A Quick Thought on Christian Evidences from the Gospel of John

If I could have one event proven beyond doubt historically, it would be the physical resurrection of Jesus.

So it struck me as funny that, as I read the end of John chapter 19 in the last couple of days, the writer (for me, as I understand it, John the apostle) seemed to want to prove at this point in the story, not simply that Jesus really lived again, though he does spend time in chapter 20 establishing that too, but also, maybe especially, that he in fact really died!

John 19:34-35 in the Greek looks like this (thanks to BibleWorks):

ἀλλ᾽ εἷς τῶν στρατιωτῶν λόγχῃ αὐτοῦ τὴν πλευρὰν ἔνυξεν, καὶ ἐξῆλθεν εὐθὺς αἷμα καὶ ὕδωρ. καὶ ὁ ἑωρακὼς μεμαρτύρηκεν, καὶ ἀληθινὴ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν ἡ μαρτυρία, καὶ ἐκεῖνος οἶδεν ὅτι ἀληθῆ λέγει, ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς πιστεύ[σ]ητε.

And in the NET Bible it looks like this:

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out immediately. And the person who saw it has testified (and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth), so that you also may believe.

So the author gives his best assurance at this point that Jesus really died (hence the blood has begun to separate). The temptation for his audience was apparently not to disbelieve the resurrection so much as to disbelieve the death of Jesus. Was John the evangelist to the Gnostics, attracted to the transcendent, pre-existent Christ but reluctant to believe that he was really physical, fleshly and mortal. (I’m reminded of the scene in The Matrix where Agent Smith has captured Morpheus and expresses his revulsion for his, and his real world’s, smell and sweat, its tangible, ‘sensible’ physicality.)

I know this is a world of debate and discussion, including when we can say Gnostics really got going, and when the Gospel of John was written. I’m not a New Testament specialist and showing my ignorance.

But it’s interesting, is it not?

And Something I’d Missed from Leviticus 21…

Did you ever notice that in Leviticus 21:10-11, the high priest is forbidden to tear his clothes or to put himself into an unclean state (i.e. for mourning purposes, e.g. with dirt on the head, presumably) even if it was his nearest and dearest, his father or mother who had died!

But in Matt 26:65 and Mark 14:63 we’re told that at the trial of Jesus, when Jesus responded to the insistence, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God,” by saying,

You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven (Mat 26:64 NET),

the response of the high priest is to tear his clothes! I’m not even sure how that is done, if those clothes are at all robustly made, e.g. the classic one-piece linen robe I understood the high priest wore. But assuming it’s possible, should we see this as an act of utter desperation at this apparent blasphemy? Something implicitly worse than the death of father or mother, a dent in the honour of Yahweh?

Surely a Jewish-Christian author such as Matthew knows that the high priest has done something technically illegal for the high priest, and I think he can assume that it’s common knowledge amongst his Jewish audience. What is his implicit commentary on the action? Is it that the high priest, in condemning Jesus, is in the act of doing something that breaks the law himself? Or should we interpret it simply as high emotion?

Over to you, dear reader!

Postscript to Jesus and Jihad: One Puzzling Sword Reference

When I heard the ‘Jesus v. Barabbas’ sermon early in January this year while on holidays, I was impressed, and wrote about it in the first of my two Jesus and Jihad posts. But I stopped at the door to talk with the pastor about one outstanding question I had.

Why, if Jesus disowned the way of the sword, did he in Luke 22:36 say to his disciples, shortly before his arrest:

35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered.
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. (Luke 22:35-36 NIV)

Very un-Jesus-like, I thought, and asked the pastor what he thought. He sounded a little unsure, but thought it might have been for security reasons. I wasn’t convinced it was a really sound answer at the time, but happened across the passage in Luke this morning. And now I am. The other things Jesus says they now ought to acquire are travelling things, or that is my first impression. Moving to a different Bible version, here are verses 36-37:

36 Then He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money-bag should take it, and also a traveling bag. And whoever doesn’t have a sword should sell his robe and buy one.
37 For I tell you, what is written must be fulfilled in Me: And He was counted among the outlaws. Yes, what is written about Me is coming to its fulfillment.” (Luke 22:36-37 Holman Christian Standard)

In other words, “I’m an outlaw now, and you’re going to have to hit the road.” And the roads were not safe places – something like the roads here in Australia could be in the mid-nineteenth century, when a coach might be stopped by what we (and probably no other culture) call ‘bushrangers’. So on the road, they needed a (ahem) bum-bag, a backpack, and…a sword.

How can I show that this was the reason for the sword, and that it doesn’t ruin Jesus’ non-violent reputation?

First, when they say they can muster two swords (v. 38), he says that’s sufficient. Not enough for a revolution, but enough for security on the road.

Second, when one of the disciples (not identified here in Luke) just hours later in the Garden of Gethsemane, starts swinging his sword to resist Jesus’ arrest, Jesus will have no part of it. This eager disciple actually takes the shine off what Jesus says next, that it suits the religious leaders’ style to ambush him at night as if he was a brigand, a Ned Kelly.

Ned Kelly Helmethttp://nationaltreasures.nla.gov.au/index/Treasures/item/nla.int-ex13-s2

But he wasn’t, so he didn’t go down firing in a metal suit, or swinging a sword. The eager disciple had gotten it wrong. That wasn’t the way to do it. Jesus wouldn’t inflict death for his cause. He would ingest it.

Declaration of Amnesty – The Act of a King

Let’s try for a short one!

I’m studying Jeremiah 34:8-22, which features 4/7 occurrences of a rare Old Testament word, derôr, in vv. 8, 15 & 17.  Here’s the first occurrence.

The word came to Jeremiah from the LORD after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom for the slaves. (Jer 34:8 NIV)

It’s a little bit of a challenge establishing what such a rare word means; it only turns up once in the entire Torah or Pentateuch:

Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. (Lev 25:10 NIV)

But there is, I have it on good authority, a cognate Akkadian word, durruru, and evidence of a practice described using this term, whereby an ancient Near Eastern king might, especially upon first coming to the throne, declare a kind of general amnesty or liberation of slaves as an opening goodwill gesture.  So you know I’m not making this up, check out Nahum M. Sarna,  “Zedekiah’s emancipation of slaves and the sabbatical year,” in Orient and Occident: Essays Presented to Cyrus H. Gordon on the Occasion of his Sixty-Fifth Birthday (ed. Harry A. Hoffner; Alter Orient und Altes Testament 22; NeuKirchen-Vluyn: NeuKirchener, 1973), 143-149 @147, as one example.

Out of two more occurrences in the OT, one is the important-sounding eschatological (focused on the final kingdom) passage in Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. (Isa 61:1-4 NIV)

In context, it sounds as though liberation from bondage in Babylon might be offered here to Jewish captives of the exile (586-538).  It already strikes the reader as an arresting and profound passage, something momentous, a huge claim.  But that sense is only heightened when we see the way this text is quoted in the Gospels:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.
21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
(Luk 4:18-21 NIV)

I love the dramatic pause at the end of v. 20.  It’s pin-dropping time!  What’s he going to say? The passage is already dynamite in a social environment where messianism is in the air, and impatience with Roman rule. The day of liberation! The jubilee year spoken of in Leviticus, but the one that God gives direct! What’s he going to say?

“This is that day.” Heavy! This is the first act of Jesus’ ministry described in detail in Luke. In Luke’s presentation, this is Jesus’ way of officially inaugurating his ministry. And what does he say? I’m here as the designated spokesman for the heavenly King, who is declaring an amnesty, release for those enslaved.

It’s a new day. It’s a new order. It’s a new age.

Jubilee. Sign on!

It was so radical, it could only polarize the crowd, and Jesus is immediately in trouble, the centre of controversy. Because if it’s true, it’s wonderful on a mythical scale, but if it’s false, it is heretically, blasphemously, and for a people already oppressed, painfully false, like prosperity gospel preached to poor South Africans, or a cargo cult expecting gifts from the sky.

That’s for you to decide, but when you check out the background of derôr in Isa. 61:1, and discover that it can be the opening act of a new regime, you can appreciate that Jesus opens his ministry with a biblical bombshell in a munitions factory.