December 31, 2015
November 4, 2012
John the Immerser
John the Baptist practised a water ceremony in which he immersed those who responded to his call to repent. It was dissimilar to the various regular washing ceremonies performed by Jews for themselves. It was also dissimilar to the proselyte washing ceremony performed by Jews for gentiles. With respect to this latter practice, there is no clear evidence that such ceremonies took place earlier than towards the end of the 1st century AD. Unlike the regular washings, John’s practice was a once only affair, similar to the washing ceremony of proselytes. Furthermore, people washed themselves or in the case of proselyte baptism baptised themselves whereas John did the immersing. It is understandable then that he went by the name of John the Baptist, better referred to however as “John the immerser”. There is no evidence that people were baptised “in the name of John”, although they would have been known as those who had come under John’s teaching, his disciples.
The Sense of “baptizo”
The Greek verb, “baptizo” and its related noun, “baptisma” is used of John’s baptisms, whereas in the literature outside of the New Testament, there is little evidence that these words were used of either the Jewish washings or proselyte baptisms. The words have the sense of “immersing’ or “immersion” rather than surface washing and there is something “intense” about the words – the immersing and the immersion is thoroughgoing. It is of interest that once in the New Testament, “baptizo” is used in reference to Jews washing themselves when coming from the market place and once it is used in describing the surprise of a Pharisee that Jesus did not wash himself before coming to a formal meal. It would seem that an intense washing, probably involving a full immersion of the whole or part of the body, was in mind.
 The name given to John by Flavius Josephus in Jewish Antiquities, 18.117.1 was the “baptistes”, literally, the “immerser”, which in the New Testament is misleadingly but commonly translated, the “Baptist“.
 There is one instance where “baptizo” is used of a ritual washing in Ecclesiasticus 31: 25 and another where the reference could be to a ritual washing in Judith 12: 7. “Baptisma” is found in Flavius Josephus in Jewish Antiquities, 18.117.4, where he refers to John’s “immersions”. The only other reference to “baptisma” found outside of the New Testament up until about the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. occurs in a work by Plutarch, On Superstitions, Stephanus, 166A.10 where he lists among various so-called superstitions, “immersions”.
 See Mark 7: 4 and Luke 11: 38
June 20, 2012
The grammatical form
As referred to above, “euaggelion” is neuter in gender. Of the 34 instances found outside of the New Testament, 25 were plural in form – “euaggelia” (20), “euaggelion” (4), and “euaggeliois” (1) with all 9 that were singular in form being “euaggelion”. The plural forms dealt with singular entities in almost all if not all instances.
Of the 75 instances occurring in the New Testament, all were singular in form: “euaggelion” (39), “euaggeliou” (26) and “euaggelio(i)” (10)
The use of the plural in neuter forms to describe a single identity is not uncommon. The use of the singular exclusively in the New Testament is however deserving of some comment. Perhaps an explanation of, or an understanding of the phenomenon, can be found in what follows.
The use of the definite article
In the New Testament all but four of the 34 instances were accompanied by the definite article. In two of the 34 occurrences the definite article was accompanied by “touto” providing the meaning of “this” – the demonstrative adjective. In the Greek literature external to the New Testament there were only three instances of the use of the definite article and it was with “euaggelion” in the singular. It may be thought that there could be a general situation that when “euaggelion” is in the singular it is accompanied by the definite article. However in the Greek literature external to the New Testament, the definite article only accompanied the singular form in 3 of the 9 possibilities observed.
Perhaps what should be recognised about the New Testament examples is that the gospel being referred to is the one and only definitive gospel, no matter how varied the terms in which it is expressed. It is the gospel, spoken of twice as “this gospel”, which comes from God and is about him and his Son. Of all the “good news” events, ideas, situations and pronouncements in the world, there has been this one and only supremely “good news” announcement from God.
However some comment should be made about the four instances in the New Testament where no definite article appears. In two of the examples, the actual reference is to “a different gospel” (2 Cor 11: 4; Gal 1: 6). Although in both instances Paul seems to have particular expressions of a different gospel in mind, his remarks were applicable to any different gospel and were probably so intended. This leaves us with the two “exceptional” instances – found in Rom 1: 1 and Rev 14: 6.
Rom 1: 1 reads, “eis euaggelion Theou”. There are several examples of “eis to euaggelion tou Christou” and “to euaggelion tou Theou” in the New Testament, so the lack of the definite article in Rom 1: 1 is not to be explained by appealing to other aspects of the construction involving “euaggelion”. Perhaps, if the real explanation is not a mundane one, it is Paul giving considerable solemnity to the “gospel” of God as he refers to at the very beginning of his lengthy theological and pastoral treatise.
As mentioned above, the passage in Rev 14: 6 concerns an angel who proclaims “an eternal gospel” (euaggelion aionion) to all those who dwell in earth, saying with a loud voice, “ Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of water”. Perhaps the reason why “euaggelion” is not accompanied by the definite article in this case is that unlike other occurrences of “gospel” in the New Testament, in this situation “gospel” refers to this isolated pronouncement. If that is the case, one should not consider this instance as an example of the usage of “gospel” as “the gospel” as referred to almost entirely throughout the rest of the New Testament.
Finally, though the gospel of the New Testament is “the” gospel, it is not to be thought of as some simple statement concerning a single event. In its totality it would require a lengthy description concerning a number of weighty matters. By comparison the “good news” of the Greek literature external to the New Testament is almost always concerned with just one event, situation or activity.
February 8, 2012
“In the name” with reference to “in” (en)
Using the Thesaurus Linguae Graeca I came across four instances of “en to onomati” appearing in the Greek literature apart from the New Testament up until about the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. One related to a person’s reputation, the other three seemed to be related to words as names for things.
In the New Testament, the phrase, “en to onomati” occurs 29 times. On 23 occasions the reference is to Jesus in one way or another, the phrase being “in my name” eight times, “in your name” three times, “in the name of Jesus Christ” three times, “in the name of the Lord” three times, “in the name of Jesus” twice, and “in the name of the Lord Jesus”, “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”, “in his name” and “in that name” (i.e. “Christ” as in “Christian”?) once each. Other references are to the Father (as “in the name of the Father” and “in your name”, each twice), with one reference being to “in his own name” (an unnamed “another person”) and another being to “in what name”. The contexts are: some action being carried out, some situation occurring or something being said or requested “in the name” “In my name” is to be found seven times in John’s Gospel with one occurrence in Mark’s Gospel. The references to the names ascribed to Jesus are to be found in the Acts of the Apostles, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, James and 1 Peter. Acts 10: 48 records Peter commanding that Cornelius and his company be baptised.
The phrase, “en onomati” also occurs in the New Testament and is found there 12 times. On six occasions the reference is to “in the name of the Lord” (God), “in the name of Christ” and “in the name of the Lord Jesus” twice each and “in the name of Jesus Christ” and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”, once each.
There are no instances in the New Testament of the phrase, “en tois onomasi” (in the names). However a cursory search of the Thesaurus Linguae Graeca turned up many instances of its occurrence up until about the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. 26 of these are attributed to Galen, and six each to Dionysius Halicarnassus, Apollonus Dyscolus and Philo Judaeus. No further analysis of the usage of “en tois onomasi” was carried out.
I do not think the material relating to “eis ta onomata”, “epi to onomati”, “epi tois onomasi”, “en to onomati” or “en tois onomasi” is all that relevant to the subject on which we are mainly focussed. However it may be helpful to keep in mind that “eis”, “epi” and “en” often seem to function like each other. Perhaps it simply depends on who the author is. For example, “eis” occurs in the phrase, “in his name” in John’s Gospel, whereas, “en” occurs in the phrase, “in your name” in Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels and in the phrase “in my name” in John’s Gospel, and “epi” occurs in the phrase, “in my name” in each of the synoptic Gospels.
July 4, 2010
Understanding “Poieite” as “You are doing” and the words, “as often as” – 1 Corinthians 11: 24 -26
What are we to make of Paul quoting Jesus as saying “as often as” in relation to the drinking of the wine in v. 25 and Paul’s own use of that notion in v. 26 remembering that Luke makes no mention of Jesus saying, “as often as”? It may be that Jesus never actually used a word that could be translated, “as often as”. However, it is inconceivable that in any future Passover meal celebrations the disciples would not see the meal as a remembrance event that focussed on the death of Jesus. Consequently even if Jesus did not explicitly refer to the notion, “as often as” it would certainly be implicit. However, let us assume that Jesus made an explicit reference to, “as often as” which Luke himself did not explicitly refer to. Let us also make the reasonable assumption that Paul’s “as often as” in the discourse of Jesus is just as applicable to the eating of the bread (v. 24) as it is to the drinking of the wine (v. 25)
Let us also consider the possibility that “poieite” should be understood as a statement and not a command. Then we seem to have Jesus, as Paul reports him, in effect saying, with respect to both the bread and the wine, ‘You are doing “this” in remembrance of me, whenever you celebrate Passover.’ That Passover would have been in mind is assumed because the setting for these statements made by Jesus is the Passover meal and the bread and wine referred to are bread and wine of that meal.
Of course, the theology of 1 Corinthian 11: 24-26 is at least as rich as that which was unpacked in our discussion of Luke 22: 19. Repeating, with a few additional words, what was said earlier, Jesus is saying, “You have not realised it, you don’t even realise it now, but the truth is, as you eat this Passover bread and as you drink this Passover wine, you are dealing with an event, though occurring long ago that has its fulfilment in me. My imminent death is for that salvation that the Exodus event only points to. You are at the peak of history. You are doing this not ultimately in remembrance of an event past but in remembrance of the event about to take place – my death that inaugurates the new covenant.” Furthermore, if what was argued above is correct, the Corinthian text makes explicit what was implicit in Luke -“whenever you participate in Passover meals you will be remembering me”.
Additionally however, what is implicit in Luke, and explicit in 1 Corinthians, could be considered to have another aspect. Jesus could be saying, “And this has always been the case. The redemption of the Israelites was always a reflection of, always a pointer to, the greatest redemption event – my death.” That is, Jesus could be understood to be claiming overall that, “Though not known, though not understood, the celebration of Passover in the past has always been a remembrance event of me and the redemption I accomplish. Though you do not know, though you do not understand, the celebration of Passover on this occasion is a remembrance event of me and the redemption I accomplish. Furthermore, whenever in the future you celebrate Passover, you will be doing so in remembrance of me and the redemption I accomplish.”
Jesus spoke of the Scriptures bearing witness to him (John 5: 39) and that in particular Moses wrote of him (John 5: 46). And as mentioned earlier, Luke’s fulfilment texts, specifically refer to the suffering Christ (Luke 24: 25-27, 44-46). Do we not have rich evidence of the scriptures bearing witness to the Christ who was to suffer in the Last Passover meal and all the richer if “poieite” is understood as a statement rather than a command?
 The additional words are “and as you drink this Passover wine”.
December 8, 2009
With reference to Table 1, the most highly populated category is that associated with death – generally referring to the cessation of life. Taking all instances together, the human being nephesh is the person, the being, the self who dies, lives, is hungry, is filled, is wicked or righteous, hates or loves, desires, speaks, is grieved or happy and thinks etc. The usage of nephesh stresses the existence and functioning and thus the significance of a being. That nephesh can be spoken of with reference to God and the animals, supports this last understanding.
The following semantic connections involving all instances of nephesh are hypothesized. The neck/throat is associated with breathing, the intake of food and the utterance of speech. Breath, speech and food are associated with life and death. Finally, life involves various characteristics of the person including mental states and activities.
The human nephesh and its existence after death
Of the 694 instances of nephesh that relate to human beings, there are only about five texts where it is arguable that nephesh refers to a “soul” that at death leaves the body or at life after death re-enters the body: “In the going out of her nephesh Rachel died.” (Gen 35:18); “Let the nephesh of the boy return to him.” (1 Kin 17:21); “The nephesh of the boy returned to him.” (1 Kin 17:22); “She has breathed out her nephesh.” (Jer 15:9) and “You will not abandon my nephesh in/to Sheol.” (Ps 16:10). However, in the first four instances the reference could be to breath. The fifth could either relate to the person’s existence beyond death or simply the person’s not dying. There is no compelling argument from these texts that the “soul” is an entity that inhabits the living body and leaves at death.
August 10, 2009
Christianity is well known for its many customs, regulations and rituals. To what extent are these obligatory? To what extent are we free to make choices? In order to answer these questions we will need to examine the Scriptures. We will need to understand the Old Testament Law – its nature, purpose, fulfilment and enduring character. It will be necessary to understand the Gospel and the work of the Spirit. It will also be helpful to examine what Paul writes about freedom and the observance of circumcision, food laws and special days.
In the modern world we are subject to a large number of laws. As circumstances change however, some of the laws change. Some become obsolete. New ones are introduced. They vary a great deal. The breaking of some laws is far more significant than the breaking of others. What was the purpose of the Law of God – those commandments given to Israel through Moses? What was their role? Have they changed? Has any of them become obsolete? What are their more significant features?
The Nature of the Law
There was a commandment, originally given to Abraham, for males to be circumcised. There was the select group of Ten Commandments, though they were never referred to as the commandments of God. There were commandments involving sacrifices and offerings, commandments about keeping certain feast days and various Sabbaths, commandments dealing with marriage and divorce, diseases and death, and commandments on how to live with one’s fellow Israelite and how to treat slaves and foreigners. We might distinguish ceremonial or ritual laws from moral or ethical ones but that was not a neat distinction made in the Old Testament. There were however laws that clearly referred to one’s relationship with God while others clearly referred to one’s relationship with a fellow Israelite.
The Purpose of the Law
What was the purpose of the Law? It was certainly intended to educate. By the Law the people of Israel, the ones whom God had chosen and by whom blessing would come to the world, would come to understand the character of God, his holiness, righteousness, justice, love and mercy and that he alone was to be worshipped. And they were being instructed on how to live. Additionally, by the Law the Israelites would come to recognise the existence and extent of their sinfulness. As Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentile world, declared, by the Law, the Jew and all who are confronted by the Law become conscious of sin (Rom. 3: 20). The Law brings sinfulness to the fore (Rom. 5:20). Sin finds its strength in the Law (1 Cor. 15: 56). Furthermore, he writes that the Law was given to the Jew – to take care of him, to be his custodian, to be his supervisor (Gal. 3: 24, 25) otherwise his behaviour would have been no better than that of the Gentiles. The Law instructed, exposed sin and curbed the sins of God’s chosen people.
Yet it had a further purpose. The people of Israel were placed under the charge of the Law to lead them to Christ (Gal 3: 24). It was never an end in itself. People could only ever be justified by faith and with the coming of Jesus that faith was to be faith in him. The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ so that we might be justified by faith, not by the Law (Gal. 3: 24). Has the Law now had its day? Has it fulfilled its role?
August 4, 2009
Hi, I’m Barry. This is my first ever post. Click here to find out more about me. Recently, at my church, I was asked to speak on the subject of the Sacraments. I gave three addresses over three Sundays titled: Freedom, Biblical Baptism and Christ Centred Communion. I plan to post a series of revised written versions of these addresses over coming weeks. To give you a hint at what to expect, here are my revised titles:
- Freedom – What it might mean for the Sacraments? Do they enslave us?
- Biblical Baptism – I’ve never been baptised. Does it really matter?
- Christ Centred Communion – Observance of the Lord’s Supper is essential. Have we got it wrong?