word can be translated women or wives

Message    No exceptions are to be made for women—same qualifications: serious, dependable, not sharp-tongued, not overfond of wine.

You can see right away where the issue lies with this passage: Are the “women” the wives of the leaders mentioned (if “wives” is intended, then “deacons’ wives” is more likely, given that “overseer” is singular in this passage) or any women in the church? In 1 Timothy 2:9–12, Paul seems to address “women” generally, not “wives” specifically. Is there any reason to think he would switch up in this passage? The difference in translations is obvious, but none of the translations are wrong per se in translating the word either “women” or “wives.” What concerns me as a scholar about the translation is the “gloss” (a word added presumably for clarification) of the plural possessive pronoun “their” in some of the versions. (You will notice that I italicized it in the verses, a common practice in more literal translations to indicate the word is not directly translated from a Greek word in the text.) Granted, this is a plausible translation, but not a necessary one. It is also highly interpretive. I’m not saying the Bible translation committees necessarily had agendas or were wrong to add the gloss, but it is something that the savvy Bible student should consider when studying this passage.

A Structure Word

Another word that reveals the structure of the passage is ὡσαύτως (hōsautōs \hoh SOW tohss\ “likewise”). The word is found 17 times in the NT, including four times in 1 Timothy, and implies not only a similarity of action, but a similarity of the subjects of those actions being compared. What is interesting is this word is found three verses earlier, in 1 Timothy 3:8: “Deacons likewise…” The question is, “Like what?” or “Like whom?” The obvious answer is like the elder in vs. 2. This point is even more obvious when one considers that there is no main verb in vv. 8 or 11: the verb is actually borrowed from vs. 2: “It is necessary for the elder [and deacons and women] to be….” The passage has a parallel structure signifying three leadership roles: elder, deacon, and women.

So what does that mean for the role of women specifically? I think it is important at this point to bring in a couple more passages of Scripture so we can have a broader view of the role of women in early church leadership. Titus 1–2 gives further instructions on elders (both the ἐπίσκοπος and the πρεσβῦτ- kind). The role of the “older women” (πρεσβῦτις presbytis \press BOO tihss\) was to teach the younger women to be more Christ-like. I think that is a perfect example of an appropriate role for female leaders in the church: teaching younger women. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul uses similar language to 1 Timothy 3 in describing the widows, especially those who are older, will probably not remarry, and have significant time to devote to serving the Lord and his people (see also 1 Corinthians 7:8, 34b). It would not surprise me to find that Paul’s reference to women leaders in 1 Timothy 3:11 included widows, especially since the larger context of the epistle supports that idea.


Now that I’ve put out there what is sure to be controversial among my more conservative readers, I want to backtrack a bit and talk about the first part of 1 Timothy 3. I mentioned above that the word for “elder” in v. 2 is singular. The passage actually uses a feminine form of the word for elder, which implies the office or the abstract concept of eldership, not necessarily the gender of the person holding the office. The question to ask is, “Why is this term singular when ‘deacons’ (v. 8) and ‘women’ (v. 11) are plural? Don’t most churches have more than one elder?”

A more literal rendering of ἐπίσκοπος may shed some light on the subject. The word is a compound of ἐπί (“over”) and σκοπός (“see, watch” e.g. “scope”), so some literally translate the word “overseer” (see for example 1 Peter 2:25, where Peter describes Jesus as “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”), and it eventually made its way into English as “bishop” (Gk episkopos > Latin episcopus > Old English bisceop [Merriam-Webster]), which is how some older English versions render the word. I have run in some circles where the concept of a lead pastor is frowned upon by leadership. One man should not have such authority over a congregation, so they say. But I think we find support for that concept in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1–2. Certainly any pastor should have the qualifications of an elder, and I would argue that the pastor should be considered a member of the eldership in whatever church he (or she!) serves. The job of an “overseer” (for I equate “overseer” with “senior” or “lead pastor”) is not to run the whole show alone, but to equip others for works of service to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11–13). I am quite comfortable with the concept of a senior pastor when the duties and responsibilities of such are rightly understood and when such a person lives up to those responsibilities.

As a side note, when the words for elder are used in the plural (Acts 20:28, Philippians 1:1 for ἐπίσκοπος), I believe they refer to the group of those who lead individual house churches. Titus was instructed to appoint πρεσβυτέρους (plural form, 1:5), but then Paul immediately writes about the ἐπίσκοπος (singular, 1:7).


I think it is important that we have a proper understanding of Scripture, otherwise I wouldn’t write this blog. But it is equally important that we not force one view upon another. As I discussed in the 1 Corinthians post on tongues, love must come first in any doctrinal discussion. Teaching without love and compassion is little more than indoctrination. As a pastor, I wouldn’t impose the concept of women in leadership on a congregation that wasn’t ready for it, but I wouldn’t hesitate to teach the concept whenever the opportunity arose. And I would always make sure the leadership in any church I served understood what I believe about the subject without insisting that they all jump on board. I am presenting the evidence here: it’s up to others whether they choose to be convinced by my reasoning and studies.

If you have stories about how your congregation has handled the role of women in leadership, I would love for you to share them in the comments. Thank you for reading!


Scott Stocking

Appendix: Word Usage by Gender and Office in the Pastoral Epistles


Transliteration/ Pronunciation







ἡσύχιος hēsychios \hay SOO khee awss\ adjective: quiet 1 Ti 2:2 1 Ti 2:2;
1 Pe 3:4*
ἡσυχία, hēsychia
\–KHEE ah\
quietness 1 Ti 2:12(?);
2 Th 3:12e
1 Ti 2:11–12;
2 Th 3:12
εὐσέβειαf eusebeia \you SEH bay ah\ godliness 1 Ti 2:2, 3:16,
4:7–8g; 6:11c Ti 2:12 (εὐσεβῶς)
1 Ti 2:2, 3:16; Ti 2:12 (εὐσεβῶς)
4:7–8; 6:11c 1 Ti 5:4 (εὐσεβέω to widows);
θεοσέβεια theosebeia \theh aw–\ godliness 1 Ti 2:10*
σεμνότης semnotēs \sem NAW tayss\ dignity 1Ti 2:2, 3:4; Ti 2:7 1 Ti 3:4; Ti 2:2
σεμνός semnos
dignified 1 Ti 3:8;
Ti 2:2
1 Ti 3:11 1 Ti 3:8
κόσμιος* kosmios \KAWSS mee awss\ respectable; appropriate 1 Ti 3:2 1 Ti 2:9 1 Ti 3:2
κοσμέω kosmeō \–MEH oh\ I adorn 1 Ti 2:9,
1 Pe 3:5
Ti 2:10 (slaves)
πρέπει prepei \PREH pay\ verb: it is proper for 1 Ti 2:10 Ti 2:1 (sound doctrine)
ὑποταγή hypotagē \hoo paw tah GAY\ submission 1 Ti 2:11 1 Ti 3:4 (children)
ὑποτάσσω hypotassō
\–TAHSS soh\
I submit to 1 Co 14:34
ἐπιτρέπω epitrepō \eh pee TREH poh\ I permit 1 Co 14:34
αὐθεντέω* authenteō \ow then TEH oh\ I usurp authority 1 Ti 2:12
σωφροσύνη* sōphrosynē \soh fraw SOO nay\ sound judgment; moderation 1 Ti 2:9, 15
σωφρόνως* sōphronōs
\–FRAW nohss\
moderately Ti 2:12 Ti 2:12
σωφρονισμός* sōphronismos
\–nee SMOSS\
sound judgment; moderation 2 Ti 1:7h 2 Ti 1:7h
σώφρων* sōphrōn \–frohn\ adjective: moderate Ti 2:2 Ti 2:5 (younger) 1 Ti 3:2; Ti 1:8, 2:2
μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα mias gynaikos andra “one-woman man” 1 Ti 3:2, 12 (plural); Ti 1:6
ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή henos andros gynē “one-man woman” 1 Ti 5:9 1 Ti 5:9 (widows)
νηφάλιος* nēphalios \nay FAH lee awss\ temperate 1 Ti 3:2; Ti 2:2 1 Ti 3:11 1 Ti 3:2; Ti 2:2
προί̈στημι proistēmi \praw EESS tay mee\ I manage 1 Th 5:12;
1 Ti 3:4–5, 12;
Ti 3:8, 14
1 Th 5:12; Ti 3:8, 14 1 Ti 3:4–5; 5:17 1 Ti 3:12 1 Ti 5:14 (οἰκοδεσποτέω young widows manage home)
πάροινος* paroinos \PAH roy nawss\ addicted to wine 1 Ti 3:3;
Ti 1:7
μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ προσέχοντας mē oinō pollō prosechontas not given to much wine 1 Ti 3:8 1 Ti 3:8
διάβολος diabolos \dee AH baw lawss\ devil; slanderer 1 Ti 3:6–7 1 Ti 3:11;
Ti 2:3
1 Ti 3:6–7
ὡσαύτως hōsautōs \hoh SOW tohss\ adverb: likewise 1 Ti 2:9, 3:11 1 Ti 3:8 1 Ti 5:24 (bad & good deeds)
ἀνεπίλημπτος anepilēmptos \ah neh PEE laym ptawss\ blameless 1 Ti 3:2 1 Ti 5:7 1 Ti 3:2 1 Ti 5:7 (widows)

* Indicates that all occurrences of the word in the New Testament are listed here.

a Translated from ἀνήρ (anēr \ah NAYR\, “man, husband”; 1 Ti 2:8, 12; 3:2, 12; 5:9; Ti 1:6; 2:5); πρεσβύτης (presbytēs \press BOO tayss\, “old man, elder [holds title]”; Ti 2:2; and πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros \press BOO teh ross\, comparative adjective “older man, elder [holds title]”; 1 Ti 5:1–2, 17, 19; Ti 1:5; 1 Pet 5:1, 5). The generic word for “human” (ἄνθρωπος anthrōpos \AHN throw pawss\) is presumed to refer to both men and women unless context suggests otherwise.

b Translated from γυνή (gynē \goo NAY\, “woman, wife”; 1 Ti 2:9–12, 14; 3:2, 11–12; 5:9; Ti 1:6); πρεσβῦτις (presbytis \press BOO tihss\ “old woman, elder [holds title(??)]”; Ti 2:3).

c Translated from ἐπισκοπή (episkopē \eh pihss kaw PAY\, “office/function of elder”; 1 Ti 3:1); ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos \eh PIHSS kaw pawss\, “elder” [one who holds the title]; 1 Ti 3:2; Ti 1:7); πρεσβύτης; πρεσβῦτις; and (συμ*)πρεσβύτερος ([sym]presbyteros \[soom] press BOO teh ross\ comparative adjective “older man, [fellow] elder [holds title]”; 1 Ti 5:1–2, 17, 19; Ti 1:5; 1 Pet 5:1*, 5); πρεσβυτέριον (presbyterion press boo TEH ree awn\ noun “council of elders [holds title]”; 1 Ti 4:14).

d Transliterated from διάκονος (diakonos \dee AH kaw nawss\ “servant, deacon”; 1 Ti 3:8, 12; 4:6).

e Part of a command to the disruptive busybodies identified in 2 Th 3:11.

f Generic references or descriptions in 4:8 (1x); 6:3–6 (3x).

g Verb is second person singular, so presumably referring to Timothy only.

h A generalized statement in the midst of specific instructions to Timothy himself.

NOTE: Minor formatting issues were fixed on 11/4, along with clearing up a dangling modifier in the first paragraph. Other minor edits made 1/26/22.

October 12, 2011

Spiritual Warfare in Ephesians

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Ecclesiology,Ephesians,Greek,New Testament,Spiritual Warfare — Scott Stocking @ 7:11 pm

Paul’s letter to the Ephesian believers is a goldmine of theological truth and practical living. Paul writes about our standing in Christ in the first three chapters, and then makes an obvious switch in tone in the final three chapters to speak about how we should live in Christ (there are 40+ imperative verbs in the last three chapters of Ephesians, as opposed to 1 imperative verb in the first three chapters). As I will show in this post, this letter has a very nice overall chiastic structure, numerous patterns of three, and definite subtheme of spiritual warfare. Ephesians is so eminently practical that I used to joke I couldn’t preach a sermon without referencing Ephesians at some point. I have had the NIV text of Ephesians memorized for almost 20 years now, but with the release of the new NIV this year, I guess I’ll have to upgrade my memory!

The Overall Structure of Ephesians

Many scholars and study Bibles have presented various outlines of Ephesians. Watchman Nee, a prominent Brethren preacher in China in the mid 20th century, wrote an excellent treatise on Ephesians called Sit, Walk, Stand. His rough outline is that we have to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn who we are in Christ before we can walk in faith and stand against the powers of darkness. The irony of walking before standing does not escape his treatise either. Several years ago, I discerned the following outline, and this has been my schema for approaching Ephesians.

I.    1:1–14        Introduction and Blessing

II.    1:15–18a    Opening Prayer for Enlightenment

A.    1:18b        The Hope to which he has called you

B.    1:18c        The Riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints

C.    1:19a        His incomparably great Power

III.    1:19b-6:24    The Enlightenment Offered

C.    1:19b–2:10    The Resurrection

B.    2:11–3:21    Coheirs with Israel (2:12, 19; 3:6)

A.    4:1–6:24    Hopeful Living

1.    4:1–16        Life empowered by God’s blessing and grace

2.    4:17–5:21    Life among the pagans

3.    5:22–6:9    Life in your own household

4.    6:10–20    “Life” in the heavenly realms

IV.    6:21–24    Conclusion

Power, Riches, and Hope.

What more could a Christ-follower ask out of one epistle? Power, riches, and hope. But the power of the resurrection actually pervades the epistle in Paul’s characterization of the Christ-follower’s life “in the heavenly realms.” Paul uses that phrase (ἐν τοῖς
ἐπουράνιοις en tois epouraniois, \en toyss eh-pooh-RAH-nee-oyss\) five times in Ephesians (1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; and 6:12). In the opening verses, Paul assures the believers that they, corporately, have the fullness of God’s spiritual blessing for carrying out his will “on earth as it is in heaven.” We know from the next two verses (1:20; 2:6) that the heavenly realms are where we are “seated together” with Christ. Up through chapter 2, then, it appears that “the heavenly realms” is just another expression for heaven itself; but as we will see in chapters 3 and 6, the concept is much broader.

In chapter 3, there are those in the heavenly realms, identified as rulers (ἀρχή archē, \ar KHAY\; you have to clear your throat a bit to say the KH) and authorities (ἐξουσία exousia, \eks ooh SEE ah\), to whom the “church” (ἐκκλησία ekklēsia, \ek klay SEE ah\, God’s “congregation” on earth) is responsible to reveal the mystery of the gospel. This statement makes it rather obvious that the phrase ἐν τοῖς ἐπουράνιοις does not refer to “heaven” (οὐρανός ouranos, \ooh rah NAWSS\) proper, the eternal dwelling place of God’s holy ones. We know everyone in heaven knows about the gospel, but who are those “in the heavenly realms” that need to know about it? Chapter 6 broadens the scope even more: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” So the heavenly realms encompass the entire spectrum from good to evil. But again, who are the inhabitants?

Walter Wink and Language of Power in the New Testament

For the answer to that question, I turn to the man who is probably the world’s leading scholar on the language of power in the New Testament, Walter Wink. If you’re not a pacifist, you might have a little trouble swallowing some of his liberal theology, but if you read his works, keep an open mind, because I believe he has profound insight into the concept of spiritual warfare. (I’m becoming more of a pacifist myself as I get older, but I’m not necessarily opposed to all wars.) His Powers trilogy (Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, Engaging the Powers) is nicely condensed into a very readable volume entitled The Powers That Be (from which I will derive most of the material I present here). To put it simply, the powers and authorities of which the Bible speaks are entities created by God as stewards of various institutions in life (material or abstract), but they are also influenced by the people who inhabit those institutions. The powers are in the same boat as we humans, but on a much larger stage. They are, according to Wink (p. 31):

  • Created good;
  • Fallen; and
  • In need of redemption.

I cannot go into the details of Wink’s description of the powers, but in a nutshell they are the spiritual entities that, in a pure state, watch over human institutions for the common good they were designed to fulfill. Families are one example of an institution. Your own immediate family may have one power (akin to a guardian angel in my own thinking, but I’m not sure Wink would agree), but your extended family has another power that “governs” (or perhaps is governed by) the individual family powers. Do you behave differently at home than you do around your grown brothers and sisters? That may be the powers at work.

Businesses and corporations are also institutions influencing and influenced by powers. If you read the mission statements or core values of most corporations, you will see that they ideally exist to further the common good. However, when corrupt individuals begin to exercise wicked influence within a corporate setting, powers begin to take on the nature of the “corporate culture” and may even be or become the culture itself. If an individual bucks or rebels against the prevailing corporate culture, for good or evil, the corporate culture will generally disenfranchise the rebel. Just look at Enron, for example. Much of what happened there perpetuated itself after a while. Whistleblowers are not well liked when calling a corporation to accountability.

On the other hand, when a corporation does something right, it becomes a win-win situation. The Tylenol scare back in the 80s is a perfect example of this. Tylenol was forced to recall millions of dollars worth of product because of some isolated tampering incidents. Even though the incidents were local, Tylenol’s maker recognized the gravity of the safety issues involved and took the loss. Tylenol is still around today, 30 years later, along with its generic competitors. In doing the right thing, they not only set an example for the employees and their families that they care about integrity, but they also sent a powerful message resounding through the corporate world: “Do the right thing no matter the cost.”

Violence and the Powers

Violence also has a powerful influence on the powers, according to Wink. Violence can include anything from yelling and screaming to bribery to the use of deception and deadly force to obtain one’s ends. Violence breeds more violence and establishes a culture of violence. Wink distinguishes between the legitimate use of force to restrain evildoers and violence, which is the “morally illegitimate or excessive use of force” (p. 159). The ultimate goal, in Wink’s view, is nonviolent conflict resolution regardless of the nature or intensity of the conflict. By extension, you can say the same things about sexuality and pornography, gambling, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse. When any of those abuses of the created order become inappropriately prominent in an institutional culture, the culture becomes corrupt and in need of redemption.

Prayer, the Church, and the Powers

So what does all this have to do with you and me? I return to Ephesians 3:10 and 6:12. The body of Christ has the responsibility to work redemptively in the face of corrupt institutions and corrupt culture. Every time Christ-followers share the gospel with unbelievers, they speak not only to the unbelievers but to the powers and authorities that have influence on the unbeliever. Whenever Christ-followers speak out and act peaceably and redemptively against corporate and societal injustices, they send a powerful message to the powers and authorities behind those institutions. In some respects, it may be a numbers game: the more Christ-followers show they care about justice, peace, and redemption, the more influence that has on the powers.

But Wink takes the whole concept one step further by invoking prayer. Regardless of what you think about his general theology, I think Wink hits the nail on the head when it comes to prayer. A couple quotes from his chapter on “Prayer and the Powers” (p. 180ff) make the point: “Prayer is never a private inner act disconnected from day-to-day realities. It is, rather, the interior battlefield where the decisive victory is won before any engagement in the outer world is even possible….Unprotected by prayer, our social activism runs the danger of becoming self-justifying good works” (p. 181). A little later he writes, “The profound truth of this worldview is that everything visible has an invisible or heavenly dimension. Prayer in this worldview is a matter of reversing the flow of fated events from on high to earth, and initiating a new flow from earth to heaven that causes God’s will to be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’…What happens next happens because people pray” (pp. 182–3). So prayer combined with action is at the heart of spiritual warfare. Neither one is sufficient by itself, but of the two, I would argue that prayer is eminently more powerful in opening the doors of opportunity.

Some Examples, Positive and Negative

My brother (who will be back on American soil this week) spent the last year in Afghanistan with his construction unit building infrastructure for the Afghani army. That, in my mind, is a nonviolent means to support the legitimate defense of a sovereign nation. (I’m proud of him and his crew and what they accomplished, and the whole family is anxiously awaiting his return to Omaha.) I taught a course last year in Las Vegas and have a few former students who are working redemptively in the gambling industry. It’s not a concession to the gambling industry, but an opportunity to fight the good fight in the heavenly realms.

On the flip side, Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, has the wrong attitude about spiritual warfare. Whatever one may think about their sincerity, their protests against homosexuality and the military only serve to fuel the violence of the powers. The hate that spews forth from their actions and words comes nowhere close to bringing redemption to the powers in my opinion. In fact, one of the best ways to confront evil is to promote an attitude of love. This doesn’t mean tolerance of sin, but a respect for each person as uniquely human and worthy of respect as a special creation of God. As individual behaviors change, the powers respond. But individual behaviors change not from protests and words of condemnation, but from individual acts of love and service toward one another. If God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), shouldn’t we expect our own kindness to do the same for those within our sphere of influence?

I myself have had experience on both sides. At one time in my ministry, I wrote passionately against homosexuality. But I also came to realize that if I didn’t get out and actually meet and interact with homosexuals, my words would fall on deaf ears, and I’d only be preaching to the choir. When I began to develop some social relationships with homosexuals, I began to see the impact I could have in making a positive presentation of Christianity. It wasn’t that every homosexual with whom I came in contact became a heterosexual, but some did begin to have a positive attitude toward Christianity where there had only been hatred and vitriol before.

The same can be said for a Christian response to abortion. We have a more powerful impact against abortion by supporting a woman through an unplanned pregnancy, helping her to bring the baby to term, than we ever will with all of our protests and (even worse) the vandalism and bombing of abortion clinics or the murder of abortion doctors.

This is why Paul is able to speak so highly of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Love is the ultimate tool (I refuse to call it a weapon) in the fight against sin, evil, and corruption, and at a minimum, it has to happen one person at a time. Love is superior to all other actions, and when we “live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:2), we speak to the redemption of the spiritual forces at work in the heavenly realms.


Spiritual warfare is a topic that has a lot of craziness around it, as well as a lot of well-intentioned but sadly misguided theology. I hope this post has enlightened you on the concept, and I pray that you will recognize the power that you have to speak and act redemptively as warriors in the battle in the heavenly realms. Put on the whole armor of God, and you will be ready to fight the good fight boldly and victoriously.


Scott Stocking

September 5, 2011

Body, Love, and the Temple of God: A Summary of Unity in 1 Corinthians

Filed under: 1 Corinthians,Biblical Studies,Ecclesiology,Ephesians,Greek — Scott Stocking @ 9:43 pm

One of the major themes of 1 Corinthians is unity. From the opening chapter, Paul drives home the point that there should be no divisions in the body of Christ (1 Cor 1:10ff). In chapter 3, Paul draws on the imagery of the Temple to make his point about unity. As we will see, this isn’t the only time he uses this imagery, but there are some important points to make here.

1 Corinthians 3:16–17

I want to start with 1 Corinthians 3:16–17 today, because it is a passage often misunderstood and misapplied in very damaging ways. The passage reads as follows:

UBS4 Greek text: οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ναὸς θεοῦ ἐστε καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν; εἴ τις τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φθείρει, φθερεῖ τοῦτον ὁ θεός· ὁ γὰρ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιός ἐστιν, οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς.

Transliteration: Ouk oidate hoti vaos theou este kai to pneuma tou theou oikei en hymin? Ei tis ton naon tou theou phtheirei, phtherei touton ho theos; ho gar vaos tou theou hagios estin, hoitines este hymeis.

Pronunciation: \oohk OI-dah-teh HOT-tee nah-OSS theh-OOH ess-teh keye taw PNOOH-mah tooh the-OOH oil-KAY en hoo-MIN? EI tihs tawn na-AWN tooh the-OOH PHTHAY-ray, PHTHEH-ray TOOH-ton haw theh-OSS; haw gar nah-AWSS tooh theh-OOH HAH-ghee-oss ess-tin, HOI-tee-nehs ess-teh hooh-MAYSS\

My translation (I use “y’all” to distinguish “you” plural in the Greek, since the English word “you” may either be singular or plural): Don’t y’all know that y’all are the temple of God and the Spirit of God is dwelling in y’all? If someone destoys the temple of God, God will destroy that person. For the temple of God is holy, which y’all yourselves are.

This passage is very close to Ephesians 2:21–22: “In [Christ], the whole building is joined together and rises into a holy temple in the Lord, and in [Christ] y’all are being built together in the Spirit into a dwelling of God.”

The first thing to notice about the 1 Corinthians 3:16–17 passage is that it is stated in the second person plural. Many well-intentioned Christ-followers through the years have seen in this passage a condemnation of suicide, such that a doctrine has developed among some sects that suicide is an unforgivable sin that damns the victim to an eternity in hell. But a doctrine of suicide is not even remotely close to Paul’s thinking when he writes this passage. Quite frankly, anyone who tries to purport the idea that this passage has to do with suicide is bordering on abuse, especially if that person pontificates that misinterpretation to a grieving family that has experienced a suicide.

1 Corinthians 6:19–20

The context of 1 Corinthians is that of unity. When Paul says that all of us who are Christ-followers are collectively the temple of God, he is referring to the body of Christ. In 6:19–20, Paul says essentially the same thing: “Or don’t y’all know that y’all’s body [singular] is a temple [singular] of the Holy Spirit who is in y’all, whom y’all have received from God, and that y’all are not your own? Y’all were bought with a price; therefore y’all glorify God with y’all’s body [singular].”

1 Corinthians 10–12

But Paul is not finished talking about the body in 1 Corinthians. Paul later speaks of the body in his discussion of the Lord’s Table, or communion. But even then, the context is unity and not causing a fellow Christ-follower to stumble: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17).

In the very next chapter, Paul again raises the issue of the body with respect to communion: “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves” (1 Corinthians 11:27–29).

I believe in both chapters 10 and 11 there is a twofold understanding of the “body.” In one respect, it refers to the physical body of Christ as the sacrificial lamb, thus the additional reference to his blood. But Paul also says “we…are one body,” that is, the body of Christ. What is at issue in chapters 10 and 11 is that some of the Christ-followers are causing others to stumble and perhaps even fall away from the faith because of their actions. In chapter 10, some believers are eating meat knowingly offered to idols, then turning around and participating in the Lord’s Table. Paul rightly calls them out on their duplicity: you can’t have it both ways; you have to make a choice.

In chapter 11, some of the wealthier believers are making gluttons of themselves at the agape feast at which the Lord’s Table was offered. The offenders are told to eat at home so everyone else has a chance to eat together. The “unworthy manner” (an adverb, not an adjective in Greek) is not that they’ve sinned and aren’t worthy of the bread and the cup (again, an abusive interpretation of the passage), but it is the failure to uphold Christian unity and the pride of the proud that causes the weak to stumble (see also 1 Corinthians 9:1–12).

Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 12, where he further details the function of the body, not anatomically or physiologically, but spiritually. Each of has a role to play. Some roles receive much attention, and other roles are more behind the scenes. Not everyone has the same role, and we shouldn’t judge those who don’t necessarily fit our idea of what the other’s role should be. Each person is uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit, and together, the body of Christ produces a beautiful melody.


I think this unity can happen regardless of the size of a local congregation. The body of Christ worldwide, of course, is blessed with every spiritual gift, but not everyone has every spiritual gift. Large congregations are microcosms of the body of Christ as a whole. Small congregations are gifted proportionally to the size of the congregation. Corporately, the small congregation may not manifest every spiritual gift among its members, but it does manifest what the Spirit has determined it needs to glorify God in their midst if the Christ-followers there are obedient to their respective callings.

Paul boils down all this talk of unity into what is arguably the greatest chapter in all of Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13, the Love chapter. You can have all the academic degrees that fit on a sheepskin, but if you don’t have love, they don’t mean squat. You can know all there is know about any and all subjects, but if you don’t have love, it doesn’t mean squat. I’m glad I’m part of a family of Christ-followers that knows how to love and is teaching me how to love as well. Maybe that’s the learning outcome God has for me! I hope it’s the learning outcome he has for all of you.

We are the temple. We have the Holy Spirit dwelling in and among us to unite us to the Savior. We are the body of Christ, and as Thomas Campbell put it in his primary proposition in Declaration and Address, the body of Christ is “essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.”


Scott Stocking

August 14, 2011

Redemption and Faithfulness (Romans 3:23–24)

(Media Note: We tackled 1 Timothy 2:9–12 in Sunday School this morning, which reminded of the YouTube video “All Things Are Better in Koine. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!)

I have finally caught up with my reading schedule and find myself in Romans this week. I think there’s a good reason why Romans was placed at the head of Paul’s letters in the New Testament (NT): he lays out a detailed description of the connection between faith, justification, and redemption that is foundational for understanding not only his letters (Romans through Philemon), but for the entire Bible, as he brings into the discussion the relationship of Jews and Judaism to God’s plan of salvation.

I am working on simplifying and updating an assignment I did 15 years ago for a class I had with Dr. Walt Zorn at Lincoln Christian Seminary where I summarized Paul’s argument in the first five chapters of Romans. It is rather detailed and heady (it was a seminary class, after all), but I want to simplify it for my blog readers, because I think understanding the flow of the argument will help us understand just what Paul meant when he wrote it. The basic question of the assignment (and I’ll leave you to explore this on your own for a time if you wish) is, “Who is the righteous who will live by faith (Romans 1:17) if Paul in Romans 3:10–12 quotes the Psalms (14:1–3, 53:1–3) and Ecclesiastes 7:20 saying, ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’?” If you figure out the answer to this, then consider why that is significant for your own Christian walk.

Translations of Romans 3:23–24

I will give you a little hint of it here this morning, as I want to focus on what is arguably the most familiar salvation passage in Romans, 3:23–24, the first step on the “Romans Road.” Before I go into the Greek text, I want to give you a few different English translations of the passage: depending on your background, you may have a slightly nuanced understanding of the passage, so I want to make sure I respect whatever differences there may be. After these English translations, I’ll give the Greek text and transliteration. Later in the post, I will do a phrase-for-phrase comparison with another key salvation passage, Ephesians 2:8. (All passages are from the Logos electronic versions of the respective editions.)

‎‎NIV (1984): For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎NIV (2011): For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎TNIV: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

‎‎NLT: For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

‎‎AV (KJV 1769): For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

‎‎ESV: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

‎‎NASB95: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

‎‎The Message: Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

NA27: πάντες γὰρ ἥμαρτον καὶ ὑστεροῦνται τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ δικαιούμενοι δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (pantes gar hēmarton kai hysterountai tēs doxēs tou theou dikaioumenoi dōrean tē autou chariti dia tēs apolytrōseōs tēs en Christō Iēsou; see my English translation below).

Figure 1: Sentence Diagram for Romans 3:23–24

The sentence diagram in Figure 1 makes the following clear: the participle δικαιούμενοι (present passive, from δικαιόω, “who are being justified”) is directly connected to the subject of the main clause, πάντες (“all”). I’ll come back to this in a moment. The main verbs of the passage are those in verse 23, so this is the primary point being made: we “sinned” (aorist, or simple past tense) and “are falling short of” or “are lacking” (present tense) the glory of God. It is important to note that the verb for “sinned” (from ἁμαρτάνω) is in the aorist tense, which is the basic, workhorse past tense in the Greek language. English translations are not wrong to render this in the perfect tense (“have sinned”), but it may be that Paul is just making a general statement (based on the quotations from the Psalms in 3:10–20) that we “sinned.” The second verb, ὑστεροῦνται, is present tense, so it denotes a current, ongoing state, but as we will see, it is one that is being reversed by the justification taking place at the same time.

Before offering my translation, however, I need to deal with the participle δικαιούμενοι. This is a present passive participle, which generally means the action is going on at the same time as the main verb(s). But with one main verb past tense and the other present, which is it? My decision is admittedly theological, but because I believe that salvation is not just a “one-and-done” event, but a lifelong process that includes sanctification and justification, I would argue that we are currently being justified because we currently lack the full glory of God. Our salvation, although effective at whatever stage of spiritual growth we are at, is not “full and complete” until we stand before our Maker. The phrase that follows this participle modifies (or is an extended adjective of) the word for “all”. If I rearrange the word order slightly, the passage has a very different nuance to it in English: “For all who are being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Messiah Jesus sinned and are lacking the glory of God.” (I should note in Romans 5:1, δικαιόω is an aorist participle, but that does not mean the process is done, necessarily, only that the process of justification precedes the peace that we have with God as a result.)

Comparison to Ephesians 2:8

So what does all this heady grammatical talk have to do with living the Christian life? In order to help make a little more sense of things, I want to bring Ephesians 2:8 into the mix. As you will see in Table 1 below, Ephesians 2:8 is actually a parallel passage to Romans 3:24, with one revealing comparison. Ephesians 2:8 says: τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν, θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον·tē gar chariti este sesōsmenoi dia pisteōs kai touto ouk ex humōn, theou to dōron, “For it is by this grace you are being saved through faithfulness, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

Table 1: Comparing Ephesians 2:8 with Romans 3:24

Romans 3:24

Ephesians 2:8


are being justified

ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι

are being saved

δωρεὰν τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι

freely by his grace

τῇ γὰρ χάριτί… θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον

by this grace… it is the gift of God

διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

through the redemption which [is] in Messiah Jesus

διὰ πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν

through faithfulness, and this not from yourselves

I am guessing that most of you were able to follow the first two comparisons between the verses. Being justified and being saved, while not strictly synonymous legally or technically, essentially represent the restoration of our relationship with God. The second pair about grace is straightforward enough. It is the third pair that tends to raise people’s hackles, because most of us have been taught that it is through our “faith” that we are saved. But the word for faith in Greek, πίστις, can also mean “faithfulness.” But whose faithfulness is it, really? If there is anything to the comparison, then the faithfulness is not ours (“this salvation by grace through faith is not from yourselves”), but it is the faithfulness of Jesus to go to the cross and purchase our redemption. Not convinced? Look at Romans 3:25, where Paul uses the identical phrase from Ephesians 2:8: ὃν προέθετο ὁ θεὸς ἱλαστήριον διὰ [τῆς] πίστεως ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι hon proetheto ho theos hilastērion dia [tēs] pisteōs en tō autou haimati, “whom [Jesus] God presented as an atoning sacrifice through the faithfulness in his blood” (emphasis mine).

Suppose for a moment that this faith is ours: How much faith do I need to be saved? We know faith is quantifiable, because Jesus talked about having faith the size of a mustard seed, while in Hebrews 11, the faith of the saints who have gone before us is exemplified in numerous ways. If it is our faith, then salvation by “our” faith becomes a relative statement, not an absolute. If it is relative, then we can get caught up in asking ourselves if we have enough faith, but simply asking that question denies the grace aspect of salvation. It’s a gift: we can’t earn it; it’s not dependent on the quantity of our faith. But if this faithfulness refers to the sacrifice of a perfect savior, then the statement becomes absolute, and we never have any reason to question the amount of faith we have relative to the state of our salvation.

Faith, Works, and Salvation

This is not to deny the importance of our own faith and trust in Jesus, however. Our own faith or trust in Jesus is not so much for the purpose of being saved but the result of being saved. Because we know God is with us, because we know God has our back, because we know we have the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can “walk in the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). We show our faith by the fruit we bear (Matthew 7:15–20; John 15:1–16; Romans 7:4). We demonstrate our faith by what we do (Romans 4; James 2:14–26).

We hear much about faith and salvation, but I think there is an equal, if not greater emphasis on “confession” or “profession” in many salvation passages. Now I do not here mean only confession of sins (see, for example, 1 John 1:9). In Matthew 16:16, Peter declares his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, a confession that is made by many new Christians before joining a congregation or getting immersed (at least in our own Restoration Movement congregations). In Acts 2:38, the would-be converts had to repent, which essentially meant renouncing their old lifestyles, and make the public statement of being immersed. Romans 10:9–10 speaks of confessing (or “professing”) that Jesus is Lord. Toward the end of Ephesians 6, Paul asks for prayers that he might boldly profess Christ, and in the opening chapter of Romans, he says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”

Romans 3:23–24 is a beautiful passage that says God doesn’t give up on us just because we sinned. God continues his work of justification in us in spite of our shortcomings (see also Romans 4:5, 17; 5:6–10). We don’t have to perfect ourselves first; we just need to let God do the perfecting.


Scott Stocking

June 11, 2011

“I Am the Light of the World” (John 8:12)

What does a primitive tent have to do with Jesus being the light of the world? Read on and find out!

Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7)

Before diving into Jesus’ statement, “I am the light of the world,” some background information is crucial to understand both the context of the statement and the connection to other “I am” statements and some of Jesus’ seven signs that John records. In this case, John 7 provides the setting for Jesus’ statement. Seven times in chapter 7, John mentions the “Feast” (or “Festival” in some translations), referring to the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths (7:2; ἡ ἑορτὴ… ἡ σκηνοπηγία hē heortē… hē skēnopēgia /hay heh-or-TAY hay skay-nȯ-pay-GEE-ah/ [g as in girl]). This feast originated in the days of Israel’s wilderness wanderings before entering the Promised Land (Leviticus 23:33–44; חַ֥ג הַסֻּכּ֖וֹת hăg hăssǔkkōth /hag hass-sook-KOATH/, ‘Feast of Tabernacles’ or ‘Succoth’), when the Israelites had to live in temporary shelters to remember their desert sojourn. Deuteronomy 16:16 says that the Feast of Tabernacles is one of the three feasts at which all Israelite males must present themselves every year.

There is no definitive mention of the festival after Deuteronomy until the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, when the Israelites returned from exile. In Ezra 3, Joshua and Zerubbabel rebuild the altar, begin offering sacrifices, and command that the Feast of Tabernacles be restored once again, all eight days of it. In Nehemiah, the celebration of the Feast is reinforced when, as Ezra was reading the law (Nehemiah 8), the people hear the instructions for the Feast and waste no time building booths wherever they could find a spot: on their roofs, in the Temple courts, and especially by the Water Gate. The law of God was read during the eight days of the Feast in Nehemiah, and the text said the people celebrated it as none had since the days of Joshua, son of Nun, when the Israelites had entered the Promised Land some 800 years earlier.

The fact that the people dwelt near the Water Gate is significant, and provides continuity with and a connection to the first “I am” statement and its connection to Jesus’ “living water” statement in John 4. According to Craig Keener, in the section on John 7 in his IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, one of the rituals of the Feast, at least as it had developed in Jesus’ day, was for the priest to take water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it out at the base of the altar each day of the feast. Two of the Scripture passages that had become important for the Feast were Zechariah 14 and Ezekiel 47. Consider Ezekiel 47 first, where a river of life flows out of Ezekiel’s temple (one that has never been constructed in history as far as we know, if the dimensions are to be taken literally) toward the Dead Sea, thus transforming it into a fresh-water lake teeming with life. Add to that Zechariah 14:8 (TNIV), which says: “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter,” and one understands the significance of pouring out the water at the base of the altar. Finally, Zechariah 14:16–19 speaks of the Israelites once again celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles (three mentions).

It is important here to note the connection with John 4: Jesus gets into a discussion with a Samaritan woman about the appropriate place to worship. Jesus says he is the living water. In other words, Jesus is the river flowing from Ezekiel’s yet-to-be-built temple! Jesus makes the claim that it is only through him that God can be worshiped (perhaps looking forward to another “I am” statement in John 14:6), and the geographical location doesn’t matter. In the Bread of Life post, I made the connection between John 4 and 6, so we have the beginning of some insight into John’s organizational scheme (I told you I was working these things out as I go along!).

Another interesting feature of John 7 is that Jesus initially tells his disciples to go to the feast without him, and they do. But Jesus is not far behind. He already knows the Jewish leaders are out to kill him, so he’s trying to be low key, but there is nothing low key about Jesus. He always attracts a crowd. John even makes a point of saying that the crowd was expecting him to be there. Jesus shows up in the middle of Feast week and begins teaching in the Temple. John 7:37–38 is a key passage here, and I use Keener’s suggested translation: “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone thirsts, let this one come to me; and let whoever believes in me drink.‘” (Because the ancient manuscripts did not have any original punctuation, this is an acceptable means of exegeting a passage.) Jesus once again calls attention to himself, this time to a huge crowd, as the living water. Those who drink of him will never thirst again.

Jesus, the Light of the World (John 8:12)

But there is one more feature of the “last and greatest day of the Feast” that relates directly to Jesus’ “I am the light of the world” (Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου egō eimi to phōs tou kosmou) declaration in 8:12. On that last night, the entire city was lit up with torches. Streets, houses, temples, market places, and even the walls of the city were not exempt from being lit up brightly. What is problematic for biblical scholars at this point is the debated insertion of the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53–8:11. (What is interesting about this insertion is that Zechariah 14:4 says that God will stand on the Mount of Olives and fight for Jerusalem, while the spurious passage in John 7:53 says that Jesus spent the night on the Mount of Olives before returning to the Temple the next morning. Something else to make me go “hmm”.) If 7:53–8:11 is not original to John (and what I am about to say here makes me think it is not), then Jesus’ statement “I am the light of the world” is a direct reference to this lighting ritual of the Feast of Tabernacles.

The moniker “light of the world” was not unique to Jesus. Keener says that it was applied to the law, the patriarchs, Israel, Jerusalem, famous rabbis, and, of course, the Messiah. But for Jesus himself to declare “I am the light of the world” was a bold statement indeed (see the Pharisees’ reaction in 8:13 and Jesus’ response in the following verses). But John has been setting his readers up for this from the very first chapter. Six times in John 1:1–14 and five times in 3:19–21, John describes Jesus as the light (φως phōs) that has come into the world and shattered the darkness. I wrote previously about the connection to Isaiah 9 in my Honoring Galilee post, that Jesus was the light to those walking in darkness. What is even more fascinating is that in chapter 12, the last chapter before Jesus’ passion begins in earnest with the Last Supper, the word for light appears another six times, forming an obvious inclusio with chapter 1 and leaving the reader no doubt that Jesus is in fact the light of the world sent from the Father himself.

But Jesus is not satisfied to draw on the imagery of the Feast for his own testimony. The rest of chapter 8 records a debate about who Jesus is and about whose children the unbelievers are. So if the Feast imagery and the light inclusio still isn’t enough, Jesus puts the pièce de résistance on the whole event in chapter 9: he heals a man born blind. [Added 6/19/2011: Note especially Jesus’ words in John 9:5: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” just before the man receives his sight.] He proves for all eternity (at least for those smart enough and willing enough to believe it) that he is the light of the world because he gives the ability to see light to someone who’s never had a visual sensation of it. And if you thought the Pharisees were fussing in chapter 8, you should see their attempts to twist this spectacular sign into a work of the devil. But Jesus puts them in their place at the end of chapter 9: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Jesus has the power to give and take light, both natural light and spiritual light. He truly is the light of the world.

The Practical Side of Being Children of Light

Paul and John both spent a considerable amount of time in Ephesus, and as I have alluded to before, Ephesians seems to have some traces of a Johannine influence. In no place is that more apparent than Ephesians 5:8ff. Not only does Paul tell us to “live as children of light,” but he also exhorts us to expose “the fruitless deeds of darkness.” As such, we have an active role in living as Christ-followers, and we also have an obligation to be proactive in turning the tide of evil. There is nothing passive about walking in the light of Christ! We could not navigate through the evils of this world without the light of Christ, and that is why he gives himself to us as light.

One final note: I think the light God created in Genesis 1:3–5 is something more than a concept. We know that the light of those verses can’t come from anything physical, because the sun, moon, and stars had not yet been created. Could it be that when Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” he is also referring to himself as that first and primary “unmade creation” of God? Obviously, I don’t think Jesus was created or made in the same way everything else was created or made, and the Genesis text doesn’t say God “made” the light. He simply said, “Let there be light”; it is a recognition of what already exists (note that the existence of water is assumed; it is not created or made either, or at least, we are not told directly it is created or made). Light and water, two of the “unmades” of creation and two of the foundations of life, and Jesus calls himself the light of the world and living water. Boy, I’m really hmming now!


Scott Stocking

May 16, 2011

It Comes in Threes, Part β

Okay, so maybe there is something more to this pattern of threes. I am sure I only hit “Publish” once to submit my “It Comes in Threes” blog post this morning, yet somehow it wound up posting three times. Hard to believe that is any kind of coincidence.

Here is what I am thinking on all this. As Jesus kicks off his ministry here, the disciples must have thought they had it pretty good. After all, this man was going to be king of the Jews (or so they thought) and would overthrow Rome and Herod and anyone else who stood in the way of reestablishing a theocracy in Israel. Now I know I am spiritualizing here, but it seems rather obvious that whatever good things the world has to offer, Jesus offers more, and that more is so much better than anything we could ask or imagine. The water-turned-wine is better than the first stuff the steward brought out. God’s creation is great, but heaven is that much greater.

In keeping with the theme of water, I happened to look up the word for “draw” (ἀντλέω antleō), as in “draw the water out of the jar.” It occurs four times total, all in John—twice here in chapter 2 and twice (you shouldn’t be surprised) in chapter 4 with the woman at the well, where he speaks of drawing “living water.”

One more thing about threes: Paul and John both spent a considerable amount of time in Ephesus. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has numerous patterns of three in it, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that John has patterns of three as well. Did Paul learn that from John, or John from Paul? What is it about Ephesus and the number three?

  • “Grace” (χάρις charis) appears three times Ephesians 1, three times in Ephesians 2, and three times in Ephesians 3.
  • “To the praise of his glory” (εἰς ἔπαινον δόξης eis epainon doxēs) appears three times in Ephesians 1:1–14.
  • Paul prays for three things for the Ephesians in 1:18–19, and the letter is divided into three sections around those themes.
    • “that you may know the hope to which he has called you,
    • the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
    • and his incomparably great power for us who believe”
  • God has done three things for us in Christ in 2:5–6:
    • Made us alive with Christ;
    • Raised us up with Christ;
    • Seated us with him in the heavenly realms.
  • There is another pattern of three threes in 2:12, 19, and 3:6.
  • There are two sets of three pairs in Ephesians 5:15–6:9.

I have Ephesians memorized, so I’ve spent a lot of time there (figuratively speaking) myself. So what is the number three going to mean for me? Well, I just got approved for a third floor apartment that I’ll be moving into on the third Saturday of this month. Does that mean I made the right choice? I have three kids. I hope and pray they are safe. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be tossing and turning tonight wondering about the significance of all this.

Peace! Εὶρήνη! Shalom!

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