Only God Can Judge Me?: A Sermon for Robert Carr Chapel on the usage of the Greek verb

krinw in the Fourth Gospel

NETE 70133: Exegesis in the Gospels and Acts: Johannine Literature


April 29, 2009


Introduction There is no other word that can stimulate the religious and political imaginations of citizens located in the United States than the term judgment. In fact, if you asked the average person sitting in the pews what they think the final judgment will look like, a probable answer would be that when we die, our souls become disembodied as we are transported to another world called heaven with some bearded white man sitting on his throne is waiting for you and I, with a huge television screen replaying all of our good and evil deeds in front of our friends and family. This is the image of judgment that we see in our culture today. This image of Judgment Day is perpetuated by a group of Christians who leave what are called Chick Tracks, or small pamphlets designed to scare sinners into the arms of the Savior, such as the one entitled, “It‟s Your Life.”1 Even in the cartoon, The Simpsons, in the fourth episode of season 7 entitled, “Bart Sells His Soul,” the land of the dead is portrayed as a place of judgment where the body is separated from the soul.2 Throughout this episode, human beings depicted as having a “ghostly twin” apart from their physical beings as the persons and their ghosts are on a boat together paddling upstream to a mysterious location. A final example which gets overlooked that still depends of this cultural view of judgment comes from the music industry. The lyrics of late Tupac Shakur‟s song, “Only God Can Judge Me,” envision the divine judgment as something that is futuristic, other-worldly, and disembodied. A few of the lyrics go: Cause even Thugs cry, but do the Lord care? Try to remember, but it hurts I'm walkin through the cemetary talkin to the, dirt I'd rather die like a man, than live like a coward There's a ghetto up in Heaven and it's ours, Black Power is what we scream as we dream in a paranoid state And our fate, is a lifetime of hate Dear Mama, can you save me?3

1 2

“It‟s Your Life.” The Simpsons. “Bart Sells His Soul. 3 Tupac Shakur. “Only God Can Judge Me.”

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009.

The last hook in the song concludes with Tupac stating, “My only fear of death is comin back to this [expletive] reincarnated That's for the homey mental We up out.” For both the Christian community which publishes the Chick tracts as well as popular cultural icons such as Tupac and the Simpsons, God‟s judgment involves primarily an outer-body experience, the prominence of death and sin, as well as the mystery of an impersonal, wrathful god who either justifies or condemns individuals one by one. While the God of the Fourth Gospel is revealed to its audience as one who is righteous and just, the Evangelist gives us quite a different picture of God‟s judgment. Contrary to the prevailing social myths concerning judgment, I will show in this message that the evangelist of John‟s Gospel, through her/his use of the Greek term krinw, particularly in chapter five, verses twenty-one through twenty-nine, provides us with a relational, vision of judgment with God the Parent and the Son at the center as well as a future, corporate, and corporeal form of judgment grounded in the Son of Man messianic tradition. Judging in John Including the verb katakrinw (which is only found in John 8:10-11 and when parsed literally means I judge against or condemn, kata + krinw), the Greek term krinw appears as either a verb or an adjectival participle at least twenty-five times in the Gospel of John. In the discourse between Jesus the Messiah and Nicodemus in John 3:17-18, Jesus uses krinw three times in referring the fate of Jesus-believers and those who do not accept him; both the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version English translations of the Bible translate krinw into the English word condemn. This could be because the editors of these translations may be contrasting the aorist active subjunctive third person singular use krinw (I judge) with the aorist passive subjunctive third person singular use of the verb swsw (I save) found in John 3:17. These passages, however, could be translated, “For God did not send the

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009.

Son into the universe in order to judge the universe but in order that the universe may be saved through him. The one believing in him is not judged but the one who does not believe has already been judged because one has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The third chapter of John‟s gospel is particularly interesting because in pop culture because it contains the most recited passage of Scripture here in the United States. Even at sporting events, fans take the opportunity to hold up large pieces of poster board that read JOHN 3:16. I have heard, because of the popularity of John 3:16 as well as the appearance of two of the verbs for love in Greek (both agapw and filw respectively) at least thirty-nine times in the fourth Gospel, that the Evangelist should be surnamed, “the apostle of love.” While this may be true, it is very easy for us to want to escape from a narrative of judgment which is gory, violent, and futuristic view by desiring a book that seems to talk only all about God‟s universal love (to the exclusion of God‟s justice). The Evangelist, however, does not really soothe our fears; for the Messiah in her/his Gospel discusses judgment almost as much as he commands his followers to love. The Father as Judge John 3 does not contain the words „God the father,‟ but the Sonship of Jesus implied in the chapter points to a familial relationship with the Divine Parent. As the Divine Parent, God sends Jesus as God‟s agent into the world to save the universe rather than to judge or condemn it. We get a different picture of Jesus in John 5. John 5:22 says, “For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.” All judgment (thn krisin pasan in the original Greek) is written in the accusative case which is the direct object of the verb perfect active indicative third person singular form of the verb didwdomi, or I give. The ability to pronounce judgment on humanity is a gift from God the Father to Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man. We must keep in

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009.

mind that Jesus was Jewish, and so was the original audience that the Gospel of John was intended for. God is invisible, and could not be seen, for Jesus even told the woman at the well that God is Spirit (John 4:24). Saint Augustine makes an interesting observation about John 5:22; he comments in his On The Trinity, “How can it be said, „The Father judges no one‟? For since the Father has begotten the Son equal to himself, the Father does indeed judge with the Son. Therefore Jesus must have meant that in the judgment, it is not the form of god but the form of the Son of Man that will appear. Not that the Father, who has committed all judgment to the Son, will not judge, because of [John 8:50] […] But …it is as if we said: No one will see the Father in judgment of the living and the dead, but everyone will see the Son, because he is also the Son of Man that he can be seen even by the ungodly.”4 I will come back to the concept of the Son of Man later in the message but right now I would like to discuss the Evangelist‟s usage of the Greek word for father, patroj, and what it means for the Fourth Gospel‟s theology of judgment. It is problematic for modern readers of John who have not necessarily had a good relationship with their earthly fathers, to view God as strictly a male parental figure. In fact, according to Marianne Meye Thompson, the author/s of John‟s Gospel refer to God as Father approximately 120 times.5 With the exception of the Judeans who claim that God is their father (8:41), Jesus is the lone character in the Fourth Gospel who asserts that God is his parent. Jesus and the Jewish Christians in the Johannine community, while referring to God as Father, would also be aware of the references to God as mother in the Jewish scriptures such as Isaiah 66:13 which compare YHWH to a mother who nurses her child. The idea that God has a parental relationship with Israel was not a new invention. Passages such as Isaiah 64:8-9 and Deuteronomy 32:4-6; 18 both describe YHWH as the father


Joel C. Elowsky and Thomas C. Oden. John 1-10 Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2006. P.193-194 Marianne Meye Thompson. The God of the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2001. P.57


Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009.

of the nation of Israel. The problem lies in the interpretation of Jesus‟s relationship with God. How exactly is God Jesus the Messiah‟s father? Thompson proposes that we depend on the literature of Second Temple Judaism for the answers. Thompson‟s understanding of Second Temple Jewish literature leads her to believe that there are two specific ways in which YHWH functions as Father. She notes, “On the one hand, Josephus and Philo link together the ideas of God as Creator and as Father, thus allowing and assuming the universal scope of God‟s fatherhood. God is Father of all because God is creator of all. On the other hand, a second group of texts tend to speak of God as “Father” only in relationship to the faithful.”6 While Thompson‟s observations of the relational God found in John‟s Gospel may aid us in overcoming the cultural myth of an impersonal and distant deity which we imagine will condemn us on Judgment Day, her comments do not help us to understand the Evangelist‟s use of the Greek term krinw in light of the prominence of Jesus‟ familial relationship with God. Unfortunately, Thompson fails to see the external realities that the Evangelist might have drawn her/his concept of Jesus‟s Father from. Father can be a title held by a person, for instance, who brings into being a nation-state. As Warren Carter points out, Father was a common designation for the emperor of Rome who was called “The Father of the Fatherland and Father of the Country.”7 Caesar Augustus is father to Rome in six distinct ways: as a benefactor, ruler of the world, judge & lawgiver, creator of a free people, a sender of agents, and a recipient of honors.8 Of the six ways Augustus was father to Rome, I would like to focus on two of them: benefactor and judge/lawgiver. The emperor developed a benefactor-client relationship with the plebians by donating money to the impoverished and veterans of war in Rome, funding public



Marianne Meye Thompson. The God of the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2001. P. 68 Warren Carter. John and Empire : Initial Explorations. New York: T & T Clark, 2008. P.236 Ibid, P. 239-240.

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009.

works such as the construction of temples and water aqueducts, as well as providing grain for the city of Rome when it was in need. While all of this sounded good, the public acts of charity were more of a façade to cover up the tyrannical agenda of Caesar Augustus. Food shortages for Rome meant that there was a lack of food for the nonelites, women and children because the dietary needs of those inside the city were the first priority; malnutrition as well as the spread of diseases caused by deficiencies were imperial realities.9 Caesar, as judge and lawgiver, considered himself committed to justice and morality. It was his duty to restore the customs of his ancestors.10 Augustus‟ mission to restore the nation‟s moral order to its days of old reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Equilibrium. In that movie, which is often wrongfully compared to The Matrix trilogy, the dictator of the world, The Father, claims to have freed humanity from the very thing that held it captive: human emotion. The movie highlights the struggle between those in rebellion against the Father and his agents (the Grammaton Clerics) who maintain the peace and freedom the city-state of Libria has attained. The irony is that while the Father of Libria declares that war is no more, his Grammaton Clerics execute citizens who own art work, read books, or anything else that is banned by the law of the Father. Much like Caesar Augustus, the Father of Libria uses Orwellian double-speak, saying and doing one thing, but meaning another. This is the way of those who are in charge of running empires. We witnessed this brand of double-mindedness when George W. Bush made the case for the War in Iraq in 2003. He claimed that we went there to liberate the Iraqi people from an oppressive regime but simultaneously the United States military would impose its will upon a foreign country under the auspices of a mission entitled “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”



Warren Carter. John and Empire : Initial Explorations. New York: T & T Clark, 2008. P.221-222 Ibid, p.239-240

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009.

God the Father discovered in the Fourth Gospel is portrayed as both a benefactor and judge as well. God as the patron of creation is called the Living Father (6:57) and has bestowed upon the Son, Jesus the Messiah, the gift of judgment (5:22) as well as the gift of life (5:36; 12:50). Jesus petitions God his Father to raise Lazarus from the dead, and God shows God‟s power to create life out of death-dealing situations by answering Jesus‟s prayer. Unlike Caesar, God‟s rule is marked by the giving of life to everyone who freely receives rather than the redistribution of life‟s resources from the least of these to the most powerful. The supreme patronage of God is universal and impartial; it is much like what we call in the Black Church Tradition, the Black Christian principle, or the parenthood of God and siblingship of humanity.11 Because God is the Source of all of life, God exists as the Parent of us all. Since we are all siblings before God, God does not have any favorite race, nation, class of citizens. God the Father as judge can be seen in John‟s Gospel via the Evangelist‟s telling of God‟s relationship with Moses. Moses is given the law by God (1:17) who is called Father (1:18). In John 5:45, Moses is said to be accusing the Jewish opponents of Jesus the Messiah in front of the Father. The verb for “I accuse” in the Greek, kathgorew, can mean to put forth an accusation before a judge. Jesus is pointing to God the Parent as the one who shares God‟s authority to judge humankind with the Son. The Divine Parent, according to the Johannine vision of judgment does not arbitrate the affairs of the humanity unilaterally; rather, God the Parent makes God‟s final decisions in consultation with the Son. Tupac is incorrect in saying that only God alone can judge him, because the God of the Fourth Gospel judges as Parent with the Son (John 8:16). We can, however, join Mr. Shakur in crying out to God, Dear Mamma (and/or Pappa), can you save us?


Peter J. Paris, The Social Teaching of the Black Churches(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985). P. 10

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009.

The Son of Man as Judge My final point for today‟s message is to go back and look at the Evangelist‟s designation of Jesus as the Son of Man because it is crucial to understand the Son of Man tradition in order to comprehend the Johannine view of divine judgment. Even some of the earliest Christian thinkers misunderstood the Son of Man tradition and its relation to apocalyptic texts. For example, John Chrysostom interpreted John 5:26-27 in this manner, “ „Has given him power to execute judgment because he is the Son of Man.‟ But this connection has no meaning, for Jesus does not receive the power to judge because he was human […] but because he is the ineffable Son of God.”12 While Chrysostom is correct in observing that Jesus refers to himself as the Son of God in John 5:25, the text tells us that God has given Jesus the Messiah the authority to judge specifically because (oti in the Greek) he is the Son of Man, and not in spite of that fact. The Evangelist is not referring to Jesus‟ humanity (son of man) but to the eschatological judge, one like the Son of Man (uioj anqrwpou) found in Daniel 7:13. The context of the passage should determine our appropriation of the Son of Man tradition, even though there are a few differences between the Evangelist‟s use of the titular Son of Man and Daniel‟s use. J. Louis Martin13 notes the Evangelist‟s creativity of linking the Son of Man tradition to an act of Moses (John 3:14), which I have translated: “And just as Moses raised up the serpent in the desert, thus it is necessary for the Son of Man to be raised up.” Robert Kysar understands this passage to be a summary of the Fourth Gospel‟s theology of the cross,


Joel C. Elowsky and Thomas C. Oden. John 1-10 Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2006. P.199 J. Louis Martyn. History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel. 3rd ed. The New Testament Library. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. P. 133


Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009.

where Jesus the Messiah suffers humiliation as part of the process of his exaltation.14 While we cannot separate the Crucifixion and Resurrection events as part of God‟s revelation of Godself to us as well as salvation for us, it would be to our advantage to discern what exactly the Son of Man‟s exaltation entails. A possible implication of Kysar‟s notion that Jesus‟s exaltation takes place on the cross is that victims who suffer injustice must do so passively in order that they may receive honor one day. In other words, the victims of society accept suffering as a way of life while those agents in society who treat them unjustly get away scot free. The passage in John 3:14 does not say, “just as the serpent were lifted up (implying a passive role) on the bronze pole, so must the Son of Man be crucified.” John 3:14 does state that Moses, lifted up or exalted the serpent (uyow in the Greek) in the aorist active indicative third person singular. One could say that just as Moses, as a representative of God, raised up the serpent, so did God the Parent raise up the Son of Man from the grave. The Evangelist insists that the Son of Man will call out to the graves and all of the dead bodies will rise at the sound of his voice (John 5:28). The pronoun his (autoj) is found in its genitive form, and given the proximity of the pronoun to the title Son of Man in verse 27, I think we can assume Jesus is referring to the Son of Man‟s office as eschatological judge. It is better, then, that we interpret the exaltation of the Messiah in John 3:14 as his resurrection in light of the Son of Man tradition that makes bodily resurrection a form of God‟s judgment of the universe. The Son of Man‟s bodily resurrection, then, serves as a form of judgment against the death-dealing public policies (such as the crucifixion of criminals) of Caesar, Father of the Fatherland.


Robert Kysar, John, the Maverick Gospel, 3rd ed.(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007). P. 53

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009.

The Johannine Son of Man does not judge individuals on a case-by-case basis as the pop cultural myth suggests. American society errs if we believe that the God of the Fourth Gospel will judge him only on an individual level, as the title of Shakur‟s song “Only God Can Judge Me” suggests. Mohr Siebeck observes that John 5:28-29 describes a double-resurrection, of the righteous and of the wicked.15 John 5:28-29 represents more of a social judgment more than an individual judgment. The vision of an individual judgment is more of a reflection of the Western criminal court system where the accused stand alone before a single judge who renders out the final verdict after the jury has made its decision. This is not the case with these passages, however. A social judgment, according to theologian Jürgen Moltmann, is one that puts relationships to right between human beings; the goal is not to reward or punish individual persons but to reconcile relationships between people. Moltmann contends, “In Israel‟s histories with God, God‟s justice is invoked with the words: „May the LORD judge between you and me!‟ (Gen 16:5; 31:53; 1 Samuel 24:13). In these conflicts God is invoked as justice of the peace. That is the way he is to judge between the poor and the rich, the high and the low […] [for ex., Ezek 34:17].”16 The Resurrection as judgment is the kind that saves, and does not condemn; Jesus of Nazareth, as the Son of Man is the Judge of all because he is the Risen Master and God (John 20:28).


Benjamin E. Reynolds, “The Apocalyptic Son of Man in the Gospel of John” (Thesis (doctoral), Mohr Siebeck, Aberdeen, 2007., 2008). P. 141. 16 Jürgen Moltmann, In the End, the Beginning : The Life of Hope, 1st Fortress Press ed.(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2004). P. 144.

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009.

Conclusion In conclusion, we have found that John‟s Gospel provides us with quite a different picture of the Final Judgment than what is popularly held in the United States. Our individual souls are not separated from our bodies as we are subsequently judged by an Unmoved Mover as insinuated by those responsible for publishing the Chick tracts. We do not have to fear coming back reincarnated as disembodied selves as Mr. Shakur concludes in his song or Bart Simpson does at the end of that Simpsons‟ episode. On the contrary, we can look forward to the Day of Judgment when God the Father along with the Son of Man judges between us, as we are resurrected into a new corporeal existence. God‟s judgment, through the exaltation of Jesus the Messiah, becomes the hope for who anticipate a New Creation.

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009.

Works Cited “It‟s Your Life.” The Simpsons. “Bart Sells His Soul. Tupac Shakur. “Only God Can Judge Me.” Carter, Warren. John and Empire : Initial Explorations. New York: T & T Clark, 2008. Elowsky, Joel C., and Thomas C. Oden. John 1-10 Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2006. Kysar, Robert. John, the Maverick Gospel. 3rd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007. Martyn, J. Louis. History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel. 3rd ed. The New Testament Library. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. Moltmann, Ju rgen. In the End, the Beginning : The Life of Hope. 1st Fortress Press ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2004. Paris, Peter J. The Social Teaching of the Black Churches. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985. Reynolds, Benjamin E. "The Apocalyptic Son of Man in the Gospel of John." Thesis (doctoral), Mohr Siebeck, Aberdeen, 2007., 2008. Thompson, Marianne Meye. The God of the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2001.

Copyright. Rodney A. Thomas Jr., 2009.