You are on page 1of 498

Story, p.

Paul's Damascus Road Experience

Observations on Acts 9

The fact that the account of the Christophany occurs three times in Acts (Acts 9;
22; 26) and is alluded to in the Pauline epistles should make us as readers aware of the
critical importance of the event. indicate the central importance that attached to this
pivotal event. Paul, whothe Damascus Road, is elected by God to be the major catalyst in
extending the Gospel beyond the confines of Israel to remote places, to the Gentiles as
well as the Jews.
In Paul’s words, he was apprehended by Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12) and becomes the
champion of the movement he was trying to exterminate, and building up th. What was it
that caused this radical Paul’s own repeated explanation is that he saw the once-crucified
Jesus now exalted as the Risen Lord:
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you
my workmanship in the Lord? (I Cor. 9:1).
In 1 Corinthians 15:8, when Paul refers to the same occasion, he insists that his
experience of the Risen Jesus qualifies him as much a Peter, James and many others:
"Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."
When Paul says, “God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6), he no doubt alludes to the Damascus
Road event when he saw the “light from heaven, brighter than the sun”
The term "conversion" is often used to refer to the event, may be misleading.
"Conversion" usually signifies the movement from no-religion or one religion to another,
which . The Christian faith was not a new religion that renounced religious identity and a
shared heritage with the Jews, but continued its inner link with Jewish faith and practice.
While the term "conversion" does depict the radical "about-face/turn-around" that
occurred with Paul, we have chosen the term "Paul's Damascus Road Experience."
It is significant that many of the leaders of the initial Apostolic College (Acts 12)
disappear from view in the course of Acts. Matthias is chosen, he . John, who preaches
in Jerusalem, accompanies Peter to Samaria, but is heard of no more. . D. M. Stanley
notes, "At Pisidian Antioch, upon the rejection of his message, Paul and Barnabas
announce, as applied by Christ Himself to their apostolate, the words of the Isaian
Servant Song: 'I have constituted you a light to the Gentiles, in order that you may be a
source of salvation to the end of the earth' (13:47). That is principally in Paul's journey
to Rome, Luke finds these words fulfilled, implying as they do that Paul's work is
somehow an extension of the Redeemer's."1 Luke will highlight the journey of Paul to
Rome is curiously unconcerned with the specific outcome of Paul's trial. His theme is
played out to the finish with Paul's presence and preaching activity in Rome. The
apostolic company has indeed broken out of the confines of Jerusalem, Judea, and has
extended its influence not only to Samaria, but to Rome:

The Promise: Acts 1:8 Progression of the Witness in Acts

"You shall receive power, after Descent of the Spirit on the Day of
1D. M. Stanley, "Paul's Conversion in Acts: Why the Three Accounts?" The Catholic Biblical
Quarterly, vol. 15, 319.
© J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 2

the Holy Spirit comes upon you Pentecost (Acts 2:1-42)

and you shall be My witnesses in Witness in Jerusalem (3:1-5:42)
and in Judea Witness in Judea (6:1-8:3)
and in Samaria Witness in Samaria (8:4-9:31)
to the end of the earth Witness (9:32-28:31)

The event of Jesus' appearance to Paul marks a critical turning point in the Acts
narrative. Hedrick notes, "Luke introduces it [his conversion/call] immediately before
the movement of the gospel into the Gentile world, as the conclusion to the Palestinian
mission (see the summary statement at 9:31)."2 This story is positioned immediately
before the account of Cornelius (Acts 10-11), which is a preliminary fulfillment of the
divine concern for a mission to the Gentiles noted in Acts 9:15. The narrative the
historical progression of the church from a Jewish to a Gentile community. In a
secondary sense the text justifies Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.
How are we to understand this incredible event? The traditional approach is that
Paul experienced a conversion, a position that has a long history and reaches back to an
early father such as Augustine. Conversion is generally understood as the end of a
process wherein one, who struggles with sin and guilt, experiences forgiveness and a
release from guilt. Thus, in this view, Paul as a Pharisaic Jew, is conscious of his failure
to keep the Law, and then experiences justification by faith through his conversion on the
Damascus Road. In this model, the once Jewish persecutor of the Church becomes a
Christian convert who preaches the message of justification by faith. In this sense the
Damascus Road experience legitimizes Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.
Some interpreters approach the text from a psychological perspective, suggesting
that Paul was overcome by uneasiness, self-distrust, recrimination and guilt.3 Other
scholars view the event as a change of religions, from Judaism to Christianity. The event
can be looked at from a sociological perspective in that there is a changing of
communities within Judaism. Another approach is to focus on Paul’s call to the Gentiles.
Others such as Bultmann speak in existential terms, "In it he surrendered his previous
understanding of himself; i.e. he surrendered what had till then been the norm and
meaning of his life, he sacrificed what had hitherto been his pride and joy (Phil. 3:4-7)."4
However, the texts, including Gal. 1:13-17, no evidence on the Damascus Road.
There is a pre-history but certainly no predisposition or inclination on Paul’s part to
believe in the Lord Jesus. From Gal. 1:13ff., we learn that Paul is relating information to
his readers which they already know:
Gal. 1:13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecutthe
church of God violently and; 14 and I advan in Judaism beyond many of my own
age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.
His audience knew his past and how he stood out from his contemporariesFrom
2 Charles W. Hedrick, "Paul's Conversion/Call: A Comparative Analysis of the Three Reports in Acts,"
JBL, 100/3 (1981), p. 421.
3 Hans Wendt, Die Apostelgeschichte, Kritish-exegetischer Kommentar uber das Neue Testament,

(Gottingen: H.A.W. Meyer, 1913). Others such as Stott widely conjecture about Paul's pent-up
guilt concerning the death of Stephen. John R.W. Stott, The Message of Acts, (Leicester, England:
Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), p. 172.
4 Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,1955),

p. 188.
Story, p. 3

Paul's writings, we cannot find sufficient justification for a psychological build-up of

self-distrust.8 for an internal struggle under Judaism or Torah religion. Indeed, Paul
gives a positive estimation of his former life as a Jew:
Phil. 3:6 "as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law
acious God, such as is found in Augustine and Luther.
The change that altered Paul's life so dramatically was not initiated from within
but from without.

The Context:
The context depicts the persecution of the Church, following in the wake of
Stephen’s martyrdom. In 8:1-3, besides the description of the burial of Stephen, the
writer briefly cites a double aspect of the persecution: 1) the Church of Jerusalem is
forced to flee into Judea and Samaria (8:1), 2) the violent nature of the main persecutor
(8:3). The statement, “Saul was breathing (ejmpnevwn) murderous threats (9:1)
parallels the statement of 8:3, “Now Saul was trying to ruin the Church” (8:3). Acts 8-9
may be regarded as two examples of the truth of Psa. 76:10, “Surely the wrath of men
shall praise you,” for the persecuted Church in Jerusalem becomes the witnessing church
in Samaria, and the arch-persecutor becomes the arch-supporter of the cause which he
had persecuted.
In his own account of the event in the letter to the Galatians he emphasizes how
he was in the traditions of his fathers.9 Paul's position in the Jewish community coupled
with his fierce persecution of Christianity clearly demands the conclusion that he went to
Damascus not in preparation for the gospel but in aggressive and conscious opposition to
the gospel.
A biographical interchange builds to a climax:
Act I--Jesus and Saul on the road to Damascus (9:1-9)
Act II-Jesus and Ananias in Damascus (9:10-16)
Act III--Saul and Ananias in Damascus (9:17-19)
This third scene is climactic in that the two main human characters, of the two former
scenes, are brought together by the risen Jesus. In both narratives, both men are
overpowered by the risen Jesus.
With respect to the structure of Acts, R

Act I--Jesus and Saul on the road to Damascus (9:1-9)

7:58 and 8:1 in that Saul as one of those who participated in and was in agreement
with Stephen's death issu in further persecution of the Christian movement:
7:58 "And the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named
8 Loisy notes, "The account of his conversion, assuming that it is historical, has none of the
features of a psychological study; it is sheer miracle, and we are not told what led up to it." A.
Loisy, "La Conversion de Paul et la Naissance du Christianisme,, Revue d'Histoire et de
Litterature Religieuses, 5, 1914, pp. 289ff.
9 Gal. 1:13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God

violently and tried to destroy it

13 jHkouvsate gaVr thVn ejmhVn ajnastrofhvn pote ejn
tw' / jIoudai>smw'/, o{ti kaq· uJperbolhVn ejdivwkon
thVn ejkklhsivan tou' qeou' kaiV ejpovrqoun aujthvn,
Story, p. 4

8:1 "And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death." (8:1)
This prepares the reader for Paul's' Damascus Road experience in that 9:1 notes the
adverb "still," thus carrying forward his hostility:
9:1 Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,
went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at
Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women,
he might bring them bound to Jerusalem."
purpose clause in 9:2 explains why Paul went to the high priest, i.e. for extradition
letters. The Roman Caesars had granted the High Priest and Sanhedrin power over the
Jews in foreign cities, but this right was not always recognized in every local community
outside Judea. s a Pharisee, was asking for letters Damascus is located ca. 150 miles
from Jerusalem.11 to the Christians of the Way intensifies and reaches beyond Jerusalem
and Judea to the synagogues at Damascus (9:2). Obviously, the victims of the
persecution are Jewish Christians who still attend the synagogue. The term "the Way"
(hJ oJdov") is used in an absolute sense (9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22) and may
be traced to the words of Jesus, "I am the way. . ." (Jn. 14:6). Conzelmann states that the
term "denotes Christian teaching as well as Christians as a group."13 It is the first time in
Acts that the term is used to refer to faith in Jesus. In the Synoptic gospels, the term
"Way of God" is used as an equivalent to the Jewish halakah, ("walk or manner of
life").14 In Acts 24:14, Paul uses the term "the Way" to refer tohis opponents label as a
11See 1 Macc. 15:16-21 for such power of extradition. From Acts 26:10 we learn that Paul
carried out the Jerusalem persecution on the basis of such an authority: "And I did so in
Jerusalem; I not only shut up many of the saints in prison, by authority from the chief priests, but
when they were put to death I cast my vote against them." Acts 26:10 o} kaiV
ejpoivhsa ejn JIerosoluvmoi", kaiV pollouv" te tw'n
aJgivwn ejgwV ejn fulakai'" katevkleisa thVn paraV
tw'n ajrcierevwn ejxousivan labwvn, ajnairoumevnwn te
aujtw'n kathvnegka yh'fon,
13 Hans Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), p. 71.
14 Mk. 12:14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and care for no

man; for you do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay
taxes to Caesar, or not?
Mk. 12:14 kaiV ejlqovnte" levgousin aujtw'/, Didavskale,
oi[damen o{ti ajlhqhV" ei\ kaiV ouj mevlei soi periV
oujdenov", ouj gaVr blevpei" eij" provswpon ajnqrwvpwn,
ajll· ejp· ajlhqeiva" thVn oJdoVn tou' qeou'
didavskei": e[xestin dou'nai kh'nson Kaivsari h] ou[;
dw'men h] mhV dw'men;
Matt. 22:16: and they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we
know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not
regard the position of men.
kaiV ajpostevllousin aujtw'/ touV" maqhtaV" aujtw'n
metaV tw'n JHrw/dianw'n levgonte", Didavskale, oi[damen
o{ti ajlhqhV" ei\ kaiV thVn oJdoVn tou' qeou' ejn
ajlhqeiva/ didavskei", kaiV ouj mevlei soi periV
oujdenov", ouj gaVr blevpei" eij" provswpon ajnqrwvpwn.
Luke 20:21 kaiV ejphrwvthsan aujtoVn levgonte", Didavskale,
oi[damen o{ti ojrqw'" levgei" kaiV didavskei" kaiV ouj
lambavnei" provswpon, ajll· ejp· ajlhqeiva" thVn
oJdoVn tou' qeou' didavskei":
Story, p. 5

heretical halakah.15
A comparison of the three accounts (22:1-16; 26:9-18) reveals some similarities;

1.Paul thrown to the ground on the way to Damascus,

3.he words, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
4.The words, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting"
5., even though the details are
notably different:
9:7--companions hear a voice--see nothing,
22:9--companions see the light--hear no voice,
26:14--nothing is said of reactions--but they fall to the ground.
The effect on Paul's companions in all three accounts makes it clear that this was
not a subjective, but an objective appearance of the risen Jesus. The purpose of the
parallel accounts with the differences in detail may "on the one hand establish Paul's
companions as witnesses, but on the other hand reserve the appearance to Paul alone."16
The light causes Paul to fall to the ground; the effect upon Paul is described as
"being dazed" or "dazzled."17 Haenchen notes, "it seems to follow that Saul saw Jesus
only as he beheld this tremendous blaze of light. As the persecutor, Paul experiences the
same "light/glory" that the persecuted Stephen saw in a vision, immediately prior to his
death (7:55-56). Luke imagined the occurrence in such a way that Saul's companions
saw only a formless glare where he himself saw in it the figure of Jesus."18 Elsewhere
Paul bases his own apostleship on his experience of seeing the Lord.19 p
The hearing of the sound/voice (fwnhv) by others and the appearance establish
15 "But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of

our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the
Acts 24:14 oJmologw' deV tou'tov soi o{ti kataV thVn oJdoVn
h}n levgousin ai{resin ou{tw" latreuvw tw'/ patrwv/w/
qew'/, pisteuvwn pa'si toi'" kataV toVn novmon kaiV toi'"
ejn toi'" profhvtai" gegrammevnoii
16 Conzelmann, p. 71.

17 Acts 22:7 e[pesav te eij" toV e[dafo" kaiV h[kousa fwnh'"

legouvsh" moi, SaouVl Saouvl, tiv me diwvkei";

Acts 26:13 hJmevra" mevsh" kataV thVn oJdoVn ei\don,
basileu', oujranovqen uJpeVr thVn lamprovthta tou'
hJlivou perilavmyan me fw'" kaiV touV" suVn ejmoiV
18 Ernst Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), pp. 321-322.

Haenchen notes a parallel with Deut. 4:12, "you heard the voice of words, but you saw no form."
Deuteronomy 4:12
(BHS) .lwq) yt!l*Wz <ya!r) <k#n+ya@ hn`Wmt=W <yu!m=v) <T#a^ <yr!b*D lwq)
va@h* i=wT)m! <k#yl@a& hw`hy rB@d~y+w^
19 1 Cor. 9:1 Oujk eijmiV ejleuvqero"; oujk eijmiV ajpovstolo";

oujciV jIhsou'n toVn kuvrion hJmw'n eJwvraka; ouj toV

e[rgon mou uJmei'" ejste ejn kurivw/;
1 Cor. 15:8 e[scaton deV pavntwn wJspereiV tw'/ ejktrwvmati
w[fqh kajmoiv. 9 jEgwV gavr eijmi oJ ejlavcisto" tw'n
ajpostovlwn, o}" oujk eijmiV iJkanoV" kalei'sqai
ajpovstolo", diovti ejdivwxa thVn ejkklhsivan tou' qeou':
Story, p. 6

that the experience was n event The witnesses who hear the voice affirm the reality of
the occurrence. Theto the reality of Yahweh’s revelation to Moses.20
prophetic call that we find in the Old TestamentGod overcomes the human
person, who is then given a prophetic task:

Paul's Call and the OT Prophetic Call

1. Similarity in form
a. Self-revelation of God (Theophany, Christophany)
b. Overwhelming effect--fear (R. Otto--mysterium tremendum)
c. Announcement of mission (verbal)
d. Human objections raised
e. Human objections are overcome
f. (Signs)
The basic form of this prophetic call is found with the following persons:
a. Moses (Exod. 3)
b. Isaiah (Isa. 6)
c. Jeremiah (Jer. 1)
d. Ezekiel (Ezek. 1-3)
e. Amos (1:1-2; 3:8; 7:10-14)
f. Paul (Acts 9; Gal. 1:11-17; I Cor. 15:1-11; I Tim. 1:12-17)
g. John (Rev. 1:9-20

2. Similarities in wording and meaning

Prophetic Call Paul's Call

a) Mention of call from mother's womb a) Mention of call from mother's womb
Judg. 16:17 Gal. 1:15 o{te deV eujdovkhsen
o{ti a{gio" qeou' ejgwV eijmi [oJ qeoV"] oJ ajforivsa" me
ajpoV koiliva" mhtroV" ejk koiliva" mhtrov" mou
mou . kaiV kalevsa" diaV th'"
"because I am a holy one of God from cavrito" aujtou'
my mother's womb 15 But when it pleased God, who separated me
from my mother's womb, and called me by his
Psa. 22:9 9 Yet thou art he who took me from the grace,
womb; thou didst keep me safe upon my mother's
Psa. 71:6 Upon thee I have leaned from my birth;
thou art he who took me from my mother's
womb. My praise is continually of thee.
Isaiah 49:1 Listen to me, O coastlands, and
hearken, you peoples from afar. The LORD called
me from the womb, from the body of my
mother (ejk koiliva" mhtroV"
mou ejkavlesen toV
o[noma mou ) he named my name.
2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the
shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a
polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.
20 See Deut. 4:12; Wisdom of Solomon 18:1; Daniel 10:7
Story, p. 7

3 And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel,

in whom I will be glorified."
4 But I said, "I have labored in vain, I have spent
my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my
right is with the LORD, and my recompense with
my God."
5 And now the LORD says, who formed me
from the womb (Kuvio" oJ
plavsa" me ejk koiliva"
dou'lon eJautw' /) to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might
be gathered to him, for I am honored in the eyes of
the LORD, and my God has become my strength
Jer. 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew
you (proV tou' me plavsai se
ejn koiliva/ ejpivstamaiv
se), and before you were born I consecrated you;
(kaiV proV se ejxelqei'n ejk
mhvtra" hJgivakav se) I appointed
you a prophet to the nations
b) Prophetic ministry to the Gentiles b) Prophetic ministry to the Gentiles
6 he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be Gal. 1:16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in
my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to order that I might preach him among the
restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood,
light to the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach 16 ajpokaluvyai toVn uiJoVn
to the end of the earth.” aujtou' ejn ejmoiv, i{na
6 kaiV ei\pevn moi Mevga eujaggelivzwmai aujtoVn
soiv ejstin tou' klhqh'naiv ejn toi'" e[qnesin , eujqevw"
se pai'dav mou tou' sth'sai ouj prosaneqevmhn sarkiV
taV" fulaV" Iakwb kaiV thVn kaiV ai{mati
diasporaVn tou' Israhl
ejpistrevyai, ijdouV
tevqeikav se eij" diaqhvkhn
gevnou" eij" fw'" ejqnw'n
tou' ei\naiv se eij"
swthrivan e{w" ejscavtou th'"
c)Promise of divine presence and deliverance c) Promise of divine presence and
Jer. 1:8 "Do not be afraid of them: for I am with deliverance
you to deliver you," says the Lord Acts 26:17 delivering you from the people and
MhV fobhqh/" ajpoV from the Gentiles -- to whom I send you
proswvpon aujtw'n o{ti metaV
sou' ejgwV eijmi tou' 17 ejxairouvmenov" se ejk
ejxairei'sqaiVV se levvgei tou' laou' kaiV ejk tw'n
ejqnw'n , eij" ou}" ejgwV
ajpostevllw se
Acts 18:9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a
vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be
9 ei\pen deV oJ kuvrio" ejn
nuktiV di· oJravmato" tw'/
Pauvlw/, MhV fobou ',
ajllaV lavlei kaiV mhV
d) Bearing God's name before Gentiles and d) Bearing God's name before Gentiles and kings
king(dom)s Acts 9:15 ei\pen deV proV"
Jer. 1:10 ijdouV katevstakav se aujtoVn oJ kuvrio", Poreuvou,
Story, p. 8

shvmeron ejpiV e[qnh kaiV o{ti skeu'o" ejklogh'" ejstivn

basileiva" ejkrizou'n kaiV moi ou|to" tou' bastavsai toV
kataskavptein kaiV o[nomav mou ejnwvpion
ajpolluvein kaiV ejqnw'n te kaiV basilevwn
ajnoikodomei'n kaiV uiJw'n te jIsrahvl:
katafuteuvein. But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen
. instrument of mine to carry my name before the
Behold, I have appointed you this day over Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;
nations and over kingdoms, to root out and to
pull down, and to destroy, and to rebuild, and to

It appears that Paul and Luke apply he OT prophetic call-narratives to Paul's call.
The link illustrates a "renewal of God's will for the salvation of the Gentiles, giving him
a place in the history of salvation in line with those Old Testament figures."21 Paul, like
Jeremiah was (1) chosen before birth for his apostolic office, (2) ina special mission to
the Gentiles, and (3) great opposition from his own people and kings.

Comparison of Moses’ Call and Paul’s Call:

Moses (Exod. 3) Paul (Acts 9)
“appeared” (w[fqh) 3:2 “appeared” (w[fqh) 9:17
“hid his face” 3:6 “fell to ground” 9:4
hears voice from bush 3:4 “hears voice from heaven” 9:4-5
“Moses, Moses” 3:4 “Saul, Saul” 9:4
Identity of person revealed 3:6 Identity of person revealed 9:5
A mission given 3:10 A wide mission—Jew-Gentile, suffering 9:15-16
dthe initiator of the prophetic and apostolic call. of the call-narratives .
The address of Jesus to Saul contains a solemn repetition of his name, "Saul,
Saul," a feature that is often found in theophanies (Gen. 22:11; 46:2; Ex. 3:4; I Sam.
3:10).22 The text of Acts 9:5 makes it clear that Paul does not immediately recognize the
One who has confronted him. He needs to ask the question, "Who are you, kuvrie
Jesus fully identifies Himself with His persecuted disciples: "Why do you
persecute me?" Thall three accounts. ncipient doctrine of the body of Christ, wherein
Jesus is identified with His people For Paul, this inaugural experience of the exalted
Jesus leads to the awareness of the close association of Jesus and His people.25 The idea
of the one and the many is expressed in several Pauline texts in which he expresses the
thought of the body of Jesus as one and yet many. In I Cor. 12:1

A. For just as the body B. is one and has many

members, and all the members
of the body, though many, are
one body
Av so it is with Christ Bv (Christ is both one and
21Johannes Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1959), p.

22 So, "Martha, Martha" (Lk. 10:41), "Simon, Simon" (Lk. 22:31).
25 I Cor. 12:12f.; I Cor. 8:12; Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27
Story, p. 9

. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves
or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Cor. 12:13
Acts 9 is vital for understanding Paul's view of apostleship. Apparently, from
Luke's point of view, Paul does not really meet the qualifications of Acts 1:21, but Paul (I
Cor. 15) seems to say that he does. Note also the connection with I Cor. 9:1 and the
difference between this
TheThe very appearance of the risen Jesus stands in stark contrast to Paul's former
estimation of Jesus and the disciples of the Lord (9:1). Saul had been persecuting the
Christians as misguided adherents of a false Messiah. From his point of view, God had
publicly cursed Jesus: "cursed/accursed [by God] is everyone who hangs upon a tree"
(Deut. 21:23). The very fact of crucifixion was the clearest proof to Saul that Jesus had
been a deceiver. But now, God had Paul see with his own eyes that the accursed one
was the exalted Christ, the Lord of Glory. he doctrine of the resurrection with in seminal

clear contrast between 9:1-2 and 9:8. Saul, who had been so powerful and
aggressive (9:1,2) is andmust be led by the hand. The blindness is not punitive, but
Paul's present helplessness and the power of the risen Jesus. The experience is similar
to other events in the Old Testament when God struck people with blindness to thwart an
evil purpose or to get their attention.26 In 9:6 Paul, learns only what he must immediately
do--go to the city. All other details concerning the future are yet unrevealed. Jesus
Himself brings about the dramatic change and reorientation in Paul's life. It is as if Paul
has no other option. Even the divine passive in 9:6, "it shall be spoken"
(lalhqhvsetai) surely implies that Paul will follow through with obedience to
the Word of God.
In 9:9, the temporal designation is significant, "And he was three days without
sight, and neither ate nor drank". Haenchen notes, "It would be wrong to construe it as
punishment: it is simply the natural consequence of his beholding the heavenly light."27
Luke does not speak of a person whom Paul saw, but of a light and a voice. One of
Paul's cardinal doctrines is that of union with Christ (Rom. 6). While the three-day
blindness may be the immediate result of the shock, it is possible that these three days are
reminiscent of Jesus' death and resurrection (cf. Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12). Rackham notes,
"He is crucified with Christ, and the three days of darkness are like the three days in the
tomb. But on the third day with Christ, he rises from the dead in baptism; after this he is
filled with the Holy Ghost--his Pentecost."28 "Paul, as it were, plunged below the surface
of his faith to reconstruct it round the new fact, and only after three days was that basic
reconstruction complete enough for him to surface again."29 The motif of fasting may
suggest, "holding oneself in disciplined readiness for further revelation (e.g., Ex. 34:28;;
Dan. 10:2-3)."30

Act II-Jesus and Ananias in Damascus (9:10-16)

26 See Gen. 19:1; II Kings 6:18-20
27 Haenchen, p. 323.
28 R.B. Rackham, The Acts of the Apostles, (London: Macmillan, 1930), p. 133.
29 James D.G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit,
30 James D. G. Dunn, The Acts of the Apostles, (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1996), p. 122.
Story, p. 10

The new scene narrates the dialogue between the risen Jesus and Ananias. He is
described as a "disciple" (maqhthv"), i.e., "a Christian" and in 22:12-14, he is
introduced as a devout Hebrew.31 Since Ananias had not fledhe may well represent a
conservative Christian Jew who believed that it was possible to be a He is sent by "the
God of our fathers," and speaks of Jesus as "the Righteous/Just One." Ananias' opening
words, "Here am I, Lord" (ijdouv ejgwv) suggest a certain readiness and
attentiveness to the Word of the Lord.32

We can also note a clear divine providence or guidance at work Ananias given
Paul's exact address, "the street called 'Straight'" (9:11), a street which is still the main
thoroughfare in Damascus.
There is a significant contrast with respect to Ananias' posture vis-à-vis SaIn v.
15, to Ananias’ description of Christians whom Saul has persecuted, the Lord counters
with a description of the Saul, whom Ananias is soon to know. "vessel of election" to
bear Jesus' name to Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.
The Pauline doctrine of election finds its roots in 9:15, "a vessel of election".
Paul's election is then specified in two ways: 1. The Gentile mission, 2. Suffering for
Jesus' name.
Acts 9:15 But the Lord said unto him,
Go thy way:
for he is a chosen vessel [vessel of election] unto me,
to bear my name before the Gentiles,
the children of Israel
Acts 9:15 eipen deV proV" aujtoVn oJ kuvrio",
o{ti skeu'o" ejklogh'" ejstivn moi
31 Acts 22:12 JAnaniva" dev ti", ajnhVr eujlabhV" kataV toVn
novmon, marturouvmeno" uJpoV pavntwn tw'n
katoikouvntwn jIoudaivwn, 13 ejlqwVn prov" me kaiV
ejpistaV" ei\pevn moi, SaouVl ajdelfev, ajnavbleyon:
kajgwV aujth'/ th'/ w{ra/ ajnevbleya eij" aujtovn. 14
oJ deV ei\pen, JO qeoV" tw'n patevrwn hJmw'n
proeceirivsatov se gnw'nai toV qevlhma aujtou' kaiV
ijdei'n toVn divkaion kaiV ajkou'sai fwnhVn ejk tou'
stovmato" aujtou',
32 Unlike Samuel, Ananias knows the identity of the Lord:

1 Sam. 3:4-5
1 Sam. 3:4-5, kaiV ejkavlesen kuvrio" Samouhl Samouhl:
kaiV eij'pen jIdouV ejgov. kaiV e!dramen proV" Hli kaiV
eij'pen jIdouV ejgov, o@ti kevklhkav" me: kaiV ei'jpen
Ouj kevklhdav se, ajnavstrefe kavqeude. kaiV
ajnevstreyen kaiV ejkavqeuden. (LXX)
Story, p. 11

ou|to" tou' bastavsai34 toV o[nomav mou

ejnwvpion ejqnw'n
te kaiV
uiJw'n te
The expression, "vessel", skeu'o"" is used in a positive manner, which contrasts with
the expression, "vessel of his wrath" from Jeremiah (50:25=27:25 LXX):
Johannes Munck argues convincingly for a link with Gal. 1:15, in that the
revelation of Christ is linked to Paul's apostleship to the Gentiles, and the call, prior to
birth through the grace of God.36 In particular, the passage from a Servant Song (Isa.
49:1-6), affirms Yahweh's vhoivr from the womb and a subsequent ministry to the
nations, corresponding to Paul's affirmation in Gal. 1:16.37 Jeremiah's prophetic call is
likewise directed to the nations/Gentiles:
Jer. 1:4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
34Articular infinitive of purpose (3:12; 14:18; 15:20; 20:3, 27; 27:1).
36Johannes Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1959), p.
Gal. 1:15 o{te deV eujdovkhsen (oJ qeoV") oJ ajforivsa" me
ejk koiliva" mhtrov" mou kaiV kalevsa" diaV th'"
cavrito" aujtou'
As Munck notes, the expression, "from my mother's womb" (ejk koiliva" mhtrov"
mou) is found in several places in the Old Testament:
Judg. 16:17 So he told her all that was in his heart and said to her, "A razor has never come on my
head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother's womb. If I am shaved, then my strength
will leave me and I shall become weak and be like any other man."
See also Psa 21:10ff (EV 22:9ff) and 70 (71):6, which likewise affirm the special connection with
God from birth onwards.
37 Gal. 1:15 o{te deV eujdovkhsen (oJ qeoV") oJ ajforivsa" me
ejk koiliva" mhtrov" mou kaiV kalevsa" diaV th'"
cavrito" aujtou' 16 ajpokaluvyai toVn uiJoVn aujtou'
ejn ejmoiV i{na eujaggelivzwmai aujtoVn ejn toi'"
e[qnesin, eujqevw" ouj pros aneqevmhn sarkiV kaiV
ai{mati, Galatians 1:15-16But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's
womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him
among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood,
Isaiah 49:1,5-6 jAkouvsatev mou, nh'soi, kaiV prosevcete, e!qnh:
diaV crovnou pollou' sthvsetai, levgei kuvrio". ejk
koiliva" mhtrov" mou ejkavlesen toV o!nomav mou 5kaiV
n'n ou@tw" levgei kuvrio" oJ plavsa" me ejk koiliva"
dou'lon eJautw/' 6kaiV eij'pevn moi . . . ijdouV

tevqeikav se eij" diaqhvkhn gevnou" eij" fw'" ejqnw'n

tou' eij'naiv se eij" swthrivan e@w" ejscavtou th'" gh'".
Isaiah 49:1,5-6 "Listen, O coastlands, to Me, And take heed, you peoples from afar! The LORD
has called Me from the womb; From the matrix of My mother He has made mention of My name. 5
"And now the LORD says, Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, . . . 6 Indeed He
says, . . . I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the
ends of the earth.' "
Story, p. 12

In the call narratives (Paul, Isaianic Servant, Jeremiah), we find several common
ingredients: call, choice from the womb, vocation, ministry to the Gentiles. Martin notes,
“Paul felt responsibility as the key eschatological apostle sent by God in the final time
(Col. 1:24-29; Eph. 3:1-13). Thus, it may be argued that Paul’s commission was
certainly a part of his entrance into new life as a Christian, but it cannot be the sum-total
of it.”38
There is a clear and emphatic repetition of the word "name":
"authority . . .to bind all who call upon thy name" (9:14)
"to bear My name before the Gentiles" (9:15)
"how much he must suffer for My name's sake" (9:16)
It is noteworthy that in Acts, Paul will appear before three groups in the course of his
missionary endeavors:
- Jews (13:5, 14; 14:1; 1613; 17:1-4, 10, 17; 19:8)
- Gentiles (17:22; 18:6-11; 19:10)
- A king (26:1-29)
Another major element in the apostolic call is the vocation of suffering, given
special prominence by Luke:
- suspicion by Paul's companions (9:26)
- attempts on his life (9:29)
- abuse by Jews of the (13:45ff.; 14:2ff, 19; 17:5ff.; 19:23ff.)
- fractured relationships with fellow workers (15:37ff.)
- scorn and persecution by Gentiles (16:19ff.; 17:32f.; 19:23ff.)
Elsewhere, Paul regards such sufferings as sharing the sufferings of Christ (Phil. 3:10)
and as a sign of his apostleship.39 Such suffering counters the triumphalism of his
opponents (I Cor. 4).
The sharpest contrast can be seen in Paul's understanding of apostleship. The
apostolic call is without the intervention of any human agency. He is called an apostle by
the will of God, sent not from men, nor by a man but by Jesus Christ and God the Father,
who raised Him from the dead.41 The weaker the human Paul is (undistinguished in
appearance, unimpressive in speech, stricken by illness, persecuted by his own
countrymen), the more certain it is that all the strength that goes out is God's strength and
not human strength. That is why he says that he possesses "this treasure in earthen
vessels" (II Cor. 4:7). Therefore, he expresses the paradox of life in the midst of death:
"For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death,
because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men . . . We have
become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the off scouring of all "things" (I Cor.
4:9, 13).42
Paul's understanding of sin likewise finds root in the Damascus Road experience.
Paul sees that he had blasphemed the Messiah, had persecuted His flock, and had
participated in murder. The most pious intentions had brought Paul into the deepest sin
and guilt. "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and
38 Ralph P. Martin, Reconciliation: A Study of Paul’s Theology, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981.
39 See II Cor. 11:23ff.; Gal. 6:17.
41 See Gal. 1:1; I Cor. 1:1; II Cor. 1:1; Rom. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1.
42 Martin Dibelius and Werner Georg Kümmel, Paul, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press,

1966), pp. 62, 63.

Story, p. 13

His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not
I, but the grace of God with me." (I Cor. 15:9,10).
Corresponding to the doctrine of sin, we can also observe a seminal understanding
of ivine grace. The risen Jesus does not confront Saul with judgment, but with grace.
"Luke constantly drives home the idea that Christ himself brought about this change of
front. Paul did not dream of becoming a Christian or a missionary. The idea that Luke
wanted to suggest a psychological explanation such as modern psychology would offer is
completely wrong; on the contrary, Luke wishes to show that no human evolution is
responsible for the change, but an act of God--and that alone!"43 This certainly lies at the
heart of Paul’s argument about the futility of (which he calls confidence in the flesh), the
one human trait that stands in utter antithesis to active trust in the grace of God.
Act III--Saul and Ananias in Damascus (9:17-19)
When Ananais greets Paul, he addresses Paul as "brother" (ajdelfov"),
quite possibly "simply hailing his fellow Jew with the word of racial kinship . . . putting
Paul at ease--telling him that his past was not held against him, something which may
well have worried Paul . . ."44
Paul's understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit, likewise finds
roots in Paul's experience in Damascus:
"so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit" (9:17)
It is the gift of God that incorporates Paul into the early church. By virtue of the
reception of the Spirit, everything else follows. The reception of the Spirit is mentioned
prior to and independent of baptism. The Holy Spirit is linked with Saul’s baptism (v. 19)
Ananias explains to Paul that he is not only sent to restore Paul's sight, but also that he
may "be filled with the Holy Spirit." This last phrase is the same used in Luke's
description of the first Pentecost: "and all were filled with the Holy Spirit." It is
noteworthy that Paul's filling with the Spirit is mediated by Ananias, who is not one of
the apostles. It appears that Paul's experience was a three-day event, encompassing the
time from the Damascus Road to his baptism. According to 22:16 "in Ananias' eyes Paul
had yet to take that step which would clinch his committal and forgiveness."45
The reader is made aware that this is the Pauline Pentecost, so that by virtue of his
reception of the Spirit, Paul stands equally with the twelve. When Paul is then baptized,
the keynote of his "preaching" (khruvgma) is sounded, in that Paul began to preach
Jesus by saying, "This man is the Son of God" (9:18).
Paul's understanding of eschatology and the light of the dawning new age
similarly finds a root in the Damascus Road experience. We can note the clear
connection in II Cor. 4:6 between creation and the new creation in Christ:
"For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness.' is the One who has shone
in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of
Just as creation was effected by the divine spoken word, accounting for the
43Haenchen, p. 328.
44Dunn, p. 74. Dunn notes that ajdelfov" is used 57 times in Acts--36 times equivalent to
'my fellow Christian(s)' (leaving aside 9:17 and 22:13), and 19 times in reference to the
national/spiritual kinship of Jew to Jew."
45 Dunn, p. 74. Acts 22:16 kaiV nu'n tiv mevllei"; ajnastaV"
bavptisai kaiV ajpovlousai taV" aJmartiva" sou
ejpikalesavmeno" toV o[noma aujtou'.
Story, p. 14

change from darkness to light, so with Paul; the divine light which shone upon him on the
Damascus Road caused an initial blindness, subsequently removed through the light of
the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Paul compares his experience to
a new creation (II Cor. 5:17) in which the recreating light of God shines into his darkness.
Elsewhere Paul speaks about a revelation within himself:
Gal. 1:16 to reveal His Son in me (ajpokaluvyai toVn uiJoVn
aujtou ejn ejmoiv), that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did
not immediately consult with flesh and blood.
In Acts 9:19b-31, Paul immediately begins to fulfill his new role to the sons of
Israel (promised in 9:15--fulfilled in vss. 20, 22, 27-29), experience suffering (promised
in 9:16--fulfilled in vss. 21, 23, 29), and preaching in Jerusalem (9:15-16--fulfilled in vss.
26-29). Paul then preaches Jesus as the Son of God (v. 20), the Messiah (v. 2), and Lord
(v. 29)--all of which become central themes of his later sermons.

In many ways, Pauline theology is dependent on this unique experience; many of
the major themes, which are subsequently unfolded in his epistles, find point of
connection or root in this pivotal eventlanguage of “brother,” guidance. Grace is so
evident in that the Risen Jesus briefly sketches the dark part of Saul’s life, only to hasten
on to stress the divine invitation to a new life and the promise of what God will do
through Saul. The accent is on the positive aspect of Jesus’ grace. Paul’s theology did
not come to fullness or maturity , many elements were implicit in the experience. He an
altogether new perspective on all of his former experience and training. Formerly his life
had revolved and been organized around the central thrust of the Law. Bruce says,
“When the revelation of Jesus Christ showed him the bankruptcy of the law, the law
could no longer be the magnet which drew all those elements together in a well-defined
manner. With the removal of the magnet they would have been dispersed and
disorganized, had the law not been immediately replaced at the center by the risen Lord,
around whom Paul’s life and thought were reorganized to form a new pattern.” 47
As the gospel proceeds into the vast Gentile world with all of its moral
bankruptcy, Acts 9 simply says, “Nobody need be discouraged.” The patience and grace
and power of God and of His Risen Jesus-towards the greatest enemy set a pattern (I Tim.
1:16) describing the gracious ways in which God will work wherever the good news
Dunn remarks, "This was not a slight transaction of a few seconds—otherwise,
blindness would not have been so severe. It was not like rounding a sharp corner, but
like running into a solid object while in full flight. Time was necessary to let the pieces
of his shattered life reassemble themselves around this central new fact."48 Paul is one of
those people whose lives have been torn in two by a single event. We call it conversion--
but that term is misleading. Paul's experience was not like that of one who is saved at a
Salvation Army booth. Paul was not converted from a life of "sin" to a life of
righteousness. Rather he turned from a religion of righteousness to a religion of the
47 F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1977), p.
48 Dunn, p. 76.
Story, p. 15

The very fact that the change occurred in the middle of persecutions explains its
radical nature; Paul redirects his former zeal to Jesus with the same intensity that drove
him to persecute the Church. The Lord Jesus transformed Paul from a zealous and
bigoted Pharisee to the first Christian theologian.
The greatest shock that that realization gave him was in its negative side:
he could not help seeing that with the best will in the world to serve God,
one can pass him by. That was what had happened to him--in his zeal for
the Law, in his devotion to the God of the Law, he had become a
persecutor of the Christians and had almost come to ruin.49
This encounter leaves a powerful effect on Paul which his theology, self-understanding
and kerygma. The life that Paul subsequently lives is an outgrowth of this powerful
initiating event.

49 Kümmel, p. 63.5

Luke's Instructive Dynamics for Resolving Conflicts:

The Jerusalem Council

This essay argues that in the lengthy case-study of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-35), Luke
provides several instructive dynamics that are important for resolving conflicts in a way that
actually leads to an advance of the gospel (Acts 15.36-16.5). Luke intends that his readership
both understand and embrace the story as a model for the Early Church to follow as it encounters
conflicts. Dynamics include the divine initiative, the inclusionary and saving activity of God,
commitment to unity, shared stories of experience and precedent, the Holy Spirit, Scripture,
decisions, compromise and clear communication. He helps the early communities to relive the
event and its nuances, to embrace and to adopt his point of view in the process of
conflict-resolution in an ever-changing landscape.

Key Words:
Acts 15
The Jerusalem Council
The Holy Spirit

The aim of this paper is to explain the instructive dynamics that Luke brings into play in
resolving the decisive conflict of the Jerusalem Council, which leads to an advance of the gospel
(Acts 15.1-16.5). Luke intends his readers to understand and embrace the story as a model for
the nascent church.
In a helpful way, Joseph Tyson links this story with several other narratives in Acts that
follow his suggested pattern: 1) peace, 2) threat, 3) resolution, 4) restoration.1 I suggest the

1 Joseph B. Tyson, "Themes at the Crossroads: Acts 15 in its Lukan Setting," Forum, New Series 4, 1 (Spring,
2008), 110. Tyson cites a pattern in Acts 1.12-26;4.32-5.11; 6.1-7; 6.8.6-13; 8.14-25, which also includes 1.12-26
(choice of a replacement apostle); 9.19b-21, 26 (Paul's credibility); 10.1-11.18 (Cornelius' story) ; 18.24-28
(Apollos' inadequacy).

pattern of: 1) conflict, 2) resolution, 3) advance. My term, 'advance,' means an extension of a

resolution that Tyson calls 'restoration.' Luke's case-studies, including the lengthiest story of the
Jerusalem Council, narrate how the process of conflict-resolution actually advances the witness
of the gospel through the strengthening of the Church and the numerical growth of believers.2
Others, such as Luke Timothy Johnson devote valuable attention to issues such as discernment
and the importance of the 'story'3 in making decisions. I intend to enumerate the intertwined
elements by which the Jerusalem Council resolved the conflict raised in Acts 15.1, 5. For Luke,
the story is a 'lived-theology' that is instructive for the community as it seeks the will of God in
changing circumstances, in new geographical areas with new ethnic groups, pressing issues and
conflicts.4 Of particular note is Luke's understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in resolving
the conflict.
The various elements that surface in the conflict5 are fundamentally issues of exclusion
and inclusion, the terms of admission for Gentile salvation, including circumcision,6 adherence to
the Law of Moses (15.1, 5) and table-fellowship (15.20, 29; 21.25). The story may reveal other
implicit problems: the potential divide between two geographical centers (mother-church in
Jerusalem and daughter-church in Antioch), and a possible separation between apostolic leaders.

2 Advances also occur in 5.11-14; 6.7-8, 13-7.53; 9.31; 11.18, 21; 18.27-28.
3 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical, 1992), Decision-Making in
the Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983).
4 My purpose is not to reconstruct the historical events (Acts 15 & Gal 2) but to probe the transformative value of
the story. and its appropriation by various faith-communities.
5 Luke uses numerous nouns and verbs to accentuate the conflict: "dissension" (sta/siv) and "sharp debate" (zhth/siv ou0k

o0ligh/--litotes 15.2; see 14.27) in Antioch, "this controversial matter" (zh/thma) in Jerusalem (15.3), "this

matter/question" (o( lo/gov ou{tov 15.6) and "much dispute" (pollh/ zhth/siv 15.7). Luke expresses the demand as a "yoke

(zugo/v 15.10), expressed in v. 28 as a "burden" (ba/rov) which amounts to challenging God (ti/ peira/zete to\n qeo/n; 15.10), a

form of harassment (parenoxlei=n 15.19) in which "they disturbed" (e0ta/racan) you and were "troubling" (a0naskeua/zontev)

your minds by what they said" (15.24). The verb, "to become silent" (siga=n 15.12-13), contrasts with the previous

heated discussion.
6 The Christian Jews may look to their commitment to circumcision in the OT (Gen. 17.9-14; Exod. 12.44, 48), the

Maccabean era (1 Macc. 1.48, 60-61; 2.46), and possibly Jesus' own circumcision with no apparent abrogation of the
"everlasting sign" (Gen. 17.13) in his teachings.

The very unity, peace and future of the Church are threatened.
When I speak of conflict and resolution, I do not mean the various external threats that
the Early Church encounters, e.g., the 'savage wolves that will not spare the flock' (20.29).
Clearly resolution is impossible with such groups. Rather, my focus will embrace the internal
conflict of the Jerusalem Council, when Christians seek to be Christians together in the midst of

Instructive Dynamics
Luke tells the story of how the various points of conflict are resolved and he does so in a
persuasive way to instruct the early communities of how they should go about seeking the
communal will of God. Many of Luke's indicative statements in the narrative become
paradigmatic for his readers.

a) Acknowledge the divine initiative. Luke consistently affirms the divine initiative in Gentile-
inclusion7 noted through verbal forms:
· 'everything God had done' (o#sa o( qeo\v e0poi/hsen) 15.4

· 'God made a choice' (e0cele/cato o( qeo\v) 15.7

· 'God . . . witnessed' (o( . . . qeo\v e0martu/rhsen) 15.8

· '[God] by giving the Holy Spirit' (dou\v to\ pneu=ma) 15.8

· 'He made no distinction'8 (ou0qe\n die/krinen) 15.9

· '[God] by cleansing their hearts' (kaqari/sav ta\v kardi/av au0tw=n) 15.9

· 'the miraculous signs and wonders God had done' (o#sa e0poi/hsen o( qeo\v shmei=a kai\ te/rata

e0n e!qnesin) 15.12

7 God's purposeful activity is also intimated in Acts 13.47 (Isa. 49.6), "I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that
you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth."
8 The verb with its negative, "he made no distinction" (ou0qe\n die/krinen) expresses the divine determination of the

divine/human story of the former vision (Acts 10.9-16, 20; 11.2-17). Through the visionary-lesson, Peter interprets
God's decision.

· 'God . . . showed his concern' (o( qeo\v e0peske\yato labei=n 9) 15.14

· The quote from Amos (15.16-17) uses 3 verbs in four expressions in the first person
singular, where God is the speaker: 'I will return' (a0nastre/yw); 'I will rebuild'

(a0noikodomh/sw) twice; 'I will restore' (a0norqw/sw) 15.16. Further, the last line also

affirms the divine initiative, 'says the Lord who does these things' (le/gei ku/riov poiw=n

tau=ta) 15.17

Thus, Luke provides a total of 13 expressions that affirms the divine initiative and activity in
Gentile-inclusion. Human figures acknowledge God's prior initiative and action. In highlighting
the divine activity in the Council's deliberations, Luke suggests that the nascent community 'catch
up' with God's purposeful activity.
b) Celebrate the inclusionary and saving-activity of God. Whereas the objectors argued for an
exclusive salvation (15:1), Luke argues for an inclusive salvation, 'No! We believe that it is
through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved,10 just as they (Gentiles) are' (15.11).11 The
reversal of language is both surprising and revealing; it is a new paradigm that the Gentiles'
salvific experience becomes the gauge by which Jewish Christians are measured.12
In the deliberations, Luke highlights the legitimacy of Gentile-inclusion; there are seven
positive references to the Gentiles (Acts 15.3, 7, 12, 14, 17, 19, 23). Earlier in Acts, Luke prepares
the reader for the theological and practical issue raised in the Jerusalem Council. Luke narrates the
story of receptive Gentiles on the Day of Pentecost (2.5-12), the Ethiopian eunuch (8.26-40), Paul's
ministry to the Gentiles (9.15) and most importantly for Acts 15—the detailed Cornelius story
(10.1-11.18). Acts 11.19-30 includes a substantial witness among the Gentiles at Antioch and is
followed by Barnabas and Paul's missionary tour in which Gentiles receive the Christian gospel

9 An infinitive of purpose, again reinforcing the divine initiative and action.

10 The aorist infinitive "to be saved" (swqh=nai) may be rendered "we shall be saved" as a statement of purpose.

Johnson, Acts of the Apostles, 263

11 Walker notes the remarkable similarity, both ideational and verbal, between Peter's speech as a whole (Acts 15.7-
11) and Paul's report regarding the Jerusalem Conference (Gal. 2)." William O. Walker, "Acts and the Pauline
Corpus Revisited: Peter's Speech at the Jerusalem Conference," Ed. Richard P. Thompson, Thomas E. Phillips,
Literary Studies in Luke-Acts: Essays in Honor of Joseph B. Tyson (Macon, GA: Mercer, 1998), 79.
12 See Johnson, Acts of the Apostles, 263.

(13.1-14.28), well expressed by the statement, 'now we turn to the Gentiles' (13.46). Charles
Talbert observes that 'the extension of the gospel to the Gentiles is followed by an episode of
Jerusalem approval.'13 The issue of Peter's table-fellowship with Cornelius and its significance is
thoroughly narrated; the various pericopes serve as introductory material for the issue of Gentile-
inclusion, so important for Acts 15. Luke also refers to the Gentile ministry sixteen times in the
second part of Acts (16.6-28.31) as a settled matter; the conclusion of Acts expresses the certainty
that 'God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles and they will listen' (28.28).
Luke does not advocate a 'replacement theology,' wherein Christianity replaces Judaism or
that the Church is a 'completed Judaism.' Instead, the unfolding mission couples Jewish restoration
with the conversion of Gentiles, called by God's name—but not converts to Judaism (15.16-19
including the quote from Amos 9.11-12); the divine initiative includes both groups. Thus, the
community should not make it difficult for Gentiles, who turn to God (15.28).
Luke reveals his fundamental commitment to the mission of offering salvation to all. In
between Pentecost and the Parousia (or 'the times of regeneration' in 3.20), the Church is Spirit-
empowered for responsible and faithful witness to all. Jesus would 'continue to do and to teach'
(1.1) through the witness of the ever-expanding church.14 Further, it is significant that Luke
concludes his book in open-ended fashion, crowned by God's universal offer of salvation, the
Kingdom of God, and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ (28.28-30). Graham Twelftree notes
that Luke 'expects readers to take up in their lives what has become Paul's story. Though Paul
dies, he lives in their ministry; the end of his mission is the beginning of theirs—to the ends of the
earth (1.8).'15 Through people, the descriptive narrative of Jesus' saving-activity becomes the
prescriptive 'marching-order' for the church of Luke's day. The witness of Jesus is to be constantly
on the move, never satisfied with the status quo of a past era, geographical place or an
exclusionary group.
c) Be committed to unity. During the Council's deliberations, Luke underscores unity, which is

13 Acts 11.18, 22-24; 15.1-29; 18.22; 21.17-25. Charles H. Talbert, Reading Acts (New York: Crossroad, 1997),
14 Luke's summaries (2.42-47; 4.32-37; 5.12-16; 6.7; 12.24; 16.5; 19.20 often stress the numerical growth of added

disciples (3000 in 2.41; "more and more men and women believed" in 5.14; "grew and multiplied" in 12.24). See
Graham H. Twelftree, People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke's View of the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 178.
15Twelftree, 178.

initially expressed through the numerous people involved in the deliberations who come to a
common consensus:
· Apostles and Elders (15.2, 4, 6, 22, 23)
· Apostles (15.33)
· Church (15.3, 4, 22)
· Whole body of members (plh=qov16 15.12, 30)

· Brothers (15.1, 3, 7, 13, 22, 23 twice, 32, 33)

· Men (15. 7, 13, 'leading men' in 22 twice, 25)
· Certain ones (15.1, 2, 5, 24)
· Key individuals by name (Paul and Barnabas-15.2 twice,12, 22, 25, 35);
Peter/Simeon (15.7, 14); James (15.13)
· Prophets (Judas and Silas 15.32)
· Divine persons (God-15.4, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 18, 19; Lord Jesus-15.11, 26; Holy
Spirit-15.8, 28)
The numerous 'stake-holders' (both human and divine) affirm a communal search for the will of
God in this particular conflict; the forum demonstrates respect for people holding different values
and opportunity is given for personal expression from all parties.17 It implies a shared willingness
to find common ground. The process uses the leadership structures that were somewhat
formalized by this time, specifically with the repeated mention of the apostles and elders and an
apostolic leader (James). To be sure, within this group, certain individuals 'carry more weight,' but
this does not negate the communal participation and approval of the decision. Although James'
argument and decision are climactic, the entire church is engaged in the decision and its
implementation (15.22).
For Luke, unity is essential for communal life and witness and is well expressed by one of
Luke's favorite terms, 'of one accord' (o(moqumado/n 15.25). The term is found almost exclusively in

Acts18 and is frequently found in Luke's summaries (Acts 1.14; 2.1; 2.46; 4.24; 5.12).19 Another

16 A technical term of religious communities . . . fellowship, community, church. BDAG, 668.

17 However, there are two pejorative statements: 1) Peter's rebuke of the Jewish Christian objectors, "Why do you
challenge God?" in v. 10, 2) the disavowal of the objectors by James, "some went out from us without our
authorization" in v. 24.

related Lukan expression (not found in Acts 15) is 'to be\come together' ('at the same place' e0pi\ to\

au)to/),20 which is also found in Luke's summaries (Acts 1.15; 2.44, 47; 4.26). The terms reflect

Luke's idyllic and idealized portrait of the early Christian communities. Tyson (2008) links these
expressions with the 'internal harmony of the community.' 21 In Acts 15, the expression, 'of one
accord,' means that the decision and its implementation reflect harmony, peace, wholeness and
agreement by all the parties concerned in the conflict. No word of dissension is heard at the time
of the decision or the letter's composition. Delegates from the Jerusalem Council are sent to
Antioch and then return to Jerusalem; this course of action highlights the continuing positive
relationship between the mother-church in Jerusalem and the daughter-church in Antioch. Further,
concord is well expressed by the three-fold use of the verb, 'to think, seem, consider' (doke/w) with a

following infinitive. BDAG translate the impersonal use of the verb by 'it seemed best to . . .':22
v. 22 'it seemed best (e1doce) to the apostles and elders . . . . . to send (pe/myai).'

v. 25 'it seemed best (e1doce) to us . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . to send (pe/myai).'

v. 28 'it seemed best (e1doce) to the Holy Spirit and to us . . . not to lay upon (mh\ e0piti/qesqai).'

Reasoned communication is communal and involves the whole church, its leadership and the Holy
Spirit, which leads to James' decision. The decision does not read 'as a power play by one faction
dictating its will to the rest.'23 Only two imperative verbs are used ('listen to me' a)kou/sate mou 15.13;

'farewell' e1rrwsqe 15.29); therefore, the decision is set within the context of politeness, respect and

d) Value the 'stories' of others. Shared experiences play an important role in resolving the conflict.
The shared stories are not incidental or accidental but are vital for Luke's purpose. Stories reveal a
'lived theology.' In the broader Lukan context, the story of Jesus (Luke) is incomplete without the
various stories of individuals, who advance the Christian message (Acts).
Barnabas and Paul's story is initially introduced in Acts 14.27-28, as a precursor for the
Jerusalem Council. The text states that the pair arrived in Antioch and stayed there a long time.

20 Literally, "at one place," BDAG, 288.

21 Tyson, 109.
22 BDAG, 202.
23 James D. G. Dunn, The Acts of the Apostles (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity, 1996), 208.

There are four stories told using identical or similar language:

· In Antioch, upon their arrival, Luke states that they narrated their story to the 'gathered
church' and 'were rehearsing all that God had done through them and how he had opened the
door of faith to the Gentiles' (a0nh/ggellon o#sa e)poi/hsen o( qeo\v met 0 au0tw=n kai\ o#ti h1noicen toi=v e11qnesin

qu/ran pi/stewv) 14.27

· In Phoenicia and Samaria, the pair are 'describing the conversion of the Gentiles (e0dihgou/menoi

th\n e0pistrofh\n tw=n e0qnw=n)'; the report is met with great joy. 15.3

· In Jerusalem, 'they rehearsed everything God had done through them' (a)nh/ggeilan te o#sa o( qeo\v

e)poih/sen met 0 au0tw=n) 15.4

· In Jerusalem, during the deliberations, the pair are 'telling the story about the miraculous
signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them' (e0chgoume/nwn o#sa e0poi/hsen

o( qeo\v shmei=a kai\ te/rata e0n toi=v e1qnesin di ) au0tw=n) v. 12.

All four verses include a verb of telling (a0nagge/llw used twice), the substantive, 'all that' (o#sa) is used

three times, the verb, 'to do' (poie/w) and its subject 'God' are used three times, the prepositional

expression, 'with them' (met 0 au0tw=n) or 'through them' (di ) au0tw=n) is used three times and there is

mention of Gentiles (e!qnh) in three verses.

Luke stresses the happy welcome of the pair in Phoenicia, Samaria and Jerusalem (15.2-4).
Although Peter and James are more prominent in the Council itself, the pair's story provides a steady
support for the inclusion of the Gentiles,24 before and during the Council. The pair's story needs to be
told—not minimized and possesses an implicit power to convince. No propositional or theological
argument is offered for Gentile-inclusion. 'Their position is communicated best by the recountal of
their experience of God's work.'25
The pair's 'story' is not only their story alone, but an interpreted story and part of the
corporate memory of the Council. The narrative recounts 'what God has done through people on
behalf of the Gentiles.' In 11.17, Peter had raised the rhetorical question, 'Who was I to think I could

24 Luke uses Isa. 49.6 in Acts 13.47, to authorize Paul's Gentile-mission, "I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth."
25 Luke Timothy Johnson, Decision-Making in the Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), 80.

oppose God?' Luke's readership must ask the same question: 'Who do we think we are who could
oppose God's patent saving-activity for the Gentiles?' In the shared story, both Jewish and Gentile
persons and groups find their identity, meaning and calling to be Christians together. The shared
memory of the past contains an implicit meaning for both the present deliberations of the Council
and the future opportunity of the community as 'the opened door of faith to the Gentiles' (14.27)
advances in the second portion of the book of Acts.
While the pair's story is general in nature, Peter's story is particular in the Cornelius episode
(Acts 10.1-48) and its retelling in Jerusalem (11.1-17) prior to the Council. In the Council (Acts 15),
this is the third telling of the story in summary form by both Peter and James; Peter's introductory
statement, 'you know' (e)pi/stasqe) affirms that the audience is already familiar with Peter's experience.

Peter's statement, 'some time ago' (lit. 'from the days of old' a0f 0 h(merw=n a)rxai/wn 15.7), refers to the

Cornelius episode (especially 10.44-46; retelling in 11.1-17). What did the Cornelius story convey?
The story highlighted the divine activity for Gentile-inclusion, by orchestrating two complementary
visions, one to Peter and the other to Cornelius, in different places and its climax when the two
persons come together. While Peter's vision was first puzzling to him, he understands the vision's
significance when he encounters Cornelius and his friends. He now knows that he is not to
discriminate (10.28—'I should not call any man impure or unclean'; see 11.9), that 'God does not
show favoritism but accepts men from every nation' (10.34), the Holy Spirit had been poured out
even on the Gentiles (10.45) and that God has cleansed their hearts by faith (15.9)—without
adopting the Jewish way of life, including circumcision. Thus, the story becomes a 'classic
prototype,'26 by which Peter transposes a personal story into a vigorous theological affirmation in a
communal context.
The tellers of the stories imply that this is their own story of God working through them. The
conflict arose in Jerusalem over the issue of table-fellowship with the Jewish Peter and the Gentile
Cornelius, 'You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them' (11.3) and concludes
with the apostles' and brothers' affirmation that God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto
life' ['without circumcision'] (11.18). The personal narratives of Barnabas, Paul and Peter witness to
a united and shared story that contributes to a common affirmation by the entire Council. Three

26 Hans Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles (tran. James Limburg, Thomas Kraabel, and Donald H. Juel; Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1987), 116.

stories coalesce into one common witness that divine grace, met with human trust is the only means
of salvation for both groups, 'we in just the same way as they' (15.11); it leads to Peter's summative
statement of corporate belief, 'We believe . . .' (15.11).
A sub-text may be inherent in Luke's narrative of Peter's story. Peter had been a reluctant
missionary in his vision. In the vision Peter was strongly 'religious' in his emphatic refusal, 'No way
Lord' (Mhdamw=v ku/rie—10.14; 11.8),27 which may be the reason for why the vision of the sheet

occurred three times (10.16). His prejudicial attitude needed to be overcome and is done so; he
learned and lived a new way of thinking and behaving. Correspondingly, the objectors express
exclusionary attitudes that Peter had once felt. Thus, the objectors who share affinity with Peter's
initial reluctance may be encouraged to overcome their own prejudice as well.
James, the leader of the apostles and brother of Jesus,28 puts his stamp of approval on Peter's
experience with Cornelius and its bearing upon the present decision as well as its future implications
(15.14). Two aorist tenses refer to a particular point in time with respect to the Cornelius-story:
'Simeon rehearsed' (e0chgh/sato) and 'God concerned himself with' (e0peske/yato).29 The adverb, 'first'

(prw=ton) hearkens back to Peter's speech as well ('some time ago' a0f 0 h(merw=n a)rxai/wn 15.7). James'

argument affirms Peter's experience and its clear announcement of the divine purpose of 'taking from
the Gentiles a people for himself' (15.14). In the expression, 'from the Gentiles, a people for his
name' (e0c e)qnw=n lao\n tw=| o)no/mati au0tou=), there is a contrast between the 'Gentiles' and 'a people.'

Hitherto, the Gentiles ('no people') did not constitute God's people by way of race or racial mark.
However, God has done the paradoxical thing in the Cornelius-story, to make 'a people' for his name
(i.e., for himself), from what was regarded as "no-people."30 Thus, James along with Peter confirms
that God's purpose of calling the Gentiles parallels God's calling of the Jews; they belong together.
Peter's story has convinced James of the implications of Peter's precedent.
e) Discern the activity of the Holy Spirit. Luke emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in the
deliberations (15.8, 28). In 15.8, Peter compares Cornelius' story and the apostles' experience of the
reception of the Holy Spirit; Pentecost is linked with the Cornelius story and the experience of the

27 "by no means, no, certainly not" stating a negative reaction. BDAG, 517.
28 Acts 1.14; Mk 6.3; Gal 1.19.
29 Also parallel with the aorist, "God chose" (e0cele/cato v. 7)

30 The clearest OT link is Zech. 2.11[2.15 in Heb], "many Gentiles . . . will become my people."

· "by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he did to us" (dou\v to\ pneu=ma to\ a#gion kaqw\v kai\

h(mi=n) 15.8

· "the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message" (e)pe/sen to\ pneu=ma to\ a#gion e0pi\

pa/ntav tou\v a0kou/ontav to\ lo/gon) 10.44

· 'that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out had been poured out even on the
Gentiles' (o#ti kai\ e)pi\ ta\ e!qnh h( dwrea\ tou= a(gi/ou pneu/matov e0kke/xutai) 10.45

· 'They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have' (oi#tinev to\ pneu=ma to\ a#gion e!labon w(v

kai\ h(mei=v) 10.47

· 'the Holy Spirit came on them just as he had come on as at the beginning' (e)pe/sen to\

pneu=ma to\ pneu=ma to\ a#gion e)p ) au)tou\v w#sper kai\ e)f 0 h(ma=v e)n a)rxh=|) 11.15

· 'God gave them the same gift as he gave us' (th\n i!shn dwrea\n e!dwken au)toi=v o( qeo\v w(v kai\

h(mi=n) 11.17

Four of the six references draw comparison, 'just as' (kaqw\v, w(v, w#sper), between the experience of

Cornelius and friends with the encounter of the earliest community on the Day of Pentecost, 'All of
them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit was enabling
them' (kai\ e)plh/sqhsan pa/ntav pneu=matov a(giou= kai\ h!rcato lalei=n e(te/raiv glw/ssaiv kaqw\v to\ pneu=ma e0di/dou a)pofqe/ggesqai

au0toi=v 2.4). The experience of Cornelius and his friends' 'speaking in tongues' (10.46) provides a

tangible link with the Day of Pentecost. Luke's readers understand that the brief references in Acts
15 to the coming of the Spirit upon Cornelius and friends (Acts 10-11) are of one piece with the
recipients of the Spirit in Acts 2.1-4. Paul Elbert draws attention to the links between Pauline
expressions concerning the reception of the Spirit and Luke's stories, 'Luke provides the narrative-
rhetorically expected examples and precedents.'31 Dunn notes, 'As elsewhere in Acts, the Spirit is
the central feature in the process of conversion-initiation,'32 understood by Dibelius as a 'regularizing

31 Paul Elbert, "Possible Literary Links Between Luke-Acts and Pauline Letters Regarding Spirit-Language," Ed.
Thomas L. Brodie, Dennis R. MacDonald and Stanley E. Porter, The Intertextuality of the Epistles (Sheffield:
Phoenix, 2006), 241.
32 Dunn, 201.

tradition 'of a good while ago.'33 Previously Peter substantiated his freedom in sharing
table-fellowship with uncircumcised through the shared experience of the Spirit. As a result of the
Spirit's activity, the apostles and brothers had concluded that God was now granting life to the
Gentiles on the basis of faith (11.18).
Luke also forges an implicit link with the Holy Spirit, expressed through Barnabas and Paul's
story of 'signs and wonders' (shmei=a kai\ te/rata 15.12) that are the Spirit's work.34 This favorite Lukan

expression refers to the tangible means by which God witnesses to the Jesus-event and is often found
in Luke's summaries35 and are associated with Luke's idealized community (2.22, 43; 4.16, 22, 30;
5.12; 6.8; 7.36; 8.6, 13; 14.3). In Acts 15, one of the 'signs and wonders' certainly refers to the
coming of the Spirit upon Cornelius and friends. For Luke, the manifest presence of God is itself a
form of preaching; 'signs and wonders' elicit conversion (2.37-42). Just as verbalized preaching
elicits a complex of responses, the same can be said about the preaching value of signs and wonders;
they both attract and repel people, who are either predisposed to reception or rejection of the Jesus-
event. For Luke, the reception of the Spirit is manifest and is recognized by others, who are assured
of their new life and empowered for witness. Luke would have his readership be people of the
Spirit, whose lives are marked by faith, signs and wonders, even as they wrestle with particular
conflicts in their communities.
Luke also says that the Holy Spirit is active in the decision-making process (15.28), 'it
seemed best (e!docen)36 to the Holy Spirit and to us.' Who did it seem best to? In 15.22, it applies to

'the apostles, elders and the entire church,' in 15.25 it is 'to us,' and in 15.28, it refers 'to the Holy
Spirit and to us.' In the first two occurrences, it refers to the selection of certain men to carry the
decision by letter to Antioch; the third use of the verb refers to the decision itself (15.28). By the
similar construction of the three verses, it is reasonable to conclude that the people and their
leadership sensed that the Spirit was at work both in the decision itself and the resolve to send the

33 Martin Dibelius, The Book of Acts (ed. K. C. Hanson; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), 145.
34 The frequent word "power" (du/namiv) is also linked with "signs and wonders," often in the same context (Acts

2.22; 3.12; 4.7; 4.33; 6.8; 8.13; 10.38; 19.11; "powerful" [du/natov] in 7.22).
35 Through Stephen's speech, "signs and wonders" of the Early Church find their support in Moses (7.36—Exod.

3.12; 4.1-17)
36 See above.

letter through several emissaries. Conzelmann states, 'This verse contains the Lukan concept of
church and Spirit.'37 The text suggests the close engagement of the human and the divine in much the
same way as the commission of Barnabas and Saul, when the Holy Spirit spoke through prophets
and teachers as to the selection of the pair 'for the work which I have called them' (13.2). Through
the entire process, the divine and the human work in tandem. Since the Spirit was active among the
Gentiles (notably in Cornelius) even before an apostle arrives and since the Spirit was at work in
Gentile conversion (Acts 13-14), then the Spirit is also at work in helping the Jerusalem Church and
its leaders to enlarge their ways of thinking, feeling and discerning, 'so they can participate in the
world of God's reign—the world of the Spirit's power—a world, not limited by a particular set of
social, ethnic or religious prescriptions.'38
Readers are not told how the Spirit made its will known; it is interesting that Luke records no
charismatic gifting in the Council's deliberation, e.g., a prophecy or vision, simply the statement that
the Council that is genuinely open to God's will, can generate such an important decision that is
inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's power is evident in concrete human activities, here in the
context of sharing the stories of others, Scripture, deliberation, debate, compromise, decision-making
and communication. The world of the Spirit is not to be isolated from human thinking, feeling and
acting, especially when there is a commitment to be Christians together.
f) Find direction in the Scriptures. Luke looks to the Scripture as a means by which important
decisions are made.39 The text says that the Scripture agrees (sumfwnou=sin) with the

37 Conzelmann, 120.
38 Lois Malcolm, "Conversion, Conversation and Acts 15," Crux, vol. 22, Number 3 (Summer, 2002), 252.
39 For Luke, the Scriptures reveal that OT prophecies (ca. 40 explicit quotations from the LXX) are fulfilled in Jesus,

the righteous and suffering Servant of Isaiah (Isa. 49.1-6; the eunuch in Acts 8.32-33) and the nascent community
(choice of a replacement apostle in 1.16-20; 2.17-35; 4.26-26; Stephen's speech in Acts 7.2-53) as its mission
expands through its witnesses (13.16-52 with the affirmation of a Gentile mission; leaving the rejecting Jews and
turning to the Gentiles). The numerous quotations express Luke's view of the continued relevance of the Scripture
for the Church, its mission and its human witnesses. Similar to Jesus' Parable of the Wise Householder (Mt. 13.51-
52), Luke provides a continuity with the old and an openness to the new; both parts of revelation constitute the
"treasure." Luke intends that his readership be conversant with the OT word of promise and the new word of
fulfillment found in Jesus and his mission through the Church. The new and the old are inextricably knit together.
The word is old in that it has been hidden since the foundation of the world (Mt. 13.35 = Ps. 78.2); it is new in that
the mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to the new community of faith.

narrative/experience of Gentile inclusion (15.15). As Johnson notes, 'He does not say, 'This agrees
with the prophets,' but 'The words of the prophets agree with this.''40 It is quite a reversal, similar to
the way in which the Gentiles' experience of salvation is the gauge by which Jews are measured (v.
11). Current experience finds support in the sacred text. Thereupon, James appeals to the LXX of
Amos 9.11-12 to support the new experience.41 The Hebrew and LXX text of Amos 9.11-12 are at

Hebrew text of Amos 9.11-12 LXX text in Acts 15.16-18

'In that day, I will restore David's fallen tent. I 'After this, I will return and rebuild David's42 fallen
will repair its broken places, restore its ruins tent. I will rebuild its ruins and I will restore it, so
and build it as it used to be, so that they may that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all
possess the remnant of Edom, and all the the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who
nations that bear my name,' declares the Lord does these things that have been known for ages.'
who will do these things.

The Hebrew text says nothing about Gentile inclusion in the people of God but affirms that
God will restore David's fallen tent, 'so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the
nations that bear my name.'43 However, the LXX suggests the inclusion of other people and nations,
the remnant of men may seek the Lord.' The LXX translates 'they may possess' (MT w#ryy) with 'they
40 Johnson, Decision-Making in the Church, 84.
may seek'the(w#rdy)
opening 'Edom' (Mwd))
expression is drawnwith
from'men' (Md)). and
Jer. 12.15-16 Thethe
similarity of sounds
closing phrase of45.21-23.
from Isa. the two pairs no
42 John Christopher Thomas notes the Lukan concern for
doubt caused the confusion of translation with anDavid
in bothorLuke
transposition of aChristopher
and Acts. John Hebrew radical.
Thus, the LXX text affirms the missionary message of the
"Reading theOT with
Bible fromthe inclusion
within of the Gentiles.
Our Traditions: A
Pentecostal Hermeneutic as Test Case," Between Two
Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic
Theology, (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 2000), 118.
43 Michael A. Braun argues for a Vorglage to James' testimony that was a Hebrew text divergent but superior to the
MT. Michael Braun, "James' Use of Amos at the Jerusalem Council: Steps Toward a Possible Solution to the
Textual and Theological Problems," JETS (1977), 113.

James' argument from the OT is clearly at odds with the Jewish Christian critique of 15.1, 5. On
Luke's use of Amos 9.11-12, Robert Wall suggests, 'Gentile conversion does not annul God's
promise of a restored and redeemed Israel, but rather expands it; nor does faith (rather than Torah
observance) as the condition of Gentile conversion contradict God's plan of salvation, but rather
confirms it. The second half of Acts provides a narrative that supports and explains this theological
consensus reached at Jerusalem.'44
The Spirit is at work in Luke's reinterpretation of the Amos text. 'Once again, we cannot fail
to be impressed by the extent of his sources and his ability to make effective use of his scriptural
material.'45 As Thomas states, 'It appears that the experience of the Spirit in the community helped
the church make its way through the hermeneutical maze.'46 Thus James' appeal to an OT precedent
clearly 'trumps' the Jewish-Christian precedent.
Luke's use of the OT is positioned within a context of Christian experience, the believing
community, stories and the interpreting Spirit. The personal and communal experience of the early
Christians with Jesus, coupled with the interpreting person of the Holy Spirit, gave them the clue to
understanding and interpreting the Old Testament in a community context. 'This approach does
make room for illumination in the Spirit's work, but it includes a far greater role for the work of the
Spirit in the community as the context for interpretation, offering guidance in the community's
dialogue about the Scripture.'47 The use of Scripture is also noted in 15.21, 'For Moses has been read
in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.' Mention of the
Scripture, including Amos and Moses, here paves the way for the decisive prescription that follows
g) Be sensitive to the need for compromise in making decisions. The communal search for the will
of God leads to a consensus with a sensitive compromise so that Christian Jews and Gentile
Christians can live as Christians together. If the community fails to make a decision or makes a

44 Robert Wall, "Israel and the Gentile Mission in Acts and Paul,", Witness to the Gospel: The Theology of Acts (ed.
I. Howard Marshall and David Peterson; Grand Rapids: Wmm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 449-450.
45 Anthony Tyrell Hanson, The Living Utterances of God: The New Testament Exegesis of the Old, (London:
Darton, Longman and Todd, 1983), 87.
46Thomas, 118.
47 Thomas, 119. See also F. L. Arrington, "Hermeneutics," Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements

(ed. Stanley M. Burgess and Gary McGee; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 387-388.

decision without compromise, the consequences would surely be negative. Indecision would lead to
confusion and divisiveness; if there is no compromise, the backlash from the Jewish Christians
might be substantial. If there is a casual or offhanded dismissal of the problem, then the failure to
deal with the issue might well lead to increased tension, demoralization or a festering hostility.
James' speech begins with the logical result, 'therefore' (dio/), that refers to the preceding

discussion and is followed by his statement, 'It is my opinion/judgment' (e)gw\ kri/nw 15.19). The

experience of Christian Jews and Gentile Christians is finally what matters most. Both groups must
give and take so as to create a consensus that will mean a 'win-win' decision for both groups; the
voice of each group has been heard and respected. Consensus is highlighted in 15.25, 'So we all
agreed . . .' (e1docen h(mi=n). The final decision does not come by way of advice or suggestion; the

decision stands good since it is authorized by the Jerusalem Council (leaders and church). The
decision is made from the Jewish perspective as to: 1) how Jewish Christians are to celebrate Gentile
inclusion based on divine grace and Gentile faith, 2) how Christian Jews are not to harass Gentiles
(3rd person in 15.19) and how the Jews are not to burden 'you' [Gentiles] (2nd person in
15.28—Gentiles in Antioch) with anything more than a few essentials. The Gentiles are to be
sensitive to Jewish sensibilities. Since there are at least three versions48 of the decision, discussions
abound as to the exact minimal restrictions that the Gentiles must concede and their nature, ritual,
moral or a combination of both:
Acts 15.20 (discussion) Acts 15.29 (letter) Acts 21.25 (later narrative)
Pollution of idols Idols Idols
Sexual immorality Blood Blood
Strangling of animals Strangling of animals Strangling of animals
Blood Sexual immorality Sexual immorality
Charles Savelle, along with others, provides extended discussion for each of these terms.49 It

48 Textual traditions offer varied forms of this four-fold list. The Western text ethicizes the items (idolatry, sexual
immorality, bloodshed and the negative form of the Golden Rule, "and not to do to others whatever they do not wish
to be done to themselves"), while the uncials B and ) combine both the ritual and ethical (food sacrificed to idols,

sexual immorality, meat of strangled animals, eating blood—no mention of the Golden Rule).
49 Charles H. Savelle, "A Reexamination of the Prohibitions in Acts 15," Bibliotheca Sacra 161 (October-December

2004), 449-68. Marcel Simon, "The Apostolic Decree and its Setting in the Ancient Church," BJRL, no. 52 (1969),

is unlikely that Luke would have concerned himself with minute distinctions between ritual and
moral stipulations. Suffice it to say that the items on the list are practices that would have been
abhorrent to Jewish Christians, meat that had been offered to idols (pagan worship), sexual
immorality (obvious) and the eating of meat of animals that had been strangled, since the blood was
still in the meat. Since blood was associated with life, it was reserved for God alone (Lev. 17.10-
12). This concession represents the will of the Spirit and these stipulations are not overly
burdensome for the Gentiles (15.28). Even though the restrictions are labeled as 'essentials,' they are
not 'essential for the salvation of the Gentiles' (15.11); they are 'essential' for table-fellowship
between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles. Dunn calls them 'minimum terms for mutual
recognition and association . . . rules of association.'50
The Council tries to make things uncomplicated for the Gentiles (15.19, 28). Christian Jews
are to accept Gentile salvation without circumcision and the Jewish way of life, while the Gentiles
concede to restrict their behavior that would be offensive to Jewish Christians An inclusive
community will lead to a common table. Indeed, the initial accusation from 'apostles and brothers' to
Peter, was directed to Peter's table-fellowship with uncircumcised Gentiles (Acts 11.3). Later, the
Council's decree concludes with the statement, 'If you keep yourselves free from such things, you
will do well' (15.29). The statement suggests that Gentile sensitivity to Jewish sensibilities is in
concert with the will of the Holy Spirit and would be relationally beneficial for both groups. Talbert
observes, 'although Gentiles are free from the Law in the sense of ethnic markers like circumcision,
they are expected to refrain from selected things required of resident aliens in Leviticus 17.'51 Craig
Blomberg notes that the four abstentions are of an ad hoc nature52 and is supported by Weiser's
understanding of them as 'a cultural phenomenon.'53 Such sensitivity to Jewish concerns
(compromises) is also borne out by Luke's later narrative of Paul: Paul circumcises Timothy (16.3),
Paul takes a Jewish vow (18.18), continues to quote the Law (23.5) and shares in the purification of
a group of Jewish men (21.23-26). He remains a faithful Jew, keeps the Law and does not dissuade
other fellow-Jews from keeping the Law.

50 Dunn, 204.
51 Talbert, 142.
52 Craig Blomberg, "The Christian and the Law of Moses," Witness to the Gospel (ed. I Howard Marshall, David

Peterson; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998), 409.

53 Artur Weiser, "Das 'Apostelkonzil,'" BZ, 28 (1984), 161,

h) Practice clear communication of decisions (letter and supporting emissaries). The language of
the letter is reciprocal and collegial. It is noteworthy that Barnabas, Paul, Judas and Silas (both
prophets) were not entrusted with the oral report of the decision alone. Although Barnabas and Paul
(with others) were sent from Antioch to Jerusalem with the question, they are not the sole bearers of
the decision. The decision is formalized into a letter from the Jerusalem Council to the Antiochene
church; the four men serve a supportive role in communicating Jerusalem's authoritative decision.
The letter's bearers could no doubt complement the contents or answer possible questions from the
readers. The worth of the four is stated; Barnabas and Saul are worthy, for they have risked their
lives for the name of the Lord, while Judas and Silas are identified as leading men (15.22, 25-27)
and prophets (15.32). They will verbally confirm what the letter says, (lit. 'through a word
announcing the same things' dia\ lo/gou a)pagge/llontav ta\ au)ta/). Perhaps the Jerusalem Council thinks that

since the Antiochene Church would already know where Barnabas and Paul stood on the issue, a
verbal report alone would be clearly biased in nature.

Advance of the Gospel

Taken together, the numerous dynamics lead to a warm reception and happy advance of the gospel,
noted in 15.30-35 and 16.1-5, especially highlighted in Luke's summary (16.5). Luke notes that the
community (plh=qov 15.30) rejoiced for the encouragement (e)xa/rhsan e)pi\ th=| paraklh/sei 15.31), brought

both by the letter and the accompanying prophets who 'said much to encourage'54 and 'strengthen the
brothers' (dia\ lo/gou pollou= pareka/lhsen tou\v a)delfou\v kai\ e)pesth/rican 15.32). Doubtlessly, the community is

relieved that their identity and practice are confirmed both by the letter and its emissaries. Gentiles
are glad to make accommodation to Jewish Christians so that they might live together without
tension. In addition, the community is also at peace since they send the two prophets back to
Jerusalem 'with peace' (met 0 ei0rh/nhv 15.33). While the prophets report back to the Jerusalem

community, Paul and Barnabas, with many others remain in Antioch, 'teaching and preaching the
word of the Lord' (dida/skontev kai\ eu0aggelizo/menoi . . . to\n lo/gon tou= kuri/ou 15.35) for a significant period of

54 While Barrett translates the noun, para/klhsiv as "comfort" and the verb, parakalei=n as "to encourage," the close

proximity of the terms would suggest a similar meaning, "encouragement" and "to encourage." C. K. Barrett, Acts
(ICC) Vol. II (London: T & T Clark, 2002), 748. Surely "encouragement" is part of prophetic gifting (1 Cor. 14.3)
55 Same word family in 15.41 and 16.5 noting the "strengthening" of the churches.

time. No doubt, this extended time provided opportunities for further dialogue, input, reflection and
Even though Paul and Barnabas experience a painful separation, there is still an advance of
the gospel. Barnabas and Mark go to Cyprus, while Paul and Silas travel to Syria and Cilicia,
'strengthening' (e)pisthri/zwn cf. the same verb in 15.32 of Judas and Silas56) the churches (15.41). Paul

then retraces his steps on his first missionary journey—in Derbe and Lystra (16.1-5) before the more
extensive journeys unfold into Europe. Talbert notes, 'Nothing can stop the gospel, not even
divisions among missionaries.'57 Two items stand out: 1) Paul's circumcision of Timothy, 2) Paul's
delivery of the Council's decisions. From Luke's perspective, Paul's circumcision of the half-Jew
Timothy would serve to negate the later charge leveled against Paul in Jerusalem, 'you teach all the
Jews . . . to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to
our customs' (21.21). This is supported by the fact that in the same paragraph (21.20-25), the
Jerusalem compromise is mentioned (21.25).
In 16.4, Paul delivers the decisions from the Jerusalem Council, 'they delivered the decisions
reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey' (v. 4). The word 'decisions'
(do/gmata) belongs to the same word family as the repeated verb, 'it seemed best to' (dokei=n) of 15.22,

25, 28 and clearly relates to necessary behavior growing out of the Jerusalem Council. Originally,
the extent of the Council's decision involved Antioch, Syria and Celicia (15.23), but now the
decision extends beyond these places.
Luke makes another summary statement in 16.5, which highlights the advance of the word of
God as a result of the Jerusalem Council, 'So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew
daily in numbers.' The imperfect verbs 'continued to be strengthened' (e)sterou=nto) and 'continued to

grow' (e)peri/sseuon) affirm the ongoing growth in the community's inner life and numerical growth.

Although Luke does not definitively voice his opinion or speak in his own name, he does
provide an instructive episode of the Jerusalem Council for the benefit of his readers. It is a

56 Luke does not seem to be aware of the apparent discrepancy of Silas' return to Jerusalem (15.33) and his travel
with Paul congruent with Paul's choice of Silas (v. 40).
57Talbert, 145.

theological narrative that says much about the joint involvement of the divine and the human, as
the community of faith seeks to discern God's will in changing circumstances. He provides
numerous dynamics that are vital for the process of resolving conflicts: acknowledgement of the
divine initiative, celebration of the inclusionary saving-activity of God, commitment to unity, the
important role of peoples' stories, discernment of the Holy Spirit's activities, direction in
Scripture, decision and compromise and clear communication of decisions. These dynamics are
important considerations as the Spirit-filled Church makes its witness in an ever changing
landscape. Since the various 'case-studies' in Acts arise from different issues, it is difficult to
conclude that Luke has in mind any one conflict that he sees looming on the horizon.
As the Early Church resolves its various conflicts, Luke intends that his readership be
aware of how the Holy Spirit works. The Spirit is to be found in unity, salvation, precedents,
stories, attitudes of inclusion, reasoned discussion, leadership, Scripture, decisions,
compromises, clear communication and peace.
The Jerusalem Council represents a great moment in Salvation History. In the search for
Gentile identity, the Jewish community rediscovers and redefines its own identity.58 Luke shifts
from the threats or costs to both groups to the benefits for all Christian groups. Perhaps Luke
might say to the Church, 'When conflicts arise, do not avoid them, but welcome them and take
them seriously. Be dependent upon the person and work of the Holy Spirit and look to the
positive potential of resolving conflicts by which the Christian witness will advance through the
inner and numerical growth of the Christian community.' Through the story, Luke invites his
readers to experience and feel the various points of tension, to see how the conflict was managed
and indeed, advanced the Christian message—to be changed and then return to their own
communities with this instructive paradigm. He helps the community to live and relive the
event and its nuances and thereby, adopt and embrace his point of view in changing thoughts,
attitudes and behavior as to how the Church ought to discern the will of God as it encounters
fresh challenges.

58Michael Enyinwa Okoronkwo, The Jerusalem Compromise as a Conflict-Resolution Model(A Rehetoric-

Communicative Analysis of Acts 15 in the Light of Modern Linguistics (Bonn: Borengässer, 2001), 279.

An Inclusive Olive-Tree

(Rom 11.11-24)


This article explores the issue of Christian and Jewish joint engagement in the course of

Salvation-History. Through the use of ten conditional sentences, expressed through a

three-staged scheme, Paul stresses the eschatological consummation, which is yet to

come. The solid hope for the future is expressed as unimaginable riches, life from the

dead, and a solid guarantee of final restoration of both religious communities. Through

the agrarian image of the olive-tree, Paul develops an allegory of Salvation-History that is

even "contrary to nature" (Rom 11.24) in a most comprehensive manner; it includes the

past, present and future of the people of God (Jew and Gentile).

Key Words: Olive-tree, Rom 11.11-24, Gentile, Jew, Inclusion, Salvation-History


Paul makes special use of the agrarian image of the olive-tree in a highly

developed allegory. 1 The olive-tree imagery develops salvation history in a unique and

comprehensive manner, emphasizing the Gentile mission to which Paul is committed. It

will be argued that Paul provides a new understanding of God’s plan for the Jew

(cultivated olive-tree) and Gentile (engrafted wild olive-branches) that points to the

grand eschatological consummation.

1 Although the specific genre is variously identified, the point-by-point nature of the argument suggests

"allegory" as the best term. Robert Jewett, Romans (M inneapolis: Fortress, 2007) 669.

Recent scholarship suggests that Paul uses the persuasive language of the diatribe

throughout his letters, most notably in Romans. 2 Since Paul is not personally known by

the Roman Christians, he speaks in an indirect and rhetorical manner to allay possible

fears, misunderstandings or misgivings. Paul does not directly accuse Roman Gentile

believers for religious bigotry but uses the imaginary opponent to make his point about

possible wrong attitudes towards the Jews. He expresses great passion regarding the

issue of Jewish and Gentile incorporation into the same people of God and presses his

readers to sense the eschatological and corporate fulfillment that is yet in store for the

inclusive people of God. Tobin‘s suggestion that Paul develops his argument in three

stages, will be argued for in this article. 3

The paper gives special attention to the broad structure of the passage noted by

the following diagram: (insert chart here).

The chart lays out salvation-history in three interdependent stages. In the threefold

scheme, Paul builds the force of his argument through ten conditional sentences, which

carry each element of the argument further. The interpretive comments will successively

look at each ―slice‖ of the chart, keeping in mind the way that each ―slice‖ contributes to

the argument of the whole—expressed through the various developments in the three

2 Thomas H. Tobin, SJ, Paul's Rhetoric in its Context (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendricksen, 2004).

Stanley Kent Stowers, A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles (New Haven: Yale, 1994).

Tobin notes some of the features of the diatribe. rhetorical questions, apostrophes (addresses to imaginary

interlocutors), refutations of objections, comparative speech, examples. e.g., "O Man" a)/nqrwpe "What

then ?" ti/ ou} n, "May it never be" mh\ ge/noito 3.

3 Tobin, 101-2.

stages. We have not found anything similar in early and recent scholarship. Scholarly

works on this text often fail to keep the broad structure in mind in their discussion of the

individual verses.

Paul preaches no "replacement theology" in which the Church replaces Judaism,

to the effect that God has "had it" with the Jews. Instead, Paul portrays the goal of

salvation history, and in doing so, delineates three organic stages of God's interaction

with humanity (Jews and Gentiles).

"This age" "The age to come"

The First Stage The Second Stage The Third Stage

God's choice of Israel and God's choice of the Eschatological fulfillment

her subsequent history  Gentiles  for the people of God, Jew

and Gentile

The unbelief of some of the old people of God in the first stage continues in the

second stage as a partial hardening (pw/rwsiv a0p o\ me/rouv —11.25, "some broken off,"

"hardening has come upon part of Israel"—not the whole ), which will be removed when

"the fullness of the Gentiles has come in" (11.25), at the "age to come" when there will be

eschatological fulfillment for the people of God (Jew and Gentile). 4 In the second stage,

4 )/ a)/xrij ou{ to\ plh/rwma tw=n e)qnw=n ei)se/lqh| . This exp ression parallels Luke 21.24,

--"and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gent iles until the times (a)/ xri ou{ . . . kairoi\) o f the

Gentiles be fu lfilled." Müller finds parallels for this structure in the OT and inter-testamental literature, and

calls attention to the way in which one stage will close and the other begin . Zech 12.3 (LXX); Dn 9.27

(LXX)--the handing over to the Gentiles is limited by a)/xri ou| . Test of Zeb 97-9 Test of Ben 10.8-9; 4

the believing people of God live in continuity with OT Israel and the final goal of

eschatological fulfillment embraces believing Jews and Gentiles.

Paul uses salvation history to encourage a Gentile faith-response to God that

includes Gentile attitudes of humility, dependence and appreciation for the Jews and their

rich heritage. Therefore, the unfolding instruction is based upon the meaning and

involvement of both Jew and Gentile within Salvation-History. God‘s purpose is

inclusive. ―From the trunk of the holy tree of the OT Israel, some branches had been

broken off; and the Gentiles, shoots of a wild, alien tree, have been grafted into the trunk

of the holy tree. But this makes it perfectly clear that the Church of Jesus Christ lives

from the root and trunk of OT Israel.‖5

In the diatribe, the primary audience for the allegory is the Gentile constituency of

the Roman Church. The Jews and Gentiles are treated in vss. 11-12 in the third person.

However, in v. 13, the real purpose of this third-person address comes to light with the

second person, ―But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles.‖ Through the allegory, the

persons addressed are spoken to in the second person, usually in the singular (collective).

While the Jewish example and future hope is repeated at several points through the

conversation, they are always referred to in the third person. Further, we find the

personal pronoun ―you‖ (su//u(mi=n ) in vss. 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24. Even the verbs

are all found in the second person singular:

―you became‖— e0ge/nou (v. 17)

Ezra 523 9.26-10.58; Wis 48.10. Christian Müller, Gottes Gerechtigkeit und Gottes Volk (Gottingen.

Vandenoeck und Ruprecht, 1964) 42.

5 H. J. Kraus, The People of God in the OT (New Yo rk: Associated, 1958) 87-89.

―do not be arrogant‖— mh\ katakauxw= (v. 18)

―if you are arrogant‖— ei0 katakauxh=sai (v. 18)

―you who supports‖— basta/zeiv (v. 18)

―you will say‖— e)rei=v (v. 19).

Since Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles by divine mandate, he is vitally concerned

with Gentile believers that they not misread the meaning of God‘s dealings with Israel.

Since God is not finished with Israel, Gentile attitudes are to reflect God‘s inclusive

concern and activity. At the same time, he is certain that Jews will be motivated by

jealousy and subsequent faith as they observe the all-encompassing purpose of God.

Thus, we find that there is only one Israel into which the Gentile believers are

now engrafted. One people is grafted into another—while that other is not now "one,"

for some branches were broken off. "Paul's exclamation, 'I too am an Israelite' (Rom

11.11) reveals how firmly he holds to the fact that the Christian ecclesia is the continuing

body of OT Israel." 6

Structural Analysis

The structure of the argument in the allegory is expressed through ten conditional

sentences in a diatribe (11.12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24), composed of both

protasis and apodosis. Most of the conditional sentences are of the type in which both

halves are regarded as true (true-condition). Another important feature of several

6 Earl Ellis, Paul's Use o f the OT (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1957) 137.

conditional sentences expresses the minor- major 7 (po\sw| ma=llon) and major- minor

conditional sentences. Paul uses the conditional sentences to express his certainty of

eschatological fulfillment for the people of God (Jew and Gentile). There are a few

verses (11.11, 13, 19, 20) which do not follow the conditional sentence format, but can be

regarded as supplementary parallel concepts. At each point of the argument, Paul builds

the next logical step, and in so doing, he outlines three stages: 1) God‘s choice of Israel

and her subsequent history, 2) God‘s choice of the Gentiles and 3) eschatological

fulfillment for the people of God, which includes the restoration of Israel, all within the

broader context of the Jewish two ages. The Interpretive Comments will detail the

specific argument and analyze each distinct statement of the allegory as it bears upon the

broad structure of the whole.

Inte rpretive Comments

1. Israel's stumbling is not irrevocable ruin (v. 11a).

First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

So I ask, have they

stumbled so as to fall? By

no means!

7 In Rabbinic studies, the terms "light" and "heavy" (qal wāḥômer) are used for this type of argument (see

how the second statement is more significant than the other (2 Co r 3.7-11).

Verse 11 introduces the issue of Israel‘s stumbling. The negative, "not" (mh/) with

the question, leads to the translation, "they did not stumble so as to fall, did they?"

evoking the clarion answer, "By no means!" The combination of the rhetorical questions

with no or not and the strong answer, By no means! makes it clear that stumbling is not

the final word; it does not indicate a "falling" or "irrevocable ruin," from which there is

no recovery. 8 "The deepest ground of this ‫( חלילה‬by no means) springs from Paul's

Jewish faith in the faithfulness of God, who cannot revoke covenant, law and election."9

Paul‘s thought develops in the following verses, illustrating the positive note of hope that.

a) Israel's rejection is not complete and final, b) Israel's present rejection results in the

conversion of the Gentiles.

2. The result of Israel's stumbling has been salvation for the Gentiles, which in turn, will

provoke the Jews to jealousy (v. 11b).

First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

But through their salvation has come to the so as to make Israel jealous.

stumbling  Gentiles, 

8 Hermann Ridderbos, Paul. An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: W m. B. Eerd mans, 1975) 357.

9 H. J. Schoeps, Paul (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961) 241-2.


In v. 11b, Paul highlights the positive benefit 10 of this stumbling for the

Gentiles—now blessed with salvation, and the indirect positive result for the Jews, who

will be motivated by jealousy to make a faith-response. The reference to Rom 10.19

(LXX-Deut 32.21) is clear; just as Israel stirred God to jealousy by what is no god,

(idolatry), so God would provoke Israel to jealousy by what is no people, meaning the

Gentiles. Jealousy has a salvific purpose, which Paul envisions in the third stage,

subsequent to the fullness of the Gentiles (v. 25).

3. The assured riches for the Gentiles in Israel's restoration are predicated upon the

riches to the Gentiles (v. 12).

First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

Now if their stumbling riches for the world, how much more will (be

means   the riches accompanying)

and if their defeat means  riches for Gentiles,  their full inclusion!

This, the first of the true, conditional sentences (minor-major), embraces all three

stages and underscores the message of v. 11—the positive results from a negative failure.

10 The conjunction, " but" (a)lla/), has a strong adversative force, contrasting Jewish stumbling with

beneficent results.

The riches in the third stage will be immeasurably greater than the present riches

for the Gentiles in the second stage, conditional upon Israel's positive response. These

riches, which will accrue to the Gentiles, are "an abundance of benefits."11

In view of the fact that the remnant (lei= mma—v. 5) and the rest (loipoi/v— v. 7)

were mentioned earlier, the term full inclusion (plh/rwma—also v. 25) means the filling

up of this remnant as a whole from all of those who have come to faith.

4. Paul applies himself directly to the Gentiles and indirectly to the Jews, and desires for

the Gentile constituency to feel the same burden for the Jews (vss. 13-14).

First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

...I am an apostle to the  (so as to make Israel

Gentiles, jealous). (v. 11b)

I glorify my ministry
in order to make my own

people jealous, and thus

save some of them.

The Gentiles must not misinterpret Paul's role as an apostle to the Gentiles.

"Contrary to what you may be inclined to think. . .[Paul's]…labors as an apostle of the

Gentiles have an Israel-ward significance—of good for Israel." 12

11 BA GD, 217.

Paul longs for his own flesh 13 (sa/rc), his brethren and kinsmen. This

commitment reflects Paul's bond of identity with his people, 14 and his hope that Gentiles

will recognize the same line of continuity with Israel. They are dependent upon Israel

despite the unbelief of many Jews; "God grants no mercy to Israel without the

Gentiles…neither does he do so to the Gentiles without Israel." 15

Paul's direct ministry to the Gentiles is an indirect ministry to the Jews—

provoking them to jealousy (11:11). The eschatological thought of the restoration of

Israel, prompted by jealousy, is a driving force in his ministry.

5. The assurance of the end, acceptance = life from the dead, are predicated upon the

reconciliation of the Gentiles (v. 15).

First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

12 C.E.B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: T & T

Clark, 1979) 559. See Sanday and Headlam, 323 for a lengthy discussion. William Sanday, Arthur

Headlam, The Epistle to the Romans (Ed inburgh: T & T Clark, 1977, reprint 1926) 323.

13 Ro m 9.3 ―For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off fro m Christ for the sake of my own

people, my kindred according to the flesh.‖

14 See the corresponding use of sa/rc for kindred in Ro m 9.3 and the LXX of Gen 37.27; Lev 18;6; 25.49;

Judg 9.2., T.W. Manson, ed. by Matthew Black Peake's Commentary on the Bible (London: Thomas

Nelson, 1962; reprinted in 1976), 949. For a critique of Wheeler Robinson's "corporate personality," see J.

W. Rogerson, "Corporate Personality" The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. by David Noel Freed man, 1 (New

Yo rk: Doubleday, 1992) 1156-57.

15 Ridderbos, 360.

For if their rejection  is the reconciliation of the what will their acceptance

world,  be but life from the dead!

This minor-major form verse, builds toward the climax, depicting the happy state

of Israel‘s acceptance as life from the dead. Paul's argument demands a climax of far

greater importance than the reconciliation of the world. 16 The meaning of life from the

dead is found in the last act of salvation history, the Parousia, wherein resurrection- life

will prevail, "the universe must wait for its final destiny of blessedness until Israel has

been brought to God. " 17

God intertwined the histories of the Jews and the Gentiles making their

consummation interdependent. Israel's rejection is linked to the reconciliation of the

world, and her acceptance will be the harbinger of the final consummation."18

6. Israel's restoration is guaranteed in spite of Jewish unbelief (v. 16).

16 See the references in Judais m in wh ich the idea of the Resurrection is connected with the inauguration of

the Messianic Age. Jub 23.29; Enoch 51.1. Others cited by W.D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism

(London: S.P.C.K., 1948) 293-323 and Ulrich Lu z, Das Geschichtverständnis des Paulus (München:

Kaiser, 1968), 393.

17 Dodd, The Epistle 128.

18 Jewett, "global reconciliat ion," 681. Anders Nygren, Commentary on Ro mans, (Ph iladelphia:

Muhlenberg, 1949) 397. See David Michael Stanley, Christ's Resurrection in Pauline Soteriology (Romae:

E. Pontifico's Istituto Bib lico, 1961) 197. Diter Zeller, Juden und Heiden in der Mission des Paulus,

Hoffman follows Michel in his estimat ion of this term "life fro m the dead" as a popular tradition. Paul

Hoffman, Die Toten in Christus (Münster: Aschendorff, 196) 184.


First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

If the part of the dough then the whole batch is A guarantee of final

offered as first fruits is holy;  restoration in spite of

holy, Jewish unbelief in First and

and if the root is holy,  then the branches also are Second Stages

holy. 

Verse 16 reveals a three-fold purpose: 1) confirmation of Israel's acceptance in the

third stage, 2) rationale for Israel's acceptance, 3) preparation for the olive-tree metaphor

with the mentioned metaphor of the root and branches. 

The holiness, which the dough /first- fruit and root possess, is transferred to the

whole batch and branches respectively. The root, in which the Gentile believers have had

a share, is the rich root of the cultivated olive-tree (Jews) (v. 17). This dependent

relationship is the rationale for the enjoinder for Gentile humility for the Jewish root

supports them, who are externally engrafted wild olive-branches (v. 18).

The point of comparison in both metaphors is the quality of transferred holiness.

The dough/firstfruit and root are consecrated to God in their entirety, which will

guarantee a holy batch and holy branches. The holiness of the dough/first- fruit and root

denotes a choice (kata\ de\ th\n e0klogh\n —v. 28), through which holiness was conferred

19 So me scholars (C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1938)

173, Sanday & Headlam, 326) separate this verse fro m vss. 17-24.

upon the fathers and is then transferred to Israel. The equation of the root with the

patriarchs, particularly Abraham, can be found within Judaism. 20

Some branches were broken off (v. 17), yet these same branches are holy; since

God planted a holy root, the branches then are necessarily holy. Drawing upon the

Semitic concept of solidarity, 21 Paul makes it clear that the character of the root or

dough/firstfruit carries over into the tree‘s branches and the full batch of dough; it will

mean an outgrowth of that which was latent in the root or dough/first- fruit.

7. Through an "unnatural" process, the Gentiles share a rich legacy with the Jews and

are to feel a dependence upon God and the Jews (v. 17)

First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

20 "The pious of the Lord shall live by it forever. The paradise of the Lord, the trees of life, are His pious

ones. Their planting is rooted forever; They shall not be plucked up all the days of heaven." Ps of Sol

14.3; "And he (Abraham) b lessed his Creator who had created him in his generation, for He had created

him according to His good pleasure; for He knew and pereceived fro m him would arise the plant of

righteousness for the eternal generations and from him a holy seed, so that it should become like Him who

made all things." Jub 16.26; See also Jub 21.24; Eth Enoch 10.16; 93.10--Israel is the race of the elect root

(Eth Enoch 93.5,8), cited by Christian Maurer, "r(i/za" TDNT, VI 987. Maurer also cites several

references in Rabbinic literature wh ich equate the fathers (Abraham) with this root.

21 A.R. Johnson, The One and the Many in the Israelite Conception of God (Card iff: Un iv. of Wales, 1942).

See Herbert Gale, The Use of Analogy in the Letters of Paul (Ph iladelphia: Westminster, 1969) 207, "Israel

is thought of, not as a series of individuals each with his own personal responsibility to God, but as a solid


But if some of the and you, a wild olive shoot,

branches were broken off, were grafted in their place

to share the rich root of the

olive tree,

The negative "cutting off" is replaced by the positive "engrafting" with the second

action dependent upon the first. This horticultural grafting procedure Paul describes is

contrary to nature (para/ fu/sin e)n ekentri/sqhj –v. 24); in horticultural practice, one

grafts cultivated-slips onto wild trees, not wild slips onto cultivated olive-trees. We

should allow the absurdity of this process to be the strength of Paul's point. "Paul

describes God's dealings in salvation history by means of a metaphor as strange as the

reality it represents."22 He is asserting something miraculous. 23

The olive-tree (v. 17) suggests that the people of God are one and the same

throughout the successive stages. It is true that branches may be cut off, due to unbelief,

and other branches may be grafted onto the trunk, but these operations take place on the

same tree. The new Israel of the Church is thus the continuation of the original Israel and

engrafted Gentile believers share (―fellow participants‖ sugkoinwno/j ) in the same rich

legacy that Israel has received (9.1-5).

22 Johannes Munck, Christ and Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967) 129.

23 Co mpare to John the Baptist‘s pun about God's ability to raise up fro m stones (eben), children (ben) to

Abraham (Matt 3.9).


8. Instead of becoming proud, the Gentiles are to remind themselves of their dependence

upon the legacy of the Jews (v. 18).

First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

do not boast over the


If you do boast, remember

that it is not you that

support the root, but the

root that supports you.

Verse 18 concerns the Gentile attitude of humility toward Jews. Three

imperatives reveal Paul‘s thought and intensity ("do not brag" v. 18; "do not be

conceited" v. 20; "fear" v. 20) to forbid that which the Gentiles are already doing. 24

Either Paul is speaking from his own missionary activity or had learned from others of

some exclusionary Gentile attitudes in the churches.

The Gentile believers are entirely dependent upon the holy root which supports,

nourishes and sustains them. "Paul's symbolism is doubly deliberate. It suggests not

only his high estimate of Israel, but also his low estimate of the spiritual attainments of

the Gentiles."25 They have nothing to bring to the salvation event, but everything to gain.

24 Present imperatives that are negated express the stopping of something already in process.

25 William Davies, "Ro mans 11.13-24. A Suggestion" Paganisme, Judaïsme, Christianisme. (Paris: E. de

Boccard, 1978) 134.


Paul expresses the sober reminder to a Gentile audience. "You owe all you are and have

to the race that you despise."26

Gentile arrogance is a roadblock that hinders Israel's necessary jealousy.

Berkouwer noted, ―We cannot overestimate the extent to which contempt for the Jews—

even in the Church—has broken down—and hindered this ‗jealousy,‘ and closed off the

way that Paul saw opened.‖27

9. The same temptation of complacency and unbelief to which Israel succumbed

constitutes a grave danger for the Gentiles. Faith, coupled with fear is the only criterion

for Jew and Gentile alike (vss. 19-20).

First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

You will say, "Branches

were broken off 

That is true. They were

broken off because of their

unbelief, 

26 Danell has succintly summarized this attitude of pride, a persistent theme in the OT and NT, wh ich marks

the conclusion of successive stages in the history of the people of God. G.A. Danell, "The Ide a of God's

People in the Bible" The Root of the Vine, ed. by Anton Fridrichsen (Westminster: Dacre, 1953) 23-36.

27 G.C. Berkouwer, The Return of Christ (Grand Rapids: W m. B. Eerd mans, 1963) 357.

Some Gentiles stated that unbelieving Jews had been cut off to make room for the

Gentiles. Paul answers their statement with concession, i.e., "in a way that is true"

(kalw=j), "but taken in isolation it is a dangerous half-truth." 28 Israel had fallen into

unbelief by trusting in her own advantages and privileged position—she was not able to

maintain her ongoing dependence on the grace of God. This same temptation confronts

the Gentile. As Nygren says, ―The Jew says, ‗I belong to God's own people.‘ He puts his

confidence in . . . the promises to the fathers. In his complacency he refuses faith . . . in a

similar manner, the Christian is tempted to say, ‗I belong to the spiritual Israel.‘ He is

tempted to put his confidence in . . . his Christianity.‖29 "Faith is genuine eminently in

Christ and as it fears by realizing that it will remain in God's kindness only as it continues

to trust in what God has promised." 30 Failure to respond to God‘s inclusive kindness is

tantamount to unbelief.

10. God's judgment upon his unbelieving peoples serves as a warning and example to the

Gentiles as well as the rationale for Gentile awe (v. 21).

First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

For if God did not spare (Gentile pride) neither will he spare you

the natural branches

28 Cranfield, II, 568.

29 Nygren, 401.

30 Daniel Fuller, The Unity of the Bible, an unpublished syllabus for Fuller Theological Seminary, XX -8.

See also 12.16; 1 Tm 6.17; Ro m 11.20.


The major- minor warning provides support for the preceding imperative, "fear"

(v. 20). The second half of the conditional sentence expresses the inevitable judgment of

God for Gentile pride in the second stage, which will lead to their exclusion in the third

stage. If God has not spared the "natural branches" neither will he spare complacent,

exclusive and arrogant Gentiles.

11. The above salvation history reveals God's character of severity and goodness, which

is to evoke Gentile gratitude and fear (v. 22).

First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

...severity toward those but God's kindness toward

who have fallen, you, provided you continue

in his kindness; otherwise

you also will be cut off

God's character is revealed in the first stage as severity, to the Jews who fell.

During the stage of the Gentiles, God's character is revealed as "kindness."31 The

Gentiles are to be particularly mindful of his severity as they celebrate God‘s kindness.

31 Jeremias draws attention to the ab/ba chiasm, kindness severity and severity kindness, which is not simp ly

a literary device, but serves the theological point Paul wishes to make. Joachim Jeremias, Abba (Göttingen

Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1966), 279.


The only basis of confidence for Jew and Gentile alike is the goodness of God, his free

grace and the sovereign will of his love.

12. The reverse process of Jewish inclusion is based on God's power (v. 23).

First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

And even those of Israel,

if they do not persist in

unbelief, will be grafted in,

for God has the power to

graft them in again.

The same grafting- in process, which applied, to the Gentiles in the second stage

will be applicable to the Jew. "It was unbelief that excluded them; when unbelief is gone,

exclusion is at an end."32 In support of Israel's restoration, Paul affirms the power of God

to graft them back onto the tree from which they were cut off. 33 Paul's affirmation of

God's power offsets erroneous Gentile conclusions and expresses God's ability to

overrule human limitation; he is powerful enough to abrogate exclusionary attitudes.

32 C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (New Yo rk: Harper & Ro w, 1957) 219.

33 Ro m 4.21 kai\ plhroforhqei\j o(/ti o(\ e)ph/ggeletai dunato/j e0stin kai\ poih/sai.

13) The restoration of Israel is predicated upon the more difficult "unnatural" inclusion

of the Gentiles. In short, it will mean eschatological fulfillment for the people of God (v.


First Stage Second Stage Third Stage

For if you have been cut how much more will these

from what is by nature a natural branches be grafted

wild olive tree and grafted, back into their own olive

contrary to nature, into a tree.

cultivated olive tree,

This minor-major verse sums up the main argument of the allegory, expressing

Paul‘s certainty of Jewish restoration in the third stage. Jewett suggests a helpful chart,

which encapsulates the parts of the same tree:

Gentiles were cut out Jews were cut out

From wild olive tree From domestic olive tree

Gentiles were grafted in Jews will be grafted in

(unnatural status) (natural status)

Both share in the same olive-tree. 34

Here Paul characterizes eschatological fulfillment by natural branches grafted

into their own olive-tree. If Gentile Christians (wild olive-branches) could be assimilated

34 Jewett, 692.

to the cultivated olive-tree, then how much easier a process will it be, to restore the Jews

(cultivated olive-branches) to the trunk from which some were broken. 35


As Paul continues in vss. 25-36, he makes it clear that Salvation-History is a

mystery (musth/rion), something formerly hidden but now revealed by God. This

mystery can be expressed as an eschatological duet, wherein both parties recognize the

role of the other and celebrate God‘s inclusiveness. It includes: a) the partial and

temporary hardening of Israel (pw/rwsij a)p o\ me/rouj tw=| 0Israh\l ge/gonen a)/xrij ou{),

b) the inclusion of the fullness of the Gentiles (toV plhvrwma tw'n ejqnw' n) and c) Israel's

restoration (pa=j )Israh\l swqh/setai — v. 26), which will mean eschatological

fulfillment. Insight into this mystery is inaccessible to natural investigation but can only

be mediated through revelation. The mystery leads to Paul‘s praise, ―O the depth of the

riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and

how inscrutable his ways!‖ (v. 33).

In the allegory, the special area of concern is the Jewish and corresponding

Gentile attitude that reflects a common, intertwined and mutually dependent history.

Thus, Paul deals with the problem of pride in the Gentile constituency of the Roman

Church; such arrogance and derogatory attitudes amount to unbelief. He provides

instruction to the Gentiles concerning faith, humility/lack of boasting, gratitude,

dependence, hope and a sharing in Paul's driving missionary concern.

35 Theodor Zahn, Der Brief des Paulus on die Römer (Leip zig : A. Deichert, 1910) 518-19.

Paul's major thrust to the Gentiles is the certainty of the eschatological fulfillment

for the people of God, which includes Israel's restoration; the whole of the people of God

(Jew and Gentile) is enjoined to sense the continuity of God's redemptive activity. He

argues that God is vitally involved with people who are not yet his. The whole people of

God (Jew and Gentile) are invited to understand, appreciate and participate in God‘s

redemptive and inclusive activity. God does not cut down the whole olive-tree and plant

another, but grafts wild branches onto the original root and trunk.

In our day, both Church and Synagogue are called upon to respect and celebrate a

common and intertwined history with the certainty of an eschatological consummation

yet to come. Each community will profit from attitudes of inclusion trust and humility—

not arrogant posturing and demonization of the other. When people are grateful, they can

become grace- full and find their anchor of dependence upon God; they can experience a

solid hope, and a respectful sharing of missionary concern. Such attitudes will lead to

recognition of "others" and the healing of alienated communities. It remains for various

faith-communities to implement forms of shared history in local communities.

The Parable of the Strong Man and the Stronger One
(Matthew 12:22-32; Mark 3:22-30; Lk. 11:14-23)

In the temptation narrative (Matt. 4:1-11), Jesus experiences a victory over Satan;
thus, this narrative sets the pattern for His subsequent ministry. Jesus' response to the
various temptations demonstrates that Jesus aims to elicit faith in Himself quite apart
from any outside pressure. Whereas God's first son (Israel) had disobeyed, Jesus
demonstrates obedience by His submission to the Father's will and thereby experiences
triumph over the power of Satan. The texts that Jesus uses from Deuteronomy in the
temptation account, clearly point us back to a similar situation and to parallel threats to
faith that Israel experienced on her wilderness journey. In the narrative, Jesus refuses to
work spectacular signs for Himself; later in His ministry, He likewise refused to effect
signs, which would cause amazement, but fail to engender genuine faith. On more than
one occasion, His critics will seek a sign from Him (Matt. 12:38; Jn. 2:18; 6:30; Lk.
His avoidance of the popular "press" carries over into His encounter with demons;
the "silence" of Jesus with demonic forces is striking. He commands silence from the
demons and from those who are cured as well. At the same time, we discover a
remarkable contrast between the popular and the demonic estimate of Jesus. The crowds
wonder if He can possibly be David's son.1 The Pharisees swear categorically that His
work is inspired by Beelzebul, the Prince of the demons. But the demons themselves
clearly know who He is. Yet, Jesus silences their confession. Why? A genuine response
of faith can never issue from demonic forces nor should their confession be allowed to
compel human confession; it can only come from people as free agents. "Genuine"
means that it is not forced, but spontaneous. Jesus is a “hidden” Messiah, who elicits and
draws out the response of trust, but will not force faith upon the beholders.
We come, therefore, to the actual conflict that Jesus carries on with the unclean
spirits during His public ministry. The Synoptic Gospels portray Jesus as a prophet,
teacher, miracle-worker and also as an exorcist. In the exorcism narratives, we sense
something of the mystery of "spiritual" evil as we witness the havoc and devastation that
demons wreak upon possessed people. It is clear that Jesus' power over unclean spirits
proclaims the nearness of the Kingdom of God. His conflict with the demoniacs is not
accidental or incidental, but is a vital part of His concern for the wholeness of the human
At this point, a host of questions come to the surface: How bound was/is Satan?
How did Jesus' exorcisms differ from the exorcisms of others? What occurred in the
Gospel exorcisms? How can Christians today avoid both an apathy concerning Satan's
existence or an undue preoccupation with Satan's existence and destructive power in the
lives of others? How do we recognize the way or ways in which he works today? What
role does exorcism have in the life of the Church?
1Normally the question with mhvti expects the negative answer, i.e., "This can't be the Son of David,
can he?" However, as Robertson notes, "It is only the expectation that is presented by ouj or mhV."
Robertson draws the parallel with the woman at Jacob's well (Jn. 4:29), "She refused to arouse opposition
by using ouj and excited their curiosity by mhV," ("Can (mhvti) this be the Christ?"). A. T.
Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, (Nashville:
Broadman Press, 1934), p. 917.
©J.Lyle Story
A text that may help us answer these questions is the Parable of the Strong Man
and the Stronger One, found in a paragraph where the source of Jesus' power is under
attack by the Pharisees (Matt. 12:22-30). This paragraph also offers a revealing picture
of how Jesus understands His exorcisms.

The Larger and Immediate Context

The paragraph is found within the larger context of Book III2 of Matthew, which
extends from 11:2-13:52. Book III builds upon Jesus' Galilean ministry including several
controversy stories. Throughout the pericope, the Kingdom of God is announced in
action (12:2-50) and by word (13:1-52). A clear distinction is drawn between the
disciples and Jesus' critics. The people who seize the Kingdom are aggressive in their
faith response (11:12) and are able to hear the Baptist's message (vss. 14-15). In sharp
contrast, the critics play make-believe, like spoiled children, berating both John and
Jesus. Jesus proceeds to pronounce fearful judgments upon the cities of Chorazin,
Bethsaida, and Capernaum (vss. 20-24) because of their unbelief, yet, He praises the
Father for revealing Himself to the "little ones," a description which certainly includes
the disciples (11:25). Disciples are receptive to God's Word. Contrariwise, the Pharisees
("the wise and understanding") are intent upon burdening others with regulatory laws
(11:28a) while Jesus is the burden-bearer (11:28b-30), who promises an easy yoke and a
light burden. The distinction between disciples and critics occurs again in ch. 12:l-8;
disciples are accused of plucking grain on the Sabbath and Jesus for healing on the
Sabbath (vss. 9-13), and Jesus' life is put in jeopardy (12:14).
After healing the man with the withered hand, Jesus withdraws from the
synagogue (12:15-21). Matthew uses the Servant Song (Isa. 42:1-4) to affirm the quiet
and unobtrusive nature of Jesus' ministry, and to announce His inclusion of the Gentiles.
The parallel section in Mark 3 occurs in the context of Jesus' tremendous popularity.
Amidst His miracles and the confession of His identity by demons (3:7-12), Jesus
formally appoints the twelve for a three-fold purpose, expressed through three infinitive
clauses: 1) to be with Him, 2) to be sent out to preach, and 3) to have authority to cast
out demons.
Matthew relates how accusation and division are immediately followed by a sharp
break with opponents concluding with the accusation that Jesus uses the power of
Beelzebul to exorcise demons (12:22-32).
The theme of contrasting responses is carried through Book III with a discussion
of good and evil fruit (12:33-37), the demand for a sign (vss. 38-42), and with the
comparison of the present generation to the last state of a man who had formerly been
exorcised. The concluding paragraph of ch. 12 contrasts the physical family of
Jesus—standing outside, wanting to speak to Jesus with those eager persons around
Jesus—seated inside (v. 49; Mk. 3:34). The final sequence of Book III is comprised of
seven parables (ch. 13) of the Kingdom of Heaven (God), explaining both the nature of
God's reign/rule and the intended response to it. A broad parabolic teaching is offered to
the crowds, but a precise explanation is shared only with disciples. The contrast between
the insider and the outsider is hereby underscored again.

Structural Analysis of the Parable

The following outline reflects the structure of Matt. 12:22-32, the paragraph
2 Book I (3:1-7:29); Book II (8:1-11:1).
©J.Lyle Story
containing the Parable of the Strong Man and the Stronger One.
Introduction and occasion--an exorcism (Matt. 12:22)
Response of the crowd to the exorcism (v. 23).
Response of Jesus’ family (Mark 3:21)
Response of the Pharisees to the exorcism--accusation (Matt. 12:24).
Jesus' refutation of the accusation (vss. 25-26)
By the divided Kingdom principle (vss. 25-26).
Jewish exorcists (v. 27).
Meaning and source of Jesus' exorcisms (v. 28).
The Parable of the Strong Man and Stronger One (v. 29).
Severe pronouncements upon the accusers (vss. 30-32).

Introduction and occasion—an exorcism (v. 22). "Then, there was brought to him
a demon-possessed man, blind as well as dumb, and he healed him, so that the dumb man
spoke and saw."
Response of the crowd to the exorcism (v. 23). "And all the crowds were
amazed, and said, 'Can this be the Son of David?'"
(Response of Jesus’ family (Mark 3:21). "And when his family heard it, they
went out to seize him, for they were saying, 'He is beside himself.')."
Response of the Pharisees to the exorcism--accusation (Matt. 12:24). But when
the Pharisees heard it they said, 'It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons that
this man casts out demons.'"
Jesus' refutation of the accusation.
By the divided kingdom principle (vss. 25-26). "Knowing their thoughts, he
[Jesus] said to them,
'Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste,
and no city or house divided against itself will stand;
26 and if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself;
how then will his kingdom stand?'
Jewish exorcists (v. 27). 'And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do
your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges.
Meaning and source of Jesus' exorcisms (v. 28). But if it is by the Spirit of God
that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.'
The Parable of the Strong Man and Stronger One (v. 29). 'Or, how can one enter a
strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man?
Then indeed he may plunder his house.'
Severe pronouncements upon the accusers (vss. 30-32). 'He who is not with me is
against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you,
every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the
Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever says a word against the Son of man
will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven,
either in this age or in the age to come.'"

Introduction and occasion—an exorcism (v. 22). The specific occasion for the

©J.Lyle Story
accusation that Jesus is possessed by Satan is an actual exorcism in Matthew (see Mk.
3:22) of a man who is both blind and dumb. Few of the healings and exorcisms in the
Gospels are told as quickly as this one. We read that Jesus "heals" the man, that is, He
exorcises the demon(s), with the result that the man is able both to speak and hear.
Mark's context differs; Luke states only that the man was dumb (Lk. 11:14).
Response of the crowd to the exorcism (v. 23). A miracle has occurred but the
response to it is varied. The crowd asks, "Can this be the Son of David?"3 The
Messianic title "Son of David" occurs eight other times in Matthew’s Gospel.4 While the
crowd does not make a clear verbal confession, nonetheless the question of Jesus’
identity as "Son of David" is raised. The title "Son of David" is used in a Messianic
sense and may also convey an allusion to David as an exorcist who, by means of music
on his lyre, drove away the evil spirit from Saul:
"And whenever the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and
played it with his hand; so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit
departed from him" (I Sam. 16:23).
Luke’s Gospel does not provide the question, but simply narrates the response of
the people—marvel (Lk. 11:14).
(Response of Jesus’ family [Mk. 3:21]). Although Mark's Gospel does not relate
an actual exorcism, it does imply that an actual exorcism occurs (cf. Mk. 3:22). It does
record, however, that Jesus' preoccupation with the needs of others suggests to His family
that He has lost his mind, and accordingly, "they sought to seize Him." This lesser
concern and charge of Jesus' family is used as a foil to introduce the far more severe
charge of the scribes "who had come from Jerusalem."5
Response of the Pharisees to the exorcism--accusation (Matt. 12:24). The
stinging charge against Jesus' character issues from the Jerusalem Scribes (Mark 3:20-
22). They make a double accusation against Jesus when they say: 1) Jesus is possessed
by Beelzebul6 and 2) He effects exorcisms by Beelzebul's power. The second charge is
the main accusation. The critics cannot doubt the reality of the cure (the man can speak
and see), but they assign the source of Jesus' power to the Prince of demons. In the
phrase "by Beelzebul," the preposition "by" (ejn-v.22) corresponds in usage to the
Hebrew inseparable preposition B+. It expresses the means by which they claim Jesus
performs the cure. The preposition can also convey the sense of "by the help of," "in the
name of," "under the authority of." Frequently in exorcisms, it was necessary to adjure
the demons by the name of the Greater One—God, whose name is also a means of cure.
Mark's account is preceded by the response of the demoniacs, identifying Jesus as "the
Son of God" (Mk. 3:11); His exorcisms proceed from the fact of His Divine Sonship.
The accusation is a strange one—that Jesus casts out demons with demonic help.
In ancient magic, it was well-known that a conjurer could drive out weaker spirits by his
own power. But here it is stated that Jesus is possessed by Beelzebul and expels evil
spirits with his aid. Thus, Jesus is accused of collusion with Beelzebul, wherein both the
3 The question is rhetorical.
4 1:20; 9:27; 15:22; 20:30; 20:31; 21:9, 15; 22:42; there are seven other occurrences of the proper name,
"David" (1:1, 6, 17--twice; 12:3; 22:43, 45).
5 presumably to ascertain the credibility of Jesus so as to report back to the Sanhedrin.
6 The name Beelzebul, Beelzebub has been variously rendered as “Lord of the flies,” i.e., as the "Lord of

the dung-heap" where flies congregate. But in view of Jesus' parable on the house of the Strong One, the
more appropriate rendering of the name is, “Lord of the Dwelling.” In two of the Synoptic Gospels, the
term, "house" (oijkiva) is used (Matt. 12:29; Mk. 3:27).
©J.Lyle Story
exorcist and demon(s) work together to deceive the onlookers. Ostensibly, the purpose of
such collusion would be to inspire confidence in the power of the exorcist; therefore, the
chief demon would be the master of Jesus and not his servant. Thus, the Scribes accuse
Jesus of enhancing His reputation as a miracle worker and exorcist through “staged”
exorcisms. In their logic, Beelzebul then misleads people to believe that Jesus is the
master over the demons, when, in fact, Jesus is Beelzebul’s passive and obedient servant.
Jesus' refutation of the accusation (Matt 12: 25-29). By a series of logical
statements, Jesus points to the foolishness of their accusation and to the utter absurdity of
their thoughts. For the sake of clarity, Jesus' argument may be outlined under several
By the divided kingdom principle (Matt. 12: 25-26). The argument that Jesus uses
is called in Latin logic, reductio ad absurdum, i.e., "reasoning to the absurd," which
involves taking a faulty premise and explicating its logical inferences to the point where
it becomes obviously absurd. Three parallel clauses are laid out, using four different
subjects, which are objects of "in-house" fighting, which lead to a negative result, which
is not the case.
Subject "In-house" fighting Negative result
25 "every kingdom "divided against itself "is laid waste,
city or house divided against itself will [not] stand
26 if Satan casts out he is divided against how then will his
Satan," himself;" kingdom stand?"
Jesus' question in v. 26 is rhetorical and serves as an explicit statement as to how
His exorcisms are not done. In effect, Jesus says, "I am accused of using demonic power
for the expulsion of demons. But this clearly would involve the break-up of the demonic
world, in accordance with usual human experience of seditious activity. Now it is clear
that the empire of Satan still holds sway (this assumption is necessary to the argument):
therefore I do not cast out demons by Beelzebul, but in some other way."7
Human experience usually shows that any kind of social organization ("kingdom,
city, or house") is threatened ("will not stand") when there is factionalism ("in-house"
fighting—against itself"). Jesus assumes that Satan's empire still stands (v. 26)—a view
shared by Jesus' critics. After all, sin, sickness, demon-possession and death continue to
be present realities. Since Satan is not interested in bringing about his own demise, the
exorcism by Jesus cannot be by Satan's power for Satan is not such a fool as to do
himself in.8
Satan's kingdom is strong; it still stands strong and is controlled by a strong man
within, but it also shows very real signs of weakening, notably in Jesus' exorcisms.
However, the point of Jesus' argument is that the break-up and demise of Satan's kingdom
does not occur from internal factions, i.e., "in-house" fighting.
Jewish exorcists (v. 27). Another point of Jesus' argument lies in the current
practice of the Jewish "sons," i.e., the Pharisees' disciples. Exorcism is not a new
phenomenon with Jesus. In the Rabbinic literature, there are many allusions to demons
and their harmful activity among people. According to Acts 19:13-14, exorcism is carried
out by the sons of Sceva:
13 "Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to pronounce the name
of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, 'I adjure you by the Jesus
7 C.K. Barrett, The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition (London: S P C K, 1947), p. 61.
8 Manson, Major, Wright, Mission and Message of Jesus, (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1938), p. 377.
©J.Lyle Story
whom Paul preaches.'"
14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.
Josephus makes a comment about King Solomon and his ability as an exorcist:
He left behind him, the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away
demons, so that they never return and this method of cure is of great force unto this
Josephus then proceeds to describe an exorcism which he had seen performed by a Jew in
the presence of the emperor Vespasian. The demon gave evidence of his departure by
upsetting a bowl of water.
In the legendary book of Tobit, a demon succumbs to the smoke of the heart and
liver of a fish, applied under the direction of the angel Raphael (Tobit 8:1-3).
Jesus' critics do not question the validity of exorcism as if this were something
altogether new. They attack the source—not the practice.
Meaning and source of Jesus' exorcisms (v. 28). Jesus then affirms the truth
about the source of His exorcisms. His exorcisms are accomplished by the Spirit of God
and signify the presence of God's Kingdom:
28 "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of
God has come upon you" (Matt. 12:28).
20 "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the
kingdom of God has come upon you" (Lk. 11:20).
It is not the fact of exorcisms per se that distinguishes Jesus from Jewish exorcists, but
the fact that He, as Messiah ("I"), is casting out demons by the Spirit of God.10 Since He
is the anointed Messiah, exorcism becomes a manifestation of His Messianic activity.
Thus, His exorcisms are not magical wonders or haphazard miracles in answer to the
prayer of a holy man, but are signs that Jesus is doing His Messianic work. In Mark 1:27,
when Jesus casts out demons in the Capernaum synagogue, the people are amazed at His
exceptional authority over demons. The context suggests that He possesses such power
by virtue of His identity, "the Holy One of God" (1:24).
The authority vested in Jesus comes from the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:28). Luke's
text says that He exorcises demons by the "finger of God." That Luke's form may be
more original lies in the fact that Luke is the Evangelist who emphasizes the person and
work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, he would doubtless have retained the reading, "the Spirit
of God," if it had been in the source he used. If the expression "finger of God" (Luke), is
the original reading, it can only serve as a metaphorical expression for the Spirit of God.
For understanding the "finger of God" metaphor, T. W. Manson suggests an
allusion to Exodus 8:19, wherein Moses is contrasted with the Egyptian magicians and
the finger of God is contrasted with the power of demons. Upon beholding Moses'
miracle, the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." This notion
connecting divine power with a finger that touches the human world can be found in
Egyptian culture. Flinders Petrie, for example, points to an Egyptian inscription of "a
wood carving of a finger springing from a falcon's head. The head was a symbol of Ra
and Horus . . .a familiar image in Egypt."11
9 Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, VIII, 2, 5.
10 A similar thought is present at the Baptism of Jesus. The presence of the Kingdom does not rest with
Jesus alone, since He is now thirty years old, or the Spirit alone, since the Spirit of God was active in
Israel's history. Since He is anointed by the Spirit and confirmed by the voice from above (Mk. 1:10-11), it
is not surprising that Jesus' first word in public proclaims, "The Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk. 1:14-15).
©J.Lyle Story
Jesus' exorcisms are not isolated or incidental invasions into the kingdom of
Satan; rather, they express the present and powerful reality of the Kingdom's presence.
They also mark the beginning of the end, the annihilation of Satan and a sobering
realization which the demons acknowledge.12 As Jeremias notes, "Every occasion on
which Jesus drives out an evil spirit is an anticipation of the hour in which Satan will be
visibly robbed of his power. The victories over his instruments are a foretaste of the
eschaton."13 Thus, in Matthew 8, as the Gadarene demoniacs confront Jesus, they cry out
in terror:
29 "And behold, they cried out, 'What have you to do with us, O Son of God?
Have you come here to torment us before the time?'" (Matt. 8:29).
They sense clearly that Jesus is the instrument of their final destruction.
The Parable of the Strong Man and Stronger One (v. 29). Jesus then speaks a
parable that affirms the reality of both the Strong Man and Stronger One and the real way
in which He destroys the power of Satan—through external aggression originating from
the outside. In essence, Jesus says, "You should have realized that no one can enter the
Strong One's house and ransack his goods, unless He first binds the Strong Man." This
can only happen through an exercise of superior strength by a still stronger man, one who
is able to overpower and tie up the strong man. In brief, Jesus is the Stronger One who
has come and bound up Satan. Strangely enough, the strong man, though bound, still
exercises power.
We may see in this parable a word of confirmation to the people who are asking
the question whether Jesus is Messiah, i.e., "the Son of David." The term "Stronger One"
is also a Messianic designation, since John the Baptist had promised that "One Stronger
than I is the Coming One14 who will baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matt. 3:11). In
the Fourth Servant Song of Isaiah, we also find a link between the Servant of the Lord
and the idea of sharing booty with the strong:
12 "Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great,
he shall divide the strong ones15 as spoil
because he poured out his soul to death,
was numbered with the transgressors;
he bore the sin of many,
made intercession for the transgressors" (Isa.
12 Mk. 1:24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy
us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
13 Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology,(New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971), p. 95.
14 The term, "the Coming One" is also a Messianic allusion:

Matt. 3:11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than
I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
See also Matt. 21:9 where the term "Son of David" is also linked with the "One who Comes in the name of
the Lord:
21:9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of
David! Blessed is He who Comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
15 The Hebrew text includes the sign of the direct object, which the RSV and NRSV interpret as a

preposition, "with the strong."

©J.Lyle Story
The influence of this and other Servant Songs is strong in Jesus' self-understanding and
mission. Indeed the language of a Servant Song (Isa. 42:1-4) is used in the passage that
immediately precedes our exorcism narrative (12:18-21) and is especially reflected in the
quiet and unobtrusive way in which Jesus carries out His ministry of healing. He may
well indicate here, "I am the Servant of the Lord who accomplishes the work of binding
up the Strong One and dividing the spoil—ransacking the house of the Strong One."
Every occasion of exorcism, as in Matt. 12:23, is an occasion of ransacking the property
of the Strong One. The Strong Man exercises His dominion over sin, sickness,
possession and death. The mission of Jesus means that the Messiah (Stronger One) has
come, overcoming and plundering the spoils of Satan. He frees those, who are enslaved
by Satan, and in so doing, He destroys the power of the evil one. Satan's defeat, clearly
evident in the exorcisms of Jesus, means freedom and wholeness for the demon possessed
persons. But it is all the work of the Messiah, who will also be the agent of the demons'
final destruction.
Severe pronouncements upon the accusers (vss. 30-32). The narrative of the
exorcism, accusation and response lead to very severe pronouncements. The following
chart illustrates how the present condition results in a corresponding judgment:

Condition Judgment
30 "He who is not with me is against me,
and he who does not gather with me scatters.
31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and will be forgiven men,
but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
32 And whoever says a word against will be forgiven;
the Son of man
but whoever speaks against the Holy will not be forgiven, either in
Spirit this age or in the age to come"

Through the antithetical clauses, Jesus underscores the severity of the Pharisees' charge
against the Holy Spirit. Yet, He affirms openly that blasphemy, i.e., abusive speech
against Himself, the Son of Man, will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit
will never be forgiven. His critics, the Jerusalem Scribes, reveal a blindness that cannot
distinguish between the work of Jesus that brings wholeness and the work of Satan that
brings destruction and death.
In another context, Jesus speaks openly of sins of sensuality and other evil acts
(Mk. 7:21-23). What evil is more heinous than the malignant moral blindness which
affirms that good is evil? This warning is perhaps the strongest word that Jesus ever
speaks. The direct context, found in the tradition of all three Synoptic writers shows
clearly the charge against Jesus—that He accomplishes exorcisms by the power of
Beelzebul. For those who hold this view, there is, says Jesus, no hope. One whose moral
vision is so confused and distorted as to see no difference between good and evil or one
who knowingly calls good—evil, is beyond remedy.


©J.Lyle Story
We need to sense the tension inherent in the idea of Satan being bound and yet
strong. Jesus won a victory in the Temptation but this does not mean that Satan's power
is finished. Luke's account states that the Devil left Him until "a more opportune
moment" (Lk. 4:13). Likewise in the above parable (Matt. 12:29), Jesus clearly infers
that Satan's power is still strong. Even after the Cross, Resurrection and
Ascension—when the victory is complete, the grip of Satan, even though broken, is still
powerful. Therefore, a tension appears similar to that which appears when the claim, "the
Kingdom of God has come upon you" (present in Matt. 12:28), is set in contrast to the
prayer, "Let your Kingdom come" (future in Matt. 6:10). These tensions will not be
resolved till the Parousia. To be sure, victory over the evil one occurred during the
ministry of Jesus and His disciples. When the seventy return from their short-term
missionary trip, Jesus says, "I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning" (Lk. 10:18). His
words affirm that victory occurs and the end of Satan's power is now in sight. Satan's
judgment is decreed and his temptations and power against Jesus cannot prevail.
Judgment in full, however, has not yet been carried out. Only with the Parousia will
there be an end to all evil.
During this intermediate period, the activity of the enemy will continue to
increase. Not only did Jesus hold this view, but the Early Church held it as well. In fact,
the Church believed that demonism would attain its greatest manifestation before the
final crisis (II Thess. 2). Jesus sensed that the activity of Satan would increase not only
in clear-cut demonic responses, but in the lack of receptivity on the part of the people,
including a hostility that would bring about His death. Satan's power was clearly
operative during the ministry of Jesus:
3 "Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot" (Lk. 22:3),
31 "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you
like wheat" (Lk. 22:31).
53 "When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on
me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Lk. 22:53).
The dark powers are on the move; they plan to destroy the fruits of Jesus' Messianic
ministry. Jesus goes to meet His death with the conviction that Satan inspired the enmity
against Him (Jn. 8:44) and that Satan's triumph would mean his undoing (Jn. 12:31-32;
Accordingly, it is only through Jesus' death that the enemy's power could be
broken. It was to be an incredible paradox that He, who was Stronger than the Strong
Man, should apparently, be found in the power of the Strong Man. He is the object of
temptation and trial and yet, it is He who speaks and casts out demons with authority.
We find a balance between the active and passive elements in the life of Jesus. His
strength lies in His submission to the will of His father even in His apparent failure.
Lest we think that the parable about binding the strong man refers only to the first
century, a student of mine, Gopal Kunji Kanan from Malaysia tells the following story.
As a child he was exposed to witchcraft and spirits, who kept his people in constant fear.
Often, people became upset with others by envy, misunderstanding, etc. They sought a
witch doctor to cast a spell on their opponent. Gopal’s mother was a Hindu at that time
and possessed many family idols, i.e., "gods." One day, she told Gopal that someone had
cast a spell on their family and explained to him the process, which includes binding the
"gods" in the house before the spirits or spells could gain entrance and wreak destruction

©J.Lyle Story
in the Kanan household. Gopal was deeply puzzled about his prior instruction in
Hinduism which affirmed an all-powerful "god," yet, his household gods (“idols”) were
really impotent in the face of a shaman’s paid services. After Gopal became a Christian,
a witch doctor came to his house and spoke to Gopal about spells, the binding of spirits,
and the customary procedure. When the witch doctor prayed for a sick person or anyone
affected by the spell, he instructed the spirit that worked for the witch doctor to negotiate
with the spirit that caused the sickness, and thereby provide relief for a short period. The
witch doctor was paid for his services. Normally, after a short lapse of time, the sickness
returned worse than before; therefore, the ritual was to be repeated with additional
payment to the shaman, and so on. The parable was perfectly understandable and natural
to Gopal upon his reading of the text of Matt. 12:22-30.
The narrative—paragraph of Matt. 13:22-30 underscores the importance of
exorcism in Jesus' ministry, an emphasis that is common to other texts as well.16 His
work as an exorcist belongs to the bedrock of the Gospel tradition. Exorcism is not
simply introductory to the Kingdom of God, but is a powerful sign of the presence of the
Kingdom, bringing wholeness of life to those who are possessed by the power of Satan.
As the people of God we need to be alert to the reality of Satan's destructive
power and sensitive to the way in which we can cooperate with the Spirit of God to bring
new life to those individuals who are possessed. The fact that Jesus entrusts His disciples
with a mission similar to His (Mk. 3:15) and that the early Church continued with a
ministry of exorcism (Acts 5:16), confirms the role of the Church in delivering people
from the power of the Strong One. Paul clearly affirms the rise of demonism in the "last
days" when he warns the Church against those who "abandon the faith and follow
deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons" (I Tim. 4:1). Christians within the Church,
gifted with discernment, are enabled to recognize the alien forces that take up residence
within people. Through a ministry of exorcism, the Church can create wholeness and
freedom that signifies the presence of the Kingdom of God.

16A warning to Herod is found which notes almost incidentally Jesus' exorcisms:
32 "And he said to them, 'Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today
and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course" (Lk. 13:32).
We also find the record of the strange exorcist who uses Jesus' name but is not one of the twelve:
49 "John answered, 'Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him,
because he does not follow with us'" (Lk. 9:49)
In a similar way, Paul uses the name of Jesus Christ to perform exorcism:
Acts 16:18 And this she did for many days. But Paul was annoyed, and turned and said to the
spirit, “I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
©J.Lyle Story
Story, p. 1

Central Themes of Pauline Theology


As we wrestle with Paul and his message, we need to understand something about
the way in which Paul goes about his task of letter writing. Paul was not a systematic
theologian in our sense of the word, a fact that can easily be overlooked in our attempt to
organize his thought into a meaningful whole. Even the book of Romans, which is the
most systematic of his writings, is far from being a textbook on Christianity. He writes
out of a pragmatic and pastoral concern, to justify the place of the Gentiles in the
economy of God and to prepare for his visit there on his way to Rome; he seeks to build a
relationship with a church and community he has not yet visited. Paul's theology is
"occasional" in that he responds to "pressure-points" in the life of the early Christian
communities. He does not begin with a metaphysical or philosophical background or
superstructure. Christianity is not a system of ideas or values. For Paul, Christianity is a
drama, not a theory. Paul describes what God has done (past), what He is doing
(present), and what He will do (future) on the stage of world-history. That drama gives
us a clue as to the meaning of the universe. Although Paul is a theologian, he is also a
missionary, and he is oriented towards a theology of change/conversion (hb*WvT=).
Human beings turn from idols to serve the living God. Paul's dramatic encounter with
Jesus on the Damascus Road is no less radical from a fervent devotion to Judaism to a
committed fellowship of the Risen Christ. The change is reflected in his theological
constructs as well.

The Gospel

Paul calls his message "the gospel" (toV eujaggevlion). However, Paul
does not call himself an evangelist, but an apostle, "a called/sent one," with a prophetic
call that is similar in nature to the prophetic call of the OT prophets. He is sent by God to
preach the good news of God's salvation. That message (eujaggevlion) becomes
the driving force of his life for he solemnly announces, "Woe to me if I preach not the
gospel.''1 The noun "gospel" (eujaggevlion) and the verb "I preach the
gospel/good news" (eujaggelivzomai) refer to the public announcement of good
news that leads to joy, praise and celebration. Often a runner or messenger would be
dispatched with the charge of proclaiming the good news (birth of a son, victory at sea,
etc.). The good news would, inevitably bring great joy to a family or community. We
can readily think of Isa. 52:7, in which a courier is sent with the good news that the exile
is over and the Jews are allowed to return to Jerusalem and repopulate the city. Thus we
"How beautiful . . . upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news who announces peace;
who brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation,
and says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
The word eujaggevlion appears some 60 times in Paul's letters. He uses the
1 1 Cor. 9:16 e*aVn gaVr eu*aggelivzwmai, ou*k e!stin moi kauvchma:

a*navgkh gavr moi e*pivkeitai: ou*aiV gavr moiv e*stin e*aVn mhV
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 2

term in a variety of ways: 1) "the gospel of God" (Rom. 1:1; II Cor. 11-:7), 2) "the
gospel/good news of'2 Christ" (Rom. 15:19; I Cor. 9:12), 3) "my/our gospel" (Rom. 2:16;
II Cor. 4:3).
Paul speaks of the gospel in both an objective or subjective manner:
Gospel--objective content. When Paul speaks of the "gospel"
(eujaggevlion) and the related verb, "preach the good news," in I Cor. 15:1-8, he
refers to the content of the gospel message—the early Christian kerygma: Christ died for
our sins, in fulfillment of the Scriptures, he was buried, he arose, and then successively
appeared to various witnesses, the last of whom is Paul. Statements such as these echo
the early church's kerygma, the content of the message.
Gospel--subjective power. The gospel is more than content. For Paul, the gospel
is also God's power that effects salvation. The message reaches out in saving power to
the one who trusts. Paul's message is revolutionary and decisive. It is in no way a
religious suggestion for better living or another alternative alongside the cults and
mystery religions of the day. The apostle confesses, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel,
for it is the power of God unto salvation." To be sure, the gospel means the
announcement of a saving event. But it is not simply information about the event. It is a
message that has inherent power wherever it is believed; as such "the gospel" is a
powerful event that embraces the messenger, the content and the one who hears and
responds with utter trust. In other places, Paul speaks of the way in which there are
"powerful manifestations of the Spirit among those who accepted the gospel"(II Cor.
12:12).3 In the same passage in which Paul speaks about the content (objective content)
of the Gospel (I Cor. 15:1-8), the Gospel is also subjectively, an inner power, the means
by which people are being saved (I Cor. 15:2).

The Gospel's Center.

Is there an umbrella, a centrum Paulini, which can hold together the various
aspects of Paul's message, which provides a sense of coherence to his theology? A
number of structures have been suggested:
Justification by faith--Käsemann, Luther, Taylor (other Lutheran scholars)
In-Christ-mysticism--Schweitzer, Deissmann, Stewart4
Apocalypticism--Wrede, J. C. Beker ("cosmic triumph of God and
Salvation-history--Cullmann, Ladd, O. A. Piper
Transformation of time and the gift of grace--C. J. A. Hickling ("new age--new
Existential call to decision—Bultmann
Jesus is Lord, who provides salvation and Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles
Reconciliation--Martin, Manson, Ridderbos
"Life under the Lordship of Christ"--Dunn
Salvation--Hunter, Scott
2 The term is an objective genitive, "the message whose content is Christ."
3 2 Cor. 12:12 "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you in all patience, with signs and wonders and
mighty works." These signs confirmed the power of the message that had indeed transformed their lives.
4 James Stewart, A Man in Christ

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 3

The diverse opinion is very real and reflects something of the far-reaching dimensions of
the Apostle's thought. Plevnik notes, "Any center of Pauline theology must therefore
include all those components of the apostle's gospel: his understanding of Christ and of
God, his understanding of God's salvific action through Christ, involving the Easter event
and its implications, the present Lordship, the future coming of Christ, and the
appropriation of salvation."5 As Martin notes, "not surprisingly, the conclusion is then
drawn that "the center is thus not any single aspect of Christ . . . but the whole Christ."6
The various approaches also reflect various criteria that are brought to bear upon the
question. What is suggested below is an attempt to integrate the various word pictures
into a coherent whole that may assist us in organizing the several aspects of his theology.

The Pauline Center

Justification Redemption
Gospel of
Word of God Hearer

Reconciliation In Christ

The good news of salvation. The distinctively Pauline emphasis on the gospel
announces that it is a salvific force let loose in the world. It is not a simple set of
propositions which people must intellectually apprehend and give their mental assent to.
It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. The good news for
Paul is a life-force that spreads to people as it makes its appeal and seeks a response of
faith. Paul calls it "the power of God," just as he had called Christ crucified "the power
of God": "But to those who are the called, Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power and
wisdom of God" (I.Cor. 1:24). The apostle demonstrates the close relation between
confession, trust in the gospel message, and the resultant salvation. He does so with a
5J. Plevnik, "The Center of Paul's Theology," CBQ, 51 (1989), pp. 477-478.
6Ralph P. Martin, "Center of Paul's Theology," Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity
Press, 1993), p. 93.
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 4

carefully balanced parallelism:

confess  mouth  Jesus is Lord  salvation
believe  heart  resurrection  salvation
believe  heart   righteousness
confess mouth   salvation
(Rom. 10:9-10)

The all-embracing term is "salvation" (swthriva). A number of other noun/verb

forms highlight a particular facet of the divine activity, e.g. redemption, a buying back of
one, who is not free. The term "salvation" acts as an umbrella, under which various word
pictures and metaphors emphasize one or another particular aspect of salvation. For
instance, the idea of justification/righteousness is borrowed from the courtroom and is
used to express the forensic aspect of salvation. The other metaphors look at the
salvation event from different angles or perspectives. When Paul speaks of the gospel, he
calls it the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). The
theme of universal salvation is carried through with the addition of the explanatory
clause, "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Salvation for the Gentiles through the
gospel was part of the great vision of the risen Christ. Thus, Paul affirms, "that I might
preach the good news of Him to the Gentiles" (Gal. 1:16). The fundamental question of
religion is the Philippian jailer's question, "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30).
The word "salvation" parallels the broad use of the Hebrew uv^y*, meaning "to be
broad," "to become spacious," "to enlarge." Its opposite is that of confinement,
compression, and constraint. The term swthriva signifies wellbeing in all of its
forms, from soundness of body to the highest ideal of spiritual health. For the Jew, the
word "salvation" meant primarily a deliverance from sin and the enemies of the people of
God. For the Greek, salvation meant deliverance from all the slings and arrows of
fortune, deliverance from bad luck, and all the insecurities of life. For the Greek way of
thinking, the way of salvation is that of knowledge. For instance, Socrates argued that if
man only knew what was good, then all would be well. In Plato's Republic, he argued
that true welfare of the ideal society was an elaborate system of education, culminating in
the highest form of metaphysical contemplation. For the Stoic, the way of salvation was
to see through the deceptions imposed upon humanity via the senses, emotions, desires
and passions. Knowledge or metaphysical (in)sight was the prized route to salvation.
By way of contrast, the Hebrew emphasizes hearing. Orthodox Jews confess their
faith in the Shema, "Hear 0 Israel..." (Deut. 6:4). The heavenly voice at Jesus'
transfiguration says, "This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him" (Mk. 9:7). Further, the
Hebrew verb "he heard" (um^V* shama) is often linked with the preposition and noun,
"to the voice of" (loql=) and comes to mean "to obey." As in Greek, the verb "I have
seen" oi\da comes to mean "I know" so in Hebrew thought, the verb "he has heard"
um^v* comes to mean "he has obeyed." In both Judaism and Christianity we are
concerned with two centers of an ellipse, the Word of God and the human positive
response to that selfsame Word. Thus, the OT repeats the prophetic challenge "choose."'
Moses summons the people of God to a choice prior to their entrance into Canaan.7
7Moses--Deut. 30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and
death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live,
Joshua--Josh. 24:15 And if you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 5

Elijah also forces conscious and deliberate choice on Israel in the midst of her encounter
with the rain-god Baal (I Kgs. 18). Ostensibly, it appears that the human person is
neutral, standing midway between two opposing kingdoms, freely able to choose the
kingdom to which allegiance will be rendered. However, for Paul, the human person is
not neutral and able to dispassionately judge, determine, and decide. The human heart is
itself the battleground. Thus Paul says that human beings find themselves in a terrible
predicament. The one decision that matters the most is the one decision that unaided, the
human person is unable to make. In Paul's words, "The good that I would (i.e., what I
really want to do), I do not do, and the evil that I would not (i.e., what I really don't want
to do), that is just what I do" (Rom. 7:19).8 For Paul, the grim fact remains that the
human person is unable to choose and is in bondage to the horrible reality of sin. People
do not need good advice, better resolutions, more rules, good examples or formulas for
success. People need salvation; the power of the intruding Evil One must be broken;
people need salvation. The good news of salvation is not simply good advice or a
remedial system.

Frequency of the "save-" word family in Paul

Paul uses the word-family concerned with salvation more than any NT writer:
· "to save" (swvzw): 29 times
· "savior" (swthvr): 12 times
· "salvation" (swthriva): 18 times
· "saving" (swthvrion): 1 time
· "saving" (swthvrio"): 1 time
· "rescue" (rJuvomai): 11 times
Sometimes, the OT used the verb "to save" to signify deliverance from enemies in
a time of war, healing of disease, travel-safety or preservation. In the Gospels, frequently
the term is used in connection with healing, e.g., "Daughter your faith has saved you, i.e.,
made you whole" (Mk. 6:34). There are a few occasions where Paul uses it to refer to
physical safety, "Yet women will be saved, i.e., kept safe/preserved" through childbearing
(I Tim. 2:15). Generally, however, the major thrust of the "save"-word family refers to
the supreme saving deed, which God has effected in Jesus Christ and the result, which
believers now enjoy in the present and will enjoy in the future. Salvation is indeed the
central purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God, "The saying is sure and worthy of
full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the
foremost of sinners;" (I Tim. 1:15).
For many Christians, "Salvation" has been understood to simply refer to "life after
death", and is expressed in so many hymns as such, "May we go where he has gone," and
"rest and reign with him in heaven." And salvation is a rescue from a terrible future fate.
But as N.T. Wright notes, "Precisely because the resurrection has happened within our
own world, its implications and effects are to be felt within our own world, here and
now."9 Salvation, which does include the future, nonetheless points to the present aspects
of salvation—to a vision of the present that includes social justice, care for the poor, sick,
lonely, homeless. Christ does not save his people as souls but as wholes, and as wholes,
people are called upon to see to the improvement of life in the present for others in all
8 T.W. Manson, On Paul and John, (London: SCM Press, 1963), p. 32.
9 N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 191.
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 6

dimensions of human life and concern. Social concern is a part of salvation in the here
and now as the people of God respond in saving ways to people in the various situations
of human need. Most people think of salvation in terms of a personal, private, and
mystical experience of the forgiveness of sins and release from guilt, wherein a person
will be rescued from the corruption and decay of the world and then, judgment on the
Day of Judgment. Rather, salvation needs to be looked at from a holistic perspective,
wherein people deal with the urgent present and the Divine concern for people in holistic
ways—water sanitation for peoples, health concerns, peace and stability in the world,
care for the vulnerable poor, and is expressed through things like racial or gender
reconciliation. What people do in the world will find their place in the future. Salvation
is not a conversion or rescue from the world to some sort of spiritual existence but a call
to live fully and responsibly as whole people to a world that needs to experience
The divine initiative in salvation. For Paul, salvation finds its origin in God and
in His Son Jesus, who have acted on behalf of a dying humanity. Paul refers to the death,
resurrection and ascension of Jesus together as the one great act of salvation in which
God has acted to deliver people from death and give them new life:
1 Thess. 5:9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
1 Thess. 1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead,
Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
2 Tim. 1:9 [God] who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in vir
Christ Jesus ages ago,
2 Thess. 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, b
through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
The idea of the divine origin of salvation is also expressed through the titles "God our
Savior" (I Tim. 1:1; 2:3; Tit. 1:3; 2:10; 3:4) or "Christ our Savior" (II Tim. 1:10; Tit. 1:4;
2:13; 3:6). In several texts, the divine origin of salvation is also expressed through verbs
such as "called," "predestined," and "destined."
Since the initiative lies solely with God, human effort is excluded from the
salvation event, but it is also an event in which people are charged with a new way of life.
Paul regards humanity in a death-condition, dead in sin, since the wages that sin pays is
death (Rom. 6:23). People bring nothing to the saving event since all are sinners. The
only acceptable condition for persons is to recognize their utter bankruptcy, be they Jew
or Gentile. That sense of utter bankruptcy in sin is vital for one's openness to the
message; the admission of bankruptcy surely belongs to the needed faith response to what
God has done. Faith's opposite is an attitude of bragging, wherein one looks to human
effort and achievement which should pay a reward. In passages where Paul deals with
the salvation event, he gives no hint that human effort counts for anything with respect to
Eph. 2:5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive
together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—9
In this text, the human condition is that of death through sin and the wonder of all
wonders is that God has extended grace through His gift; his "gift" also includes the
human response of trust. In other texts, where Paul is dealing with the tension between

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 7

law and Gospel (Rom. 4; Gal. 3-4), he makes it crystal clear that the saving event is not
comprised of Gospel and law ("human performance"). In Rom. 4, using the example of
Abraham, Paul makes it clear that even "faith" cannot be regarded as one "work" that is
prized above all others thereby rewarding the merit of the believer. He expresses his
thought through antithetical parallelism between the "one who works" and the "one who
does not work":
Worker (antithesis of faith/trust)
Now to one who works,
his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due.
Non-worker (faith/trust)
And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reck
People, therefore, are not saved by their own efforts or achievements:
Tit. 3:5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness,
but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,
True, there are persons who are involved in the salvation event. For example,
Paul speaks about his own role in the conversion of Jews:
Rom. 11:14 [I magnify my ministry] in order to make my fellow Jews jealous,
and thus save some of them.
Paul has a role to play in the conversion of the Jews through his preaching efforts, but he
does not suggest that the initiative for their salvation resides in himself, but is found in
God. Elsewhere in Romans, Paul speaks about the role of the evangelist in the
proclamation of the Good News, but through a balanced step-parallelism,10 traces the
origin of the salvation-process to God (call upon  believe  hear  preacher  sent
[by God]:
Rom. 10:14 But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without a preacher?
15 And how can men preach unless they are sent?
As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!”
The extent of salvation. Through his correspondence to the churches, Paul
expresses the inclusive love of God that reaches out to all of humanity, Jew and Gentile.
His accusation against the Jews is pointed in that their concern was exclusive and
restrictive of Christian proclamation of salvation. A driving concern in several of Paul's
letters is his defense of proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles, beyond the confines of
1 Thess. 2:16 [the Jews] by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved—so as a
has come upon them at last!
Paul negates such Jewish exclusivism, since this attitude counters the divine intent, which
is clearly inclusive in scope:
1 Tim. 2:3 This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
In this text, God is both the Savior and the One who desires that all people be saved.
Salvation does not belong to a "favored nation" nor to a special interest group nor to an
enlightened group who alone is privy to such an experience. In v. 6, the inclusive
concern of God is again underscored by the statement that Jesus Christ gave himself as a
10Step-parallelism denotes balanced lines in which the second member of each line becomes the first member of the
next line.
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 8

"ransom for all." The inclusive concern of God is expressed by Paul's personal practice
of "becoming all things to all people, so that they might be saved" (I Cor. 9:22). Salvation
is inclusive, not exclusive, and overcomes all of the various "isms" of our day—racism,
classicism, sexism, et. al.
While the divine intent is for an all-inclusive salvation, it is also clear to Paul that
not all will be saved. At this point, Paul uses the idea of Isaiah's doctrine of the remnant
to express the truth that the inclusive concern of God is limited by unbelief:
Rom. 9:27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the
The faithful remnant constitutes the real people of God who are responsive to the divine
initiative. While Paul's ministry is primarily directed to the Gentiles, there is an Israel-
ward significance to provoke the Jews to jealousy, thus, leading them to the experience of
Rom. 11:13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles.
Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles,
I magnify my ministry
14 in order to make my fellow Jews jealous,
and thus save some of them.
His direct ministry to the Gentiles and indirect ministry to the Jews is part of the
eschatological activity of God. This ministry awaits a glorious future when "all Israel
will be saved" (Rom. 9:27).
For Paul, salvation is a past event, present experience and future hope:
"we were saved" (Rom. 8:24)
"we are being saved" (I Cor. 15:2)
"we shall be saved" (Rom. 5:9)
Salvation in time. In Romans 5:1 we find all three tenses (past, present, future)
which interplay with each other and build towards clear resolution in the future:
Rom. 5:1 Therefore being justified by faith (past), we have peace (present) with God through our Lord
this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope (future) of the glory of God.
Biblical faith, whether it is expressed in the Hebrew Bible or Christian Bible is
essentially a faith in God as savior, who is in the business of saving people from
destruction and saving them to a new way of life—directed to the present. Moreover, His
goal is positive in that He fulfills His purposes for them.
Salvation as a past fact. Through the use of the aorist tense (past time--point
aspect), Paul expresses the truth that salvation is a matter of the past record. He looks
back to the past event of the cross and the way in which sinners were united with Jesus at
His death.
Titus 3:5 he saved (aorist) us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own
Holy Spirit,
Eph. 2:5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive (aorist) together with Christ (b
Col. 1:13 He delivered (aorist) us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of h
Rom. 8:24 For in this hope we were saved (aorist). Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes fo
The reference in Rom. 8:24 links the past action to the beginning of the saving event in
the life of individual Christians. Yet, the past saving event also looks ahead to the
certainty and consummation of a future hope when Christians will experience the
consummate blessedness when hope gives way to sight.
Paul also uses the perfect tense (past action with extended results) to express both

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 9

the facticity of the saving past coupled with the enduring results:
Eph. 2:5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace y
8 For by grace you have been saved (perfect tense) through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is th
Salvation as a present experience. The saving activity of God is revealed in the
Gospel, which is explained as "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16). In the
Gospel, the "righteousness of God is being revealed" (Rom. 1:17) and is viewed against
the negative backdrop of the "wrath of God, which is similarly being revealed" (Rom.
1:18). Salvation is a present fact and experience, which depends upon the revelation of
God. Present salvation is conveyed through the Gospel, "by which [the Gospel] you are
saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain." To the Corinthians who prize
"knowledge" (gnw'si"), Paul affirms that the Gospel is "the power of God to us who
are being saved" (I Cor. 1:18; also II Cor. 2:15). A person "confesses unto salvation"
(Rom. 10:10) and thereby enjoys the experience of present salvation, as one looks upon
others with care and responsibility. In II Cor. 6:2, Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah (49:8)
and refers to God's solid help in the present day of salvation:
2 Cor. 6:2 For he says,
“At the acceptable time I have listened to you,
and helped you on the day of salvation.” [Isa. 49:8]
Behold, now is the acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.
The adverb "now" is repeated twice in Paul's commentary on the Isaian text; thereby he
affirms the urgent promise of the present as the day of salvation. The urgency of the
present day of salvation builds on the previous metaphor of reconciliation in which the
audience is summoned to a present reconciliation with God, "We implore you on behalf
of Christ, 'Be reconciled unto God'" (II Cor. 5:20). Salvation also provides the motive for
Christian activity: "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is
at work in you both to will and to work" (Phil. 2:12-13). The present aspect of salvation
is also present in texts where salvation is associated with a piece of the Christian's armor
("helmet of salvation" in Eph. 6:17; "helmet is the hope of salvation" in I Thess. 5:8).
In the Olive-Tree simile (Rom. 11:11ff.), the structure of three time-periods
highlights the present responsibility of the Gentile believers in the second age/aeon. Due
to Israel's rejection in the first aeon (Rom. 11:11), salvation has come to the Gentiles in
the second aeon. A divine purpose of present salvation is at work in this present age,
which looks ahead to third age, after the fullness of the Gentiles comes in. It will mean
untold blessedness for both Jew and Gentile when history is consummated.
Salvation is a future hope. Paul's statement, "in hope we were saved" (Rom.
8:24) includes both the backward look at the salvation event and the forward certainty of
a full salvation. When Paul affirms that the Christians' citizenship is in heaven, he also
expresses the posture of "awaiting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phi. 3:20). In Rom.
10:13, a future salvation is yet in store for the people who "call upon the name of the
Lord," following their trust in the proclaimed message of an evangelist. But the hope of
the future is also directly related to the present experience and stewardship of salvation or
wholeness. Moreover, Paul's declaration of relative nearness of salvation orients the
community to the bright prospect of the future:
Rom. 13:11 Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. Fo
At times, Paul contrasts the position of believers, "those who are being saved"

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 10

with unbelievers, "those who are perishing" (I Cor. 1:18), those who will be subject to the
divine wrath. Believers will be saved from the divine wrath (Rom. 5:10) by Christ's life.
In passages where Paul speaks of discipline or purification, he orients the
community to act in a responsible way with the future in view:
1 Cor. 5:5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that
his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
1 Cor. 3:15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only
The exercise of church discipline for the immoral person in I Cor. 5 looks for the
redemptive purpose that the man's spirit might ultimately be saved in the Day; but saving
activity begins in the here and now. The passage in I Cor. 3:15 highlights the importance
of building properly upon the solid foundation since the future will test the scaffolding
that is built on the foundation. Paul intends that the people of God build in such a way
that the scaffolding will not be burnt by the fiery judgment.
As Paul looks to the future salvation, he directs his view to the Jews and envisions
that "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). This time of untold joy and eschatological
fulfillment follows the second age, the period when the fullness of the Gentiles will be
grafted onto the olive-tree. In the same passage, Paul uses future tenses to describe the
coming and activity of the Deliverer:
Rom. 11:26 and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
In II Cor. 1:10, Paul uses the verb "to deliver" (rJuvomai) in the past (aorist)
and future tenses:
2 Cor. 1:10 he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver11 us; on him we have set our ho

Charles A. Anderson Scott, sums up the importance of this word-family for

understanding Paul's theology: "It is in fact hardly too much to say that Christianity was
of interest to St. Paul only because it was a method of Salvation."12 The word-family
embraces every aspect of time: past, present and future. The terms convey the negative
aspect of what people are saved/delivered from: bondage, sin, death, the law, hostility,
unrighteousness and condemnation. Positively, the word-family includes what people are
saved to: freedom, pardon, right standing with God, sonship/daughtership, assurance, a
new quality of life, life in the Spirit, reconciliation, concern for the marginalized, social
justice, and hope. "It makes room for Christ in all the aspects of His saving activity, for
the Holy Spirit as the creating, sustaining and guiding the 'life' to of those who by saving
are being saved."13 Each of these benefits is the result of Christ's life, death, resurrection
and ascension. Frequently people look to some sort of split-level housing, where some on
one level look at salvation of souls for a timeless and secure eternity, while those on
another tier, work for social justice, reconciliation, peace and wholeness. Jesus knew no
such split between the two levels of a house. Thus to a healed and grateful leper, Jesus
says that his faith/gratitude has "saved" him, he reflects his own holistic concern. The
resurrection of Jesus, which is the ground of salvation, is not simply life after death, but a
transformation of existence—that includes all spheres of human existence (social, racial,
11 Many of the manuscripts contain the present tense, "he delivers" (rJuvetai), which thus is part of the past,
present and future aspects of salvation.
12 Charles A. Anderson Scott, Christianity According to St. Paul, (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1961), p. 18.
13 Ibid.

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 11

economic, justice, emotional, spiritual, and relational), and life in the here and now.. NT
Wright points to the real slogan, "Life before death, not simply life after death." He
states, "As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main
work of the Church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future. But when
we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God's promised new heavens
and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that new and gloriously
embodied relation—what I have called life after life after death—then the main work of
the Church here and now demands to be rethought in consequence."14

III. Justification & Righteousness in Pauline Thought

If salvation can be regarded as the most comprehensive term, which captures the
center of Paul's thought, the word-family associated with justification/righteousness
expresses salvation through a metaphor taken over from legal procedure and the judicial
court. While many scholars regard justification by faith as the center of Pauline thought
(Bornkamm, Conzelmann, Käsemann), we suggest that it is one dimension only of God's
salvific activity. Justification by faith expresses what God has accomplished for
believers through Jesus Christ. It expresses God's grace, incorporating God's justice,
pardon, forgiveness and the means by which God has imputed righteousness to believers.
Since the time of the Reformation, many theologians, churches, denominations,
and individual Christians have argued that the doctrine of justification by faith is the
central core of Paul's theology. For example, in Luther's interpretation of the parables,
this doctrine of justification by faith is found in almost every parable. The Hebrew Bible
was pitted against the New Testament in the lawgospel antithesis. And thus, the Jews
are viewed as those who seek to be justified by Torah, i. e, works, while Christians are
those who seek to be justified solely by faith.
However, we need to understand the dynamic and situational aspect of Paul's
teaching in that his doctrine of justification by faith was not worked out in a vacuum nor
a library, but was hammered out in the course of Paul's intense struggle. In Paul's
missionary activity in various local church settings, he wrestled with the place of the
Gentile in the economy of God. Krister Stendahl notes how this doctrine has its
theological context in the relation between Jew and Gentile and is directly related to
Paul's defense of the Gentiles within the divine purpose.
It is important to clear up some of the semantic problems created by the
limitations of the English language. The English words, "righteousness" and "justice" are
used to translate the same Greek word dikaiosuvnh. In English, the word
"righteousness" usually is associated with a personal and moral uprightness, which an
individual person possesses. The term "justice" is usually associated with a corporate
social fairness. Similarly, the English adjectives, "righteous" and "just," translate the
Greek adjective, divkaio". However, when we try to translate the Greek verb
dikaiovw, we only use the Latin word "to justify." There is no English word for
"rightify." Thus, in our language, the verb "to justify" normally means to provide reasons
or excuses for in the interest of self-defense. In our normal English use, the verb "to
justify" does not mean "to make right" or "to declare to be in the right."
14 NT Wright, 197.
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 12

Justification in time. Similar to the word, "save" and its cognates, the terms
associated with justification/righteousness also embrace past, present and future.
Past: And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified,
you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Present: Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; (Rom. 8:33)
Future: For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who w
Paul's language refers to the inauguration of life as well as its final consummation; it
anticipates the final judgment with its clear assurance of the indissoluble bond of the love
of God (Rom. 8:29-34). The justification that believers experience in the present
anticipates, in advance, the final judgment and assures them of their own right standing
with God.
A. Righteousness is conformity with a norm. Although Paul writes Greek, his
Greek vocabulary is usually dependent on the Hebrew words and thought world. The
Hebrew term tsedek qdx and its various forms, refer primarily to a relationship or norm,
not simply an inherent quality that we might call righteous or good. Righteousness or
rightness is alignment with a norm. A person who lives in a sub-division may pay yearly
dues to the homeowner's association and promise to abide by certain norms of that
subdivision. A part of a contractual relationship with the other homeowners would prohibit
painting a house with psychedelic purple. The contractual relationship with the association
would also prohibit pulling an old junk car into a front yard, parking it, putting it up on
blocks, and tearing it apart in the front yard. A person can be pronounced as righteous
within the homeowner's association if the demands of that relationship are satisfied. One's
righteousness will vary from relationship to relationship. Thus, there is a different standard
of relationship that one has with children, parents, work, school, Church, government, etc.
Relationships vary immensely and so do the demands of the different relationships. For
example, in Gen. 38, the widow Tamar dresses up like a cult prostitute in order to seduce
Judah, her father-in-law. According to Hebrew levirate law, he should have arranged for
her to marry the brother of her deceased husband in order to raise up children and carry on
the family name and inheritance. This he failed to do; Tamar, however seduces him and
becomes pregnant. Then Judah, not knowing by whom he was seduced is ready to have
Tamar killed. But she has proof to show that he indeed is the father of the child, which she
(his daughter-in-law) is about to bear. His response is this, "She is more righteous than I"
(Gen. 38:26). The text does not mean that she is a moral person, but that she stood in
proper relationship to the norm, i.e. , the need to raise up the family name; Judah was
"unrighteous" with respect to this very responsibility. To be ts-d-k is to keep faith with
what is right by doing the right thing according to the norm or the persons involved.
The terms, "justification" or "righteousness" are not primarily words of status or
quality, but relationship. An analogy may help. A man may have a certain weight--160
pounds. But that weight is always in relationship to the gravitational pull of the earth. If
he were on the moon, his weight would vary and be far less than if the same earth scale
would be used on the moon. Thus, the weight does not belong to the person as such.15 In
very much the same way, a person does not possess righteousness in and of himself or
B. Righteous is forensic (judicial). An important form of the Hebrew verb is the
causative Hiphil form, qyD!x=h! (hitsdiq), "justify, vindicate the cause of." In judicial
15 Cf. Whitely, p. 160.
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 13

matters it means to declare to be in the right." This idea is found in Isa. 43:26:
26 Put me in remembrance, let us argue together;
set forth your case, that you may be proved right.
26 suV deV mnhvsqhti kaiV kriqw'men,
levge suV taV" ajnomiva" sou prw'to", i{na
The prophet Amos had a vision of a leaning wall, which was doomed to fall because it
was not plumb or upright (Amos 7:7). If the vision included proper alignment of the wall
to the plumb-line, the wall would have been said to be justified. There is one English use
of the word "justify," which is very similar to the biblical sense—a typewriter or
computer justifies the margins, i.e., the margins are aligned. The verb "to justify"
(dikaiovw) does not mean "to make righteous." Neither does the verb simply mean,
"to acquit." The word "acquit" means to pronounce innocent or guiltless. But at the very
core of Paul's thought is the understanding, "there is none righteous, no not one."16
Therefore, if we understand the verb dikaiovw as "acquit" (Moffat, NEB), then the
only result is to make God a liar. The LXX uses the verb dikaiovw as a technical
term in the judicial procedure. The term means to give a judgment in favor of a person,
and is thus used in the synoptic gospels:
Matt 11:19 the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard
justified by her deeds, i.e. wisdom is proved to be in the right."
Lk. 10:29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Here, "the
It is important that the OT prefers to use the verb rather than the noun, signifying
the activity of God wherein a person is declared to be in the right; Paul also has a
preference for the verb.
Luther's personal theological breakthrough in 1515 developed from a fresh
understanding of "the righteousness of God." Originally, Luther believed that the
expression meant God's own personal moral uprightness. Correspondingly, as the
righteous One, God would reward those who were obedient on God's terms and punish
those who were sinners. Since Luther knew that he was a sinner, how could the Gospel
be "good news" for sinners (Rom. 1:16-17)? His breakthrough came when he understood
and appropriated the truth that "the righteousness of God" referred to the revealed
righteousness, which God reckons to sinners, thereby covering their sins and enabling
them to be counted as righteous in God's sight.
C. Righteousness is pardon. Even in a trial, acquittal and condemnation are not
the only two possible verdicts. In almost every country, there is the possibility of pardon.
This is not subterfuge or legal fiction or declaration that a criminal is innocent. As with
Richard Nixon, his guilt had been proven and fully recognized. But in the case of a
16 Rom. 3:10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

Psa. 14:1 To the choirmaster. Of David.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none that does good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
to see if there are any that act wisely,
that seek after God.
3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt;
there is none that does good,
no, not one.
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 14

pardon, a king or sovereign may intervene and declare a pardon for the individual.
Gerald Ford, for his own reasons, looking to the welfare of the country, pardoned Richard
Nixon. And he was restored to his rights within the community. His own guilt could
never be held against him. It is important to note that a judge cannot issue a pardon; only
a sovereign king can. And the initiative can only lie with the sovereign ruler; the pardon
is clearly an act of sheer grace. People cannot claim or demand a pardon; it is a royal act
that comes as a surprise and is motivated by grace. I think of a fellow who was driving
his car DUI and who hit and almost killed a cyclist who was also under the influence of
alcohol. The cyclist almost died and was in a coma for a week, and then began the
recovery process. Clearly, the driver of the car was looking at a felony charge and
possibly involuntary manslaughter of the cyclist. However, the victim also woke up to
his own responsibility (also DUI) in the accident and thus the judge pardoned the driver.
His guilt was established and repented of. But the more serious charge was not filed.
What is reckoned to his account is a misdemeanor DUI charge. What will not be
reckoned is a felony or manslaughter charge. This means that "being justified" is the
same as "having righteousness put to one's credit." It means the non-reckoning or non-
counting of sin. One cannot really acquit a man who is guilty, but one can refrain from
charging him. The result seems to be that the verb dikaiovw defines God's attitude
rather than God's findings or assessment on all the facts. Paul argues for amnesty rather
than acquittal or a legal fiction.
In Rom. 3:21, Paul states, "But now, the righteousness of God has been revealed,
apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it." The
expression, "apart from the Law" (cwriV" novmou) is significant. Paul means
what he says, "apart from the Law." The judicial proceedings are not based upon law.
The law provides only one basis for pronouncing a person just: complete obedience to its
stipulations and provisions. If God is to administer the law He cannot justify but must
condemn. But, if the whole business of justification is removed from the sphere of the
law, then God acts, not as the administrator of the law, but as a sovereign King who
issues an amnesty or pardon. One of the most radical statements about God is found in
Paul. In Rom. 4:5, he describes God as "Him who justifies the ungodly":
Rom. 4:5 And to one who does not work
trusts him who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is reckoned as righteousness.
tw'/ deV mhV e*rgazomevnw/
pisteuvonti deV e*piV toVn
dikaiou'nta toVn a*sebh'
logivzetai h& pivsti" au*tou' ei*"
The very thing that is forbidden by God in the Torah is the justifying activity that He
17Exod. 23:7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the
Exod. 34:7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no
means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third
and the fourth generation.”
Prov. 17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the Lord.
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 15

Herein lies the problem. This divine activity shocked the Jews to the very core.
For a judge to treat a criminal as if he is innocent is at the height of injustice. How is it
possible for God to justify the ungodly and to remain just? Paul answers, "It was to
prove at the present time that he himself is just and that he justifies him who has faith in
Jesus"(Rom. 3:26). Therefore, the issue for God is not what the ungodly has done but 1)
what Jesus, the Godly One, has done for them and 2) their faith in the Godly one. What
sort of God would we have who justifies only the godly or pious? This God would be
calculable and controllable since He follows an achievement-reward system. God then
becomes the patron God of a particular religious community. However, to say that God
is the one who justifies the ungodly means that He is not beholden to any client, group or
party. If God is the justifier of the ungodly, then His moral integrity is measured solely
by His character and person. "His ways are not our own ways." If God justifies the
ungodly, then as Paul says, "God shows no partiality (Rom. 2:11), and is not the God of
the Jews only?" In Rom. 3:29 Paul says, "Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the
God of Gentiles also? Yes, of the Gentiles also." Since God justifies the ungodly, then
God exercises His sovereignty in freedom. It does not mean that God has a capacity to be
arbitrary, but that He is free to be faithful to Himself and His provision in Jesus.
Correspondingly, He is independent and free from all human control and manipulation.

IV. Redemption in Paul's Thought

Redemption is another word-picture, which Paul uses to illustrate the reality of

salvation. The word-picture comes from the world of slavery and bondage, especially
evident in warfare when a victor would capture prisoners and release them upon the
payment of a ransom-fee. The presupposition, which underlies this language, is that the
human race has been held in servitude/bondage to various powers external to itself. This
is perhaps one of the images in which Judaism and Christianity find common expression.
A. Redemption in the Greek world. The ancient world was built on the ghastly
institution of slavery. Israel, in Egypt, was an enslaved people, in its history that
underwent various experiences of oppression, periods of bondage and exile. Many
members of the Early Church were or had been slaves. The picture of redemption was
central to the experience of the Jews and early Christians. With great effort a slave could
purchase his own freedom. In his spare time, with some "moonlighting," a slave could
earn some extra money, which he deposited in the temple of his god. With passing years,
he finally he accumulates enough money to pay for his freedom. The slave then takes his
master to the temple, and the priest of that temple pays over the deposited money to the
old master. The result is that the slave now becomes the property of a particular god.
There follows a great celebration of joy as the slave stands as a free man. A slave is set
free from captivity by the payment of a price, and the slave passes over into the
ownership of the particular god who protected him.18
18 Deissmann has ammassed a large number of ancient documents in which the manumission of slaves was recorded.
He has noted a number of significant points of similarity between the documents and the. Pauline corpus: "Among
the various ways in which the manumission of a slave could take place by ancient law we find the solemn rite of
fictitious purchase of the slave by some divinity. The owner comes with the slave to the temple, seals him there to
the god, and receives the purchase money from the temple treasury, the slave having previously paid it in there out
of his savings. The slave is now the property of the god; not, however, a slave of the temple, but a protevgev of
the god. Against all the world, especially his former master, he is a completely free man; at the utmost a few pious
obligations to his old master are imposed upon him-" Light from the Ancient East, p. 322.
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 16

The metaphors of slavery, manumission and redemption underlie a number of

Pauline expressions and affirmations:
1 Cor. 6:20 you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Cor. 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.
Gal. 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to
Gal. 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom
as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.
The word-picture of sacral manumission/redemption is found in various expressions: buy,
buy back, price, freedom, bondage, free, deliverance, ransom and slave/slavery.
B. Redemption in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the idea of
redemption was applied to the mighty act of deliverance when Yahweh liberated Israel
from Egypt.
Exod. 8:23 Thus I will set a redemption between my people and your people. By tomorrow shall this sig
Exod. 6:6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the
bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment,
Exod. 15:13 “Thou hast led in thy steadfast love the people whom thou hast redeemed, thou
Psa. 77:15 Thou didst with thy arm redeem thy people,
the sons of Jacob and Joseph. [Selah]
Sometimes the verb means, "get back, acquire for its rightful owner something lost to a
foreigner or stranger."
Isa. 51:11 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlas
gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
The word "redemption" can be used for the simple idea of deliverance or salvation,
without any idea of payment.19 God is often pictured as the redeemer.(la@G)), the
kinsman to whom fell the duty of buying back the freedom of a lost relative; Israel is
similarly enjoined to redeem impoverished relatives (Lev. 25:47-49) or land (Lev. 25:25-
26). Another notion connected with redemption is that of acquisition or adoption. God
not only freed the people from Egypt and liberated them, but He also acquired a
possession for Himself. Since Israel was regarded as the firstborn (Exod. 4:22), every
first-born male (human or animal) was consecrated to the Lord (Exod. 13:12-16).
C. Redemption in Paul. Christ's death on the cross is understood by Paul as a
buying back, a ransom that sets men and women free. Several Pauline terms express the
idea: redemption, buy, purchase, ransom, and freedom; these are terms which are
juxtaposed with their opposites with different emphases. Redemption is a word-picture, a
metaphor, but is no business deal or transaction between Jesus, God and the Devil, in
which believers are at stake. The metaphor should not be pressed with a crude literalism.
The force of this word-family reveals that the whole business of salvation was a costly
event for God. Paul's major affirmation is that people were bought with an incredible
price. Redemption is a difficult thing, an incredible thing, even an impossible event--the
miracle of all miracles, and the wonder of it should never cease. Just as the Jews are
reminded of God's redemptive activity in the Exodus through confession and liturgy, so
Christians are to be reminded of God's redemptive activity in Jesus Christ through Word
19Psa. 107:2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
Lk. 21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is
drawing near.”
The Revised Standard VersionThe Revised Standard Version
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 17

and sacrament. Paul often alludes to various bondages, which formerly had enslaved the
people of God:
1. Redemption from the Evil One (Satan) and demons. The first form of
servitude was to spirit-forces, evil demons, or the Evil One. Paul sometimes calls these
forces, "the elements of the world, angels, thrones, thrones, principalities and powers."
For Paul, the whole world has fallen under the power of the evil one; an individual person
might be tyrannized by evil powers, but it is much more serious for Paul that the whole
human race has fallen under the power of the evil one:
Col. 2:15 He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example
of them, triumphing over them in him.
a*pekdusavmeno" taV" a*rcaV" kaiV taV"
e*xousiva" e*deigmavtisen e*n
parrhsiva/, qriambeuvsa" au*touV" e*n au*tw'/.
These angels or principalities seem to have posed as a threat, which conceivably could
separate people from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:28,29). In I Cor. 2:6-8 these
spiritual beings seem to have formed some sort of hierarchy.
In Gal. 4:3,8; Col. 2:8, 20, Paul uses the expression, "the elemental spirits"
(stoicei'a tou' kovsmou).20 In Greek culture, these elements (ABC's) were
used to refer to the stellar bodies, such as planets and signs of the Zodiac. The very
principle of astrology (then and now) is that what happened on earth was determined by
the shape of the sky, the movements of the planets and stars. Thus, fate was determined
at the moment of birth and eternally fixed. It is the same order of beings elsewhere
described as angels, principalities and powers (Rom. 8:38). God's liberating power is not
simply identified with the forgiveness of sins; God also redeems humankind from
bondage to evil spirits, a world system under the sway and fear of the evil one.
Paul's triumphant affirmation is that of deliverance. In Col. 2:15 Paul says, "He
disarmed the principalities and the powers and made them a contemptible exhibition,
when by His cross, He triumphed21 over them. What was it that Christ "stripped off"
from Himself? G. A. Scott suggests that it was His flesh or physical constitution, which
God originally made, which was good. However, due to the Fall, the flesh had become
corrupt. It is that part of the human persons through which the evil spirits had laid hold.
Scott suggest that it was man's members, his physical constitution wherein Paul
recognized a controlling force that had brought him into captivity to the law of sin. And
thus, Jesus took upon Himself, this "flesh" (savrx), the physical constitution of man,
leading Paul to say, "God had sent him in the likeness of sinful flesh = flesh over which
sin so easily takes control" (Rom. 8:3). Therefore, just as Jesus was made under the law's
jurisdiction to deliver men and women, so He was made in the likeness of flesh so as to
enter into combat with the spirit forces of evil. In the act of dying, He divested Himself
of that flesh, that medium which had become involved in the realm of spirit forces and
powers, which had usurped authority over humanity.
20 Gal. 4:3 So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe.
Gal. 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods;
Col. 2:8 See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition,
according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.
Col. 2:20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to
the world? Why do you submit to regulations,
21 The verb qriambeuvw means "lead in a triumphal procession" and is used with reference to the triumphal

procession of a captor and his armies over a defeated foe. BAG, p. 364.
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 18

2. Redemption from the power of the law.. Paul also speaks of redemption from
the power of the law. Paul's language and thought perceives the law in more than one
way. On the one hand, Paul exalts the Law and ascribes divine authority to that Law. He
practices that selfsame law, even to the point of external ritual. His affirmation of the
Law is clear:
Rom. 7:12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.
1 Cor. 7:19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the com
1 Tim. 1:8 Now we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully,
From the book of Acts, we learn that Paul caused Timothy to be circumcised (Acts 16:3),
and, to carry out a vow, Paul shaved his own head in Cenchreae (18:18). He also joined
with four other men in ritual purification according to the Law, for the expressed purpose
of communicating to the Jews, "that he walked orderly and kept the law."
On the other hand, Paul describes the Law as a yoke of bondage, something from
which humans need to be redeemed. In redemption they are discharged from its authority
or power.
Rom. 7:6 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that
of the Spirit.
Gal. 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to
Rom.10:4 For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified.
Those two positions vis-à-vis the law cannot be held at the same time, unless we
understand that Paul used the word "law" in different ways. Two different meanings of
the word "law" are evident: 1) The positive sense of "law" is that of the divine
will/requirement as to the conduct and character of the people of God. In this sense, for
Paul, the law is still in effect and binding, 2) Another sense of the word "law" is negative,
wherein people view the law as a system of merit and thus, think that they can merit
salvation through their relative merit. In the negative sense, the law is thought of as the
means of securing a false sense of security through righteousness by human merit or
reward for religious performance. In this sense, Paul says that the law has come to an
3. Redemption from sin. Put very simply, men and women are enslaved to sin.
The coming of sin into the human sphere has made people slaves to sin (Rom. 6:6). In
Rom. 7:14, Paul realizes that he has been sold under sin and thus, victimized by sin's
power. In Rom. 3: 9, Paul charges that both Jew and Greek are alike under sin's power.22
In several places, sin becomes a personified force that attacks people from without. Sin
invades another person, waging war in the human heart. Sin becomes a master who pays
a wage; that wage is death (Rom. 6:23). Since all have sinned, there is a clear solidarity
of all persons in sin, and a clear relationship with Adam, which connects Jew and Gentile
with the profoundly human problem--sin.
An analogy may help. There are three persons who are passengers on a ship in
the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and are washed overboard. The reasons for slipping off
may vary from person to person. Each one of the three persons in the water remains a
distinctive person, but they are all in the same cold water in the same deadly predicament.
At that point, it is meaningless to discuss whether one of the three victims is a banker,
school teacher, Rabbi, minister or farmer. The crisis is upon all three persons, and all are
critically affected.
Paul traces the universality of sin to Adam and the consequent universality of
22 See also Rom. 6:6, 20; Gal. 3:22; Rom. 3:23; 5:12; 11:32.
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 19

death to Adam as well. The relationship of man to sin is the relationship of a slave to a
tyrant or a tyrannical master. It is an internal tyranny, exercised by a force, which had
successfully attacked the human person from outside. Paul says, "For what the Law
could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did, sending His own Son in the
likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom.
8:3). In the incarnation, which culminated in the cross, Jesus condemned sin in the flesh.
Paul points to the finality of Christ's death in Rom. 6:10: Christ died unto sin, with
respect to sin--once and for all.23
The force of the redemption-metaphors serves to remind the people of God of the
costly event, which procured their freedom and should evoke a heartfelt gratitude,
translated into responsible living:
1 Cor. 6:20 you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.
The effect of redemption should be practical freedom, responsible service,24 and living
without slavery to human opinion (I Cor. 7:23).
The language of redemption also looks forward. Christians, who have received
the Spirit are awaiting "sonship/daughtership," which Paul defines as the redemption of
our body (Rom. 8:23). It will be that future moment when sonship or daughtership
becomes manifest for all to see. God's people are "sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day
of redemption."

V. Reconciliation in Paul's thought

While the metaphors of "justification" and "redemption" picture the salvation

event largely in terms of negatives, the metaphor "reconciliation", from the language of
friendship, expresses the truth of the salvation event in positive form. The verb "to
reconcile"25 and the noun "reconciliation"26 imply the removal of enmity or bridging over
a quarrel. It implies that the parties, which had formerly been hostile to each other, now
stand reconciled. An enemy is not someone who falls just a bit short from being a friend.
An enemy is one who stands in another camp, altogether opposed and hostile. When
enmity is overcome, the root cause of the enmity must be removed. The way to achieve
reconciliation is not by a pretension that everything is "OK." People, who are to be
reconciled, must effectively grapple with the root cause of enmity, e.g. an apology for the
hasty word, restitution for the money that is owed. Reconciliation means the coming
back to fellowship and relationship after misunderstanding and estrangement. We all
have had occasions where relationships have been broken. During the course of time
walls are built and every time that the person is seen another brick is added to the wall.
Finally, the relationship became so strained that both parties realize that something needs
to be done about the broken relationship. It necessitates an effective grappling with the
root cause, the removal of the root cause, the removal of hostility, and the restoration of
fellowship and love. It happens in marriage, in other family relationships, between labor
and management, in the Church and with God. The primary focus of the word family is
23 Rom. 6:16 Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one

whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?17 But thanks be
to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to
which you were committed,18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
24 Paul uses the expression, "redeeming the time" (Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5).
25 ajlavssw, katalavssw, ajpokatalavssw LXX and NT.
26 katallaghv in the LXX and NT.

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 20

that of reconciliation with God, then followed by the secondary reconciliation of people
with each other. Paul says in Galatians that differences, which had formerly separated
people, have now been abrogated (Jew-Gentile; slave-free; male-female).
1. God effects reconciliation. In Paul's letters, God is the subject of reconciling
activity while the human person is the object of reconciliation. In His changeless love,
God has taken the initiative and has broken through the atmosphere of hopelessness and
hostility. God is not reconciled; He reconciles, and consequently, people are reconciled Many of the religions o

Romans 5
In Rom. 5:6-8 Paul describes the nature of God's love for us, which is to serve as a proof
that our hope will not disappoint us.
The argument is expressed in two parallel statements in the form of a minor-major form
of argument, called by the Rabbis kal wahomer, i.e.,"light and heavy.28
Rom. 5:9-10
9 Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood,
much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,
much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his
Both justification and reconciliation here describe the same saving event. The point of
Paul's logic is this: God has already done the really difficult thing, He has justified
impious sinners: "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us . . ." (5:8). Since the
difficult saving activity is true, then we may be totally and absolutely confident that He
will do the comparatively easy thing, "save from His wrath, those who are already
righteous in His sight." The enmity, which is removed in the act of reconciliation, is
sinful humankind's hostility to God. And the initiative lies solely with God. There is an
objective condition of a broken relationship that needs to be bridged. The wonder of all
wonders is that God's love is at work, making a new harmony possible; only God could
do this. People are helpless in their condition and can only respond with acceptance of
this wonderful offer that embraces the final state. In this passage Paul's logic seems to
follow a certain sequence:

v. 2—Paul affirms genuine boasting in hope in the glory of God

v. 3—Paradoxically we boast in tribulation . . .why?

v. 4—Because, tribulation produces "proven character"

v. 4—Proven character produces hope

27 See Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, (oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1968), p.
28 See Strack Billerbeck, vol. 3, pp. 223-226.

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 21

v. 5a-Hope does not disappoint . . . Why?

v. 5b-because the Love of God has been experienced through the Holy Spirit

v. 6--We know the Love of God and the Holy Spirit objectively . . .How?

v. 7--Objectively, in our weakness, ungodliness, and sinful condition,
Christ died for us

v. 9--Results--set right with God. . .we will be saved from His wrath

v. 10-Results--reconciled with God. . . we will be saved in His life
v. 11-Result—we boast in God and our present reconciliation
That is to say, since we have been transferred from enmity to friendship, we are sure
(how much more) of our continuance in salvation to the end. This then evokes a great
sense of joy in this age. Paul says "we exult in our hope" (5:2), "our trials" (5:3-4), and
"our present reconciliation" (5:11).

2. The Cosmic Christ reconciles the universe. The Lycus Valley, which included
Colossae, was infected with a false teaching that was gnostic in orientation. The teaching
was dualistic in that God was set in opposition to the material world. It denied God's
direct contact with, or control over the cosmos. The inter-space between God and the
world was filled with emanations, pulsations or aeons. In gnostic vocabulary these
emanations or pulsations formed the fullness (plhvrwma--pleroma) and acted as
some kind of buffer zone between the transcendent God and the physical universe of
matter, which was regarded as evil. In this scheme of things, Christ was given a place as
one such aeon, and God was far removed in His transcendence. In gnostic vocabulary,
the angels or angelic spirits played the role of mediators."29 They were to be worshipped
as part of the Christian approach to God; only in such religious life could the "fullness of
life" be achieved. Thus, the world, the future and fate were left in the realm of these
spirit-forces. In a hymn of praise about the cosmic and universal Christ (Col. 1:15-20),
Paul debunks the notion of independent powers and authorities. He affirms the total
supremacy and pre-eminence of Christ to fill and reconcile the entire universe. There is
no part left which is untouched by the total sweep of His reconciling work:
Col. 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21 And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22
he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you
holy and blameless and irreproachable before him,
Col. 2:15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having
3. Reconciliation has a social aspect (Jew-Gentile) which also leads to a ministry
29Col. 2:8 See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition,
according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.
Col. 2:18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions,
puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,
Col. 2:20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to
the world? Why do you submit to regulations,
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 22

of reconciling activity. Two passages speak so clearly about the social aspect of
reconciliation. The divine activity of reconciling sinful humanity to God must lead to the
removal of wall of hostility between people. In Eph. 2:12-17, Paul celebrates in the
tearing down and removal of walls of hostility between Jew and Gentile, effected by the
reconciling work of Jesus:
Eph. 2:14 For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of ho
commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so ma
body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.
This text has in view the hatred between Jew and Gentile. Paul says that Christ has
removed the barrier (2:14) and has slain the hostility, which separated these groups of
people from each other and from God. Gentiles, as well as Jews, find their true life and
spiritual home in the new society.
The other key text is II Cor. 5:16-21 in which Paul affirms the ministry of
reconciliation. There is a clear cause-effect relationship between "being reconciled"
(passive voice) and the resultant ministry of reconciliation (active). The reconciled one
now becomes active in that selfsame activity:
"all things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ"
taV deV pavnta ejk tou' qeou' tou'
katallavxanto" hJma'" eJautw/' diaV Cristou'
"and gave us the ministry of reconciliation."
kaiV dovnto" hJmi'n thVn diakonivan th'"
katallagh'" (II Cor. 5:18)
The word family "reconcile/reconciliation" is central to the paragraph:
a) "all things are from God who reconciled us"
taV deV pavnta ejk tou' qeou' tou'
katallavxanto" hJma'" (5:18)
b) "and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation"
kaiV dovnto" hJmi'n thVn diakonivan th'"
c) "reconciling the world to Himself"
kovsmon katalavsswn eJautw'/ (5:19)
d) "and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation"
kaiV qevmeno" ejn hJmi'n toVn loVon th's
e) "we are ambassadors . . . we beg you . . . be reconciled to God"
presbeuvomen. . .deovmeqa. . .katallavghte
tw'/ qew'/ (5:20)
Upon closer observation, these clauses can be subsumed under three categories, which
follow one upon the other:
a) God as the Subject who does the reconciling:
"He reconciled us" (5:18a)
"He was reconciling the world to Himself" (5:19a)
b) The persons (objects) who are reconciled are given the ministry of reconciliation, w
"who gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (5:18c)
"who committed to us the word of reconciliation" (5:19)
c) The words with which the reconciled ones are to discharge their stewardship:

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 23

"we are ambassadors ... as though God were entreating through us... 'Be reconciled to G
As a Christian apostle, Paul proclaims a clear message about reconciliation which has
been effected for humanity--albeit dead in sin (5:19). Entirely new possibilities are now
opened up for humanity. Jesus entered the sinful human condition (5:21) and accepted
the full consequences, even to the point of actually dying (5:14). As a result,
reconciliation is now made available for all of humanity, Jew and Gentile, indeed the
whole world (5:19). The reconciling activity of God is then extended to the Christian
ambassador, who by word, attitude, and action, embodies the message, "Be reconciled to
God." Paul interpreted his own mission to the Gentiles as modeling the divine attitude
and activity toward humanity. Indeed, his directive to Philemon expresses the message
of reconciliation to a master-slave relationship, which had gone sour. Reconciliation is
intended to make a moral difference in the way people live in relationship with others.
As a nation, we still are struggling with trying to live and learn what
reconciliation means in the midst of so much alienation, fragmentation and hostility—that
cuts across so many lines (socioeconomic, religious, family, power-spheres, gender,
racial, etc.) Synan notes the acclaimed series, "the Civil War, "with movie clips of the
75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1938 where 2500 veterans from the North
and the South recreated Pickett's charge. Immediately after the charge, the aged veterans
broke rank and rushed into each other's arms to embrace. It was all over, the past was
dead, love took control. Today, let us do the same. Let the dead bury the dead. Let us
again pick up the same banner, fight under the same flag and win the world for Christ."30

30 Vinson Synan, "The Future: A Strategy for Reconciliation," p. 14.

©J. Lyle Story

Christology and the Relational Jesus

Looking through the lens of western thought, people often try to understand Jesus
by analyzing Christological titles that Jesus uses for himself or that others use for him,
titles such as the Christ, the Son of God or the Son of Man. The Evangelists, however, do
far more. They tell a story of a person who makes profound impressions upon human
beings and relates to them in unique ways. In the Jesus-story, the Evangelists do not
provide the readers with a simple bare record of what Jesus did and said in a "blow by
blow" fashion; instead, they accentuate his relational approach, his activity, and
teachings, in the context of personal interaction with individuals and groups. The two
Nativity stories (Matt. 1-2; Lk. 1-2) report the virgin-conception only briefly. The
Evangelists’ chief concerns are to narrate how simple human figures relate to the "good
news" of Jesus' birth (Joseph, Herod, astrologers, the Scribes, Zechariah, Elizabeth,
Mary, shepherds, Simeon, Anna). Through these persons, the overall impression,
conveyed by Matthew and Luke is that Jesus is the "good news of God."
The Evangelists offer a portrait of Jesus, not simply a photographic image. In this
portrait, they provide color, depth, and a full and dynamic perspective of Jesus in his
relatedness to others. They open a living window into Jesus' relationships through which
to view Jesus, a view that cannot be captured by mere academic discussions of the
various Christological titles; often the confessional titles express Jesus’ distance from
humanity. Even, in John's lofty Prologue, the Word (lo/goj), who existed prior to creation
and was involved in creation, became flesh (Jn. 1:14) and pitched his tent among people.
The Word is also equivalent with the "Utterly Unique God" (monogenh/j), who resides in a
privileged relationship ("in the bosom,” ko/lpoj) with the Father, and who is thus able to
"tell the story, narrate, exegete" (e'chgei=sqai) the Father (Jn. 1:18). Thus, through his
relationality with the Father, Jesus is empowered to share the story, nature, and
relationality of the Father with others. Similarly, just as Jesus lives in an ever-so-close
relationship with the Father, so the Fourth Evangelist, who is in the privileged position
"at the bosom of Jesus" (13:25 sth=qoj), is able to narrate the Jesus-story through his
Not only is Jesus a social person, but he expresses the sociality of God, who
invites people to a new and full relationship with Jesus, as a man, who is gentle and
humble. By way of contrast, religious leaders saddle people with burdensome demands,
expressed through Jewish casuistry (Matt. 11:25-30; 23:4). Jesus' people, however, will
experience relationality with Jesus as well as the Father through a unique camaraderie.
People relate to Jesus in diverse ways. Over the course of time, they realize that
he transcends ordinary human life. Those who experience the Risen Lord also affirm the
close connection with Jesus in his earthly ministry. They do not think of him as a "ghost"
or "angelic being"—instead the Risen Lord is one and the same with the person who had
walked and related with them on the Palestinian countryside. This is the same person
with whom they had shared countless meals. Their concern for continuity between the
earthly Jesus and the Risen Lord leads them to select a twelfth apostle, with the necessary
qualification that this person was one who had been an eyewitness of Jesus and with him,

Christology and the Relational Jesus


from the very beginning of his public ministry (Acts 1:21ff.). What that relationship
implies is admirably articulated in I John.
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen
with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled concerns
the Word of Life" (I Jn. 1:3).
Among other things, the Jesus-story includes: 1) The significant relational impressions
that Jesus creates, 2) The varied human responses to Jesus, 3) Titles by which people
address Jesus.

1. Significant relational impressions that Jesus creates:

The superior impression that Jesus makes upon others (disciples, individuals,
crowds, and religious authorities) is variously narrated and cannot be easily categorized
under one heading. Just as Jesus is an exceedingly complex person, the response of the
various people is also exceedingly intricate. Further, the same persons relate in many
different ways to Jesus, based upon the context of his revelation of himself, in diverse
works and his words. Various events elicit an incredible attraction to this person and also
reveal a distancing posture from the same individuals as they grapple with the mystery of
his person.
Impressions of his interest in people. Through stories, explicit teachings, and
parabolic language, Jesus reflects his interest and God's concern with people, illustrated by
the trilogy of parables in Lk. 15 that reflects Jesus' and God's interest in people. Through his
commitment to the marginalized people (Lk. 15:1-2), he acts in concert with God as he
portrays concern through a searching shepherd, searching housewife, and a searching father.
People are of inestimable worth, far more than a sheep or coin. The finding of the lost is
celebrated with a contagious joy, which must be shared, with other shepherds, neighboring
women, or a father's household. In the third parable, the repentance motif uppermost—if
present, it is only minor; the father's joy over the recovered son reigns supreme. The story
emphasizes the priority of God's love for sinners; indeed, it is God's love and grace for all
that makes repentance possible. The father, like Jesus and God, loves both sons with a love
that knows no limits, that forgives without boundaries, and that rejoices with an uncontained
Jesus points to the ludicrous practice of tithing kitchen spices, without reference to
people; instead, he points to social justice, mercy, and faith—the all-important responses for
treating people (Matt. 23:23-24). God's relationality is expressed in Jesus’ teaching and
practical interest in others. Jesus spends himself upon people. He is accessible to those from
the top to the bottom of society: Nicodemus, the rich young ruler, the twelve, other disciples,
Lazarus, Mary, Martha, fallen men and women, hated tax-collectors, such as Zacchaeus.
Jesus is busy, “non-stop” with the needs of others. He is no recluse or sage who retreats to
some hermit-like existence; instead he is constantly “on the move” in beneficent ways,
expressing his compassion and grace through teaching, responsiveness to the needs of others,
to their healing, and to the reorientation of their lives. He finds it necessary late at night or
early in the morning to be renewed in his relationship with the Father. In the daytime, he is in
constant demand. Everywhere Jesus goes, he looks to relate to people, and thereby relate
them to God, who seeks relatedness with them. Through Jesus, God is bent on a rescue-
mission for people who have lost their way; Jesus' joy in table-fellowship with the
marginalized also reflects the joy of God and his angels

Christology and the Relational Jesus


Impressions of his compelling presence. The effect of Jesus' person, words and
works is clearly expressed through the responses of those around him. The Baptist, who
is the promised forerunner, immediately senses his own inferior position in baptizing the
superior "Coming One"; he tries avoiding the anomalous situation of a mightier one
being baptized by the lesser (Matt. 3:14-15; cf. also Matt. 3:11-19; Mk. 1:7-8; Luke 3:15-
18; John 1:26-27). As the Baptist's ministry winds down, he recognizes the centrality of
the bridegroom; the Baptist diminishes in comparison, since he is simply the friend of the
bridegroom who shares in the joy of the occasion. It is of divine necessity that Jesus will
increase while John the Baptist must decrease (Jn. 3:28-30).
Jesus' command, "follow me," invites relationship and obedience that are coupled
with his faithful promise. People leave their vocations, families, homes and commit
themselves fully to a new uncharted experience, since it is founded on a person and
promise, "I will make you to become fishers of people" (Mk. 1:16-20). The disciples
give themselves without reservation to this one who reorients their lives (cf. also Jn. 1:39,
43). They discover that Jesus lays down conditions and rules for discipleship when he
invites them into relationship (Matt. 8:18-22; Lk. 9:47-60; Matt. 19:16-29—the rich
young ruler, par.). In a fishing context, Jesus commands Peter, the expert fishermen.
And Peter obeys the seemingly absurd command, even though it runs counter to his
savvy as to the right time and place to fish. He will not contradict Jesus' presence and
authority. Thus he says "But at your word, I will let down the nets" (Lk. 5:5). While
Jesus enjoys the company of others, he does not allow for intrusion into his own inner
circle. A paralytic at the Sheep Pool hears his word, "Arise, take up your bed and walk"
(Jn. 5:8), obeys, and is healed of his 38-year paralysis.
Jesus' formal appointment of the twelve begins with the purpose statement, "to be
with him" (Mark 3:14-15). Relationship with Jesus precedes their commission (Mk.
3:14-15; Matt. 10:5ff. Mk. 6:7ff. Lk. 9:1ff.) or the seventy's charge (Lk. 10:1ff.) on their
short-term missions trip. Due to their relationship to him, they obey and venture out into
the hazardous task of proclaiming the Kingdom of God with a "hands-on" approach.
They carry out his charge and are responsive to Jesus in "report-back" sessions when they
are "with Jesus" again (Mark 6:30). Matthew punctuates his gospel in the beginning, the
mid-point, and conclusion by means of the "with"-language" (Immanuel-"God with us,"
1:23, reinterpreting Isa. 7:14; "I am there in their midst" in the Church's decisions, 18:20;
"I will be with you" in the final commission—28:20). The Fourth Gospel advances the
thought to the day of the Paraclete, when a transition will be made from being "with you"
to the wonder of the inner union between Jesus and his disciples, "in you" (Jn. 14:7).
Moreover, his promise, "I come to you" (Jn. 14:18) will be realized in and through the
person of the Paraclete. Jesus makes an amazing promise, "If anyone loves me, he will
obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our
room with him" (Jn. 14:23).1 What a statement! God the Father and God the Son will
both come to a believer and make their "room" with the believer. This is the same
"room" (monh/) noted in Jn. 14:2, "In my Father's house are many "rooms." The purpose
of Jesus' ministry is to bring people to the Father's "house" (oi0ki/a), and yet, within this
"house," there are many "rooms" that consist of divine and human fellowship.
His commanding presence and independence surface when he sets his own
1The word "room/abode" (monh/ in Jn. 14:23) is linked together with the important Johannine verb, "to
abide" (me/nein).
Christology and the Relational Jesus

agenda and time-table for the course of his ministry; he proceeds to the North into
Gentile territory when he determines the need to leave Jewish soil and minister in other
settings (Matt. 16:13; Mk. 8:27; Mk. 7:24-31; Matt. 15:21-29). Correspondingly, he is
independent with respect to the traditions of the elders (Mk. 7:1ff.). Although he is
responsive to human needs, human questions and problems, he does not allow himself to
be dictated by the agendas of other people, e.g., "And after that no one dared to ask him
any question" (Matt. 22:46; Mk. 12:34; Lk. 20:40). Frequently, Jesus' wishes become
commandments. Thus, Jesus' mother, not rebuffed by Jesus' sharp statement, says to the
servants at the wedding of Cana, "Whatever he says unto you, do it" (Jn. 2:5). We find
no instances where people pay no attention to his claims, requests, or demands. When
Jesus sends his disciples to find a donkey, he is certain that the owner of the donkey will
honor his request (Mk. 11:3; Matt. 21:3; Lk. 19:3).
After Jesus' inaugural address in Nazareth, the angry Jews lead Jesus to a cliff, but
dare not touch him, "But he passing through the midst of them went his way" (Lk. 4:30).
When the Jews intend to stone him, "Jesus hid himself and went out of the Temple" (Jn.
8:59; 10:39). Likewise, he single-handedly expels the vendors from the Temple; it seems
that no one possesses the courage to challenge his compelling presence and behavior
(Matt. 21:12-13; Mk. 11:15-19; Lk. 19:45-48). The term "hour" (w{vra) is central to
John's portrayal (26 occurrences); it is similar to an irresistible force that precludes any
premature event that would forestall his "hour" that is predetermined by the Father, e.g.,
"They sought . . . to take him, and no man laid hand on him, because his hour was not yet
come" (Jn. 7:30; 8:20, Jn. 13:1; 17:1; see also 7:44; Mk. 11:19). Jesus is unmoved by
Herod's intent to kill him or the threats of others; Jesus sends a report back to Herod that
he clearly remains the master of his own destiny (Lk. 13:31-32).
The trial scenes are rich in comic and tragic irony. Ostensibly, Jesus is being
judged by various individuals and groups of people; however, the real judge of the trial is
Jesus, who indicts the High Priest, mob, Sanhedrin, Herod and Pilate—indeed, the whole
world for their rejection of him. Someone may ask, “How does he do this?” Certainly by
his powerful presence and word that indicts. He allows the people, inadvertently to
pronounce their own consequential guilt, "His blood be upon us and our own children"
(Matt. 27:25) and their apostasy, "We have no king but Caesar" (Jn. 19:15).
Impressions of Jesus' filial relationality with his Father. Through teaching,
activity, and prayer, Jesus opens a window for others to witness his unique relationship
with his Father. Jeremias states, "We are so accustomed, and rightly so, to make Jesus
the object of religion that we become apt to forget that in our earliest records he is
portrayed not as the object of religion, but as a religious man."2 It is important to
appreciate his "Abba" ("Father, Dear Father") bond (Mk. 14:36). As a man, Jesus prays,
and as a son, Jesus shares in the sociality of his Father. During Jesus' experience in the
baptism or transfiguration, or in times of prayer, what is communicated to him is not
simply the message or ministry but status and relationship. The major focus in his life
and ministry is not based solely on the message of what he says or does, but who he
is—in relationship with the Father. His mission proceeds from his relational experience
with God.
In Jesus' thanksgiving-prayer (Matt. 11:25-30), we note that Jesus possesses an
unshared sonship. Jesus speaks to God and his friends about the unique depth and
intimacy of the relationship he enjoys with the Father. Jesus not only claims to know
2Ibid., p. 101.
Christology and the Relational Jesus

God, but to know the Father in a way that no one else does. The verb, translated, as "I
know" (ginw/skw) parallels the compound verb, "I fully know (e0piginw/skw). The verbal
forms do not mean the possession of theological information, but a profound experience
that involves mind, heart and will. Knowledge of God means sharing in the sociality or
fellowship with God. . Since Jesus is the unique son, who alone stands in an unmediated
relationship with God, he is able to extend a mediated relationship to others with God as
their Father. Jesus makes the Father real to others. The mediated knowledge of the
Father is not abstract theology or propositional learning about the nature or attributes of
God. It means an experience of the fully personal and mediated relationship between the
Father and humankind.
In John 5, the Father-son relationship is comparable to a similar relationship in a
family bond. At birth, an infant is completely subject to the parent, in that the infant does
nothing in and of itself—it is fully dependent (John 5:19, 30). Subsequently, the child
begins to learn from the parental example as the parent "shows all things" to the child,
which the child also does (5:20). Finally, the child becomes a young man or young
woman to whom the parent now "gives authority" (5:27).3 At the same time, it is love
that provides the link between the three life-stages: infancy (dependence), adolescence
(learned exposure), and mature adulthood (independence). Through his dependent
relationship with the Father, Jesus is enabled to see what the Father is doing (5:19) and
thereby, to gauge his actions accordingly. Two items are singled out in this unique
relationship: an authority to administer justice (5:22), an authority to enliven the dead
(5:21). His authority to administer justice is given to him, but from the human
perspective, it is the consequence of conscious rejection or dishonor of both the son and
the Father.
Luke provides the reason for the Lord's Prayer (Lk. 11:1), which begins with "Our
Father"-language. His disciples sense that religious authorities provide a model-prayer,
which would thereby reflect their disciples' attachment to them as leading religious
authorities, like the Baptist; they wish to become disciples of their one true leader. The
request is granted and the disciples are invited into the sociality of family relationship.
The request is positioned by their observation of Jesus' praying activity (11:1). In a
similar way, Jesus prays at Lazarus' tomb in such a public way that people might believe
that Jesus is the "sent-one" from God (Jn. 11:41-42). His prayer begins with Father-
language. In Jesus' High-Priestly Prayer, there are concentric circles of concern, from
Jesus' relationship with the Father (Jn. 17:1-5), to the disciples (17:6-19), and finally, to
the world (17:20-26). Through this opened window, the disciples view and experience
the progressive flow of life and love, from the Father, to Jesus, to them, and their witness
in the world through unity and love. In a meaningful way, Jesus uses the Father-address
at various points in his prayer (17:1, 11, 24, 25).
Impressions of his miraculous power and its effect upon others. Numerous stories
in the gospels narrate Jesus' miraculous power. Jesus does not begin his ministry with
works to demonstrate his superiority over others. Indeed, before he begins his ministry to
others, the Devil challenges Jesus in vain to display his powers such as would coerce
faith—a challenge, which Jesus rejects. People who come to Jesus do not doubt his
ability to effect the miraculous although they may be uncertain about his willingness to
effect a cure/exorcism in their particular instance (Mk. 1:40; Matt. 8:2; Lk. 5:12; also
3Cullen I K Story, The Fourth Gospel: Its Purpose, Pattern and Power, (Shippensburg, PA: Ragged Edge
Press, 2000), pp. 121-132.
Christology and the Relational Jesus

Matt. 8:9ff. Lk. 7:8ff.). Even Jesus' opponents, who challenge him to perform a
conclusive sign from his cross, ostensibly do not doubt his miraculous power.
There is a numinous quality of Jesus that is variously perceived by others,
including his own disciples. They recognize that there is something "different" about
him, expressed by the supplicants' acts of physical prostration before him or by reaching
out to touch his garment for healing (Mk. 5:25-34; Matt. 9:20-29; Lk. 8:43-48). Needy
people kneel before him (Mk. 1:40; 5:22); demoniacs recognize his authority and identity
and cower before his very presence (Mk. 1:24; 3:11; 5:7; 9:20). Even his opponents
recognize his charismatic authority when they question its source, "By what authority do
you do these things?" (Mk. 11:28). As Dunn notes, "The aim of the question was to
expose Jesus' lack of authority; but the very fact that it was put to him demonstrates a
recognition on the part of Jesus' opponents that his words and actions embodied and
expressed a claim to high authority--only it was an authority they could not recognize,
without rabbinic or priestly sanction."4
His hometown folk struggle with Jesus' "otherness," recognized through his
teaching, wisdom, and mighty works, "And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the
synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, 'Where did this man get
all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his
hands!'?" (Mk. 6:2). His personal concern is expressed through effective power: the blind
receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, demoniacs are set free, the dead are
raised, and the poor and sinful experience his acceptance and power to forgive their sins.
The authority to act in wholeness for others is explicit and is transferred to Jesus'
disciples, who are sent out on short-term mission trips (Matt. 10:1; Mk. 6:7; Lk. 9:1),
"Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the
power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you" (Lk. 10:19).
Jesus uses his Spirit-given power (Mk.1:11) for the wellbeing of others; he
proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of God (Mk. 1:14-15; Matt. 4:17; Lk. 4:16-30).
He heals the sick (Lk. 4:33-36), exorcises the demon-possessed (Mk. 1:23-27), changes
water into wine (Jn. 2:1-11), feeds the 5000 (Mk. 6:30-44; Lk. 9:10-17; Jn. 6:1-14) and
4000 (Mk. 8:1-10; Matt. 15:32-39) in a miraculous manner so as to meet the real needs of
people. One exception concerns the cursing/withering of the fig-tree (Mk. 11:12-14, 20-
25). Jesus seeks relationship with others before they associate his benefits and gifts with
his person. Even though people come to him with their pressing physical needs, they
learn that he deals with them individually, in a completely personal manner; thereby, they
develop a relationship with his person, not merely as a benefactor. The disciples soon
learn that following Jesus not only means that they become the recipients of various
forms of blessing, but it also enables them to deepen their relationship with him, apart
from certain "benefits." Thus, they will learn what it means to drink his cup of suffering
and share in his fearful baptism (Mk. 10:35-40; Matt. 20:20-23)—quite apart from
personal gain. His gifts and benefits are appreciated in greater ways when people are
joined by faith in him. They are attracted by Jesus' personal interest in them as he also
reveals his concerns through his attendance to needed benefits and gifts.
Impressions of his commanding authority to forgive sins. Jesus' claim to forgive
sins not only causes perplexity, but offence as well. To the religious leaders, his claim
was tantamount to blasphemy in that he assumes God's sole prerogative (Psa. 103:3; Isa.
43:25). In OT practice, the sacrifices of the High Priest would effectively atone for sins,
4 James Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 77.
Christology and the Relational Jesus

but it is clear that God alone reserves the right to forgive sins through sacrifices.
Unintentional sins could thereby be atoned for, but not sins of "a high hand" (intentional
sins). However, divine acceptance of the marginalized and publicly acknowledged
sinners is symbolized through Jesus' consistent table-fellowship with the religious
outcasts. Thereby, he earns for himself the sneering epithet, "glutton, a drunkard and
friend of tax-collectors and sinners" (Lk. 7:34-35). When four friends lower a paralytic
down through the roof, Jesus initially pronounces the forgiveness of the man's sin,
"Child, your sins are forgiven"5 (Mk. 2:5 par.). He then substantiates his divine
prerogative through the actual healing, "in order that you may know that the Son of Man
has authority on earth to forgive sins . . ." (Mk. 2:10). He forgives the sinful woman's
"many sins," thus inspiring her lavish gratitude ("she loves more"). Conversely, his
opponents are characterized as those who "love less." (Lk. 7:49). Critics question his
claim, but they are unable to deny the facts that are before them.
Impressions of his insight, experience and embodiment of truth. Jesus impresses
individuals and groups with his solid commitment to truth and reality. He demonstrates
penetrating insight into the nature, circumstances, and motives of individuals. There are
occasions when he "reads" the thoughts of people; thus his prophetic insight (not
omniscience) is expressed as human needs arose: to the paralytic (Mk. 2:5 par.), to
opponents (2:8; Lk. 5:22), to a sinful woman and his critics (Lk. 7:39ff.), to Nathaniel
(Jn. 1:47ff.), and to a Samaritan woman (Jn. 4:16-18). He also knows of some events
occurring outside of his own locale (Mk. 7:29; Jn. 4:50-52) that are later confirmed. The
same holds true for his three passion pronouncements (Mk. 8:31; 9:12-13; 10:33-35).
When Jesus speaks, the people perceive that he speaks with "authority" (e'cousi/a),
with a perception of truth that is clearly firsthand, both before and after an exorcism (Mk.
1:22, 27). He claims to embody the truth (Jn. 14:6). His very person confronts people
with truth, rendering them incapable of remaining neutral or objective. His truth cannot
be casually ignored or dismissed. Jesus approaches no one as "elect" or "reprobate";
rather, he addresses them as free moral agents, who make choices and must live with
their consequences, for good or for ill. Thus, his truth confronts people with a critical
decision: Will they become what God desires them to be or will they remain detached
from personal relationship with him? Thus, the rich young ruler is challenged to make a
decision as to his relative commitment to God or his riches (Mk. 10:21; Matt. 19:21). To
give his goods to the poor is only an initial stop. The goal is that he should follow Jesus,
i.e., establish a close relationship to him (Mk. 10:21). Not only does Jesus press for a
decision by unbelievers, but he similarly challenges his disciples as to their own personal
witness, "But who do you say that I am?" (Matt. 16:15 par.). In the light of Peter's later
threefold denial, Jesus recommissions the fallen leader in a threefold manner, for his
pastoral and nurturing role within the new community of faith (Jn. 21:15-17). Peter is
thereby made aware of the implications of his relationship to Jesus. Through numerous
encounters, Jesus articulates that the new life he embodies and offers begins with an
attachment and relationship to his person, to be followed by growth in relationship to him
for their future lives and direction.
Impressions of his courage and vulnerability. Jesus exhibits courage when he
confronts the religious and civil powers of his day. In climates of suspicion and
murderous intent, Jesus aggressively heals a man with a withered hand by urging the man
5 An example of the use of the divine passive, i.e., "God has forgiven your sins."
Christology and the Relational Jesus

to come into the center of the assembly, thereby making his healing both public and
aggressive (Mk. 3:1-6). He speaks numerous parables, which are addressed to people
with certain problems such as religious pride (Lk. 18:9-14), and some, who critique Jesus'
relatedness to the marginalized, through table fellow-fellowship with them (Lk. 15:1-2;
Lk. 19:1-10). When Jesus sets his face like a flint to travel to Jerusalem, he does so with
determination and vulnerability (Lk. 9:51). His travel to Judea to raise Lazarus from the
dead is set in a context of homicidal hostility, well-expressed by Thomas (Jn. 11:16). He
enters Jerusalem with vulnerability (Jn. 12:9-19). The religious climate is filled with
vicious intent, not only for Jesus but for Lazarus as well, who has just been raised from
the dead. Various actions, such as washing the disciples' feet (Jn. 13:1-11) and discourses
in the Upper Room (Jn. 13-17), reveal Jesus' vulnerability as well as his volition. Earlier
in his Mashal of the Good Shepherd, Jesus underscores the truth that in his upcoming
violent end, he is no passive agent; Jesus voluntarily gives his life, which implies that his
accusers are unable to "do him in" (Jn. 10:18).
Impressions of the mystery and paradox of his person (attraction and revulsion).
Blaise Pascal said, "A religion which does not affirm that God is hidden is not true."
Others have pointed to "the elusive presence,"6 which creates an incredible disturbance
for people as they encounter Jesus. Similar to magnetic charges, there is both an
attraction and revulsion in relationship to Jesus, expressed by individuals and groups.
This dual contradictory reaction, in one way or another, suggests the greatness of his
person. When Jesus acts in a saving manner for disciples who believe that they are
perishing out at sea, they respond with amazement, "What sort of man is this that even
the winds and the sea obey Him?" (Matt. 8:26). Peter senses that the authority of Jesus is
far superior to his own fishing expertise and the result is a miraculous catch of fish. His
response is one of utter self-revulsion—"Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man"
(Lk. 5:8). When the disciples see Jesus walking on the water, "they were troubled and
cried out for fear" (Mk. 6:49-50; Matt. 14:26). Similarly, Jesus' teaching evokes fright by
the crowds (Matt. 9:8). Frequently, the disciples experience a fear of rebuke when "they
did not understand the saying(s): "they were afraid to ask him." They apparently feel
that asking questions or raising issues on their part might incur his displeasure or show
disrespect. In this they sadly fail to sense what is in Jesus’ heart and mind
There are significant moments where the Evangelists convey these dual
responses: annunciation stories, transfiguration and resurrection appearances. Mary is
encouraged as one who has been favored by God and the recipient of the divine promise,
"The Lord is with you" (Lk. 1:28, 30) and summoned to rejoice in Gabriel's message.
However, she is also admonished to "cease being afraid"7 (1:30). The text notes that "she
was troubled and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be" (1:29). The
experience of the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration is unnerving, "they fell on
their faces and were exceedingly afraid" (Matt. 17:6), unthinking (Mk. 9:6 par.), and
silent (Lk. 9:36). Similarly, the appearances of the Risen Jesus, either in Jerusalem, on
the Emmaus Road or in Galilee evoke responses of both joy and fright:
"Cease being afraid" (Matt. 28:5)
"So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy . . ." (28:7)
"And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped Him" (28:9)
6e.g., Samuel Terrien, The Elusive Presence, (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1978).
7The use of the negative (mh/) "no/not" when used with the present imperative, "fear," points to the
cessation of a response or activity that is already in progress.
Christology and the Relational Jesus

"Stop being afraid" (28:10)

"And when they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted" (28:18)
"And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had
come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid" (Mk.
"And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground . . ." (Lk. 24:5)
"And as they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. But they were
startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit" (24: 36-37)
"And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered . . ." (24:41)
"the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came
and said to them, 'Peace be with you'" (Jn. 20:19)
"Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord" (20:20)
While the exact chronology, variety, and place of the resurrection appearances are
extremely complex issues, the gospel narratives unite in their witness of the intermingling
of great joy and great fear. At Pentecost, the disciples' response is notably different; it
was now clear to them that Jesus is not only risen from the dead, but is also the Son of
God in power. He is both the savior and heavenly judge (Acts 2:40; 10:42; 17:31).
Through this admixture of joy and fear, various witnesses of the Risen Jesus, express
their great attraction to Jesus that is balanced by their fear/awe of this person. He is like
no other; he also belongs to a "wholly other" sphere. Attraction to Jesus and love for him
are compatible with fear and awe of him. He is familiar, yet strangely unfamiliar.
His acceptance, love, and compassion. People also experience and respond to the
incredible love that Jesus expresses for them. Jesus is the one who knits together love for
God and love for others in an indissoluble bond; such a dual-bond is the supreme
commandment upon which all other commandments depend.
Jesus accepts others where they are; he does not expect people to "get cleaned up"
before he relates to them. In the Middle East, table-fellowship means acceptance,
celebration, and commitment to fellow-participants of a common meal with sacral
implications. His offer of discipleship to one hated tax collector, Levi, issues in Jesus'
table-fellowship with other tax collectors. Here is one who takes them seriously and
accepts them in an unconditional manner. Correspondingly, Jesus answers the charges of
his critics with the metaphor of a doctor with diseased patients. A doctor goes through
medical school and various internships for the express purpose of being with the sick. It
is unthinkable for a doctor to go through necessary training and refuse to be with the
diseased. Thus, Jesus affirms that his place (as a physician) is with sinners (Mk. 2:18-
22); he is constantly found in their presence as he accepts them and relates to them,
where they are. He invites himself to Zacchaeus' home for table-fellowship, before
Zacchaeus' repentance and planned restitution. Through a trilogy of parables in Lk. 15,
Jesus justifies his acceptance, table-fellowship and celebration with tax-collectors and
sinners. He is to be found where they are.
He is aware of profound human problems with all of their various forms of
alienation. He views every person he encounters as possessing inestimable worth (Matt.
6:25-34). He is concerned with the needs of his audience, not with his own agenda,
troubles, or difficulties that would detract his interest away from his social environment.
Even though Jesus experiences incredible agony in Gethsemane, he still has his disciples
in mind, “be watchful and pray; otherwise you might fall into the snares of the Tempter”

Christology and the Relational Jesus


(Mk. 14:38; Matt. 26:41; Lk. 22:46). Similarly, on the cross, where he experiences
physical, emotional, spiritual agony and shame, he nonetheless provides for the future
wellbeing of his mother, the beloved disciple (Jn. 19:20-27), and the needed
encouragement for a dying thief (Lk. 23:39-43).
People genuinely appreciate Jesus' willingness to share in personal dialogue with
them. Powerful patrons often express no such personal interest in the recipients of their
power. Whatever Jesus does or says comes straight from his heart to the heart of others.
Jesus is equally at home with children as well as adults, with women as well as men, with
educated and uneducated, with poor and powerful, or with religious and irreligious. He
seems to have no difficulty in "switching gears" from one group to another. Further, he
often directs conversation away from external issues to matters of eternal importance.
Thus, when Nicodemus introduces himself with a non-committal courtesy, Jesus directs
him to the necessary birth from on high for entrance into the Kingdom of God. The
Samaritan woman makes a flippant remark about "well water" and being greater than
Jacob our father; Jesus instead deals with the misery of her life and the genuine
satisfaction that he alone offers. Martha is introduced as the charming hostess who
becomes irately jealous at her sister; Jesus reminds her of the essence of life, which she
has forgotten in her busy activities.
Jesus deals with his opponents in the same way. In the Parable of the Wicked
Tenants, Jesus expresses himself with vulnerability in the story, since he is the beloved
son, who offers one last chance for the tenants to honor the owner's claim for the
vineyard and its produce (Matt. 21:33-46). Sadly enough, the religious leaders perceive
that this parable was directed to them, thereby leading to a further brutal plot (Matt.
21:45-46). He is desperate to offer them one last chance to turn from their dastardly
plan—to turn and to accept the salvation offered through relationship with him. His offer
of the dipped morsel to Judas appears to be a "last-ditched-effort" to turn Judas from his
betrayal-plan. It is not at all surprising to find that the people en masse flock to him. To
be sure, they are attracted by his powerful deeds, but at the same time, they sense that this
is one who takes genuine interest in them. His spontaneous interest in people enables
them to overcome their inhibitions and approach him. Such interest creates a "safe"
environment for people to confess their sins or venture vulnerable expressions (e.g.,
anointing his feet). It is Jesus who offers his own the special privilege of "friendship"
(Jn. 15:15), "no longer do I call you servants . . . but I have called you friends."
Friendship is defined here as privileged communication with his own.
Compassion is a motivation for Jesus’ teaching ministry. It is shown to the Jews
as he teaches the masses, since they are “as sheep not having a shepherd” (Mk. 6:34;
Matt. 9:36). Compassion goes hand in hand with activity, e.g., his healing ministry,
teaching, and feeding miracles:
“As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he felt compassion for them, and
healed their sick” (Matt. 14:14)
“And Jesus in compassion touched their [two blind men] eyes, and immediately
they received their sight and followed him” (Matt. 20:24)
“I have compassion upon the crowd because they have remained with me three
days and they do not have anything to eat” (Mk. 8:2; cf. Matt. 8:2)
“And when the Lord saw her [widow of Nain] he had compassion on her and said
to her, ‘Do not weep.’” (Lk. 7:13)

Christology and the Relational Jesus


It is striking that the verb “to feel compassion” (splagxni/zesqai) occurs only in the gospels
(12 times), each time with reference to Jesus’ emotive motivation (two of the occurrences
of the verb are used in parables by Jesus). People immediately sense his compassion for
them and seek him for some evidence of his compassion. They assume that Jesus is
willing to give advice or help them; sometimes they appeal to his will (Mk. 1:40; Matt.
8:2) and lay their requests before Him (Mk. 1:40; Mk. 2:1-12; 9:22ff; Matt. 8:2; 8, 9; Lk.
Jesus never demands any reward or compensation for his help nor do the people
respond with remuneration for his help. There are some instances where people express
spontaneous gratitude (Lk. 7:36ff; 17:16). However, Jesus clearly directs their attention
away from the gift to the giver (Mk. 1:44; Matt. 8:4; Lk. 5:14; Lk. 13:10-17). Those who
receive his benefits, but are unwilling to risk acceptance of Jesus' compassion and
relationship with him, soon lose what has been given to them. Jesus pronounces woes on
the Galilean cities that were unresponsive to the benefits that occurred in their midst
(Matt. 11:20-24; Lk. 10:13-15). The love of Jesus is expressed as compassion and grace,
i.e., his attitude and saving activity towards those whom he loves; correspondingly the
recipients bring nothing to the helpful event that would in some way make them
deserving of such blessing.
Over the course of time in the Early Church, people become progressively aware
of the extent of Christ’s love. Thereby, their appreciation grows for the greatness of his
grace, love, and benefits. While other human gifts lose their value to the recipient over
time (e.g., Christmas gifts), Jesus’ gifts and benefits grow in human recipients (I Cor.
15:10; II Cor. 8:9). After the Ascension, the Church more fully appreciates the
immensity and magnitude of Christ’s love than during Jesus’ lifetime. While the Gospel
records narrate particular grace-events, extended to various individuals, the Early Church
comes to appreciate that the whole of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection express
his love, grace, and compassion for the whole of humankind (Acts 10:38; Eph. 5:21;
5:25; I Pet. 1:8). His compassion is directed to persons, motivated by his deep desire to
accept them and help them in their most pressing needs, irrespective of the relative worth
or position of the recipient(s).
Impressions of his transforming presence and power. The response by Jesus'
followers is not simply external, but they respond in trust and obedience to his call. Their
initial commitment to Jesus also issues in an inner transformation, well expressed by the
significant change in Peter's name (Matt. 16:17-18), which would make clear his future
leadership role in the Early Church. The sinful woman who expresses such lavish
gratitude ("loves more") to Jesus has been transformed by the power of Jesus' forgiveness
of her past (Lk. 7:35-50; see also Mk. 14:3-9; Matt. 26:6-13; Jn. 12:1-8). The power of
Jesus' acceptance, table-fellowship and forgiveness issues in Zacchaeus' distribution of
half of his wealth for the poor and restitution for illegal seizure (Lk. 19:1-10). Regardless
of the type of positive interaction that Jesus shares with others, the effect is the
same—people are filled with strength for their new way of life. The various changes that
occur in individuals are holistic and affect the deepest core of their existence. While we
do not read of the future history of each individual that Jesus touches; several stories
provide ample evidence of typical responses. We find that a person such as Mary
Magdalene, from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons (Lk. 23:49), goes to the tomb
on Easter morning (Mk. 15:19; Jn. 20:1). In turn, she becomes one of the first "apostles"

Christology and the Relational Jesus


of the resurrection. Such changes are wrought by Jesus as the giver of life (Jn. 10:10),
the one who is the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25; way, truth and the life Jn. 14:6).
Impressions of his revolutionary approach coupled with accommodation. When
Jesus relates to others, he often comes off as a revolutionary through his words and his
actions. In a score of encounters, he is a great controversialist. He affirms his
commitment to Torah (instruction) and sharply opposes Pharisaic religious tradition
concerning issues such as the "washing" rituals or Corban (Mk. 7:1-23 par.). Apparently,
the Pharisees hold higher regard for their religious "fence," i.e., tradition, instead of
Torah. He argues against the Sadducees and their denial of the supernatural, including
their denial of the resurrection (Mk. 12:18-27 par.). Through encounter with others and
through his parables, he emphasizes the truth that the new relationship that he offers is
not based upon religious performance but upon divine grace for those who own up to
their own bankruptcy (Lk. 18:9-14). His story-parable of the generous employer makes it
clear that God is utterly free to be gracious (Matt. 20:1-16). In the Sermon on the Mount
(Matt. 5-7), Jesus contrasts the language, "you have heard," with his claim, "But I say to
you" (Matt. 5:21-48). The Pharisees stress their withdrawal from the world, while Jesus
reveals an open stance to the world, with his radical inclusion of all persons, particularly
the marginalized.
Concurrently, Jesus speaks and acts with accommodation or qualification of his
controversial approaches. While he affirms the ongoing validity of Torah, he is also
aware that Scripture can become an idolatrous end in itself. Nevertheless, his critics
refuse personal attachment to him, the one who offers life in the fullest sense (Jn. 5:39-
40). He argues that Torah is a means to an end—relationship with him—not an end in
itself. Teachings in the Sermon on the Mount are not to be understood as a set of laws
that bind the people of God. Rather, they offer pictures of the way of life of the people of
God, e.g., words are to be honest, without needed appeal to an oath formula (Matt. 5:33-
37). When oaths are added on, they communicate the telling reality that the people of
God do not always tell the truth.
Jesus argues that the starting point of religious activity is found in the new
relationship with him; he does not abrogate Torah, but expresses the necessary and
responsible conduct in keeping with the new relationship. The Parable of the Two
Builders (Matt. 7:24-27) indicates that the authentic response to Jesus' entire Sermon is
hearing and doing His words.8 In 5:19, Jesus says that whoever does one of the least
commandments and teaches others shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. The
language of doing/practicing presupposes the new relationship that he offers. There are
occasions where Jesus honors Moses' injunction that lepers show themselves to the priest
for verification (Mk. 1:44), while he himself disobeys Mosaic prohibition against contact
with lepers (Lev. 13-14). Although grace reigns supreme in Jesus' witness, he
emphasizes that conscious neglect of society's broken people means that one has
consciously sided with the Devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). While Jesus affirms the
marital union, he also reveals that divorce is a divine accommodation in situations of a
hardened human heart (Deut. 24:1ff; Mk. 10:5). Divorce does not reflect God's primary
intent in creation but reflects his accommodation to broken people in a broken world.
Impressions of his serenity. Jesus also breathes serenity to his followers and
opponents; he not only teaches the meaning of peace in the broadest sense of the term,
8 The verb "to do, practice" (poiei=n) is found 19 times in the Sermon on the Mount.
Christology and the Relational Jesus

but he embodies and conveys wellbeing to others. For example, Jesus quells the rage and
violence of the demoniac(s). Here are those individuals that are unable to be stilled
through medical means or brute strength. Mark clearly expresses the contrast between
the Gerasene demoniac's pitiful existence (Mk. 5:2-8) before the exorcism and his new
existence, after the dramatic exorcism. The freed demoniac is now, "sitting, clothed and
in his right mind." (Mk. 5:14). He then proclaims what the Lord had done for him (Mk.
5:19ff; Lk. 8:39). In several instances of healing or forgiveness, Jesus conveys peace to
the various individuals, subsequent to his acts of grace. Jesus' confrontation with
religious leaders about the woman taken in adultery, issues in an authoritative word of
forgiveness, peace, and a silencing of her accusers (Jn. 8:2-11). Jesus empowers his
disciples with peace before his departure, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to
you; not as the world gives do I give to you" (Jn. 14:27; see also Jn. 20:20-21).
Jesus' accusers are likewise met with his peaceful responses. Frequently, they
come for the express purpose of challenge or dispute; Jesus refuses to be drawn into
disputes but clearly sets the general tone of the debate as he points to major issues. He
does not allow for the conversations to degenerate into mere scolding or "put-down." In
one instance, Jesus refuses to be drawn into a squabble over a family inheritance, "Man,
who made me a judge or divider over you?" (Lk. 12:14); instead, he concerns himself
with the more serious issue of covetousness.

2. Varied human responses to Jesus, expressed through verbs and nouns:

People respond to Jesus in various ways and also variously react in different
settings. The Evangelist draw on various verbs and related noun forms to express
differing human responses:
"Fear" (noun, fo/boj) and "to fear/to be afraid" (verb, fobei=sqai), "dare" (tolma=n).
The disciples' response to Jesus walking on water is one of "fear," since they think they
are seeing a ghost, causing them to cry out in terror" (Mk. 6:48-50). Similarly, the
disciples are afraid to ask Jesus about the meaning of the Passion Pronouncement (Lk.
9:45; Mk. 10:32). Onlookers express a "fearful response" to Jesus' authority to forgive
the sins and to heal the paralytic, but also express themselves in positive form, "they
glorified God who gave such authority to men" (Matt. 9:8). Jesus' imperative, "Do not
fear," is intended to encourage Peter, since it is linked with the promise, "from now on,
you will be a fisher of men" (Lk. 5:10). The high priests and scribes likewise "were
afraid" to act with clear resolve to put Jesus to death (Mk. 11:18). The verb, "to dare"
(tolma=n), is only used in negative contexts when disciples or opponents "do not dare" to
ask Jesus about something (Matt. 22:46; Lk. 20:40).
This fear of judgment befalls the demons/demoniacs in Jesus' presence, "What do
we have in common, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are, the Holy One of God"
(Mk. 1:24). The two demoniacs of Gadara/Gerasenes cry out, "What do we have in
common, Son of God? Have you come to torment us before the time?" (pro\ kairou= Matt.
8:29). Even though Jesus' presence evokes demonic-confession, he silences them, since
confessions of faith can only come through free persons—not coerced demons. The
demoniacs' reaction indicates that the presence of Jesus not only breaks up demonic
power in the present age, but that very presence portends the future destruction of evil
powers. Elsewhere Jesus proclaims the inevitable and inescapable nature of the coming
judgment, evoking a sense of fear and sober realism (Matt. 25:46; Jn. 5:29; Matt. 10:15;
Christology and the Relational Jesus

Lk. 10:12; Matt. 11:24; Matt. 8:11; Lk. 13:28ff; Matt. 13:42; Matt. 24:30 par.); judgment
is the consequence of freely rejecting Jesus' person and the relationship he offers. Many
of Jesus' audiences do not fully realize that the fear they feel in Jesus' presence is evoked
by the supreme purpose that God assigns to him; ultimately their free response to the
crisis of his person results in salvation or judgment
"Awe/amazement" (noun, qa/mboj) and "to be filled with awe/amazement" (verb,
qambei=sqai). In Mk. 1:27, the verb express the onlookers' response to Jesus' teaching with
authority coupled with his ability to exorcise the demoniac (noun form in Lk. 4:36).9 His
authority is evident in his teaching in that it is immediate, expressed through the contrast
between Rabbinic or prophetic teaching: "You have heard it said . . . . But I say to you"
(Matt. 5:21-48). The verb also expresses the disciples' "amazement" at Jesus' word to the
rich young ruler and his assessment of the real danger facing the rich (Mk. 10:24). The
emotive response also characterizes the disciples as they go up with Jesus to Jerusalem,
leading up to Jesus' third passion pronouncement (Lk. 10:32). After the amazing catch of
fish, the noun also expresses Peter's sense of personal distance from Jesus, since he
regards himself as a sinful man (Lk. 5:8-9).
"To marvel" (verb, qauma/zein). In a number of instances, the verbal form captures
the idea of marvel or astonishment. Thus, the disciples respond with astonishment at this
one who is able to calm the storm (Matt. 8:27; Lk. 8:25); and they become aware of
Jesus' "otherness," i.e. his numinous authority to speak a word and calm a storm. The
verb expresses the crowd's marveling of Jesus' ability to exorcise and heal a deaf and
dumb mute (Matt. 9:33; Lk. 11:14) and also of the disciples' response to Jesus' dialogue
with a Samaritan woman (Jn. 4:27).
The verb "to be perplexed/in fear" or "to be surprised" (e0kplh/ssesqai). While, the
verb refers to those in the Capernaum synagogue (Mk. 1:22; Lk. 4:32), who are perplexed
at Jesus' authority to teach, it also covers their reaction to the exorcism, also related to his
authoritative teaching (Mk. 1:27). It expresses the perplexity of the crowd that has
listened to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:28) or the crowd that is surprised/perplexed
at Jesus' wisdom, mighty works in His Nazareth hometown (Matt. 13:54; Mk. 6:2). The
crowd expresses surprise at Jesus' teaching of the resurrection (Matt. 22:33) and the
Cleansing of the Temple (Mk. 11:18).
"To be overwhelmed with excitement" (verb, e0ci/stasqai) or "overwhelming
excitement" (noun, e[kstasi"). The verb refers to people's profound excitement
with this Jesus who has forgiven the paralytic's sins, who then demonstrates his authority
to forgive sins through the healing of the paralytic. Both the verb and noun are used as
cognate forms with reference to the witnesses of Jairus' daughter, whom Jesus has raised
from the dead (Mk. 5:42). The verb narrates his family's response that he was "out of his
mind" (Mk. 3:21), the same reply of his opponents (though the verb is mai/nesqai Jn.
10:20). The verb communicates the disquieted response from the disciples when Jesus
walks on water (Mk. 6:51), negatively interpreted, "for they did not understand about the
loaves, but their hearts were hardened" (Mk. 6:52). It captures the disciples' anxiety
about entering the Kingdom of God, since Jesus has warned them about the great
difficulty of a rich man being able to enter the Kingdom (Matt. 19:25). Finally, the verb
9Lk. 4:36 And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and
power (e0n e0cousi/a| kai\ duna/mei) he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”
Christology and the Relational Jesus

communicates the effect of the women's witness to the Risen Lord, "some women of our
company utterly amazed us" (Lk. 24:22).
The verb "to worship/prostrate oneself" (prosxunei=n). There are occasions where
people fall to their knees and/or worship Jesus. The context generally dictates whether
the physical act of prostration is regarded as the relative act of humble supplication,
genuine worship, or even mockery. Mark narrates that the leper "fell to his knees"
(gonupetw=n Mk. 1:41), while Matthew says that "he knelt/worshipped before him"
(proseku/nei Matt. 8:2), prior to his specific request. The father who pleads for his
epileptic son (demon-possessed) "kneels" (gonupetw=n) before Jesus before he makes his
specific request on behalf of his son. The rich young ruler "falls upon his knees"
(gonupeth/saj), probably out of deference to Jesus who may provide the answer as to how he
may inherit eternal life (Mk. 10:17). The verbal expression with the noun narrates Peter's
physical and spiritual response to the miraculous catch of fish. He splashed his way
through the water to land, where "he fell to his knees" (prose/pesen toi=j go/nasin Lk. 5:8) before
Jesus. The form, "they worshipped" (proseku/noun) describes the soldiers' mockery of Jesus,
this time referring to their mocking physical actions, joined with their clothing Jesus with
a purple robe (a sign of kingship), striking him in the face with a reed, spitting on him,
and placing a crown of thorns upon his head—all shameful behavior of feigned mockery.
"To grumble" (verb, goggu/zein), "schism" (noun, sxi/sma), "to be moved with
indignation" (a0ganaktei=n), "to offend (verb skandali/zw), "to take offence at" (verb skandali/zesqai
e0n), "offense, stumbling block" (noun ska/ndalon). Murmuring or grumbling is the
frequent response of Jesus' critics. In Luke 5:30, the Pharisees and Scribes
"grumble/murmur" against Jesus for his table-fellowship with tax-collectors and known
sinners. Jesus aggressively heals a man with a withered hand, and is grieved at the
leaders' "hard hearts," even before the healing (Mk. 3:5; Matt. 12:14; a vicious plot is also
evident in Matt. 26:3-5; Mk. 14:1-2). The verb "murmur/grumble" is frequently used to
describe the reaction of many of Jesus' opponents or would be followers, e.g., after the
feeding of the five thousand (Jn. 6:41, 43, 61). The verb "to be moved with indignation"
(a0ganaktei=n) communicates the response of others, religious leaders, the crowd and even
his disciples to Jesus' actions or his words. In Matt. 21:15, the verb refers to the
indignant comeback of the High Priests and Scribes to Jesus' Triumphal Entry. The
synagogue president resents Jesus’ healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath (Lk.
13:14). From his vantage point, Jesus should have chosen another day to heal her. The
disciples themselves are annoyed with the presumed waste of money in the anointing of
Jesus with such expensive oil (Mk. 13:3-4). And the disciples are argue with each other
about positions of requested prominence in the coming Kingdom of God (Matt. 21:24).
The noun "schism" (sxi/sma) in the Fourth Gospel refers to the divergent reactions
of people and their leaders towards Jesus (Jn. 7:43; 9:16; 10:19), since he often confronts
people with a "crisis" (kri/sij) of decision (Jn. 3:19-21). The skanal—word family expresses
both the active sense of "causing another to stumble" while the passive form (also
deponent) conveys the idea of "being led into sin" or "taking offence." The forms narrate
the fickle response to Jesus when commitment to Jesus collides with "suffering or
persecution (Matt. 13:21) or the limiting response of Nazareth's inhabitants at Jesus’
presence (Matt. 13:57). On occasion, the Pharisees are deeply offended by Jesus'
Christology and the Relational Jesus

teaching about the origin of evil. Jesus claims that they are not only blind leaders of the
blind, but are a devilish plant, which must be rooted up (Matt. 15:12-15). Even the
disciples will be offended at Jesus, for he solemnly says, “this night you will all have
doubts about me, i.e., lose your faith in me" (Matt. 26:31). As the disciples lose their
focus and centre and then panic, they will experience their disruption of their fellowship
with Jesus. Peter cannot accept this sad pronouncement and thus, avows his loyalty, even
if the other disciples “fall away" (Matt. 26:33). Earlier, Peter's rejection of the first
passion pronouncement, constitutes a "stumbling-block" for Jesus, and thus, Peter is
called "Satan" (Matt. 16:23). In various charges to the disciples, Jesus teaches his own
that they must avoid creating "stumbling-blocks," and thereby, cause others to disbelieve
"To trust/entrust" (verb, pisteu/w), "faith/trust" (noun, pi/stij). Many stories link
"trust" with Jesus' saving help. Faith makes its appearance in unlikely places through
many unlikely people. Correspondingly, trust is strangely absent in other environments,
where people "know better" or should know better. Jesus offers no faith-formula, creedal
dogma, recipe, or program; yet he is constantly alert, seeking to stimulate and deepen the
trust of people in himself as they able to entrust themselves in committed relationship
with him. Numerous stories highlight expressions of trust to Jesus with various nuances.
On occasion, faith means a personal trust in Jesus that God is acting through
Jesus in a special way and that the hoped-for Kingdom of God ("dream of God") has
arrived in his person, words, and works. Since the gospel expresses that the turning point
of the ages has arrived and the Kingdom of God is present, people are summoned to
"repent" and "trust" in the good news with the radical newness that Jesus offers (Mk.
1:14-15). God takes the initiative and a readiness to trust means that people have
genuinely heard and have freely accepted him and the divine invitation.
Faith is linked with an abiding "faithfulness," or fidelity in the midst of life's
ambiguities and struggles, expressed in Jesus' refusal to assign blame for suffering and
tragedy (Lk. 13:1-5; Jn. 9:1-3). The twin story-parables of The Widow and Unjust Judge
(Lk. 18:1-8) and the Persistent Neighbor (Lk. 11:5-13) highlight the need for faithful and
persistent prayer. At the conclusion of the first parable, Jesus concludes with the
rhetorical question, "And when the Son of Man comes will he find the faith (persistent
faith)? (Lk. 18:8). Jesus honors the faith and wisdom of a humble yet persistent Syro-
Phoenician woman with a demon-possessed daughter (Matt. 15:28), "great is your faith."
When Jesus prophesies of Peter's forthcoming three-fold denial, he has already prayed for
Peter that his "faith (faithfulness or loyalty) will not fail" (Lk. 22:31).
Faith means trust in Jesus' miraculous power to meet human needs (a paralytic
Mk. 2:1-12; a hemorrhaging woman for twelve years or a daughter who has died (Mk.
5:24b-43), disciples fearing drowning at sea (Mk. 4:35-41). By way of contrast, a
practical failure to entrust oneself to Jesus is a sign of an unbelieving generation (Matt.
Faith also includes trust in Jesus' involved and holistic concern for people. For
Jesus, God is no remote deity who has wound up the clock of the universe allowing it to
tick as it will. Instead he is especially near to those who need love and mercy, concrete
help in all areas of human life, and grace—qualities that only a responsive person can
express. Jesus makes war on all fronts of human distortion, such as sin, paralysis, disease,
marginalization, demon-possession, and death, and thereby reveals God's holistic and

Christology and the Relational Jesus


saving activity for broken people in a broken world. His offer of the Kingdom of God
announces God's dream for his people or his proclamation of the way that life is to be
Trust is also humble and understands Jesus' authority (the wayward son—"I am
no longer worthy . . ." [Lk. 15:18f.]; the Centurion—"I am not worthy . . ." [Matt. 8:8,
10]; hemorrhaging woman—falling down before Jesus and "telling him the whole truth"
[Mk. 5:3]; the Syro-Phoenician woman's dogged determination [Mk. 7:28]). Jesus
affirms the Centurion's faith as a buoyant confidence in Jesus' authority, "not even in
Israel have I found such faith" (Mk. 8:10; Lk. 7:9). He then uses this occasion to indict
the "religious" persons, who may confess articles of faith, but who are excluded from the
Messianic banquet (Matt. 8:12). The father of a demon-possessed (epileptic) son
confesses his faith, but is also aware of faith's opposite—unbelief, and thereby asks Jesus
to help him with his unbelief (Mk. 9:24).
Faith also means gratitude. Of ten healed lepers, there is only one, an outcast
Samaritan, who feels a deep-seated gratitude to God (Lk. 17:15) and to Jesus (16). For
him, healing is incomplete without a verbal thanksgiving to his benefactors. His
thanksgiving prompts Jesus' haunting and sad question, "Where are the other nine?" (17-
18). To the healed leper, he affirms, "Your faith has saved you" (19). The perfect tense,
"has saved" intimates far more than deliverance from the scourge of leprosy, since the
other nine were still in a healed condition. His wholeness is a deeper experience due to
his grateful response. The sinful woman, who expresses such vulnerable and lavish
gratitude for Jesus' forgiveness, is honored for such appreciation, "Your faith has saved
you" (Lk. 7:50).
Jesus also says that faith can effect the miraculous, even do the impossible in a
number of mountain-moving sayings (Mk. 11:22-23; 17:19-20; Mk. 9:28-29; Matt.
21:21; mulberry tree in Lk. 17:5-6). Because of the inconceivable power of faith, "all
things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be
granted to you" (Mk. 11:24).
In the Fourth Gospel, the verb "to trust" is found nearly a hundred times and is
expressed so clearly in John's purpose statement, " these [signs] are written, that you may
continue to believe . . . (Jn. 20:30-31). At times, the signs lead to a trusting response
(2:11; 9:35-36; 11:45), while on other occasions, signs are met with unbelief and hostility
(12:37). The verb is twice used with a double-entendre in Jn. 2:23-24; while people
"believed in his name, when they saw the signs, which he did, Jesus "would not believe in
them" (would not entrust himself to them). For them, signs produced a superficial
response of sensationalism, which regarded the signs as "wonders" (te/rata). In the Fourth
Gospel, the verb signifies both an initial entrustment followed by a corresponding growth
in discipleship (Nathaniel in 1:49-51; Nicodemus in chapters 3:1-15, 7:50-51, 19:38-42).
The Evangelist appears to portray stages of faith, expressed so well in cha. 9 when the
blind man moves from literal blindness to spiritual sight and worship at the end of the
story (9:35-38). "One gains the impression that Jesus is constantly asking, 'What may I
do to strengthen the faith of those who believe and bring about the inception of faith of
those who do not believe.'"10 Such concern for genuine trust clearly surfaces in the
Lazarus-story, with its focus on the disciples, Martha, the believing onlookers, the
unbelieving crowds, and the religious authorities (11:4, 15, 25-27, 40-45; 12:11). Growth
10 Story, 244.
Christology and the Relational Jesus

in trust is a chief concern in Jesus' High Priestly prayer (17:8, 20, 21). Step by step, Jesus
leads people into deeper relationship with him as he entrusts himself to them and they to
him, to the extent that they live in a position of "friendship" (15:13-15) and "trust." The
verb, "abide" (me/nw) is used so pointedly (40 times in the Fourth Gospel). By way of
contrast, unbelief is serious business and the consequences are disastrous (3:18, 36).
"To hear" (verb a0kou/ein), "report" (noun a0koh/). The gospels strongly emphasize
the believing response inherent in "genuine hearing." Various parables of "hearing" and
"listening" in Mk. 4 affirm the all-importance of proper listening (13 times). To "the one
who has," i.e., "who listens and appropriates what is heard"—more will be given, all out
of proportion to what was initially heard (Mk. 4:24). Physical hearing and true hearing of
the message of grace are distinguished by the presence or absence of "trust" (Matt. 8:10;
9:2; 17:20). Proper hearing likewise results in "doing the words of Jesus" (Matt. 7:16,
24, 26) in a relationship of mutual knowledge with the Father. Charismatic activity apart
from relationship with Jesus or the Father leads to the indictment, "Away from me, for I
never knew you" (Matt. 7:23).
"To receive" (verb lamba/nein, compound paralamba/nein), "to welcome/receive" (verb
de/xesqai). The three verbs express the free-will decisions that people make, whether they
receive or reject Jesus. The verb "take" or "receive" and its compound occur for a total of
171 times in the gospels. The verb "welcome, receive" occurs for a total of 71 times and
is used to express the same positive response to Jesus, "to take on oneself" (Matt. 10:38),
"to take up," or "to attach oneself to Jesus" (Jn. 3:11, 32f; 12:48; 17:8). Receiving or
welcoming Jesus signifies personal attachment to him, and thereby, to God, an equivalent
of "entrusting oneself to them." When the disciples are sent out in short-term mission-
trips, they will know that he is present in them as they seek to bring others into
attachment with them, and with Jesus and God (Matt. 10:40ff.). These "welcome"-
sayings express the Semitic law of the messenger, "The emissary of a man is as the man
himself." The same principle holds true for children (Matt. 18:5 par.); attachment to a
child means attachment to Jesus and to God. The verbs express Jesus' invitation, which
positions people for their libertarian and free-will-decision to welcome or reject.
"To repent" (verb, metanoei=n), "repentance" (noun, metavnoia), "to repent"
(verb metame/lesqai), "to grieve" (verb lupei=n), "grief" (noun lu/ph). The various terms express
a feeling-response of remorse, a stirring of the whole person, a radical change and
transformation of the way people relate to Jesus, to God, and to others, expression of
conversion itself.11 People turn from evil and turn to God with resolution (Mk. 1:15;
4:17; 8:23). Such transformation affects the centre of one's personal life, thoughts,
words, and actions, in all times and situations (Matt. 12:33ff. par; 23:26; Mk. 7:15 par.).
When people approach Jesus with repentance, they not only turn from evil, but embrace
the new and holistic lifestyle and relationship that Jesus offers. When people enter into
relationship with Jesus in his invitation (Matt. 11:28), they are promised a personal
transformation, expressed well in Jesus' thanksgiving prayer (Matt. 11:25-30).
Repentance no longer means "law" that burdens people, but good news. Bonhoeffer
plays down the traditional idea of repentance as a religious act or method, laying stress on
the positive side of "allowing oneself to be caught up into the way of Jesus Christ."12
11Behm, G., "metanoe/w" and cognates. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. IV. (Grand
Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans' Publishing Co., 1969), 1000.
12 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge, trans. Reginald Fuller and

Christology and the Relational Jesus


While these verbs and nouns do not provide a comprehensive picture of the
totality of human responses to Jesus, they do express the diverse and profound effect of
Jesus' presence among people and his desire for a relationship with them. These verbs
and noun forms are not captured in the various Christological titles used for Jesus.
Instead, the forms express the complexity of the human response. They describe the
various impressions that Jesus makes upon his disciples, adversaries, and crowds. The
crucial concern is the impression he makes upon various individuals that he encounters as
he seeks relationship with them. This issue should serve as the beginning point for
coming to grips with the mystery of Jesus' person. While the Evangelists use
Christological titles to express Jesus' identity, the titles are nonetheless subservient to the
experiential impression that Jesus makes upon the varied encounters he has, whether with
a learned Jew (Jn. 3) or a simple Samaritan woman (Jn. 4). Jesus is the one who makes a
profound impact upon others, who, in turn, are to reckon with his remarkable presence;
he cannot be casually ignored or dismissed. Through his relatedness with others, their
lives cannot remain the same. People are forced to deal with this person in an altogether
new way. People reflect a strange mixture of majesty and frightfulness, attractiveness
and repulsion, acceptance and rejection. In essence, the Evangelists "tell the story" of
how Jesus is perceived by people and how they respond to the mystery of Jesus when he
seeks relationship with them.

Titles by which people address Jesus:

It is striking that in the gospels, people rarely address Jesus by his first name;
most of these occasions are voiced by various demons (Mk. 1: 24 par.; 5:7). Other
isolated occurrences are voiced by Bartimaeus (10:47 par.) and ten lepers (Lk. 17:13).
Instead, the Evangelists narrate the various encounters using honorable titles:
"Teacher" (dida/skaloj). It is the title that the disciples frequently use of Jesus in
times of great need, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mk. 4:39).
Elsewhere, it is used when they seek an answer to a question or problem, e.g., "Teacher,
we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he was
not following us" (Mk. 9:38). Clearly they are seeking approval for what they have just
done, but instead, they are rebuked. On other occasions, opponents in an atmosphere of
conflict, also address Jesus, "Teacher, we desire to see a sign from you" (Matt. 12:38),
"Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully" (Matt. 22:16).
"Rabbi" (r9abbi/ or r9abbouni/v). The disciples call Jesus "Rabbi" in human terms,
"Rabbi, the fig-tree you cursed is withered" (Mk. 11:21); "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or
his parents that he was born blind?" (Jn. 9:2), or the title is used as part of an exalted
confession, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel" (Jn. 1:49-50). On
other occasions, those who are outside of the group of disciples address Jesus as "Rabbi,"
which is coupled with the term "Teacher," "Rabbi, we know that you have come from
God as a teacher . . . ," by Nicodemus in his initial conversation with Jesus (Jn. 3:2).
Mary Magdalene makes a similar response to the Risen Jesus, "she says to him,
'Rabbouni,' (which is being translated, "Teacher") in Jn. 20:16.
"Lord" (ku/rioj). Sometimes, the term "Lord" is used in a weakened sense of "Sir":
"Sir, you have nothing to draw with" (Jn. 4:11), "Sir, give me this water" (Jn. 4:15), "Sir,
I perceive that you are a prophet" (Jn. 4:19)—all of these by the Samaritan woman; "Sir,
come down before my child dies" (Jn. 4:49)—by a Gentile official; "Sir, I have no one to
Christology and the Relational Jesus

put me in the water" (Jn. 5:7)—by the paralytic at the pool. On other occasions, the term
"Lord" is used with an exalted sense, and is frequently paired up with other forms of
address: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come to my house" (Matt. 8:8), "Lord,
save us, we are perishing" (Matt. 8:25); "Oh Lord, thou Son of David" (Matt. 15:22);
"Lord, I believe, help my unbelief" (Mk. 9:24); "My Lord and my God" (Jn. 20:28).
"Master" (e0pista/thj). The address to Jesus as "Master" is unique to Luke: "Master,
we have toiled all night and have caught nothing" (Lk. 5:5); "Master, Master, we perish"
(Lk. 8:24); "Master, it is good for us to be here" (Lk. 9:33); "Jesus, Master, have mercy
on us" (Lk. 17:13). There are a number of places in the gospels where addresses are
interchangeable, e.g.,
Matt. 8:25 Mk. 4:38 Lk. 8:24
"Save, Lord (ku/rie); we are "Teacher (dida/skale), do you "Master, Master (e0pista/ta,
perishing." not care if we perish?" e0pista/ta), we are

Other titles or impressions. Other persons go far beyond these titles of honor and
respect—both positive and negative. In early Christian preaching, Peter recounts the fact
that Jesus was able to do the things he did and said since "God was with him" (Acts.
10:38). Nathaniel addresses Jesus, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of Israel"
(Jn. 1:49). At Caesarea Philippi, Peter witnesses," You are the Christ, the Son of the
Living God" (Matt. 16:18 par.). Thomas responds to the Risen Jesus, "my Lord and my
God" (Jn. 20:28); others affirmed Jesus as the Christ (Mk. 8:29; Matt. 16:18; Lk. 9:20.
Others, including Herod said that Jesus was John the Baptist, John the Baptist Redivivus,
Elijah, or another prophet (Mk. 6:14ff; Lk. 9:7-9; Matt. 14:1). Some of the hostile
onlookers accuse Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebul and in collusion with him (Mk.
3:22; Matt. 12:24; Lk. 11:15; Jn. 8:48; 10:21). Various voices from Jesus' environment
reveal the powerful impression that Jesus makes upon individuals and groups.

Some Implications:
The condition of the human heart is the frequent reason why human reactions are
so diverse. Jesus says that the human heart serves as the origin for the ways that different
people view Jesus, and they, of course, are responsible for their free choices. For
instance, in the Parable of the Soils, the seed is the same that is falls upon four different
types of soil. The varied conditions of the soil determine whether the seed will or will
not be productive. Various soils are responsible for their condition, whether they are
impervious, shallow, beset with distraction, or single-minded. When Jesus speaks to his
disciples about the issue of defilement, he specifies that the heart is the inner source or
origin of "evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery . . . All these things come
from within, and they defile a man" (Mk. 7:21-23).
Notably in John's Gospel, the coming of Jesus effects a "crisis" (kri/sij). People
either do not come to the light out of hatred and fear of self-exposure or they come to the
light with openness and vulnerability (Jn. 3:19-20). The condition of the human heart
and free choices that people make, predispose them to respond in various and even
contradictory ways. Some respond superficially because their heart is not right. Others
respond with fear and hatred since they are aware of the greatness of Jesus but cannot
bring themselves to make a free decision for him. Others reveal attraction and love
Christology and the Relational Jesus

because they possess an inner disposition to receive and be transformed.

In human experience, power often separates people, whether the power is
political, military, cultural, socio-economic, religious, or charismatic. Expressions of
power heighten a contrast between the "haves" and the "have-nots." A key reason for
such separation is that the powerful person will use power as the "patron" of power, who
possesses the right to coerce others. Those who are attracted to the powerful person will
then align themselves with this person to receive the benefits of this person to better their
condition. Jesus' use of power is markedly different. He does not begin his ministry with
displays of power so as to stun people with his superiority. He immediately summons
disciples to himself with whom he could share his life. He lives in the context of human
relationships when he personally engages people. They come to Jesus out of great need.
And when they find that Jesus meets their need, their contact with him fosters a greater
relationship, attachment, and allegiance. Thus, even his use of power pales in
comparison with the personal interest in them and in the new relationships he offers.
People gradually learn that Jesus conveys a qualitative newness of life for those who have
made a personal commitment to him; they are promised "a hundredfold now in this
time—houses, brothers, sisters and mothers, children and lands." Thereby, he points to
the excellence of the new life, which is infinitely superior what they have previously
known: "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesses"
(Lk. 12:15, 21).
Jesus amazes people through his person, words, and works. His words affect his
hearers and reveal a qualitative difference from the words of the learned. While religious
persons discuss what one ought to be and do, Jesus talks about human life and how to
find meaning in the relational give-and-take of life. He heals people without ostentation,
personal propaganda, or profit. His miracles signify the original condition that God
intended for humanity. His very person is an enigma to his contemporaries. Even those
who are attracted to him are not immediately able to understand him (Lk. 2:50; Jn. 2:27;
7:20, 35; 8:22). There is no end to the various expressions of misunderstanding and
doubt, even among his disciples. There is always a certain mixture of genuine belief and
unbelief (Mk. 9:24; Lk. 24:37; Matt. 28:17), even with the post-resurrection appearances
of the Risen Lord.
The complexity of the human response to Jesus is directly related to the
complexity of Jesus. He belongs, yet he does not belong to human categories. The
mystery of Jesus originates in his own ambiguity. Even those who attach themselves to
Jesus and commit themselves to him, are unable to fully understand him (Lk. 2:50; Jn.
2:27; 7:20, 35; 8:22). There is an initial commitment of trust and also an ongoing growth
that occurs in them as they grapple with the mystery of this person. Some move beyond
an initial understanding of Jesus as a miracle worker (Jn. 2:11) to a fuller declaration of
Jesus' Messiahship and divine Sonship (Matt. 16:18 par.) Our western thinking often
equates "faith" with mental assent to the various Christological titles. However, the
Evangelists interpret the Jesus-story in fully relational encounters: how he was perceived
by others and how they responded to him. The story reveals that Jesus was "the man for
others,"13—in the language of relationality.
It is hoped that these reflections on the gospels enable others to understand and
experience Jesus in his full relationality, who also directs his audience, then and now, to
13 Bonhoeffer, 240.

Christology and the Relational Jesus


“feel” the full sociality of God. God is passionate about relationship with his audience.
Instead of “evangelism outlines,” which are reductionistic and propositional in nature, the
Jesus-story offers another approach, a style that speaks to people, in need of relationship
with God, with others in the Christian community and citizens of the world. God takes
the full initiative in His gift of His son, who personally approaches others and seeks to
elicit responses of love, trust, and faithful obedience. He honors the freedom of others to
make the decisions and experience the consequences of their decisions. The beginning
point for human framing of Christology surely needs to be understood within the context
of relationality.

Christology and the Relational Jesus

Story, p.1

The Crucifixion Accounts

The crucifixion of Jesus makes the reader painfully aware of the utter inadequacy
of human words to capture the drama and the significance of the drama that unfolds
before our eyes. We confront the center of all of human history. The various witnesses
of the Old Testament (prophets, leaders, priests, elders, poets) all looked ahead to the
future when God would act in a redemptive way for His people. Since Calvary, every
generation and race looks backwards to this event and its significance for the whole of
human history, human significance, as well as future hope. Further, the cross also serves
to unite two different spheres—the world above and the world below. While the event
will always remain a mystery, nonetheless we need to understand the human words that
both narrate and explain this moment in history, which is a moment of supra-historical
significance, a "once-for-all" event.
The four evangelists offer different perspectives and details concerning the
crucifixion and its meaning, which must be respected. However, despite the differences,
the evangelists express the divine mystery of the person of Jesus in His mission, passion,
and death. Accordingly, the various phenomena that occur during the crucifixion,
likewise attest to the mystery of the event.

Via Dolorosa
The Latin term, Via Dolorosa designates the "Sorrowful Road," along which the
procession passed to the crucifixion site. There is a modern street called by this name but
it is doubtful whether this is the actual street since ancient Jerusalem is buried under the
rubble of centuries. Like public executions of past years, e.g., hanging, the event is
witnessed by thousands, especially present in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover
The condemned Jesus is forced to carry the crossbeam of the cross to Golgotha;
His shame is compounded in that He must carry on His back the very instrument of His
torture and death. He who had warned about the cost of discipleship and the necessity of
carrying one's cross (Lk. 14:27) now bears His own. The wording, "in order that he
might take up is cross" (i{na a[rh/ toVn stauroVn aujtou') of Mk.
15:21, reminds the reader of Jesus' earlier summons to discipleship, "let him take up his
cross" (ajravtw toVn stauroVn aujtou') of Mk. 8:34. And yet, He is
unable to carry the cross very far. Jesus has been up all night in various trial scenes,
extending into the morning. He has also been scourged, worn a crown of thorns and been
beaten (Jn. 19:3). As a result, He is exhausted and no doubt dehydrated.
A certain man named Simon of Cyrene (a city in North Africa) is forced into
service, compelled to carry the cross to the place of execution. Perhaps Simon is in
Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, one of the three annual pilgrimages that Jews made
to Jerusalem. Mark's Gospel states that "he is the father of Alexander and Rufus" (Mk.
15:21). Mark's use of the names here without explanation might well suggest that these
two men were known by the Roman community to whom Mark writes his Gospel. In the
letter to the Romans, Paul mentions a Rufus along with his mother (Rom. 16:13). In Acts
13:1, Simeon (same name as Simon) is mentioned, along with Lucius of Cyrene. Since
the name Alexander was a common name and is mentioned elsewhere in the NT, it is

J. Lyle Story
Story, p.2

difficult to establish any link elsewhere in the NT. On the Day of Pentecost when the
Holy Spirit descended, strangers from Cyrene are present (Acts 2:10).
Luke contains an interchange between Jesus and a multitude of wailing women as
He walks towards Golgotha. In contrast to their wailing for Him, Jesus says that they, the
"Daughters of Jerusalem" should weep for themselves and their children (Lk. 23:28), and
then explains why their weeping should be redirected. Jesus says that childless women
will actually be blessed over against women with nursing children:
29 "For the time will come when you will say,
'Blessed are the barren women,
the wombs that never bore
the breasts that never nursed!'" (Lk. 23:29)
In the OT, childlessness was a curse; Jesus says that in the coming days, childlessness
will actually be a blessing. Formerly, in the Apocalyptic Discourse (Lk. 21), Jesus
pronounced a curse upon pregnant and nursing mothers that they would experience in the
approaching siege of Jerusalem (Lk. 21:20-24). Personal pain will be far eclipsed by the
pain that will wound Jerusalem's daughters through the suffering of their children.
Josephus' account of the siege and related famine narrates the grotesque way in which
both women and their children were starved to death.1
The suffering will be so intense that people will cry out for a quick and merciful
death which would end starvation, suffering and horror:
30 "Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us';
and to the hills,
'Cover us.'2
While long life was one of the blessings accorded to the righteous, now blessing is
imagined as a sudden premature death that would end the horrible pain and torment of
Jerusalem's daughters.
His closing word to Jerusalem's daughters uses the minor major form of
argument, using a contrast between green wood and dry wood:

Minor Major
31 For if they do this when the wood is what will happen when it is dry?”
The metaphor points to the unlikely and unnatural burning of green wood which is
currently in process in the crucifixion (minor); this underscores the more likely and
natural burning of wood that is dry and fit for burning (major). In the metaphor, Jesus
reveals His own horrid treatment by the civil and religious authorities (the green sappy
wood) and the more certain misery and judgment that would befall the people of God in
the Holy City (the dry wood). Invasion and fire soon fell on the dry tree and it was
burned in the fearful events of A.D. 66-70, noted by Josephus as the great conflagration.
1See Josephus, Wars of the Jews, esp. Book V-VI.
2Hosea 10:8
8 The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel,
shall be destroyed.
Thorn and thistle shall grow up
on their altars;
and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us,
and to the hills, Fall upon us.
J. Lyle Story
Story, p.3

Luke's account alone narrates that two other "criminals" (kakou'rgoi) were
also part of the procession to the execution site (Lk. 23:32). Matthew and Luke state that
they were "robbers" or "revolutionaries/insurrectionists" lh/stai (Matt. 27:38; Mk.
15:27), a term which also describes Barabbas (Jn. 18:40).

The Crucifixion
The site. Jesus and the two insurrectionists are led to the place called "Golgotha",
an Aramaic/Hebrew term (aT*l=G|l=G|, tl\G)G|) meaning "the skull" (Lk. 33:33) or
"the place of the skull" (Matt. 27:33; Mk. 15:22; Jn. 19:17). The Latin term lies behind
the name "Calvary". It is unclear as to whether Golgotha was called "the place of the
skull" because the hill was shaped like a man's head or whether the place was littered by
the skulls of executed criminals.
The time. The evangelist variously report the time of the crucifixion: Mark
(15:25) states that it occurred at the third hour (9 a.m.); John says that it came at the sixth
hour (12:00 p.m. Jn. 19:14). Moreover, the Synoptic Gospels note that the darkness
covered the land from the sixth until the ninth hour. From a logical standpoint, the noon
hour is more likely in that time should be allowed in the morning for the trial before
Pilate, Jesus' trip to Herod. A three-hour crucifixion might also express Pilate's
wonderment that Jesus was dead after three hours (Mk. 15:44).
The narcotic. Matthew and Luke mention that Jesus was offered a narcotic:
"wine mingled with gall" (Matt. 27:34); "wine mingled with myrrh" (Mk. 15:23). Gall is
a bitter and poisonous herb, sometimes translated as "hemlock", implying bitterness and
tragedy.3 In Acts 8:23, the term "gall" has a symbolic meaning, "For I see that you are in
the gall [poison] of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” Myrrh is a fragrant substance,
a resin from various shrubs and trees and was one of the gifts offered to the infant Jesus
(Matt. 2:11) and was brought by Nicodemus for Jesus' burial (Jn. 19:39). It appears that
such a drink was a merciful gesture to dull the senses and deaden the pain of the
crucifixion and was offered to all criminals.4 Both Matthew and Mark narrate that Jesus
did not drink the draught, although Matthew states that Jesus "tasted" it before His refusal
(Matt. 27:34). Earlier, Jesus affirmed His commitment to not drink the fruit of the vine
until He would drink it new in the Kingdom of God. Although many have argued that
Jesus did not take the narcotic because He wanted to experience the full force of death
with an unclouded and clear mind, the text does not indicate why Jesus refused the drink.
The cross. Christian art generally portrays the cross as a very lofty structure but it
need not be much taller than the height of a man and could be in the shape of a small "t"
or capital "T". Since the inscription is said to be "above his head" (Matt. 27:37), some
type of projection is needed above the crossbeam upon which the inscription is nailed.
The practice of crucifixion. Although the practice of crucifixion did not damage
the vital organs of the body, death came slowly and painfully and was hastened by the
3 Deut. 29:18 [Heb. 29:17]; Jer. 9:15; Lam. 3:19; Amos 6:12. Often the passage from Psalms 69:21 [69:22]
is cited:
Psalm 69:21 They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
4 A Jewish custom based on Prov. 31:6:

6 Give strong drink to him who is perishing,

and wine to those in bitter distress;
Mk.'s verb, ejdivdoun may be a conative imperfect, i.e., "they tried to give," but then gave up when
unsuccessful, that is more explicit in Matthew's Gospel (24:34).
J. Lyle Story
Story, p.4

use of nails in the hands and feet, which were sometimes used in addition to the rope
which held the victim's arms to the crossbeam. As a result of fatigue, cramped muscles,
inability to breathe, and thirst, the body could no longer cope with the trauma. When
victims were simply bound to the cross immobile, they might survive for three days but
would then die of severe dehydration. Rome adopted the practice from the Phoenicians
and Persians, reserving this form of execution for slaves and foreigners, and in Jesus' case
(with the other two revolutionaries), this was the punishment for sedition. From the
Jewish perspective, crucifixion was the greatest possible insult paid to Jesus, since this
death will obviously mean that He is accursed by God (Deut. 21:23). Since the Roman
practice of scourging was so merciless and severe (many died under it), Jesus' body was
already in a desperately weakened condition. It is remarkable that the actual crucifixion
of Jesus is told with such restraint with a minimal number of verbs and nouns.5
The inscription. All the Evangelists note the inscription over the cross of Jesus, a
common custom, indicating the reason for His execution.6 John's use of the transliterated
Latin titulus makes it especially clear that Jesus was condemned as a messianic pretender,
an insurrectionist. The title is differently expressed in the four Gospels:
"This is Jesus, the King of the Jews" (Matt. 27:37)
"The King of the Jews" (Mk. 15:26)
"This is the King of the Jews" (Lk. 23:38)
"Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (Jn. 19:19)
John's Gospel contains the detail that the inscription was written in Hebrew, Latin and
Greek, the languages of religion, Roman empire and culture, a universal perspective that
may be intimated by Jesus' statement, "And if I be lifted up, I will draw all people to
myself" (Jn. 12:32). The inscription that Pilate ordered was no personal confession but
an evasion of responsibility, shifting the blame to Jewish concerns.
John's Gospel also contains the interchange between Pilate and the Jewish
authorities concerning the actual wording of the inscription. Instead of the title, "Jesus of
Nazareth, the King of the Jews," they demand a new inscription that reads, "Jesus the
Nazarene, the one who said, 'I am King of the Jews'" (Jn. 19:21). Pilate has already
stated to the Jews that Jesus is their king (18:39) and the Jewish leaders have already
apostasized by saying, "We have no king but Caesar" (18:15). Pilate uses the occasion to
take a "parting shot" at the Jews, humiliating them in his annoyance. Stalker interprets
Pilate's intent in the inscription, "This is what becomes of a Jewish king; this is what the
Romans do with him; the king of this nation is a slave, a crucified criminal; and if such
be the king, what must the nation be whose king is he?"7 What he has written will stand
written.8 Just as Caiaphas made an unwitting prophecy about the death of Jesus (Jn.
11:50-51), so Pilate makes an unwitting confession of Jesus' identity through the title.
Through the trial scene, scourging scene, and crucifixion, John the Evangelist highlights
Jesus' Kingship, the sovereignty of truth9:
5 Taylor notes, "No attempt is made to describe the harrowing details familiar enough in the ancient world."
Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark, (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1974), p. 589.
6 Matt. 27:37 "the charge against him"; Mk. 15:26 "the inscription (ejpigrafhv) of the charge

against him; Lk. 23:38 "an inscription (ejpigrafhv) over him"; Jn. 19:19 "a title" (tivtlo").
7 James Stalker, The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1965

repr.), p. 103.
8 The perfect tense of the repeated verb "I have written" gevgrafa underscores the permanence of his

9 For discussion see C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, (Cambridge: At the University

J. Lyle Story
Story, p.5

Pilate-----------"Are you are the King of the Jews" (18:33).

Jesus-----------"My Kingdom is not of this world. If my Kingdom were of this
world, my servants would be fighting that I might not be handed
over to the Jews. But my Kingdom is not from here" (18:36).
Pilate-----------"So you are a king?" (18:37)
Jesus-----------"You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have
come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is
of the truth hears my voice.”
Pilate-----------"What is truth?" (18:38)
Soldiers--------Mockery with the purple robe of Kingship and crown of thorns,
"Hail, King of the Jews" (19:3).
The Jews-------"every one who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar”
Pilate-----------"Shall I crucify your king?" (19:15)
The Jews------"We have no king but Caesar" (19:15)
Pilate-----------The inscription, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (19:19).
The Jews-------“Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am
King of the Jews’” (19:21).

The Groups around the Cross

While Jesus hangs on the cross during the three or six torturous hours there are
differing responses of different groups or individuals to Jesus, revealing different
relationships with Jesus.
Mockers. The largest and loudest group is the passers by, mocking Jesus, hurling
their abusive speech at him, shaking their heads in derision, saying,
"You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!
If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matt. 27:40).
The words are similar to the word of the devil in the temptation narrative, "If you are the
Son of God, then . . ." (Matt. 4:3, 6). Jesus was tempted to use his divine Sonship to
transform stones into bread and throw Himself from the pinnacle of the Temple. At
Golgotha, the force of the abusive speech is the challenge that Jesus should prove His
divine Sonship by a miraculous act, saving Himself by coming down from the cross. "To
the mockers the logic of the challenge is irrefutable. Crucifixion is the crowning proof of
self-deception."10 In both the temptation and crucifixion, Jesus does not succumb to the
demanded proof of His divine Sonship.
Joining the clamor of the passers by are the voices of the religious leaders (chief
priests, scribes and elders of the people) expressing the same mocking11 challenge:
"He saved others; he cannot save himself.
He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross,
and we will believe in him.
43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now,
if he desires him'; for he said, 'I am the Son of God'" (Matt. 27:42-43).
Their ringing challenge is that Jesus saved others but could not now save Himself. They
even affirm that they will believe if they see such a miracle. Their statement accords
10Taylor, p. 591.
11With the use of the verb ejkmukthrivzw "to mock," the rulers remind Jesus of His "supposed"
authority and power, which appears to them as impotent.
J. Lyle Story
Story, p.6

with Jesus' earlier assessment, "while seeing, they might see but not understand" (Mk.
4:11). Ironically, they do not seem to notice that the challenge they voice is from the
Psalter which Jesus later refers to from the cross:
6 But I am a worm, and no man;
scorned by men, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me,
they make mouths at me, they wag their heads;12
8 “He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him,
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (Psalm 22:6-8).13
Had Jesus given in to the temptation to prove His divine Sonship, He would not have
been the Savior. His enemies had no idea of the divine design in His death on the cross
but were judging Him as one accursed by God (Deut. 21:23), challenging Him to prove
His Sonship by a miraculous feat. Their thoughts about the Kingdom are concentrated on
a political savior, not a Savior who will deliver them from sin.
Joining the mocking chorus are the voices of one (Lk. 23:39) or two
insurrectionists (Matt. 27:44):
"And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way"
(Matt. 27:44).
"One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying,
'Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!'" (Luke 23:39).
The Roman soldiers. Luke's account narrates a similar response from the Roman
36 "The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, 37 and
saying, 'If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!'" (Lk. 23:36-37).
These mockings from different groups all stress the claims of Jesus as Messiah or Son of
The four Roman soldiers dividing Jesus' garments. There were four Roman
soldiers responsible for the crucifixion, who were allowed the personal effects of the
criminal. Jesus was stripped before the crucifixion, exposing his nakedness in public, and
thereby furthering His shame. Their action of doling out Jesus' garments among
themselves14 expresses nothing more than sheer callousness and mindless selfishness.
12 Lam. 2:15 All who pass along the way
clap their hands at you;
they hiss and wag their heads
at the daughter of Jerusalem;
“Is this the city which was called
the perfection of beauty,
the joy of all the earth?”
13 "Let us see if his words be true,

And let us try what shall befall in the ending of his life.
For if the righteous man is God's son, he will uphold him,
And he will deliver him out of the hand of his adversaries.
With outrage and torture let us put him to the test,
That we may learn of his gentleness,
And may prove his patience under wrong.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
For according to his words he will be visited."
Wisdom of Solomon 2:17-20, R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament,
(Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1973), p. 538.
14 Mk. uses the middle voice diamerivzontai, "divide among themselves."

J. Lyle Story
Story, p.7

Only the fourth evangelist distinguishes between Jesus' outer garment and His tunic. His
large loose upper garment, perhaps a headdress and sandals were all divided between the
company of four. The tunic or undergarment was woven all of one piece; thus, even the
Roman soldiers were unwilling to tear it. Instead they throw dice, settling their difficulty
with a game. The fourth Evangelist interprets the actions of the Roman soldiers a
fulfillment of Psalm 22:
18 "they divide my garments among them,
and for my raiment they cast lots" (Psa. 22:18).
The dramatic contrast is incredible—the Son of God atoning for the sins of the world
while the soldiers beneath the cross gamble for pieces of fabric within a few feet of Jesus.
Jesus' sympathetic friends. In a position "from afar" (ajpoV
mavkrovqen— Synoptics15) or "by the cross" (paraV tw'/
staurw'/--Jn. 19:24-27) is another group of sympathetic women [also the beloved
disciple]: Mary Magdalene, the mother of Jesus,16 her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, Salome, the mother of the sons of
Zebedee. Luke also notes the presence of many other women from Galilee who followed
Him and ministered to Him (Mk. 15:40-41). These women stand in sharp contrast with
the other groups: passers by, the religious authorities, the insurrectionist[s] and the
Roman soldiers—women, whose very presence speaks of care, grief and compassion.
Although these women loved Him, they see their friend, the one who was known as
Savior, Redeemer, King, Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man, perishing before their
eyes. Although the evangelists do not record their words, their attendance speaks louder
than any words they might have spoken.

The Seven Words

Drawing from the different witnesses of the four evangelists there are seven
"words" spoken by Jesus from the cross. The seven words are listed below but it is
important to note that the order below cannot be regarded as absolutely true with respect
to the order of their utterance. They are but fragments that the evangelists record, which,
nonetheless are filled with eternal significance:
1) The First Word:
34 "And Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'" (Lk.
Luke is the only evangelist to record the prayer of Jesus for His enemies. This
brief prayer contains three elements: a) personal address, b) petition, c) grounds for the
petition. The personal address, "Father" breathes the language of Jesus' unique
relationship of the Son with His Father. His relationship with the Father is unmediated,
direct and personal, in a way that is not true of others. All others experience a mediated
relationship with God as Father (Matt. 11:25-27). Jesus never calls God "our Father"
except when he teaches His disciples the Lord's Prayer—even then, it is their prayer. He
is the only one who knows the Father in an absolute sense. Here, on the cross, in His
physical agony and forsakenness, He still affirms His utterly unique relationship with
God as His Father.
Jesus' petition is for the forgiveness of His enemies. The pronoun "them" surely
includes all those who subjected Jesus to maltreatment—verbally, physically and
15 Matt. 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:49.
16 John always refers to her not by name but by "His mother" or "the mother of Jesus" (cf. Jn. 2:3).
J. Lyle Story
Story, p.8

emotionally: the religious authorities, the civil authorities, Pilate, the jeering crowd, the
Roman soldiers, Judas. His prayer for the forgiveness of enemies exemplifies His earlier
teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, "But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for
the ones who persecute you.'" (Matt. 5:44)—words, which countered the current thought
in Judaism, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy" (Matt. 5:43). While
revenge is a bitter-sweet delight in human experience, Jesus proves that prayer for the
forgiveness of our enemies can be realized here on earth. Stephen, who was dying from
stoning, similarly prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60). Jesus'
petition expresses the truth that these people were guilty and in need of forgiveness.
Through His prayer for their spiritual wellbeing, Jesus drives away the natural human
response of anger and bitter revenge.
The basis for this petition is expressed in the clause, "for they know not what they
do." Normally, those who are injured are only sensitive to their side of the injury and
cannot or will not see the other side of the injury. "But at the moment when the pain
inflicted by His enemies was at its worst Jesus was seeking excuses for their conduct."17
To be sure, through the various passion episodes, there are varying degrees of guilt of
different individuals and groups: the disciples, Peter, Judas, chief priests, scribes, elders,
Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, the multitude in Jerusalem, the passers by, the Roman soldiers.
However, Jesus' prayer includes all, irrespective of their own personal or corporate guilt.
This realization of ignorance is expressed by Peter in Solomon's portico, "And now,
brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers" (Acts. 3:17). The
truth is expressed here that ignorance characterizes the sinner. In many ways, the people
involved in the trial and crucifixion know what they are doing. Pilate washes his hands
(Matt. 27:24), attempting to absolve Himself of the guilt for Jesus' death. Judas' remorse
for his betrayal leads to his suicide (Matt. 27:3-10). Peter is likewise guilty for his denial
of Jesus in the face of Jesus' prophecy (Matt. 26:31-35, 69-75). However, in a deeper
sense, all of the parties involved in the passion narrative do not know the extent of their
sin and guilt.
2) The Second Word.
43 "And He said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in
Paradise'" (Lk. 23:43).
In Luke's Gospel, one of the two insurrectionists joins in the mocking challenge to
Jesus to save Himself and them as well. However, he is rebuked by his compatriot in
crime, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
And we indeed are justly receiving the penalty for our deeds; but this man has done
nothing wrong" (Lk. 23:40-41). The torture of the impenitent outlaw reduces him to an
enraged animal, which will bite anything or anyone who comes too close. However, the
other outlaw draws back from the verbal abuse of his fellow criminal. He affirms their
own need for the fear of God, Jesus' innocence and undeserved punishment, as well as
their own guilt and deserved punishment. Surely he was witness to Jesus' attitudes and
actions from Pilate's judgment seat, his movement along the via dolorosa, and his
response to shame, verbal abuse and torture. Many conjectures have been made about
previous encounters of this penitent outlaw with Jesus, leading to his own statements.
However, Luke's text does not give a clue. The only thing that can be found in the text is
his awareness that Jesus will soon enter His Kingdom; thus, he expresses the humble plea
that Jesus would remember him at the point when Jesus enters His Kingdom. His plea is
17 Stauffer, p. 116.
J. Lyle Story
Story, p.9

humble and simple without presuming anything. Something grand occurred in his life
before Jesus speaks a word directly to him.
Jesus' response is immediate and direct, beginning with the solemn words, "Truly,
I say to you," an introduction that underscores the significance of the promise. Instead of
a union at some future time when Jesus would enter His Kingdom, Jesus points the
outlaw to "Today" as the day of fellowship with Jesus in Paradise. The other-worldly
descriptions of heaven/paradise strain the limitations of every human language, but the
most important affirmation is that this experience means, "to be with Christ" (I Thess.
4:17; 5:10)—a sure promise to be realized on the very day of the outlaw's death.
The term "Paradise" (paravdeiso") recalls the blissful Garden of Eden
(Gen. 2), which is used in the OT, inter-testamental period, and NT period to portray the
intermediate state between death and final resurrection as well as the last Paradise. Other
figures are used, which express Paradise: "to be in the bosom of Abraham" (Lk. 16:23),
"to be with the Lord" (II Cor. 5:8), "to be with Christ" (Phil. 1:23), "in the Father's house"
(Jn. 14:2), the Father and the Son will make a room with the believer (Jn. 14:23), "in the
heavenly Kingdom" (II Tim. 4:18) or "the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22).18
Jesus' answer goes far beyond the plea for a future remembrance, promising that
today he will enjoy fellowship with Jesus. The dawn of the "one day" of salvation from
sins, has already eclipsed the horizon. Jeremias states, "Paradise is opened even to the
irredeemably lost man hanging on the cross. He is promised fellowship with the
Messiah."19 Earlier in Luke's Gospel, Jesus expresses the wonder of "today"
(shvmeron) as the day of salvation as He celebrates table-fellowship with the
repentant Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of
Abraham" (Lk. 19:9).20 In the receptive encounter with Jesus, whether it be in a tax-
collector's home or on a cross, salvation is present.

3) The Third Word.

26 "When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple, whom he loved, standing near,
he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!' 27 Then he said to the disciple,
'Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home"
(Jn. 19:26-27).
While the first word is a prayer for His enemies, the second is a promise of
relationship to a revolutionary. The third word is addressed to Jesus' mother. The fourth
Evangelist alone narrates the bittersweet expression of Jesus' concern for his mother
standing near the cross. The old and honorable Simeon had prophesied to Mary about her
infant child, "And a sword will pierce through your own soul also" (Lk. 1:35)—a sober
prophecy that is now fulfilled in the death of her son as a political criminal and "cursed
by God" (Deut. 21:23), from the Jewish perspective. Readers of the narrative can
scarcely fathom the depth of pain that Mary experienced. Those who have lost a child
through illness or accident may only begin to approximate Mary's agony.
Mary had been privy to the divine mystery of the Incarnation and angelic
visitation and prophecies from angels and humans, which she treasured in her heart (Lk.
2:18). She had heard the words that her male offspring "will be great, and will be called
18 See J. Jeremias, "paravdeiso"", TDNT, vol. V, p. 769.
19 Ibid, p. 771.
20 Luke uses the term "today" more than the other evangelists put together (2:11; 4:21; 5:26; 12:28; 13:32,

33; 19:5, 9; 22:34; 23:43; 24:21).

J. Lyle Story
Story, p.10

the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father
David. . .therefore the child to be will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk. 1:32-35). She
had participated in the communication by angels, astrologers, shepherds, Simeon, Anna,
Elizabeth—who had all voiced the wonderful news that her son was the Son of God.
And yet, her human son is dying an agonizing death as a political criminal, hanging on a
tree, and ostensibly "Cursed by God." We can hardly imagine what this all meant for
Mary and can only surmise at the plethora of emotions that gripped her as a mother from
deep within her heart. For the fourth Evangelist, writing years later, he is able to mark
the movement of Jesus to the cross as the climactic "hour" of glorification, when Jesus
ascends His throne. But for Mary, His mother, at this point in time, the cross looks like
anything other than a throne.
From the cross Jesus expresses concern for Mary's wellbeing and provision and
He fulfills the fifth commandment that enjoins the honor of one's parents. He still
remains Mary's Son. In a way, these words serve as His last will concerning Mary and
John's responsibility for his new "mother." Nothing is said about Joseph; presumably he
has died before Jesus' public ministry since no mention is made of him subsequent to the
birth and infancy narratives. Concerning his own brother's responsibility for Mary, they
are as yet unbelievers (Jn. 7:5). The dying Jesus affirms the relationship between Mary
and John and confirms John's responsibility for her care. In so doing, Jesus informs us of
His concern for the temporal and emotional as well as spiritual needs of others. Jesus'
concern for her is not simply comfort about His or her reunion with them in the after-life,
but in the here and now, He knows her need for food, a place to live and a relationship.
John's text also says that John promptly obeyed, by taking her to his own home "from
that hour," thereby fulfilling Jesus' loving charge for his mother
4) The Fourth Word.
34 "And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, 'Elo-i, Elo-i, lama
sabach-thani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' (Mk.
15:34; Matt. 27:46).
The fourth word from the cross is difficult. The words appear to be a mixture of
Hebrew and Aramaic given by Mark and Matthew:

Matthew 27:46 Mark 15:34

hjliV hjliV lemaV ejlwi< ejlwi<
sabacqavni lamaV sabacqavni
tou't j e[stin o} ejstin
qeeV qeeV mou, meqermhneuovmenon
iJnantiv me oJ qeoV" mou oJ
ejgkatevlipe" qeoV" mou
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani, eij" tiv
that is ejgkatevlipev" me.
"My God, My God Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani
why hast thou forsaken me?" which translated means,
"My God, My God
why hast thou forsaken me?"
The spelling of lema represents the transliterated Aramaic interrogative, "why"
(am*l+) while the verbal form, sabacqavni is a transliterated form of the
Aramaic,yn!T^q+b^v "you have forsaken" (Hebrew = yn!T^b+z^u&).
J. Lyle Story
Story, p.11

Luke does not contain the saying per se, but contains the eclipse of the sun or the
sun's desertion in exactly the same position in his Gospel (Lk. 23:45). Since the words
Elo-i ("my God") and heliou ("the sun") are so similar in sound, this may be one reason
why Luke's account does not contain reference to the actual saying. Moreover, the
personal address Elo-i is very similar to the proper name Elijah (Elijah). Clearly, the
bystanders understand that Jesus is calling Elijah.21
The evangelists interpret the Hebrew and Aramaic mixture as "My God, my God,
why has thou forsaken22 me?" Jesus feels Himself to be abandoned by God and cries out
for explanation, "Why?" During His ministry, He was abandoned by others, His
brothers, His hometown acquaintances and friends, the people of God, the religious
leaders, His own disciples, more pointedly by Judas and then Peter. In the Upper Room
Discourse, Jesus prophesied the desertion of the twelve and yet affirmed the divine
presence with Him even in the abandonment by others:
'The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to
his home, and will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me"
(Jn. 16:32).
The disciples were scattered as He had predicted, but His new experience is that of
abandonment by God. Jesus experiences the forsakenness by God and people. And yet,
God feels nothing but a Divine hurt for His beloved Son. Jesus speaks from the Psalter,
from a complaint song (Psa. 22), which describes the suffering of one of God's people, a
lone poet in Israel. The Hebrew poet lodged his complaint with God (Psa. 22:1-18),
made supplication to God (vss. 19-21), and then experienced the joy of deliverance (vss.
22-31). Within the psalm, the poet received the answer to his prayer, which leads to the
second portion, the psalm of thanksgiving (vss. 22-31). What grieves the poet more than
anything in the opening lines of the psalm is the apparent absence of God, also expressed
in the second line of 22:1, "Why are you so far from helping me?" The sense of
abandonment by God does not express a lapse of faith or broken relationship with God,
but complains that God's protective presence is withdrawn as the enemies close in on the
poet (vss. 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 16, 17, 18). The poet searches for God and finds God in and
through his suffering. The questions, "Why?" and "How long?" are clearly the major
questions that Israel's poets expressed. The first question, "Why?" reveals the human
need for meaning in suffering. If suffering can be adequately explained, by offering
meaning and purpose, then the poets can be encouraged. Conversely, when there seems
to be no explanation or rationale, the poets are driven to the death of despair (Psa. 73).
Psalm 22, which begins as a personal complaint concludes with the victory of God in
Israel (vss. 22-26), the ingathering of Gentile nations (vss. 27-28), past, present and
future generations (vss. 29-31).
In Jesus' hour when He feels abandoned by God, Jesus remains faithful, by
uttering the words of Israel's poet. He expresses the human heart that seeks to know God
in God's apparent absence. He makes supplication for others and looks beyond to His
redemptive effect on all future nations and generations.
On the one hand, Jesus is the object of divine pleasure (Matt. 3:17) who has no
need to confess sin. He lived a life of sinless obedience to the Father's will, which led
21 Jeremias notes the presence of a popular Jewish belief that Elijah was a helper in time of need. Joachim
Jeremias, " Jhl[e]ia"", TDNT, vol II, p. 935.
22 The verb "forsake" (ejgkataleivpw) conveys the meaning "abandon" or "desert." BAGD, p.

J. Lyle Story
Story, p.12

Him to the cross, the very purpose for which He was born and lived. Readers are
reminded of Jesus' resolve in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Abba, Father, all things are
possible for you. Take this cup away from me. But not what I will but what you will"
(Mk. 14:36). And yet, there at the cross, the insidious nature human heart is exposed.
There is no greater contrast than between the quintessence of the love of God with the
quintessence of the world's sin.
Paul interprets this event in the language of becoming a "curse" or "sin" for us:
13 "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—
for it is written, 'Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree'— Gal. 3:13
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might
become the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:21).
Early Christians interpreted Psa. 22 as a Messianic fulfillment by Jesus on the
cross; this was thought to be proof of His Messiahship. Indeed, the verbal abuse and
wagging of the heads by Jesus' mockers is expressed in Psa. 22:6-8. While Psa. 22 is an
individual psalm of complaint of one of Israel's poets, the psalm also looks ahead. Peter,
in reference to another psalm, refers to the poet as a "prophet" and foresaw more than
through his natural comprehension (Acts 2:30 = Psa. 132:11; II Sam. 7:12-13).
Jesus, through the language of the Psalter expresses His complete identification
with humanity, sharing our nature (flesh and blood) and experiences a sense of
abandonment by God. Some, such as Luther and Calvin, pressed the text further, by
saying that in the hours which preceded this cry our Lord endured the torments of the
damned; however, this is surely outside of the bounds of legitimate exegesis. At best, the
abandonment is as mysterious as is the nature of the incarnation and remains as an
unutterable enigma for us.
5) The Fifth Word.
28 "After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished to fulfill the scripture, said
'I thirst'" (Jn. 19:28).
The RSV connects the fulfilling of Scripture with the statement, "I thirst," which
has led many to pore over the OT passages to find the specific passage which is now
fulfilled. Perhaps there is another allusion to Psa. 22 which has already been used in the
Passion narrative:
15 "my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
thou dost lay me in the dust of death" (Psa. 22:15).
Although the term, "thirst" is not used in Psa. 22, it is captured by the image of a mouth
so dry that the tongue cannot move, since it sticks to the roof of the poet's mouth.
Further, the last clause, "thou dost lay me in the dust of death," links the motif of extreme
thirst with death.
It may more fruitful to connect the fulfillment with the preceding account, "Jesus,
knowing that all was now finished that would fulfill the Scripture." Knowing that His
divinely appointed work was completed, he expresses his physical agony, "I thirst." This
is the only cry of physical pain that the evangelists record. Thirst was one of the horrible
agonies of crucifixion, a raging and devouring thirst that gripped the entire body in its
severely dehydrated condition.
In the FG, this is the same Jesus who had promised a lone Samaritan woman, "a
well of water springing up into eternal life" (Jn. 4:14) and had offered Himself as drink to

J. Lyle Story
Story, p.13

the multitudes in Jerusalem, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink.
38 He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of
living water'"(Jn. 7:37-38). The one who had claimed to satisfy the spiritual thirst of all
is the one who now thirsts with a raging physical thirst that racks his body.
At this point some of the bystanders [soldiers?] took a sponge, dipped it in a bowl
of vinegar, offered it to Him, and He drank the vinegar.
6) The Sixth Word.
30"When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, 'It is finished,' and he bowed his
head and gave up his spirit" (Jn. 19:30).
The sixth word of Jesus is just one Greek verb tetevlestai, the Greek
perfect tense, translated "it is finished." The Greek perfect tense communicates the
enduring state of completion, i.e., past action with extended results. The verb "finish"
televw is related to the verb "fulfill" teleiovw, the related noun "end"
(tevlo") and the adjective "complete/perfect" (tevleio"). While it is possible to
interpret Jesus' statement as a cry of relief that the agony and pain is over, it is more
natural to relate the verb to the fourth Evangelist's statement in 19:28 that "all things were
now finished (tetevlestai) in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled"
(teleiwqh'/ ). That is to say that the entire saving work entrusted to Jesus has
been accomplished with finality.23 Jesus claims that the text of Scripture bore witness to
Him (5:39) and, as His life moves to the "hour" of glorification in the Passion narrative,
there is direct reference to the OT (Psa. 22:1,15; 69:21) according to Jn. 19:28. The word
is triumphant, expressive of Jesus' certainty of achieving the divine goal for his life. Paul
uses perfect tense of the same verb with other perfect tenses in a similar setting,
expressing his confidence in realizing his life's work, "I have fought the good fight, I
have finished (tetevlhka) the race, I have kept the faith" (II Tim. 4:7). And Paul
looks forward to the crown of righteousness that he will receive.
The exclamation "It is finished" sharply contrasts with the complaint "My God,
My God. Why have you abandoned me?" It is appropriate that for the FG that this
exclamation comes as the climax, which builds with intensity throughout the ministry,
particularly expressed through the motif of the "hour" (w{ra).24 The hour is an
irresistible force ("not yet"), which points to the final goal when Jesus ascends to the
throne. The same Divine force prohibits any premature seizing of Jesus (7:30; 8:20).
From chapter 12:23 onwards, the "hour" is said to have come ("already"), referring to the
chain of Passion events, climaxed by the cross. Specifically the "hour" provides Jesus
with the divine purpose that drives Him to accomplish God's will:
"Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?'
No, for this purpose I have come to this hour" (Jn. 12:27).
The cross is the means by which Jesus will draw all people to Himself (12:32) and
thereby reveals God's purpose of full inclusion, similar to the message of Psa. 22, when
the poet concludes the complaint psalm with a celebration of God's inclusion of all—past,
present and future. The cry, "It is finished," is a victorious declaration of God's saving
activity that He has obediently fulfilled.
23 In Jn. 4:34, Jesus says that His food is "to accomplish His work"; 5:36--"for the works which My Father

has given to me that I might accomplish them"; 17:4--"I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the
work which you have given me to do."
24 Jn. 1:39 (40); 2:4; 4:6, 21, 23, 52 (twice), 53; 5:25, 28, 35; 7:30; 8:20; 11:9; 12:23, 27, 28, 35; 7:30; 8:20;

11:9; 12:23, 27 (twice); 13:1; 16:2, 4, 21, 25, 32; 17:1; 19:14, 27.
J. Lyle Story
Story, p.14

7) The Seventh Word.

46 "Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into thy hands I
commit my spirit!' And having said this he breathed his last" (Lk. 23:46).
In Luke's Gospel, the last word of Jesus on the cross is a loud prayer of self-
committal to the Father and is also taken from the Psalter. Jesus adds the personal
address, "Father":
5 "Into thy hand I commit my spirit;
thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God" (Psa. 31:5).
It is striking that even in the context of unbearable pain, bitter shame and cruel mockery,
Jesus uses the words from the Old Testament. For Jesus, the Old Testament is the Word
of God, which He had constantly used in His ministry, and now, in His passion.
The term, "spirit (pneu'ma) is sometimes used in the NT with respect to the
inner spiritual life of a person, the "belongingness to the spiritual realm, the dimension of
the beyond in the midst . . . At death, man ceases to exist both in the realm of the physical
and in the realm of the spiritual, and continues existing only in the spiritual: and the
physical body, ceasing to be the embodiment of the whole man in the observable world,
becomes merely a corpse (James 2:26)."25 The same prayer of a final personal committal
of one's spirit to God was expressed by Stephen the first martyr of the Church (Acts
7:59—to the Lord Jesus), Polycarp, Jerome of Prague, Luther, Melanchthon, and many
others in church history.

Two Other Fulfillment Passages

1) "For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, 'Not a bone of
him shall be broken'" (Jn. 19:36).
The narrative, concerned with the breaking of bones, is regarded as a fulfillment
of Scripture (Psa. 34:19-20a), serving as a vital element of Jn. 19:31-37. While the text
makes it clear that Jesus died (19:30), it was not apparent to the Jewish authorities. Their
request of Pilate is to break the legs so that death would quickly come when the human
body would no longer be able to stand up "on the nails" to breathe. The physical trauma
of breaking the legs would compound the suffocation of the victim. The reason for their
request is that the "great" Sabbath was near, called a "great" or "high day" because it fell
within the Passover celebration. The Deuteronomic law (Deut. 21:21-23) legislated that
the body of an executed victim should not remain on the tree into the next day but should
be buried on the same day as the execution; to fail in this responsibility would issue in
defilement of the land. Ironically, the very same concern for ritual purity that prohibited
the Jewish authorities from entering Pilate's Praetorium (18:28) now motivates them to
speed up the death process so that the body might be quickly removed and buried on the
same day to avoid defilement of the land. Clear irony is at work in John's account of the
trial. On the one hand, the Jewish authorities will demand the death of Jesus the Lamb of
God from a pagan Pilate (Jn. 1:29, 36) and apostasize by saying, "We have no king but
Caesar." On the other hand, they will not enter the official courtyard of the unclean
Pilate so as to maintain their own personal purity. In the crucifixion narrative, the same
authorities place another demand from Pilate, to speed up the death process of the three
victims so that they would not incur defilement for the land. From the evangelist's
25Colin Brown, "Spirit", Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 3, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan
Publishing House, 1971), p. 694.
J. Lyle Story
Story, p.15

perspective, they have already defiled the Passover and the land, by their hideous murder
of the Son of God.
Again Pilate accedes to their demand as he had already done in the Praetorium
("Pilate went out to them"—18:29). The bones of the two insurrectionists were broken
since they had not yet died. But when the soldiers come to Jesus, they observe that Jesus
was already dead, and thus, do not break his legs. To the fourth Evangelist, the human
purpose is eclipsed by the divine purpose in the fulfillment of Scripture (Psa. 34:19-20).
"The particular Scripture either concerns the Passover lamb (Exod. 12:46, "You shall not
break a bone of it," cf. Numb. 9:12) or the protection vouchsafed to the righteous, Ps.
34:20b = Septuagint, 33:21b, "He keeps all his bones;) not one of them shall be
crushed."26 In light of the "Lamb of God" imagery in Jn. 1:29, 36, an allusion to the
Passover lamb is most likely.27 Thus, the law concerning the Passover lamb is kept with
regard to Jesus, even though the Jews requested that His legs be broken.
2) "And again another scripture says, 'They shall look on him whom they have
pierced'" (Jn. 19:27).
Closely related to the fulfillment passage about not breaking bones is the piercing
of Jesus' side. After the soldiers discover that Jesus is already dead, they are no longer
compelled to break His legs; one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, and
immediately there came out blood and water (19:33-34). Perhaps to make Jesus' death
certain, one of the four soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a long spear. The gruesome
narrative is witnessed and authenticated by the writer of the Fourth Gospel (v. 36) and is
then followed by the witness of the Scripture from Zechariah 12:10:
10 "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a
spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have
pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly
over him, as one weeps over a first-born" (Zech. 12:10).
The full text of Zech. 12 speaks of a wonderful outpouring of the Spirit of compassion
and supplication that is accompanied by genuine repentance of "the house of David"
(Zech. 12:10-14.28 These attitudes of compassion and repentance are far away from
hardened soldiers, accustomed to such grisly tasks. While the soldier, casually and
without thinking, thrusts his spear into Jesus' side, he is unaware that he is fulfilling an
ancient prophecy. Just as an unbelieving Caiaphas prophesied unwittingly by word
(11:51), so a Roman soldier fulfills prophecy by action (19:34).
Zechariah's prophecy of mourning, compassion and repentance was fulfilled in a
greater way on the Day of Pentecost, when people began to acknowledge their personal
and corporate guilt in killing God's Son. The prophecy is fulfilled in successive
generations as people come to the same sense of personal responsibility and corporate
acknowledgment. The death of Jesus on the cross is not simply the result of human
manipulation, jealousy of religious leaders, the cowardice of the Roman Pilate, or an
execution by four Roman soldiers. From the fourth Evangelist's perspective, it was the
sin of the world and divine purpose that led Jesus to his throne on the cross, wherein He
becomes the Paschal Lamb, with unbroken bones and a pierced side, from which flowed
blood and water. Some medical specialists have spoken of a literal "breaking of the
26 Cullen I K Story, The Fourth Gospel: Its Purpose, Pattern, and Power, (Shippensburg, PA: The Ragged

Edge Press, 1997), p. 407.

27 Paul refers to Christ as our Passover lamb was sacrificed (I Cor. 5:7).
28 Story, p. 407.

J. Lyle Story
Story, p.16

heart" in which the blood from within the heart is poured into a sac, separating into two
fluids— a clotting blood substance and a colorless substance which appears to be water.
Thus, when the sac is pierced, the two fluids flow out in large quantity, especially since
the body is in an upright position.
While this suggestion is plausible, the evangelist's interest more probably lies in
the meaning of the event. Perhaps a more promising clue is to be found in John's Epistle:
6 "This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only
but with the water and the blood.7 And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit
is the truth.8 There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these
three agree" (I Jn. 5:6-8).
There is a link established between "water," "blood," "Spirit," and "witness," which is
apparent in the crucifixion account. The term "water" is used by the fourth Evangelist to
designate the Spirit (3:5), who would not come until Jesus was glorified (7:39), and is
conditional upon Jesus' death and departure (16:7). Blood signifies the real death of
Jesus as well as atoning and cleansing power, "The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us
from all sins" (I Jn. 1:7). It is the Spirit who witnesses to this wonder. "In the poetic
phrasing of the First Epistle the water had to mingle with Jesus' blood before the Spirit
could give testimony: "not in water only, but in water and blood. . .Thus, it would seem
that in the Gospel picture of a flow of blood and water from the side of Jesus, John is
saying that now the Spirit can be given because Jesus is obviously dead and through
death has regained the glory that was before the world existed (17:5)."29
There is, nevertheless, a hidden silent mourning latent in the context of 19:37, the
mourning of the four women and of the disciple whom Jesus loved. Their silence has
already been noted as Jesus entrusted his mother to the beloved disciple and the
disciple to her. Then (19:25-27) as now (19:37), however, the mourning of Jesus'
faithful followers for their Lord, although not referred to expressly, would have been
deep beyond words.30

Attendant Circumstances
Various signs witness to the crucifixion and its import: the physical world, the
underworld [world of the dead], the religious world and the human witness of a Roman
The thick darkness. The Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 27:45; Mk. 15:33; Luke 23:44-
45a) describe a period of darkness31 over all the land from the sixth hour until the ninth
hour (12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.). An eclipse of the sun is impossible during the Passover,
since the moon is full at this time during the year. At this point, distanced by twenty-one
hundred years, it is impossible to be confident about the nature or explanation of the
Rending of the veil of the Temple. Matthew (27:51), Mark (15:38) and Luke
(23:45) record the rending of the veil of the Temple. The "veil of the holy place" (toV
katapevtasma tou' naou') refers to the thick curtain covering the
entrance to the holy of holies.32 This veil was torn from top to bottom. For Paul, the
29 Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John, (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1970), p.
30 Ibid, p. 408.
31 Luke's Gospel contains the verb ejkleivpw can be used of the sun going dark or eclipsed. BAGD,

p. 242.
J. Lyle Story
Story, p.17

rending of the veil means that the wall separating Jew and Gentile is abolished (Eph.
2:13-14). For the writer of Hebrews, the rending of the veil signifies that the system of
purification, ritual ceremonies and intermediaries, is swept away; thus the new people of
God can directly enter into the presence of God with confidence since their hearts have
been cleansed (Hebrews 9-10, esp. 10:19-22). The sacrifice of Jesus offers to all people a
new and living access to God (6:19; 9:3; 10:20).
An earthquake. Matthew alone narrates a violent earthquake, which shook the
land and split the rocks and opened the tombs, which housed the deceased (Matt. 27:51).
Raising of dead saints. Matthew also notes that subsequent to the earthquake's
opening of the rock tombs that the bodies of saints were raised after Jesus' resurrection
(27:52-53). On Friday, the tombs were opened by the earthquake and the deceased were
given life; on Easter, the saints emerged from their tombs after Jesus was resurrected.
This narrative may lead to Paul's affirmation, "But now Christ has been raised from the
dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (I Cor. 15:20). By Jesus' death and
resurrection, God raises the saints. Moreover, these saints appeared as public witnesses
in Jerusalem.
The centurion's witness. A Roman Centurion, charged with overseeing the
execution, makes his own confession. Matthew notes that his confession is in direct
response to the earthquake (Matt. 27:54); Mark states that his confession occurs at the
precise moment of Jesus' death (Mk. 15:39); Matthew and Mark note that his confession
is a declaration of Jesus as the Son of God (Matt. 27:54; Mk. 15:39); Luke notes that the
Centurion glorified God and affirmed Jesus' innocence (Lk. 23:47).33 Whether the
Centurion meant "demi-god" or "hero" from His Gentile background or the personal
confession, "This man was the Son of God" is immaterial. For Mark, this confession is
the climactic and triumphant witness.

The Burial
Jesus died on Friday, the day of preparation for the Sabbath, which began at
sunset. As noted, Jewish law forbade that the bodies of impaled victims should remain
unburied after sunset (Deut. 21:22-23), especially in preparation for the "high day" of the
Passover. The Romans were content to let the bodies hang on crosses until they rotted
away. Thus, the removal of Jesus' body (also the other criminals) represents Pilate's
concession to the Jews.
All four Evangelists identify a certain Joseph of Arimathea who took
responsibility for the burial of Jesus. Matthew (27:58) and John (19:38) state that Joseph
was a disciple of Jesus; John adds that he was a disciple, but secretly, for fear of the Jews.
Mark (15:43) and Luke (23:51) note that he was a member of the council, i.e., the
Sanhedrin, and that he was looking for the Kingdom of God. Matthew alone notes that
he was rich, which may be intended as a fulfillment of the OT Servant Song:
9 "And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death. . . " (Isa. 53:9).
The fourth Evangelist adds another person, Nicodemus (19:39), the one who came
to him by night (Jn. 3:2). This is the same man, who calls for justice and the need for
witness from the individual (8:50) before condemnation. Through the use of the phrase,
"who came to him by night," the evangelist forges a link between the three chapters and
33 Isa. 53:11 he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the
righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities.
J. Lyle Story
Story, p.18

notes the progressive commitment of this man who initially came to Jesus in a confused
state in Jn. 3. "The contrast lies between the concern of the Jews who were present that
the Sabbath be kept (19:31) and the concern of the two Jews that the body of their Master
be given proper burial."34
The body of Jesus was wrapped in a linen shroud (Matt. 27:59; Mk. 15:46; Lk.
23:53). John narrates that Nicodemus brought about a hundred pounds of a mixture of
myrrh and aloes (19:39), which they bound up in the shroud wrapping the corpse--to
protect the corpse from rapid decomposition. The tomb was a rock-hewn tomb that was
new, in which no one had been buried. A great stone was rolled over the mouth of the
tomb, perhaps rolled in a rock groove in front of the tomb's entrance. Matthew alone
records the Jewish request for a seal over the tomb and the posting of a Roman guard to
prohibit Jesus' disciples from stealing the body and thus, creating a "last fraud" (Matt.
27:64). Matthew's paragraph is clearly apologetic by refuting Jewish discrediting of the
resurrection, as was proclaimed by the early Church.

The Evangelists' Perspectives on the Cross

Matthew. Matthew's Gospel highlights the Jewish rejection of God's Messiah
climaxed in the Jewish acceptance of full responsibility ironically, their culpability, "His
blood be upon us and our children!" (27:25), which is spoken by "all the people." Jewish
culpability for the death of Jesus for the death of Jesus is already foreshadowed in the
birth narratives (Matt. 2), especially in the massacre of Bethlehem's infants (2:16-18), the
foreboding death of John the Baptist that will parallel the death of Jesus,35 the plot to kill
Jesus (12:14), the Passion Pronouncements (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19), the polemic of
the trilogy of parables (21:28-22:14), and the major role of the chief priests and elders in
the Passion narrative (26:1-4, 14-16, 47ff.). The growing hostility of Jewish leaders
throughout the Gospel culminates in Israel's rejection of her Messiah.
In a transparent way, Matthew highlights the role of Jesus as Messiah and Son of
God, terms, which are closely linked, not only in the Gospel, but especially in the Passion
"Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?" (26:63)
"Are you the King of the Jews?" (27:11)
"Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called
Messiah" (27:17)
"Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Messiah?" (27:22)
"Hail, King of the Jews!" (27:29)
"This is Jesus the King of the Jews" (27:37)
"If you are the Son of God..." (27:40)
"He is the King of Israel..." (27:42)
"He said, 'I am the Son of God'" (27:43)
"Truly this man was the Son of God" (27:54)
The term "Son of God" is closely linked with Jesus' sense of intimate and unmediated
Sonship (11:26-27), and is also reflected in His "Abba" prayer (26:39, 42) and His
reference to "my Father" (26:53).
Jesus' unique Sonship leads Him to fulfill the role of the Servant of the Lord,
34Story, p. 358.
3511:1-19; 14:1-12; 21:28-32; 27-57-60. See J. B. Green, "Death of Jesus," Jesus and the Gospels,
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), p. 155.
J. Lyle Story
Story, p.19

demonstrated by His innocence,36 silence 37 and commitment to fulfill the divine will of
the Suffering Servant--especially transparent in the Passion narrative:
7 "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a
lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,
so he opened not his mouth."
11 "he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his
knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted
righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities" (Isa. 53:7, 11).
The first Servant Song (Isa. 42:1-4) is echoed in the Baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:17), the
Transfiguration narrative (Matt. 17:5), the healing ministry of Jesus, and His silence
charge and unobtrusive nature of His ministry (Matt. 12:18-21). Jesus' words at the Last
Supper interpret His impending death with vicarious terminology, "poured out for many"
(Matt. 26:28), thereby underscoring the connection with the fourth Servant Song (Isa.
52:13-53:12). Although Matthew's Passion narrative offers a transparent picture of Jesus
as the Messiah and Son of God; the narrative points to the way in which Jesus fulfills the
Divine will as the Suffering Servant.
Further, the death of Jesus is the means by which "forgiveness of sins" (26:28)38
is conferred, i.e., the fulfillment of Jeremiah's promise of a new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34)
and the necessary prelude to Jesus' gathering the scattered flock as Shepherd (26:32), and
the Great Commission (28:18-20).
Mark. The confession of Jesus as the Son of God by the Roman Centurion comes
in a climactic way, particularly in Mark's Gospel. The opening title of Mark's work, "The
beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God" (1:1), gives us his central thesis
concerning the identity of Jesus. We find the language of Sonship both in the Baptism
and Transfiguration (1:11; 9:7). Twice we read that evil spirits (supernatural) confess
Him to be the Son of God (3:11; 5:7; see also 1:24, 34). Indirectly, His divine Sonship is
alluded to in the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers in which the beloved son was sent
on a dangerous mission (12:6). Finally, the narrative of the crucifixion concludes with
the Centurion's witness, "Truly this Man was the Son of God" (15:39). Jesus prefers the
ambiguous term "Son of Man" for Himself and expresses His serving and saving role
through the title:
45 "For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give
his life as a ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45; see also 14:24).
Mark leads his readers to a true understanding of Jesus as the Son of God. People
thought of Jesus as a madman or fanatic (3:21), prophet (8:28), even as the Messiah
(8:29). It is in the very depth of his humiliation on the cross, that one man—a Roman
36Matt. 27:4 saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it

Matthew 27:18-19
18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up.19 Besides, while he was sitting on
the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have
suffered much over him today in a dream.”
The Revised Standard Version
37 Matt. 26:63 But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us

if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

Matt. 27:14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge; so that the governor wondered greatly.
38 See 1:21, "He will save His people from their sins."

J. Lyle Story
Story, p.20

centurion—ventures to call him, "The Son of God" (15:39). That confession comes
through in a very unexpected and startling manner. Mark arranges his material so as to
lead up to this confession. The great confession that Jesus is the Son of God comes at the
moment of His greatest weakness and apparent defeat. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is
often defined by who He is not. His divine Sonship can only be understood in His
humiliation, completed in the crucifixion, and vindicated by His resurrection from the
The disciples are to look to the cross of Jesus as their paradigm for service.
Discipleship, according to Mark, means following Jesus along the same path of
misunderstanding and rejection. To be engaged in the mission of Jesus implies the
payment of a price. The sober account of John the Baptist's fate (6:14-29) set within the
disciples' preaching mission (6:7-13) is a stern reminder–then and now–of just how great
a price is involved in following Jesus. For the disciple of Jesus, the warning and promise
is sure, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross,
and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life
for My sake and the gospel's will save it" (8:34,35). Simon of Cyrene "takes up the
cross" (115:21) and women faithfully stand by Jesus at His death (15:40-41).
Luke. Not only does Luke affirm Jesus' Messianic identity but he is careful to
define and redefine the nature of Jesus' Messiahship. Jesus is preeminently the Servant,
who steadfastly sets His face to go to Jerusalem "to be received up" (9:31,51). Jesus is
the One who was reckoned with transgressors (Isa. 53:12; Lk. 22:37), Lord (20:41-44)
and as the Servant of the Lord (4:17-19). The impersonal verb "it is necessary" (dei')
signals the divine necessity of the cross in salvation history (41 of 102 occurrences of
the term are found in Luke-Acts).
Jesus is the exalted Lord. Luke uses the term "Lord" eighteen times in his gospel
(50 times in Acts). The term finds its theological basis in the resurrection of Jesus,
wherein God has made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), but is also used of Jesus
prior to the resurrection. Most of the uses of the term are found in passages distinctly
Lukan (7:13,19; 10:1,39,41; 11:39; 12:42, etc.). Thus, the purpose of God, fulfilled in
Jesus' history is continued in the Church's life and witness. Through the rejection and
humiliation of Jesus by His own people, Jesus becomes the Savior of the world. In Acts,
Jesus' death is likewise regarded as an expression of the divine purpose of reaching out
to the whole of humanity (2:23). Jesus is the Suffering Servant of the Lord, Messiah,
and Lord, but above all, He is a "light to the Gentiles." Even Luke's genealogy reveals
that God's saving deed is for all people, seeing that Jesus' pedigree is traced back to
Adam. Luke's purpose is realized through a salvation history, "a narrative of those
things which are most surely believed among us" (1:1).
A secondary purpose of Luke's crucifixion narrative is apologetic in that he
wishes to affirm the position of Christianity vis-a-vis Judaism and the Roman State. The
Christian Good News is not seditious, and thus, Pilate, representing Rome, declares
repeatedly that Jesus is innocent (23:4, 14, 22). And yet, "Herod and Pontius Pilate, with
the Gentiles, and the peoples of Israel" (Acts. 4:27) are together responsible for Jesus'
death (see Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27, 30 and Isa. 52:13-53:12). More than the other Gospels,
Luke emphasizes that Pilate is unwilling to sentence Jesus to death, "Why, What evil has
he done? I have found in him no crime deserving of death; I will therefore chastise him
and release him (23:22; 23:13-16). God has made the Church to be the true heir of

J. Lyle Story
Story, p.21

Judaism. The death of Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish hope (23:34, 48), now opened up
to the whole world (2:25-38).
John. The Fourth Gospel presents the cross as Jesus' "hour" of glorification when
Jesus "is lifted up," thereby ascending His royal throne. The cross is the wonderful sign
that interprets itself. In the language of the Fourth Gospel, this is the climactic "sign"
(shmei'on) that signifies (shmaivnw) the meaning of the Jesus story. This event
is prefigured by the various "signs" and by the statements about Jesus' being "lifted up":

Son of Man lifted up [cross] believe in Him eternal

Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness [physical sight] [physical
(Jn. 3:14-15)

"When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and
that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me."
(Jn. 8:28).
"'And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.'
He said this signifying what death he was to die.
34 'How can you say that
the Son of Man must be lifted up?'" (Jn. 12:32-34)
32 "This was to fulfill the word which Jesus had spoken signifying by what death
he was to die" (Jn. 18:32).
In its stress on Jesus' exaltation and glorification ("being lifted up"), the Fourth
Gospel portrays Jesus as the King,39 who is in charge of the Passion. In the mashal of the
Good Shepherd, Jesus makes it clear that His death will be volitional, "No one takes it
from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have
power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father." He is aware that life
and an abundant harvest will not ensue unless He, as the grain of wheat, dies (12:24).
Jesus has come for this "hour" (12:27), and indeed, sets in motion the actual betrayal (Jn.
13:27; see 6:70). From the Fourth Evangelist's perspective, Jesus' trial before Pilate and
the Jews, is actually a trial of Pilate and the Jews by Jesus (also the trial of the Jews by
Jesus the Light of the World in Jn. 9).
The cross is also transparently the death of Jesus for the world. He is "the Lamb
of God who takes away the sin of the world" (1:29, 36), the Passover Lamb (19:14;
18:28) and the supreme expression of the love of God wherein Jesus offers life to the
world (3:16). The cross is the means by which Jesus returns to the glorious world above
from the world below (3:13, 31; 6:38; 8:23; 13:1-3).

The evangelists do not concentrate on the actual horrid details of the crucifixion,
but interpret that awful and wonderful moment. They combine narrative with
interpretation with dependence on the thought and imagery of the OT and the images that
Jesus used to interpret His death. Those images include fulfillment passages from the
OT, Servant Songs, Passion Predictions (Mk. 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34) and metaphors that
culminate in the climax of the Gospel tradition. The Gospels are also guided by other
39 See references above to "King", "Kingdom" in the Fourth Gospel.
J. Lyle Story
Story, p.22

explicit and implicit clues that Jesus used to indicate the reality and significance of His
impending death.
In the course of the Fourth Gospel, metaphors are used, signifying Jesus one
greater than Moses' serpent, living water as over against physical water, the bread of life
over against manna, light of the world, good shepherd over against the thieves and
hirelings, resurrection and life, the grain of wheat, the true vine. In the Fourth Gospel,
the Passion of Jesus is the final and all-inclusive sign, which points to itself.
The Gentile official's son was raised from his death condition but would die.
The paralytic was healed but would die.
The multitude ate bread but would go hungry again.
The blind man could see but would die.
Lazarus was raised from the dead but would die again.
But, with the cross, something happened within time of eternal consequences in history,
human life and the world structure. Life will never be the same, going about "business as
usual." The temporal and eternal are irrevocably concentrated and united in the wonder
of the cross. It is an event, which belongs to two ages, this age and the age to come, and
an event, which includes two worlds, the world above and the world below.
As the new community of faith, the Church draws its ongoing life from the
crucified Son of God and also finds the pattern for her life in His love (Jn. 13:34-35),
service (13:14-17), evangelism (Jn. 11:42), willingness to undergo suffering (Mk. 8:34-
35) with the certainty of reunion with Jesus (Jn. 14:1-18).

J. Lyle Story
Female and Male in Four Anointing-Stories


Women in general have the sense of the person

much more than men have. This means that they
have a special mission, which is to reintroduce love,
to give back to its humanity to a world which
remains so glacial when men alone have built it.(Paul Tournier)1

Tournier, the Swiss psychiatrist suggests some generalized points of tension with respect
to women and men. These generalizations can be applied to the anointing stories in Matthew 26,
Mark 14, Luke 7 and John 12. Each story revolves around a woman who anoints Jesus, male
objection, Jesus' rebuttal of male objectors and his explanation for why the woman and her
action are to be accepted, valued and appreciated—not rejected. For the sake of this article, we
will assume that there were two original versions of the stories: 1) Matthew, Mark and John, 2)
Luke, in their oral transmission. E.P. Sanders states that "These stories probably rest on
memories though details have been exchanged and possibly confused."2 At the oral and written
stages, details from one story may have been transferred and vice versa, with overlapping strands
or conflations.3 In one strand, the anointing is symbolic for the preparation of Jesus' body for
burial, while another strand understands the anointing as an expression of vulnerable gratitude
for the forgiveness of sin. In the stories, the authors juxtapose male authorities and disciples and
the women who anoint Jesus.
In this article, we will argue for a literary approach that treats the four pericopes as
whole stories with attention to broad structure, significant literary relationships (comparison,
contrast and purpose) and the implied author's point of view, to be embraced by the implied
readers. The tension between women and men stands out as a vital component of the anointing
stories, which is to be taken seriously by the readers.
This article presupposes that the four stories are genuine stories and need to be READ AS
STORIES. The relatively new field of literary or narrative criticism suggests a careful reading of
the narratives, including setting, plot, characters, dialogue, events, point of view, time, implied
authors4 and implied readers.5 To be sure, these pericopes have been studied from perspectives of
historical, source, form and redaction criticism, as well as structuralism.6 However, such
1 Paul Tournier, The Naming of Persons, (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 86.
2 E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (New York: Allen Lane, Penguin Books, 1993), 127. Ben
Witherington shares a similar viewpoint. Ben Witherington III, Women in the Ministry of Jesus (Cambridge:
University Press, 1984), 110-116.
3 C.H. Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1965), 171.
4 The implied author is the author who has chosen to reveal himself along with his perspectives, concerns

and values.
5 The implied reader is the person who can detect the original message of the story, with the potential of

re-living the story and embrace the author's point of view.

6 Conjectures about the stories abound and are reflected in the various commentaries and journals. Some authors

approach the stories from: 1) Source and Form criticism (J. F. Coakley, "The Anointing at Bethany and the Priority
of John," Journal of Biblical Literature, (107/2; 1988), 241-256; Robert Holst, "The One Anointing of Jesus:
Another Application of the Form-Critical Model," JBL 95/3 (1976), 435-446; J.N. Sanders, "Those Whom Jesus
Loved," New Testament Studies," No. 1 (1954), 29-41; André Legault, "An Application of the Form-Critique
Method to the Anointings in Galilee and Bethany, CBQ 16 (1954). 131-141. 2) Redaction Criticism (e.g., Elisabeth
Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, (New York: Crossroad, 1984), 128; Joel Green, The Death of Jesus
disciplines often atomize and control the text with a specific agenda in mind. Steven Barton
notes that such disciplines often deal with the archaeology of the text but do not pay sufficient
attention to the text as it stands.7 The paper offers a holistic approach in understanding the
individual stories.
Krieger suggests the language of historical "windows" and literary "mirrors," which
function interdependently.8 "The historical nature of the Bible leads one to treat the story as a
window to the event behind the text,"9 and to relive the Jesus-events as part of a community of
faith. In the four narratives, the authors invite readers into the text-world of the anointing stories,
to experience and feel the various points of tension and to be changed when the readers return to
their separate worlds. We are indebted to Seymour Chatman for his helpful approach of "story"
and "discourse,"10 which has been further developed by David Rhoads and Donald Michie,11
Norman Petersen,12 and Jack Kingsbury,13 et al. The anointing paragraphs tell the event (story),
while the discourse reflects upon how the stories are told.14 In support, Meir Sternberg labels
narrative as "a functional structure, a means to a communicative end, a transaction between the
narrator and the audience on whom he wishes to produce a certain effect by way of certain
strategies."15 The authors help the readers to relive the event and thereby adopt the author's point
of view in changing thoughts, attitudes and behavior, which reflect upon both genders.
Broad Structure of the Stories
Matt. 26 Mk. 14 Lk. 7 Jn. 12
Literary and Religious leaders' Religious leaders' Reception of Unwitting
Historical Context plot to kill Jesus plot to kill Jesus Jesus by the prophecy of
(1-5) (1-2) people (29) and Caiaphas (Jn.
rejection by the 11:49-50) and plot
Pharisees and to kill Jesus (45-
lawyers (30) and 57)
indictment for
fickleness of this
generation (31-35)
Setting of the
a. Place House in Bethany House in Bethany House of Simon Bethany where
(6) (3) the Pharisee (36) Lazarus was (1)
b. Time After two days, the Two days before During Jesus' Six days before
Passover is Passover (1) Galilean ministry Passover (1)
coming (2)
c. Host Simon the leper Simon the leper Simon a Pharisee, Lazarus, Martha
(6) (3) others who were who served Jesus
with Jesus (36, 39, , Mary (2)
7 Stephen Barton, "Mark as Narrative: The Story of the Anointing Woman (Mk. 14:3-9), The Expository

Times 102 8 1 (1991), 231.

8 Murray Krieger, A Window to Criticism: Shakespeare's Sonnets and Modern Poetics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton

University Press, 1964), 3-70.

9 Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991). 154.
10 Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980).
11 David Rhoads, Donald Michie, Mark as Story: an Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel (Philadelphia:

Fortress Press, 1982).

12 Norman R. Petersen, Literary Criticism for New Testament Critics (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978.
13 Jack D. Kingsbury, Matthew as Story (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986).
14 Kingsbury, 2.
15 Meir Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading

(Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985), 1. See also R. Alan Culpepper, The Anatomy of the Fourth
Gospel: A Study in Literary Design, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 6.
d. Activity Sat at table (7) Sat at table (3) Sat at table (36) Supper—at table
Anointing Event
a. Anointing Unnamed woman Unnamed woman Unnamed sinful Mary (3)
Woman (7) (3) woman (37)
b. Container An alabaster jar of An alabaster jar of An alabaster flask A pound of costly
and value of very precious ointment of pure of ointment (37) ointment of pure
oil ointment (7) nard, very costly nard (3)
c. Verb She poured (7) Broke the flask Anointed (37) Anointed (3)
and she poured (3)
d. Body part Head (7) Head (3) Feet (38) Feet (3)
e. Mention of Weeping, she Wiped his feet with
weeping, began to wet his her hair; and the
wiping, hair, feet with her tears house was filled
kissing feet and wiped them with the fragrance
with the hair of her of this ointment (3)
head, and kissed
his feet (38)
Male Objector (s) Disciples are Some are silently Simon the Judas Iscariot, one
to Anointing indignant (8) indignant, followed Pharisee of his disciples; he
with their verbal and other who was to betray
censure of the Pharisees at the him (4)
woman (4) table (39, 49)
Reason for Male Why the waste? Why the waste? Accusation of Why was this
Objection Could have been For this ointment Jesus' prophetic ointment not sold
sold for a large might have been status. for 300 denarii and
sum and given to sold for more than Implication: he given to the poor?
the poor (9) 300 denarii and should have (5-6)
given to the poor known the lifestyle
(4-5) of the sinful
woman and
rejected her
anointing. Also
noted is the
objection for
Jesus' direct
forgiveness (39,
Jesus' Rebuttal of
Male Objectors
a. Initial Rebuttal Why do you Leave her alone; Simon, I have Let her alone (7)
trouble the why do you trouble something to say
woman? (10) her? (6) to you (40)
Jesus' indirectly
affirms his
prophetic status by
revealing his
knowledge of what
Simon was saying
to himself
b. Explanation for She has done a She has done a An expression of Let her keep it for
Woman's beautiful thing to beautiful thing to gratitude: Contrast the day of my
Anointing-- me…to prepare me…she has between the burial (7)
Purpose me for burial (10) anointed my body woman and
beforehand for Simon; Simon has
burying (6, 8) neglected the
customary tasks
while the woman
has gone far
beyond the norm
(36-46). Her
anointing is an
expression of
c. Further For you always For you always Parable of the Two The poor you
Explanation have the poor but have the poor with debtors—which always have with
you will not always you, and whenever supports the you, but you do
have me (11) you will, you can woman's actions not always have
Implication? do good to them. as gratitude (41- me (8)
But you will not 42) Implication? Implication?
always have me.
She has done
what she could (7)
d. Climactic Truly I say to you, And truly I say to The forgiveness of The house was
Statement for wherever this you, wherever the the woman's many filled with the
the Woman's gospel is preached gospel is preached sins issues in such fragrance of the
Anointing in the whole world, in the whole world, gratitude (loves ointment (3)
what she has done what she has done much) (47)
will be told in will be told in
memory of her memory of her (9)
Following Context Judas' agreement Judas' agreement Paragraph filled Jewish plot to kill
with high priests to with high priests to with the names of Lazarus along with
betray Jesus (14- betray Jesus Jesus' female Jesus (12:9-11)
16) (14:10-11) disciples (8:1-3)
The four accounts use three major literary relationships (comparison, contrast and
purpose) to narrate their particular story.
Literary and Historical Context. Matthew, Mark and John tell the anointing-story in the
context of Passion Week—just before Jesus' crucifixion and burial (comparison). Hostile (male)
Jewish leaders are plotting to kill Jesus, in collusion with Judas. In particular, John's account is
the fullest as he narrates Caiaphas' unwitting prophecy that it is expedient for one man to die than
the nation (Jn. 11:49-50). As a result of Caiaphas' argument/prophecy, the leaders took counsel
to put Jesus to death (v. 53). Supreme irony is expressed by the narrator in the use of the verb,
"gathered together" (suna/gw) in 11:47, 52: the religious leaders gather together the Sanhedrin
(v. 47), which is the very means by which Jesus might gather together both the nation and the
scattered children of God (v. 52).16
Luke's version, by contrast, takes place earlier during Jesus' Galilean ministry; Jesus
tampers with the religious, racial and social taboos of Jewish particularism: healing of a Gentile
Centurion's servant (Lk. 7:1-10), interrupting a funeral and touching a coffin, raising a widow's
only son (vss. 11-17), critique of John the Baptist and Jesus and Jesus' indictment of the present

For further discussion see Cullen I K Story, The Fourth Gospel: Its Purpose, Pattern and Power (Shippensburg,

PA: Ragged Edge Press, 1997), 249-250.

fickle generation (vss. 18-35).
Setting for the Anointing—
a. Place. Comparison is evident between Matthew, Mark and John who locate the
setting as a house in Bethany (near Jerusalem), which is contrasted by Luke's story, locating the
meal in the general Galilean area.
b. Time. Matthew, Mark and John can be compared in that the anointing pericope occurs
in the Passover week, although the specific details vary (before or after the Triumphal Entry).
This contrasts with Luke's narrative, which includes no temporal indicator—and is fitted within
Jesus' extensive Galilean ministry.
c. Host. Matthew and Mark are compared with the identification of Simon the Leper,
who hosts the dinner. John specifically names Mary, Martha and Lazarus,17 in connection with
"Bethany, where Lazarus was." The host is not specifically named, but due to the activity of
both Martha and Mary, it can be argued that the dinner was hosted in their home, thereby making
them hosts. Luke's host is Simon the Pharisee, who is not named in the earlier part of the story,
but is clarified by Jesus' address to Simon. (7:40).
d. Activity. All four gospels can be compared in terms of the physical posture of guests'
reclining (in Oriental fashion). The anointing event happens in the context of a dinner. John
alone records Martha's serving (diakonei=n) activity, which can also be compared with her
serving role in Luke's account of Jesus' visit to Martha and Mary's home (Lk. 10:38-42).18
Anointing Event.
a. Identity of an Anointing Woman. The anointing woman is nameless in Matthew, Mark
and Luke— to be contrasted with John's account, which identifies Mary. John's literary style
throughout the gospel is to forge inner links between separate events19; in Jn. 11:3, the evangelist
links the Lazarus-story (cha.11) with Mary's anointing story (cha. 12), "This Mary, whose
brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured out perfume on the Lord, and wiped
his feet with her hair."20 The woman in Lk. 7 is spoken of as a "sinful woman" (7:37—perhaps
prostitute) also noted by Jesus, "this woman" (7:44) with many forgiven sins (7:47).21
The fact that a woman anointed Jesus is noteworthy. In a similar way, it is women who
were the first to receive and are entrusted with the wonderful witness of the resurrection to the
male disciples. None of the eleven disciples were first to the tomb. These women met the
criteria of apostleship, even though a woman's witness was not accepted in the legal courts and
Rabbinic Judaism reflected prejudicial devaluing of women.22
The stories do not reflect that the anointing-woman fully understood the Messianic
significance of the anointing, although the evangelists doubtlessly understood that the implied
readers should feel the significance of the woman's prophetic sign-action in contrast to the
twelve male disciples. Amy-Jill Levene depicts the women as "aware, sympathetic and loyal,"23
17 J.N. Sanders believes that the Johannine expression "beloved disciple" refers to Lazarus. "Those

Whom Jesus Loved (Jn. 11:5)," New Testament Studies 1 no. 1 (1954), 29-41.
18 In Lk. 10:38-42, Martha's activity in the kitchen appears to be trivialized.
19 See also the link between Cana in Jn. 2:1-11 with Cana (4:46), Nicodemus (3:1-15; 7:50; 19:39), Judas (6:71;

12:4; 13:2, 26, 29; 18:2, 3, 5).

20 Raymond Brown argues that Martha and Mary serve as disciples in John. "Roles of Women in the

Fourth Gospel," Theological Studies, 694.

21 Unconvincingly, Bernard Robinson argues that the sinful woman and Mary of Jn. 12 are identified with

her attempt to make amends for a sinful life. "The Anointing by Mary of Bethany," The Downside Review
Vol. 115, Issue 399 (1997), 99=111.
22 See C.E.B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1972), 464 for

Rabbinic sources.
23 Amy-Jill Levine, "John, Women's Bible Commentary, ed. Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe
contrasted with the male disciples, often characterized by "little faith" (o0ligo/pistoi).
Further, "the twelve function primarily to disrupt rather than enhance Jesus' mission." 24 During
Jesus' passion, the women serve as disciples in that they "follow" Jesus and recognize that Jesus'
mission includes crucifixion, burial and resurrection on the third day. They also "embark on a
journey that may lead to the loss of their own lives for his sake."25
All four narratives can be compared in the fact that the woman is voiceless; it is men who
speak, become indignant, and verbally censure either the woman or Jesus. Further, Luke's story
is unique in that it mentions her emotion, her tears (7:38).
c. Container and value of oil. The four accounts all refer to anointing—the pouring of
expensive perfumed oil on Jesus. The container in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is an alabaster flask
(a)la/bastrov), a "vessel with a rather long neck which was broken off”26 when the contents
were used. John's story contains no mention of the container, but it can be assumed to be a
container large enough for a pound of ointment. The jar or flask could not be re-closed; the
contents would be completely poured out. Mark says that the woman “broke the jar,” an act that
shocked the male guests as well as their host in its lavishness and finality.
d. Verb. Matthew and Mark are compared with respect to the use of the verb "she
poured" (kate/xeen), while Mark alone uses the verb, "to break," with the flask, which occurs
prior to the pouring. By way of contrast, Luke and John use the verb, "anoint" (a0leifei=n).
e. Body part anointed. The anointing in Matthew and Mark bears striking contrast to the
account in Luke and John. In Matthew and Mark, the woman pours oil onto Jesus' head, and in
Luke and John it is Jesus' feet that are anointed. Normally, people were anointed on the head
rather than the feet. In ancient Israel, a king was anointed by pouring oil on the head. Such
anointing on the head often conveyed the image of Israel's ancient monarchy.27 Perhaps this is
the connotation intended by Matthew and Mark.
By contrast, in Luke and John, pouring the expensive nard on Jesus’ feet is not a royal or
priestly anointing. In John's story, the idea of royalty does not fit, for in the following narrative,
Jesus does not accept the royal acclamation of the crowd. Raymond Brown states, "If John
meant to signify the anointing of Jesus as king, then one would have expected the anointing of
the head, not of the feet."28
Luke and John both recount the woman’s wiping of Jesus' feet with her hair
(comparison). Luke also mentions that she wet his feet with tears and kissed them. Scholars
point to the woman's violation of Jewish custom that dictated the covering of women's hair;
letting down of a woman's hair could well indicate loose morals.29 This woman could have been
regarded by the men at the dinner as a repugnant social outcast. Even though Mary is no such
person, it is stunning that she lets down her hair and the climactic statement that “the whole
24 Ronald F. Thiemann, "The Unnamed Woman at Bethany," Theology Today, (October 1986), 180. See Matt. 6:30;
8:26; 14:31; 16:8.
25 Thiemann, 182-182.; See Jack Dean Kingsbury, "The Verb AKOLOUTHEIN ("to follow") as an Index of

Matthew's View of His Community," JBL, 97/1 (1978), 56-73.

26 Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederick W. Danker. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New

Testament (hereinafter BDAG). (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979) 34.
27 See 1 Sam. 10:1; 16:13; 1 Kgs. 1:39; 2 Kgs. 9:6.
28 Raymond Brown, The Gospel according to John, vol. 1 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966),

29 See Witherington, 55; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans

Publishing Co., 1974), 567-77. In Numb. 5:18, a priest is to let down the hair of a woman suspected of
adultery. See also Sot. 1.5, 8a. See Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women & Wives, (Peabody, MA:
Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2004), 38-39.
house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” Keener notes, "The meal setting is probably
a banquet celebrating Lazarus' resuscitation but may also foreshadow the implied meal setting of
Jesus' pre-passion washing of his disciples' feet in ch. 13."30
The positive life-giving action by the women in these stories stands in stark contrast with
the hideous, life-taking, and aggressive posture of the male religious authorities, who plot Jesus'
death in the preceding narratives, before and after the actual anointing (Matthew, Mark and
John). Hoskyns calls this contrast "a supreme act of ignorant unbelief and a supreme act of
intelligent faith."31 While the religious authorities sentence Jesus to retain their authority, the
woman finds the unique opportunity of pouring out her best for Jesus. In Luke's story, the
context depicts the rejection by the male Pharisees and lawyers (7:30), coupled with the
indictment of this fickle generation (7:31-35).
Mention of weeping, wiping, hair, kissing feet. Luke and John can also be compared in
that both evangelists mention the wiping of Jesus' feet with her hair, while Luke also mentions
the wetting of his feet with tears and kissing Jesus' feet. By way of contrast, Matthew and Mark
do not mention this activity since Jesus is anointed on his head with the costly ointment.
Male Objector(s) to the Anointing Event.
Mark’s version says, “Some of those [males] present were saying indignantly to one
another, 'Why this waste . . . ?' And they rebuked her harshly.” Matthew states that the indignant
ones were the twelve disciples. In Luke's story, Simon the Pharisee is identified as the initial
critic, who rejects Jesus’ prophet status as he says to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he
would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” The
reasoning in Simon's silent objection is based on a conditional proposition in which both halves
are untrue: "If this man were a prophet (which he is obviously not), then he should also know of
who and what this sinful woman is (which he obviously doesn't know)."32 The implication of
this sentence is that if Jesus were a prophet he would obviously not let the woman anoint his feet.
Later on in the narrative, male objectors raise the accusation of blasphemy for Jesus'
announcement of the forgiveness of sins.
John notes that the male objector is Judas Iscariot, and he identifies Judas as the one who
would later betray Jesus. Judas says the ointment should have been sold and the money given to
the poor. 33 John notes Judas' hypocrisy in his objection. John makes it clear for the implied
reader that Judas was not concerned for the poor,34 but was a thief who often pilfered the
community's money bank. The woman's priceless gift of love is contrasted with Judas’s selling
Jesus' life for thirty pieces of silver.35
Ostensible Reason for Male Objection.
Matthew, Mark, and John can be compared in that the explanation of their objection is
due to the costly extravagance of oil used, not the anointing itself; the male objectors initially
frame the rhetorical question as "Why the waste?" Ostensibly, Matthew, Mark and John provide
the reason for the objection that the costly anointment should have been sold and given to the
30 Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: a Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendricksen Publishers, 2003), 862.
31 Edwyn C. Hoskyns, Francis N. Davey ed. The Fourth Gospel (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1947)
32 Reference to the prophet-motif also occurs in Lk. 7:16.
33 The term "poor" is used here without detail. Cf. Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World, (Atlanta:

John Knox Press, 1981), 84.

34 The term "poor" is used here without detail. Cf. Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World, (Atlanta:

John Knox Press, 1981) 84.

35 Price of a slave, accidentally killed (Ex. 21:32). See Rosemary M. Dowsett, "Matthew," The IVP

Women's Bible Commentary, ed. Catherine Clark Kroeger & Mary J. Evans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity
Press, 2002), 539.
poor (Matthew = a large sum; Mark = ointment could have been sold for more than 300 denarii;
John = ointment sold for 300 denarii). Luke's story contains a hidden accusation that Jesus is not
a prophet.36
Jesus' Rebuttal of Male Objectors.
In each story, Jesus snaps back at the male objectors telling them to “leave her alone.”
Jesus' retort in Luke 7 is expressed by Jesus' direct address, "Simon, I have something to say to
you" (7:40). Satoko Yamaguchi says of Jesus' rebuttal, "'Let her be' is the strongest liberating
support a woman could wish to receive in such a milieu,"37 Jesus’ rebuke virtually strikes in the
face of male aggression. John’s climactic scene is heightened by the imagery—the sensual
fragrance that permeates the whole house. Luke’s climax comes in the form of a parable and a
rebuke that effectively shut down the male objector, Simon.
Purpose of the Anointing.
The intended message of the anointing stories, as explained in Matthew, Mark and John,
is quite different from that in Luke’s gospel. Matthew, Mark, and John provide the purpose for
the anointing: "to prepare Jesus for burial."38 In these three accounts, the religious leaders make
preparation for Jesus' death, while a woman prepares for Jesus' burial. Jesus' statement makes it
clear that her act is prophetic and proleptic, anticipating his burial.39 John implies that Mary has
genuine insight into the nature of Jesus' mission, which includes death by crucifixion, burial, and
resurrection40 (John 19:38-40). It is appropriate, therefore, for this woman to give this gift to
Jesus. Jesus' time with them will soon draw to a close. The woman has seized the moment
(kai/rov). In contrast to the woman's insight, the male objectors have not perceived the once-
in-a-lifetime nature of this moment in time.
Thiemann notes that Matthew opens up "the category of 'disciple' to those who were not
originally among the twelve."41 As Fiorenza notes, "In the passion account of Mark's Gospel
three disciples figure prominently: on the one hand, two of the twelve—Judas who betrays Jesus
and Peter who denies him—and on the other, the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus."42
Jesus says that the woman’s action is to be remembered hand in hand with the
proclamation of the gospel: "Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole
world, what she has done will be told in memory of her" (comparison in Matthew 26:13; Mark
14:9). There is no such accolade for any other person, male or female, in any of the gospel
Luke's story presents a parable coupled with an explanation, teaching that those who are
forgiven much will appreciate the release to a far greater degree than the one who is forgiven the
smaller debt. The use of the parable at this point presupposes that the woman had been forgiven
and experienced faith at some previous time, perhaps through Jesus' preaching the day before.
Due to her animated expressions of gratitude, it is hard to imagine that much time elapsed
between her faith-experience and her lavish display at Simon's home; over time, emotional
36 Reference to the prophet-motif also occurs in Lk. 7:16.
37 Satoko Yamaguchi. Mary and Martha: Women in the World of Jesus. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books,
2002), 124.
38 Kathleen E. Corley believes that the mention of Jesus' burial is clearly secondary. "The Anointing of

Jesus in the Synoptic Tradition: An Argument for Authenticity." J.S.H.J 1.1 (2003), 67
39 The difficult expression in Jn. 12:7, "let her keep it for the day of my burial," is best explained by Brown, as "she

was keeping it until now to embalm Jesus." Brown, 449

40 It is also significant that her open and transparent anointing for burial is contrasted with the secretive

action of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

41 Thiemann, 185
42 Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, xiv
expressions tend to wane in intensity. "Jesus now is simply making that fact public and assuring
the woman of the forgiveness which faith brings. It is better, therefore, to interpret v. 47a as
implying, "One can see that her many sins are forgiven, because she loved much,"43 i.e. was so
In a united manner, the stories reach out to the readers (primary and implied) to learn the
lesson that the woman's voiceless action teaches the community about devotion, gratitude,
vulnerability and prophetic insight. All four implied authors wish that their readership adopt
Jesus' attitude of sympathy for the vulnerable expression of a woman (comparison). The male-
female conflict stories cannot be understood apart from interest in the role played by women in
the narratives.
As Fiorenza notes, "In the passion account of Mark's Gospel three disciples figure
prominently: on the one hand, two of the twelve—Judas who betrays Jesus and Peter who denies
him—and on the other, the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus. But while the stories of Judas
and Peter are engraved in the memory of Christians, the story of the woman is virtually
forgotten."44 From Matthew and Luke, the woman loses her name, and in the four stories, the
woman's voice is not heard. However, Jesus notes that this woman is the quintessential faithful
The anointing stories infuse a dramatic tension in the interplay of female and male
characters and Jesus' response to both genders. Moreover, the interchanges between the female
and male characters provide guidelines for the readers as to the meaning of this conflict. The
actions recorded reflect differing points of view of each of the four authors, as well as differing
messages they intend to communicate to their readers. Meir Sternberg labels narrative as "a
functional structure, a means to a communicative end, a transaction between the narrator and the
audience on whom he wishes to produce a certain effect by way of certain strategies."45
In the four narratives, the authors invite readers into the text-world of the anointing
stories, to experience and feel the various points of tension, and therefore to be changed when the
readers return to their separate worlds. Krieger suggests that "the historical nature of the Bible
leads one to treat the story as a window to the event behind the text."46
The gospel writers draw readers into the narrative world of the anointing stories to relive
the event and thereby adopt the author's point of view in changing the reader’s thoughts, attitudes
and behavior. One result may be a change in the reader’s thoughts, attitudes, and behavior
toward women and their unique contribution.
Matthew's Point of View.
Matthew tells the story from the point of view of changing a reader’s thinking.
Throughout the gospel of Matthew, the religious leaders are relentlessly evil, hypocritical, in
error, blind, malicious, slanderous, and manipulative. Obviously, he intends that his readers
accept, appreciate, value and feel the unique contribution that this unnamed woman makes, in
terms of 1) her recognition of Jesus' kingship (anointing of his head), 2) her prophetic insight and
purposeful prophetic symbolism of Jesus' death and burial, 3) the cost of her gift, and 4) the
climactic declaration by Jesus that the woman's act will be remembered wherever the gospel is
43 Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 185.
44 Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, xiv.
45 Meir Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading

(Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985), 1. See also R. Alan Culpepper, The Anatomy of the Fourth
Gospel: A Study in Literary Design, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 6.
46 Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991). 154.
proclaimed. Further, in the ensuing narrative, her prophetic action is fulfilled in the reality of
Jesus' burial. Clearly, the narrator adopts the stance of Jesus' defense of the woman and wishes
to draw others into Jesus' sympathy for this woman.
Matthew highlights the wonder of the woman’s anointing through the contrast between
her activity and that of the religious authorities, who are bent upon Jesus' destruction. They wish
to take life, while the woman gives life—even though her act points to Jesus' burial. Elizabeth
Ford states, "The disciples see the ointment, not for what it is, but for what purpose it can
serve."47 Jesus' prophetic awareness brings their criticism out into the open ("knowing this," i.e.,
their sub-verbal criticism in 26:10). In Matthew’s story, implied readers are to distance
themselves not only from the religious authorities but from the disciples and Judas, who have all
failed to honor the woman and her activity; at the same time, readers are to feel "close" to the
woman. The calculated plot of the authorities stands in sharpest contrast with the woman’s
unstinting and spontaneous giving to Jesus. Further, in the course of the Passion narrative, male
disciples recede into the background48 while women are conspicuously present at the crucifixion
and at the open tomb.
Kingsbury argues that the "evaluative point of view" is equivalent to "thinking the things
of God" and not "thinking the things of humans."49 Through comparison, contrast and purpose,
Matthew guides the implied readers to "think the things of God."
Mark's Point of View.
Mark's anointing story is sandwiched between the premeditated decision of male
religious authorities to put Jesus to death (14:1-2) and the plot with Judas (14:10-11) that
immediately follows the anointing. The "sandwich" is a frequently used literary design in Mark's
Gospel.50 Such arrangement leads the reader to draw comparisons, note contrasts and discover
important purpose statements.51 As the anointing story unfolds, the implied readers are
encouraged to side with Jesus (and God) and the unnamed woman (comparison) and to distance
themselves from the male objectors. The negative portrayal of the male opponents is used as a
foil to highlight the "beautiful thing" that this woman has done for the purpose of a proleptic
anointing for burial. Her self-denial is parallel to the poor widow who gives all (Mark 12:41-44),
who is likewise contrasted with the male scribes who can only take all (12:38-40).52
Barton draws links between this dinner-setting and the Last Supper; in each there is a
ritual action, symbolizing Jesus' death, reference to Jesus' body (14:9, 25) and an Amen-saying.53
Through her anointing she recognizes something of Jesus' royal person and serves as a prophet of
the upcoming burial. She understands the opportunity as "sacred time" (kai/rov)54 while the
male figures either misunderstand or are ruthlessly hostile. "Her openness and willingness to
risk conflict for Jesus' sake contrasts with the priests' and scribes' secrecy and fear and conflict."55
Male aggression is especially evident in Mark's progression from the silent indignation of
47 Elizabeth B. Ford, "Matthew 26:6-13," Interpretation (October, 2005), 402
48 For the male disciples' failure in the Passion Story, see also 26:14-16, 25, 26:30-35; 36-46; 47-49; 51-
53, 56; 27:3-10
49 Jack Dean Kingsbury, Matthew as Story (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 33.
50 See Mk. 5:21-24a-Jairus; 5:24b-34--woman; 5:35-43; 6:6b -12-mission; 14-29-Herod; mission-30.
51 Barton notes, "What for Traditionsgeschichte is a dislocation, for narrative criticism becomes a literary

technique, the observation of which adds new meaning to the story." 231.
52 Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, "Fallible Followers: Women and Men in the Gospel of Mark," Semeia, 28

(1983), 38.
53 Barton, 233.
54 Barton, 233.
55 Barton, 232.
"some" of the male guests to an open censure of the woman (v. 5). The verb, "to censure"
(e0mbrima=sqai) is a strong verb, meaning "to severely warn"56; the inceptive imperfect form
reflects the beginning of their severe warning: "They began to severely warn her." The narrator
suggests the point of view that readers would distance themselves from the progressive criticism
of the woman by male opponents and sympathize with the woman in her vulnerable condition.
Through her anointing (not through words), an unnamed woman acts as a confessor and
prophet of Jesus' death, while the males can only misunderstand and criticize; silent indignation
leads to verbal censure. In the broader picture of discipleship within Mark, both the poor widow
of Mark 12 and the unnamed woman in Mark 14 also "embody the self-denial of followership,"57
Further, the beautiful work that this woman does stands in the sharpest contrast with the hideous
deed that Judas does against Jesus. Readers become feeling persons who respond with
appreciation for the woman's deed or disgust for the male opponents. The narrator also draws an
implicit contrast between the near distant pronoun, "this" (au(/th) in "this waste" (v.4) and
Jesus' use, "this" (au(/th) in "this woman," a contrast between a thing and a person.58 Through
such comparisons and contrasts, the readers are led to be on the "inside-track" as they adopt
Mark's point of view.
Luke's Point of View.
Luke's point of view emphasizes Jesus' acceptance of Gentiles, women, the poor, and the
outcast—in which religious and societal divisions are annulled. Luke's anointing-story is encased
in his familiar social context of table-fellowship of a meal or banquet, which are often contexts
of joy, celebration, forgiveness and acceptance.59 On three separate occasions, Jesus' host is a
Pharisee.60 This woman is not "put-off" by the imposing presence of all of the males at the
banquet. As a social outcast, her person and action also contrast with the socially prominent
Pharisees and lawyers, who function only within their framework of religious taboos. The
woman fits in with other unworthy individuals, in the same chapter, who recognize their need for
Jesus' help—Gentile Roman Centurion, the widow of Nain, and tax-collectors. Readers are
made aware of the contrasting responses to Jesus in the whole of this chapter. Readers are guided
to feel sympathy for this unnamed sinful woman in her emotional and vulnerably display of
gratitude for what Jesus has done for her—he has forgiven her much (7:47).61
For Luke's readership, the three figures in the Parable of the Two Debtors clearly
correspond with the chief persons at table in Simon's home. The parable is intended to affirm the
woman's vulnerable expressions of gratitude (greater debt) and to expose the unfeeling attitude
of Jesus' male critic (lesser debt). The parable presupposes that Jesus has previously forgiven the
woman, identified as a "sinner."62 Through the parable and his explanation, he honors her lavish
display of gratitude for forgiven sin and unmasks the thankless response of his host who offers
no customary etiquette (water, kiss of friendship, oil).
Readers are led to feel Luke's point of view: they sympathize with the woman’s gratitude
56 See Mk. 1:43.
57 Malbon, 40
58 See Cullen I K Story, The Fourth Gospel: Its Purpose, Pattern and Power (Shippensburg, PA: Ragged Edge

Press, 1997), 240-41.

59 Jesus as dinner guest Lk. 5:29—Levi; 10:38-42—Mary and Martha; 19:5—Zacchaeus; also Lk. 15:1-

32; 14:7-24
60 7:36-50; 11:37; 14:1.
61 In contrast with Van Til's argument that the anointing refers to her plea for forgiveness, Kent A. Van Til,

"Three Anointings and One Offering: The Sinful Woman in Luke” 7:36-50, Journal of Pentecostal
Theology, vol 15 (2006), 73-82.
62 See Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus (New York: Charles Scribner's sons, 1963), 127.
and vulnerability and they distance themselves from the man’s "cold shoulder." Luke succeeds in
putting the man’s judgmental thoughts about the woman in a bad light, along with his doubt that
Jesus could really forgive sins. Simon's initial and unspoken criticism revealed that the "real
question therefore, is whether Jesus had the authority of a prophet to proclaim God's forgiveness,
for in Luke's understanding, this is indeed what Jesus is—the prophet who proclaims release to
the captives and sets at liberty those who are oppressed (4:18)."63
Further, the readers are led to adopt Jesus' inclusive concern for a woman who is
marginalized in society and who represents other marginalized people (both women and men).
Acceptance of the marginalized is central for Luke. The reader is won over to that point of view,
in this story, through an irony that is understood by the reader but not by Simon. Dramatic irony
occurs, according to Rhoads, “when there is a discrepancy between what a character blindly
thinks to be the case and what the real situation is or between what a character expects to happen,
and what actually happens."64 In Luke’s account, the author and implied reader share
understanding of the woman's insight and activity, while Simon and his male guests are in the
dark about the significance of the woman's act and Jesus' divine prerogative of forgiving sins.
John's Point of View.
The implied author of John's Gospel seeks to elicit several responses from the readership.
First, the story occurs immediately after the death of Mary’s brother, Lazarus, and amidst the
ongoing plot to kill Jesus. Readers are thus to feel the seriousness of the anointing story in terms
of life and death. Within the story itself, readers are invited to fully hear Jesus' statement, "You
will not always have me."65 As Michaels points out, Readers participate in the shared awareness
that Jesus is “returning as the divine Son of God to the Father who sent him, but from the
standpoint of Jesus' disciples death is still death, with all the dread and pain of separation that the
word implies."66 The implied readers can sense the pain, and they draw close to Mary in her
symbolic role of preparing Jesus' body for burial.
In addition, readers are guided to sympathize with the extent of Mary's love for Jesus
even in the midst of male aggression and accusation. Mary is grateful for Lazarus' new life; the
context of the dinner is a celebratory supper (12:2). In her humble act of devotion at Jesus' feet,67
she pours out her love for him. She senses that the brief window of time with Jesus will soon
close. She seizes the moment to express her self-giving love for Jesus. Michaels says that "her
reckless act of pouring out a pint of expensive perfume on Jesus' feet and wiping them with her
hair dramatizes for the readers—and for us—the truth that love is stronger than death."68
Readers are also drawn to Mary with respect to the "sign-nature" of her expensive gift. In the
broader context of John's "Book of Signs" (Jn. 2-12), Mary's expensive gift is also SIGNificant. John
makes it clear to the readers that her devotional act is actually a loving preparation for Jesus' burial.69 It is
a foreshadowing of Jesus’ significant washing of his disciples’ feet that follows in John’s next chapter
63 D. A. S. Ravens, "The Setting of Luke's Account of the Anointing," New Testament Studies 34 2 1
(1988), 284.
64 David M. Rhoads, Joanna Dewey, Donald Michie, Mark as Story (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999),

65 Similar motif in Jn. 7:33-34 and 8:21.
66 J. Ramsay Michaels, "John 12:1-11," Interpretation, 288
67 Michaels draws attention to the fact that Mary is always at Jesus' feet (John 11:32; 12:3; Lk. 10:39)

Michaels, 287
68 Michaels, 288
69 Giblin notes that both the copious anointing and the wiping of Jesus' feet with her hair is a prophetic

action declaring his burial and his rising incorrupt." Charles Homer Giblin, "Mary's Anointing for Jesus'
Burial-Resurrection (John 12, 1-8)," Biblica 73 4 1 (1992), 564.
(13:1-20). While implied readers draw near to Mary, they also distance themselves from the hideous plot
of male authorities and from Judas, the male objector. The carefully crafted plot of John 11:45-57 reflects
the insecure and hideous nature of the religious authorities who face the powerful unmistakable sign of
Lazarus’ resurrection. They are even forced to admit that “this man continues to do many signs” (11:47)
and yet they are afraid of losing their national status.70
Alan Culpepper71 links the story with events in the following chapter: Mary's gift anticipates Jesus'
washing of the disciples' feet and both of the scenes take place in the context of a meal, enveloped within
the somber shadow of Jesus' death. Further, the statements of "serving" and "following" (12:26) are
positioned in the context of the mini-parable about the necessity of the grain of wheat that must fall into
the ground and die if it is to be fruitful (12:24-25). Careful readers take note of the reigning death motif in
the two chapters.
In the broader context, Mary's anointing serves to identify the life of a disciple/servant (female or
male). In this story, two women serve Jesus: Mary serves by anointing Jesus' feet, and Martha is serving
the meal. Jesus links "serving" and "following," with the promise that God will honor the one who serves.
According to Michaels, "Jesus' anointing by Mary is needed in John's Gospel to put the glorious promises
of the farewell discourses in a genuinely human context."72
In all four narratives, the woman is voiceless. It is men who speak, become indignant,
and verbally censure the woman and Jesus. One might ask, “Are readers to conclude that the
woman expressed no emotion or said nothing in the four stories?" Yet, in all four stories, the
woman’s actions speak volumes and have a more profound effect on the reader than words ever
In the four anointing-stories, there are conversations between the implied author's world,
the text's role, and the reader's world. The overall structure of the stories provides a background
for the contrasts, comparisons, and purpose statements; these literary relationships are used by
the authors to generate narrative wholes, with their intended purposes for the readers. The
Gospel writers are not strictly concerned with the factual accounts; in each story, the authors
condition the readers to sympathize, appreciate and value the woman and her behavior while
distancing themselves from the aggressive, hostile and unfeeling males. While the gender issue
is not the primary intent of these stories, nonetheless the stories do portray woman in the all-
important and live-giving role, against the roles of men who act with murderous purpose or
negative criticism.
The hideous, life-taking, and aggressive posture of the male religious authorities stands in
stark contrast with positive, life-giving action by the woman in these stories. While the religious
authorities, all of them male, condemn Jesus in order to retain their authority, the woman finds
the unique opportunity to pour out her best for Jesus. In all four of these stories, Jesus affirms
her act in the face of her male opponents. Jesus’ response to the anointing woman speaks
volumes about his liberating love. The four authors send the clear message to their readers that
this woman has “a special mission, which is to reintroduce love” in a situation that could have
remained “so glacial” without her unabashedly feminine act.

70 Story, 252.
71 Alan Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 859
72 Michaels, 291
Lessons for the Powerful Rich and Vulnerable Poor
(The Book of James)

Social justice drives the argument of the Book of James. James is perhaps the
most consistently ethical social writing in the New Testament that compares well with the
OT Book of Amos. The author says that faith alone, without works, is dead. Social
justice is something that the people of God (both poor and rich) are to "do."
The idyllic picture of the Early Church, wherein Christian believers "had all
things in common" (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35) is subsequently fractured by Ananias and
Sapphira's dishonesty (Acts 5:1-11) and the complaint about partiality against the Grecian
widows (6:1). A rupture between the "haves" and the "have-nots" continues to raise its
ugly head in various NT letters. James is one such letter that voices issues surrounding
the hiatus between the powerful rich and the vulnerable poor1 and their corresponding
treatment. Joe is one such person of the vulnerable poor.
Joe was a thirty-year old crack addict, with a long history of entering
treatment, dropping out, or relapsing within weeks after completing programs.
His attendance at AA or NA meetings was spotty at best. The social worker that
worked with me helped Joe get a job as a stock person in a neighborhood grocery.
He completed an outpatient program and remained clean for many months.
Joe had two children who lived with their maternal grandparents, since
their mother, also an addict, was of no help. In his recovery, the grandparents
agreed to share and eventually relinquish custody of their grandchildren to Joe.
The court specified that he needed a solid residence for them. The social worker
helped him to get SSI assistance. Along with his salary, Joe obtained approval for
a publically subsidized apartment. As part of the final approval for his apartment,
a physical exam was required. I did his physical and the required lab-testing,
which was then analyzed by the lab. He passed in all areas except that he tested
positive for HIV. He was devastated. Then, it was believed that HIV positive
people would develop AIDS and die within 2-4 years. He was denied approval
for his apartment and in a few days committed suicide. A week later, the public
hospital, which analyzed the lab-test for free, wrote me a letter and informed me
that a lab-mistake resulted in a false positive for Joe and that he was not indeed
HIV positive.2
Joe represents many marginalized persons, who make bad choices, fall into disastrous
cycles of poverty, and who make fresh starts but are then distressed by people and
institutions to the extent that they give up trying or give up on life itself.
Armed with his social-justice agenda, James uses a homiletic style and addresses
the community as "brethren" or "beloved brethren" (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10; 4:11;
1 We need to bear in mind that the vast percentage of people in the Mediterranean region lived close to the
line of abject poverty, something akin to a hand-to-mouth existence.
2 This story and other stories in this article are taken from an interview with Dr. Wayne Lewis, who worked

extensively with the poor in DC, who now resides in Norfolk, VA where he pastors a Nazarene Church.
The interview during this last summer covered at least ten years of medical service in the DC area (1990-
5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19; "sister" in the 3rd person in 2:15). James' greeting addresses his
readership as "twelve tribes of the Diaspora" (1:1), and the material of the book is replete
with OT examples, laws, and wisdom traditions. The setting appears to be
Jewish-Christian and is noted as a "synagogue" or "assembly" (2:2) when the community
is actually gathered. However, because James uses some universal traditions, he looks
beyond the assembly to the larger world. The deprived audience, you is coerced by the
rich (in 3rd person), "suppose that a wealthy person comes into your assembly" (2:2) or
"Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you
into court . . . and slander you?" (2:6-7). The questions assume a positive response: Of
course, the rich are the ones who dishonor the good name of Christians—certainly not the
poor. James highlights the poor's absurd and selective partiality toward their oppressors,
who display wealth and exert power.
At the same time, chapter 5 reveals a direct address to the rich when James
highlights the transitory character of riches, "you have hoarded wealth in the last days"
(5:3). The community has "caved in" to worldly attitudes of partiality that accompany
the welcome of the rich to the extent that the rich are directly addressed (5:1ff.). From
the polemical nature of James's instruction (paraenesis), we can only surmise that there
were real situations in the Early Church (outside of James' community) that reflected
serious problems. By their adoption of the world's standards, the unity of the community
is compromised.
James indicts the rich for their lives of luxury at the expense of the poor. He
allies himself with the poor and offers hope to the hopeless. James relates social justice to
effective prayer and makes an appeal to unity, integrity, and consistency—for the
Christian and the Christian community.
The need for social justice reflects itself in the high proportion of people living in
poverty in the U.S. and the broader global community that is rich and prosperous.
Although the poor in America live better than the global poor, manifestations of abject
poverty call Christian commitment into question of the need to help the poor in our midst
(local and global). The existence of widespread abject poverty in the world's poorest
nations must also be met with practical help to relieve suffering and to empower the poor
to help themselves.3

Faith and Works

What about the relationship between "faith" and "works?” James says that faith is
not evidenced by one’s belief in God or mere intellectual orthodoxy. The contrast is not
between "faith" and "works" but a living faith and practical atheism. Theoretical "faith"
does not distinguish human beings from the belief of shuddering demons (2:19). Faith
alone without works is useless—it is dead faith:
Do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor
Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on
the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together (2:20-22
Abraham believed God, but his faith was proved by his actions (Gen. 22:1-14). A person
is justified through practical Christianity, expressed in helpful behavior towards others,
3The writer has discussed at length some of the socio-economic issues in the global community with his
colleague, Dr. Douglas Walker, Professor of Economics, in the Robertson School of Government of Regent
University (Virginia Beach, VA). Discussions occurred during the Spring, '08.
such as Rahab the prostitute who demonstrated faith by welcoming Israel's spies with
"sacred hospitality" (Joshua 2:1-21). James asks the rhetorical question, "Was not Rahab
the prostitute justified by works?" (2:25).
Abraham and Rahab provide examples of the way in which one
behaves—actively and practically. James denigrates a cold religious confession that can
say the right things, but be devoid of relationship with God or needy people. He exposes
a false Christianity of appearances only. A do-nothing policy means that one has sided
with the devil. Indictment of quietism is clearly expressed in James 4:17: “Anyone, then,
who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it—sins.” "The Christianity that
James preaches is not a comfortable religion. But his practical, virile teaching will
remain salutary and necessary as long as Christians continue to miss the path from
knowledge to action, from faith to charity, from piety to moral proof."4
The author had the privilege of working with Sean and Linda, two elderly people
of minimal means, who experienced a radical transformation of life, leading to
their grateful response. Initially, they targeted various blocks in Norfolk,
Virginia, where they lived, by passing out free loaves of bread to countless
households. Their influence widened as they worked in partnership with local
food banks and numerous grocery stores. With their limited funds, they
purchased several vans and daily collected and distributed food to numerous low-
income facilities. In addition, they opened the church's fellowship center three
times a week for food-distribution (not cash) after a short service for people who
were homeless, poor, and addicted. While the poor had every opportunity for a
decision to begin the Christian life, their Christian experience never became the
basis for their privilege of receiving food. Over twenty years, thousands of
people made life-changing decisions through gifts of bountiful compassion. Their
reward consisted in helping others in the vicious cycles of poverty.5

The Question of the "Brother or "Neighbor"

James summons the rich and poor to an active love for the "brother," "sister," or
"neighbor"; they are to be the recipients of charitable assistance (2:8). James repeats the
OT directive in Lev. 19:17-18, "love your neighbor as yourself," 6 taken up by Jesus in
dialogue with a rich young man (Matt. 19:16-22) or a lawyer (Lk. 10:25-37). The
Parable of the Good Samaritan in Lk. 10:30-36 is framed to undermine the lawyer's
question, "Who is my neighbor" (10:29). The lawyer wants Jesus to define neighbor.
According to the Halakah, the term, neighbor (rēa, plēsion), applied to every Jewish
fellow-countryman but did not extend to a non-Israelite.7 The question implies two
standards of treatment: love for Jewish neighbors\brothers and absence of love for non-
Israelite persons. Jesus refuses to give the lawyer a comprehensive list or a means of
correctly identifying a neighbor. In his counter-question, Jesus stands the lawyer's
4 Rudolph Schnackenburg, The Moral Teaching of the New Testament, (Waco: Word Publishing Co.,
1988), 358.
5 Observations were made during 1998-2000 in Norfolk when I helped Sean and Linda with food collection

and distribution to the poor.

6 In several places, James uses Leviticus to substantiate his exhortations, most pointedly with the law of

love, enunciated in Torah, but ratified by Jesus' behavior and teaching.

7"Samaritans, foreigners, and resident aliens who do not join the community of Israel within 12 months are

excluded." J. Fichtner, "plēsion " TDNT, VI, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p.
question on its head, "Who proved to be the neighbor" (10:36). The lawyer's undefined
object of love is inverted to become the active subject of compassion.
In the 21st Century, the lawyer's question about the neighbor's identity is the same
question raised by Christians: "Who is my brother?" The question is unanswerable in
that love does not begin by defining groups, but discovers them in actual need.8 There is
no religious "stained-glass" expression from the hated half-breed Samaritan; he does not
look God-ward or evidence that his life-giving behavior is "religious." He sees a
desperate crisis, is moved with compassion, and then proceeds to provide continued life-
giving support. James' ethical teachings broaden out to include a dependence upon the
Jesus-traditions, expressed elsewhere in the letter. In the 21st Century, the truth of
Evangelical Christianity is to be expressed in efforts to relieve the suffering poor and to
provide an example to those who are not believers.
James argues for the comprehensive aspect of the Law, including the Decalogue
in Exod. 20:1-17, the love commandment, and the "weightier things of the Law" affirmed
by Jesus (Matt. 21:21). His readers must not "pick and choose" which law they obey or
neglect. The dual love-commandment highlights the absurdity of believing and obeying
the Decalogue and yet refusing to honor or love the "neighbor" (James 2:8-13). In
context, the mention of the "neighbor" means the disadvantaged poor, not to be
exclusively understood. Thus, we would submit that James reviews Jesus' teachings and
approach, which are inclusive in nature—not exclusive. In the 21st Century, Jesus and
James orient the Christian community to be responsive to those in need (within and
without the Church).
In 2:22-25, James uses the metaphor of a person who looks at a mirror to portray
an active faith—certainly not passive. The person who is a hearer of the word alone is
likened to the one who has short-term memory loss because of not intently looking into
the Law.

The Powerful Rich

James indicts the powerful rich for their selfish exploitation of the poor. The
terms rich one (plousios) and poor one (ptōchos) speak to the issue of wealth or its
absence. Mention of the rich in 1:9-10 prepares for later directives to the rich (2:2-4, 5-
12, 15-16; 4:13-17; 5:1-6).
Those who are wealthy are in great danger of self-trust (bragging 1:9). For the
rich, pompous bragging will give way to humiliation since the rich have "had their day"
at the expense of the poor. Their transitory character will “pass away like a wild flower”
(1:10). He tells the rich to "wail" (klauō) and "cry out in pain" (ololuzō) because their
riches have rotted, clothing is moth-eaten, and gold and silver are tarnished (5:2-3). He
accuses rich members of amassing such flawed items instead of helping the poor. Their
conduct is clearly irreligious, inhumane, and anti-social. Apparently, some of these
powerful rich persons became part of James' "assembly."
The writer caricatures those who profess faith (intellectual or creedal) but choose
not to help the poor:
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says
to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his
physical needs, what good is it? (1:16)
In the 21st Century context, those who are responsible for job-applications, often reflect
8 See also Jesus' Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46).
similar attitudes to those in James' community, which amount to practical atheism. When
people vocalize the unconscionable words like go in peace, be warmed, be filled, "go get
a job" to those who are distraught, scantily clothed, hungry, and jobless—when it is
clearly within their power to meet their physical needs—their words do nothing mock the
impoverished and reinforce the community's social stratification?
It is very difficult for people to reflect upon and accept the Christian message
when their primary concern is physical survival; both James and Jesus express the
"gospel" in a holistic manner. In our culture, such needs are well reflected in issues
related to the needs of the poor for housing, food, clothing, and a job—which are so often
Nineteen-year old Sheila worked in a fast-food restaurant and was laid off. She
obtained a bed in a shelter for women and as part of her intake, a physical exam
was required. When I performed the physical she was fine. During our
conversation she was a fount of optimism. She was going to get work and move
out of the shelter in just a few weeks. Her job-loss was simply a "bump" in her
plans for the future. In the fall, I saw her again for a cold and sore throat. She
was much duller and far less optimistic. She had been in the shelter for three
months and still was jobless. People were interested but when she gave them a
shelter address or phone number they gave her the line, “Don’t call us. We’ll call
you." Rapidly, she deteriorated into the "black hole" of depression and was
brutally victimized through physical and sexual abuse, and thereby incurring
several STDs.9
What would have occurred for Sheila, along with countless thousands, if she had received
a job-offer, which offered hope and a means of independent living?
The rich often prosper by virtue of their oppression of the poor day-laborers.
James argues that wages are not patronizing help to the poor but their actual due. Their
day-laborers have mowed and harvested the landowners' fields but wages are denied to
those who are dependent on them for physical survival. Their prayers will be
unanswered for they ask with the wrong purpose—to spend freely for their own pleasures
(4:2-4), which is linked to enmity with God (4:5).
In the 21st Century, violent and greedy aggressors can be identified with those
involved in subprime mortgages and foreclosures, wherein powerful rich lenders
victimize people through corrupt loans, balloon-payments, rising interest rates, and
qualifying people, whom they know cannot repay them. If they are inside or outside the
Christian community, James states that God will not answer prayer, since violent
aggressors are God's enemies, including the powerful, who display riches, exact
dishonest payments, and foreclose on poor homeowners with a callous disregard for the
vulnerable weak. Greed and aggression are portrayed through numerous faces in the
global economic world.
Ungodly partiality (lit. to lift the face) by the poor, is often shown to the rich, who
are bedecked with gold rings and fine clothing. They are shown preferential treatment in
the assembly's seating arrangement. By one look at a visitor, the poor guide the rich to
the more prestigious and comfortable seats, while the shabbily clothed are left standing or
are told, “Sit on the floor by my feet” (2:2-3). God chooses to be partial to the poor for
they are chosen, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom. Preferential treatment of the rich
insults the poor (2:6) and reveals "double-mindedness" and "doubting" (1:6-8). "It
9 Dr. Wayne Lewis, 2008.
should be unthinkable to hold the faith and exercise discrimination between people."10
If people really keep the royal love-commandment, they are doing right. But if they
show favoritism, they sin and are lawbreakers to the extent that they had committed
murder (2:8-11).
There is a distinction between those who are poor through no fault of their own
and those who have direct responsibility for their bleak existence. The Church is not
called to "enable" irresponsible or addictive lifestyles; James speaks of "fine conduct"
and "deeds done in humility," which are to be expressed by the poor (3:13). The people
of God are to thoughtfully discern different needs with the goal of helping people become
independent and responsible persons of church and society. Discernment needs to be
coupled with indiscriminate compassion. The Church cannot condemn either the
responsible or irresponsible poor, but encourage both groups to be responsible and more
productive. Perhaps "empowerment" might be the goal rather than enablement.
Over the past half-century, marked progress has been made in reducing U.S.
poverty in that the poverty-rate has been halved from 20% to 10%.11 Doug Walker
suggests that while government can provide some minimal support; the Church or
charities can provide further assistance by tailoring assistance to individual and familial
circumstances, using discernment and discretion, coupled with in initial and long-term
accountability and needed encouragement. He suggests two imperatives: 1) We cannot
let people and their vulnerable children starve, 2) We cannot create situations (locally,
nationally, and internationally) which foster unhealthy dependence. For example, the
Church can assist individuals who have lost jobs, but tailor assistance based upon the
efforts of individual to find jobs with a time-table of lessening assistance. Also, the
Church needs to be courageous in speaking out to the rich and wealthy about the needs of
others and the temptation of hoarding of riches.12 This is precisely James' line of
approach with the rich.
Christians, churches, and charities are better equipped than government to
empower the poor because they can apply discernment, discretion, and accountability to
needy persons. On the other hand, government is practically mandated through formulas
to treat everyone the same, irrespective of their practical need or level of responsibility,
and cannot deal with moral questions. James inveighs against a discrimination expressed
through partiality. The following narrative expresses a charity's genuine care as well as a
hidden partiality.
Rose started Columbia Road Health Services (CRHS), a free clinic for the
homeless, unemployed, and working poor in Washington, DC, and later the
Washington ministry for Health Care for the Homeless (HCH). After years of
working with the homeless, the entire staff felt the need for a place where
homeless men could recover. As Rose walked to the CRHS, she passed an
abandoned home that had become a crack-house and haven for the addicted.
Every day for three years, she and her fellow-nuns stopped in front of the house to
pray, convinced that the respite care center would replace a crack-house.
A few thousand dollars came in and was earmarked for the purchase and
10 Sophie Laws, The Epistle of James, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980), 93.
11 Table 4 of the Historical Poverty Tables of the U.S. Census Bureau. While 9.3% of Caucasian families
with children live in dire poverty, 21% of African-American families live in dire poverty. This figure does
not take into account the 1.4 billion people in the global community who live in abject poverty
12 Dr. Doug Walker, 2008.
restoration of the house. One day Rose's pastor, Gordon Cosby, called concerning
a lady wanting to donate in person. Rose asked Gordon to thank the lady, accept
the donation, and inform her that she was too busy to come. Gordon insisted and
Rose came to his office to meet her. They chatted for a bit and Rose wondered
how long this discussion would continue. Then the woman said she wanted to
offer a donation and hoped it would help fund the project. The two-million dollar
check was enough for the purchase-price, extensive renovation, and operating
expenses for six months.
It became Christ House, a respite care center for homeless men, offering a warm,
clean, and safe place while they recover from serious illness and prepare for
Commitment, compassion, and prayer by Rose and the nuns were effective.
However, we note a "silent" partiality concerning the woman's begrudging welcome;
surely the reception would have been markedly different if Rose knew of the "dollar
amount" of the gift.
The only remedy is the “wisdom that comes from heaven,” which is full of mercy
and impartial (3:17). Love means a genuine welcome of the poor, holistic concern for
them, and compassion for the many faces of the "needy poor." Showing mercy is
required for receiving mercy and being blessed (2:12; cf. Matt. 5:7). Mercy will always
win the case in God's tribunal (2:13).

The Vulnerable Poor

James also provides encouragement to the poor. In 2:3, the poor person (ho
ptōchos), identified by filthy clothing, is akin to a beggar. In 1:9 we find the term "the
humble one" (ho tapeinos), who is also called a "brother" or "sister" (2:15). James also
brings "widows" and "orphans" into view as stereotypes of those who are most vulnerable
to oppression. Looking after orphans and widows is part of what constitutes true religion
(1:27). "To visit orphans and widows . . . may be literally to go and spend time with
them; but certainly is also to do so in order to make provision for their needs."14 These
poor (anawim) can only wait for their vindication by God; they are deprived by no fault
of their own and are "drastic examples"15 of victims of greed, aggression, and illegal
practices, exacerbated by aggressors who are legally well-represented. The destitute have
no legal recourse for social justice since they have no funds for hiring lawyers or bribing
judges—baksheesh (2:6-7), a corrupt practice in countless countries, experienced by the
author and his missionary parents in Beirut, Lebanon regarding customs officials and the
release of a Willis Jeep. James takes his stand with the poor, weak, and
vulnerable—those who have been cheated out of their just wages. The only cry that God
will hear is the cry of the oppressed day-laborers (James 5:4); He will act in retribution.
James does not advocate poverty for its own sake, nor does he celebrate poverty
due to people's irresponsibility; however assures the responsible poor that they are special
signs of God's choice or bias. He clarifies that God has chosen them with a special status
of divine favor (2:5-6). His choice of the poor is counter-cultural with respect to the
world's assessment of poverty as a curse. While they are poor with respect to the world's
standards (2-5-6), they are also "rich with respect to faith" (2:5-6). He points to the
13 Lewis, '08.
14 Laws, 89.
15 Ralph P. Martin, James: Word Biblical Commentary, (Waco: Word Publishing Co., 1988), lxxv-lxxvi.
glorious crown that affirms victory (1:12—stephanos—the victor's crown/wreath), which
is a reward for those who love God. James encourages the poor to change their
perspective from sadness to paradoxical joy, grounded in their exaltation (1:9); a
profound reversal lies ahead from the current stratified situation (1:9).16 James does not
say that God loves the vulnerable more than the powerful. However, James says that
God takes the side of the oppressed poor. It is not a question of equal treatment for all,
which would be a reiteration of social stratification between the "haves" and the "have-
nots," reflected in a growing hiatus between the rich and poor in the 21st Century.
Whereas the rich are called to compassion, the suffering poor are encouraged to
reflect endurance and patience during their "testing" (peirasmos) as an occasion for joy
(1:2). The grounds for such paradoxical joy will lead to proving the worth (dokimos) of
their faith. The adjective, dokimos (worthy or approved), derives from the field of
metallurgy wherein precious metals are put to the refiner's fire through smelting. The
smelted metal is stamped dokimos, meaning "proven," "refined" or "worthy." The result
of such communal testing leads to the quality of "endurance" (hupomonē—staying
power), initially noted in 1:3-4.
The second exhortation to endure follows the portion relating to the financial
contrast between the rich and the poor (1:9-11) and the pending great reversal. James
uses two calls to endurance (inclusio in 1:2-4; 1:12) on either side of the theme of the
great reversal (1:9-11). The rich cannot view the poor's divine approval as an excuse for
thoughtless words, judgment over others, and unconscionable behavior.
James encourages the poor that they are not governed by an inexorable fate. He
reassures them that their trials, which include poverty, are not signs of divine disfavor or
rejection. This is no call to inactivity but to a responsible and fiscal approach to one's
resources, noted in his metaphor of the farmer who works his field, who "waits for the
land to yield its valuable crop, and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains"
(5:7-8). The Parousia ("return and presence"), or its idea, is expressed in three ways: "be
patient until the Lord's Coming" (5:7), "the Lord's coming is near" (5:8), "the Judge is
standing at the door" (5:9). Patience counters the bitter complaint of the poor against the
rich. The patient person finds security in relationship to God—without judgment (5:9)
and a shared experience with "good company," the OT prophets (5:10). The second
example is that of Job, "You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the
Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (5:11). Job's
commitment to God in the midst of tragic adversity is emphasized so that the readers may
draw encouragement—it is possible to withstand such adversity.
To the oppressed, James states that they must back up their verbal profession by
their "fine conduct" through their meekness or gentleness (praŭtās) in 3:13. Again,
James' plea for fine conduct includes responsible behavior from the poor. Envy has no
place whatsoever in the Christian community, "these things should not be" (3:10). Such
false wisdom is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic in origin (3:15). Fine conduct includes:
endurance, the promise of the crown of eternal life, answered prayer, responsibility, a
profound reversal of conditions, divine approval, expectant faith, and serenity in peace-

Unity, Integrity, and Consistency

16 Prov. 1:9; 4:9; 12:4; I Thess. 2:19; I Cor. 9:25; II Tim. 4:8; Rev. 2:9.
James appeals to unity, integrity, and consistency for the individual and the
Christian community. His appeal for faith-filled prayer promises a response from a
generous and gracious God (1:15), who gives without regard to personal status and
without equivocation. Such petition needs to be expressed through faith without
doubting. Where there is unbelief, a person is double-minded and unstable; he resembles
the wind-tossed surf (1:7-8). Unbelief is often expressed through unfeeling words
towards the marginalized.
A former U.S. President stood up and flipped through the Washington Post
Classifieds and stated, “Golly Geez. I dunno why there are so many homeless
people. Look at all of these jobs in the paper. I guess with all these jobs available
those homeless people just don’t want to work and would rather be on the street
with no responsibilities.” Of course, the President failed to actually take the time
to understand that the jobs were for engineers, lawyers, and other white collar
James traces disunity to people who are torn apart by conflicting desires. The
wealthy are fueled by the ungodly motive of greed that ignites wars, fighting, and strife
(4:1-2). James says that "desire does not attain its end but sends the greedy back with
empty hands." Greed reflects the world's basic corruption (4:1, 4) in that friendship with
the world is compared to an adulterous existence (4:4). James' frequent pejorative,
"double-mindedness" (1:8; 4:8) characterizes the unbeliever since "double-mindedness"
is equated with sin. The one who separates hearing from doing is a deceiver (1:22-24)
with an empty faith (2:14-17). On the poor's side, their faith should be met by a
responsible work-ethic as well. Their faith without fine conduct or a responsible work-
ethic is also double-minded and empty.
Disunity and double-dealing are also obvious in the socio-economic separation
between the rich and powerful and the poor and vulnerable. Disunity rears its ugly head
in community life with sins such as partiality, omission, inhumane treatment, and
compromise with the devil (4:7) and the world (4:4). No doubt, some of these issues
surfaced in James' community, which provided a platform for James to address wider
communities in his letter. He argues for coherence between hearing and doing for social
justice in the Christian person and Christian community.
One night I saw a patient with a terrible headache. I went to see him and his story
was that he had been to the public hospital and they had sent him away. I asked
him if he had any idea why his head was hurting, and he said that he had been
shot. He had gotten his SSI check early in the day, was robbed by two fellows,
and when he resisted, one of them pulled out a .25 caliber pistol and shot him. In
my office, he uncovered his head and when his hair was parted, I could see the
entry wound and when cleaned, I could see through the first layer of skull to
where the bullet lodged in the second layer. I called an ambulance crew. When
they arrived, I introduced myself and informed them of the nature of the problem.
All they seemed to hear was the complaint of a headache. “Oh, so you want to go
to the hospital with your headache and get drugs? That’s what this is all about,”
was their response.18
Obviously, there was no willingness to "see," "hear," or "do" anything to help the
wounded victim—even from an ambulance crew.
17 Lewis, '08.
18 Lewis, '08.
As the "flip-side" of double-minded persons, James contends for integrity that
leads to perfection of the "perfect one" (teleios anēr). The adjective "perfect" is used five
times in James out of the nineteen times in the whole NT (1:4a, b, 17, 25; 3:2); there are
also occurrences of the word-family in 2:8, 22. Perfect does not mean a complete moral
perfection; rather, it signifies a basic integrity between hearing, willing, and doing,
without discrepancy. The perfect word-family includes other adjectives: whole (holos) in
2:10; 3:2, 3:6, entire, complete (holokleros) in 1:4. It is the expected mature Christian
response to the gospel's message. The adjective perfect/complete (teleios) is also used to
modify important nouns: work (ergon in 1:4; 2:22), faith (pistis in 2:22), law (nomos in
1:25; 2:8, 10), and wisdom (sophia in 1:5, 17). Works by the rich and poor are the
necessary complements to faith; where such integrity exists, it reflects "wholeness" or
"maturity" (teleiōsis) for both poor and rich.
The plea for integrity and unity is grounded in the very nature of God. He is
constant and unchanging in his care and compassion (1:17). The affirmation of the one
God leads to the social-justice implication that his people should be "one."

Imperative verbs occur 54 times within the 108 verses in the letter. James'
imperatives reflect a socially-sensitive conscience, alert to the disadvantaged. He speaks
as a spokesman for the weak and poor—the victims of aggression, corruption, and
oppression—and says that true religion constitutes looking out for the weak who are
marginalized through no fault of their own. At the same time, the weak poor are not
obviated from their work-ethic as well. Genuine faith is no mere verbal confession but
also includes complementary works. Such works include sensitivity to the poor,
awareness of socio-economic stratification, and commitment to the righteous poor; the
poor are also summoned to fine conduct. James reveals his broad social concerns when
he speaks of victims of unjust wage agreements and the vulnerable, weak, poor, widows,
and orphans. He indicts the rich businessmen, the large landowners, and those who show
partiality to the powerful rich. He exposes the sin of omission—not obeying the
commandment to love one’s neighbor—as a major concern. Further, he envisions the
"grand reversal" when the tables will be turned.
In the 21st Century, the letter reveals the need for compassionate concern,
sacrifice, and activity on behalf of the marginalized poor. James summons Christian
communities to act in sacrificial ways to meet the needs of the poor (within and without
the Christian community), without enabling the irresponsible poor to further their
irresponsible lifestyle. James' approach is by no means exhaustive; however, his
instructions reveal timeless principles, which need to be acted upon by the Christian
community as it reflects upon issues of social justice.
James summons the individual and the community to integrity, unity, and
consistency, warning that doubt or double-mindedness allies one with the devil. Love for
riches leads to disunity, and social justice requires a life of "completeness," both
personally and in the community. Neither the rich nor the poor are immune from
responsibility for a "faith that works." Faith that works necessarily entails the giver's
sacrifice and the recipient's efforts towards self-help (fine conduct). Christians should
constantly search for opportunities to help.
Jim is the president of a business located in the Tidewater area who experienced a
major change in his perspective and approach to his relative wealth.  In the earlier
years of his profitable company, he expressed that he had been driven by
numerous selfish and materialistic goals, within his own spiritual context of
nominal church attendance.  An emergency hospitalization, due to work-related
stress, "woke him up" to an honest re-evaluation of his priorities, reflected in his
finances.  A friend, Dwight, introduced Jim to the Book of Malachi, which Jim
believes was marked by the divine indictment, "You have robbed me" (3:8).  As a
result of his reading the Book of Malachi, Jim gave and continued to give a
meaningful sum to the Samaritan House; his Christian commitment meant not
only his treasures but also his time and his talents.  He incorporated tithing and
offerings, not only in his personal life, but within the life of his business. Jim
developed and included a “tithing calculator” at the bottom of his company’s
monthly financial statement to remind him and to quickly calculate for him the
amount of his “corporate tithe,” thus involving the company and its employees in
giving. To maintain some anonymity, Jim only makes donations with corporate
checks.  Jim continues to be motivated not simply by the command to give, but by
the higher principle of "giving back" in light of the blessings and resources he had
received.  In his involvement with the Samaritan House, Jim has made a personal
goal of helping the Samaritan House acquire enough shelters and beds to meet the
need. This means that, in the future, a mother and her children will not be turned
away for lack of space.  He always listens intently for opportunities to "give back"
in practical ways. To Jim, helping others has evolved into a divine calling and a
life purpose. In his giving, he feels himself to be blessed as he gives to others. 
Jokingly, he mentioned that perhaps his "giving" is somewhat selfish since he
feels he has been the recipient of so much more blessing.19
Jesus says, "Blessed are they that hear God's word and keep it." James says,
"Blessed is the doer in his deed." "Both say the same thing."20 Jim is one such individual
who links his faith with doing. Proper hearing, knit together with doing, constitutes
genuine faith. "There is a false doing and a false hearing. We cannot examine whether
our hearing and our doing are true or false; indeed this will depend precisely on whether
or not we entrust this examination entirely to the knowledge and judgment of Jesus."21
Thus the empowered Church faces an imperative of economic responsibility that is
moved with compassion and courage to provide for the legitimate needs of the
impoverished and the needs of the rich, through its witness through words and actions.

19 A personal interview with a businessman in the Hampton Roads area who wishes to remain anonymous.
20 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1962), 170.
21 Bonhoeffer, 170.
Form Criticism and Examples of the Discipline at Work
(Mk. 5:24b-34; Mk. 2:23-28)

You practice Form Criticism but don't know it. As I sit in my office this soggy
Monday morning, I look at our copy of the Virginia Pilot and glance at representative
types of information, entertainment and advertising that constitute a newspaper. I see
some of the following entries in the newspaper:
Front page material: Major headlines concerning the war in Iraq and the
progress of the Democratic Party and Virginia Tech's win over the University of
Second page material: A summary of Today's Top Stories that also serves as a
table of contents for the entire newspaper
Health: A tender story about conjoined twins, their successful separation and
their trip home (a combination of a medical miracle coupled with a human interest
Weather: A standardized portrayal of the highs and lows and the prediction for
the following week (Who says that weather reports are infallible?), and various
maps of the region and country with a special article devoted to a menacing storm
in the Caribbean Sea.
Commentary: A section of political commentary from the Democratic Party and
Republican Party as to balancing the extremes, coupled with various editorial
comments on the two parties.
Advertisements: Full-page advertisements offering same-day purchases with no
money down, no-interest for three years, free delivery followed by the disguised
fine print that tells its readers how they can so quickly lose the credit standing that
they once had.
Letters to Abby: Story about a person with a problem and a desperate cry for
The various elements of the paper are part of the whole newspaper and also
constitute the newspaper itself. The newspaper is the combination of all of its constituent
elements. Without thinking about the process of reading a newspaper, the average reader
comes to assume and expect that certain genres (types, forms) will be part and parcel of
the various elements of the newspaper. Without conscious awareness, the reader is doing
Form Criticism. She expects that a weather report will include the elements expressed
above. If he reads a Dear Abby column, there will be certain structural elements that are
expected in this form:
Dear Abby,
Statement of the Problem,
Statement about the Length of Time that the Reader has Struggled with the
Unsuccessful Attempts to Resolve the Problem,
Asking for Advice to Resolve the Problem,
Signed (with an adjective that describes the person, e.g., "hopeless." This Dear
Abby-genre has nothing in common with the genre of a lead story on the front page. The
editor of the Dear Abby column no doubt adapts the submitted stories, to fall in line with
the above structure. The editors have "edited" the submissions, i.e. they have redacted
the various letters.
In a similar way, the Gospel stories are filled with understood structural elements
that are appropriate to the specific genres of the paragraphs that are similar in nature. For
example, the birth announcements of John the Baptist and Jesus in Luke 1 follow a
certain structural form:
a. Self-revelation of God (Theophany, Christophany, Angelophany).
b. Overwhelming effect—fear (mysterium tremendum [ R. Otto]).
c. Announcement of the child's mission or promise (verbal).
d. Human objections raised.
e. Human objections are overcome.
f. (Signs).
The structure of the birth announcements in the Gospels parallels any number of OT
announcements, e.g., announcements to Manoah and his wife concerning the birth of
Samson (Judges 13).
Thus, the audience and readers of the various passages would expect a similarity
in terms of structure, not at the conscious level, parallel to the way in which a reader of
the newspaper would unconsciously expect certain things (structural elements) about a
sports report of a game: Winners + Points Scored, Losers + Points Scored, Highlights of
the Game, Explanation for Why there was a Win or Loss. The only persons, who must
consciously follow this pattern of a genre, would be the various reporters, whose job
performance is based upon their adherence to the basic structure.
For the writers of the Gospels, such common structures enable the preacher to
remember the material, preach in a clear manner and enable the listeners to follow the
various narratives and know where she is in the story.
What process was at work behind the transmission of the Gospels as we now
possess them? How did the Early Church and its preachers communicate the Jesus-story
in terms of its original "life-setting" (Sitz im Leben)?
Following the ascension of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit, we catch glimpses of a
period of oral tradition in which the expectation of the Lord’s return was so high, that it
did not seem to be appropriate or relevant to take the time to write anything down, i.e.,
"Since Jesus will return within this generation, there is no need to write down the
tradition. How can we communicate the wonderful message? Surely, with the preaching
of stories, since Peter and others preached so effectively on the Day of Pentecost."
Something along this order no doubt affected the Early Church as the faith-communities
struggled with how to communicate the Jesus-story. This would represent roughly the
period from A.D. 29-49. During this period of oral tradition, the preachers might have
selected a story that would lead to a pronouncement story and summary statement. This,
in turn, would lead people to make a confession of faith in Jesus.
Our brief treatment of this discipline assumes that the preaching office held a
special role in the earliest proclamation of the Gospel-tradition. The Early Church,
through its evangelists, preachers, teachers and exorcists used the oral tradition to
communicate the wonder of the Jesus' event. Paul, who pre-dates the Gospels, certainly
highlights the importance of the preacher/evangelist, who faithfully transmits the Jesus-
story to different audiences:
14 "But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without a preacher?
15 And how can men preach unless they are sent?
As it is written,
'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!'" Rom.
In rhetorical fashion, Paul envisions a set sequence or chain of events, which govern the
entire process of the Good News, which embraces both the Proclaimers and the Hearers.
A Divine sending results in proper hearing/believing/calling upon, as is suggested in the
following chart:
The Proclaimers The Hearers
Feet of those who preach good news Hearing
Preaching ones are sent (by God-Divine Believing in Him they have never heard
passive) Calling upon Him in whom they have
Preachers enable hearing never heard

Being sent with the good news leads to  Preaching  Preacher  Hearing,
Believing and Calling upon.
The positive response that the Hearers are enabled to make is ultimately
dependent upon the Diving sending of the preachers. The content of the message is the
preaching of Christ:
17 "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching
of Christ" (Rom. 10:17).
The various paragraphs in the Gospels may be cast in the form of a dialogue or
controversy-story, a parable (mashal), a miracle story, a teaching, an exorcism, etc. We
make the assumption that the driving force behind each paragraph is to be found in "the
anticipation that it will disclose something of God's activity in Jesus."1
It may have been possible that there were some documents, which may have been
circulating that would contain something like a book of what is sometimes called
Testimonia—or OT proof-texts that were regarded as prophetic promises of something
that occurred in the life and witness of Jesus. Maybe some of the sayings of Jesus were
generally collected into various groupings, e.g., miracle stories, conflict narratives.
However, the use of stories to respond to the needs of the Early Church do not
presuppose that the Evangelists created the stories with no historical basis in reality or
that they were like "pebbles in a stream, which are carried off and would become more
rounded off. They are not isolated "beads on a string" without a string. There is a clear
statement in Luke's prologue (Lk. 1:1-4) that expresses his dependence upon those who
were "eyewitnesses" (aujtovptai 1:2); Luke was not one of the "eyewitnesses."
He is dependent upon the progression from "eyewitnesses," "servants of the Word" (i.e.,
early preachers" to himself as the editor.
It seems reasonable to conclude that the isolated pericopes (i.e., paragraphs)
circulated as groups of stories that shared a commonality, e.g., collected paragraphs in a
block of material (Mk. 4; Matt. 13), i.e., parables of the Kingdom. The four Gospels find
their point of origin in the Resurrection of Christ, which means the Divine vindication of
1Ralph P. Martin, New Testament Foundations I, (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975),
pp. 44-45.
the Jesus-event. Guided by this "once-for-all" event, the earliest preachers are able to
look backwards to the individual Jesus-stories (history) so as to communicate the various
stories about Jesus and their significance (theology)—all in the light of the Easter-event.
During the period of oral tradition, the stories may have followed certain patterns
(e.g., law of 3, principle of contrast, pronouncement stories, speeches, historical
narratives) various paragraphs soon developed.

Particular Examples of the Discipline of Form Criticism

We choose to illustrate the discipline of Form Criticism through an analysis of the
structure of a miracle story (Mk. 5:24b-34) and a pronouncement story (Mk. 2:23-28).
So as to help the reader, we will lay out the common structural elements for the genre of
healing narrative in the first column, which parallel the text of Mk. 5:24b-34. Comments
are listed below:
The Structure of a Healing Narrative Mk. 5:24b-34
Introduction or Setting (v. 24) 24 And he went with him.
And a great crowd followed him and
thronged about him.
Person in Physical Need (v. 25) 25 And there was a woman who had had a
flow of blood for twelve years,
Desperate Plight of the Needy Person (v. 26 and who had suffered much under many
27) physicians, and had spent all that she had,
and was no better but rather grew worse.
(Unspoken) Plea for Jesus' Help from the 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus,
Needy Person (vss. 27-28) and came up behind him in the crowd and
touched his garment.28 For she said, “If I
touch even his garments, I shall be made
Actual Healing (v. 27) 29 And immediately the hemorrhage
ceased; and she felt in her body that she
was healed of her disease.
Result of Healing (v. 20) 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that
power had gone forth from him,
immediately turned about in the crowd, and
Question by Jesus (v. 30) said, “Who touched my garments?”31 And
Scorn by Bystanders—Disciples (v. 31) his disciples said to him, “You see the
crowd pressing around you, and yet you
say, ‘Who touched me?’”32 And he looked
around to see who had done it.33 But the
Dialogue with the woman (v. 33) woman, knowing what had been done to
her, came in fear and trembling and fell
down before him, and told him the whole
Affirmation of her expression of faith (v. truth.34 And he said to her, “Daughter,
34) your faith has made you well; go in peace,
and be healed of your disease.”

· Many of the structural elements in this particular story are reflected in other
healing stories in the Gospels. Some of the healing narratives may use a simpler
structure, e.g., the healing of Simon's mother-in-law: Introduction of a Sick
Person—mother-in law with a fever (Mk. 1:29), Jesus' Healing of the Sick
Person—takes her by the hand and she is healed (vss. 30-31a), Effect of the
Healing—she is well enough to serve them (v. 31b).
· Mark provides extensive detail concerning the desperate condition of this woman
(v. 27): she is a social and religious outcast, i.e., unclean. Her hemorrhage has
continued for twelve years. She had sought the treatment of physicians in the
hope that she could improve—all to no avail, and thus, her hopes are
crushed—the physicians worsen the pain and she became worse. In addition, the
needy woman has become financially destitute—she has spent all of her "bank
account" on physicians and thus, depleted her account.
· Why does Mark highlight the desperate conditions of the woman?—surely to
magnify the power and compassion of God at work in Jesus, although He does not
volitionally decide to heal the woman. God rewards her faith in Jesus, who can
heal her, even apart from His cognition. This would reflect Mark's preaching
concerns for the community, i.e., God will similarly meet you in your desperate
conditions like He did for this distressed woman; He looks for the receptivity of
· In terms of the healing, we read very simply that the hemorrhage ceased; the
blood stopped flowing. And the woman herself knows that something within is
· In terms of the healing, both the woman and Jesus know that something
extraordinary is occurring in terms of power that proceeds from Jesus to the
woman (vss. 29-30).
· The scorn of the bystanders, in this case, the disciples is reflected in their sarcastic
response to Jesus as to how he could even ask the question, "Who touched me?"
in the light of so much pushing and jostling by the crowd (v. 31).
· Jesus affirms the woman's faith (v. 34), which, in this context, signifies the
dogged faith and determination to push her way through the crush of the people to
touch Jesus, with the certainty that she would be healed. Nothing can discourage
her or serve as an impediment to her faith-certainty. For the readers, nothing
should deter them from reaching out to Jesus who will meet them at their point of

Such a healing story would be traceable to a sermon about this event, a preaching
story (kerygma) that would communicate the way in which Jesus responds to those in
desperate condition and honors their expression of trust in His power and
compassion. Such a story would circulate as an oral tradition that was preached to
various faith communities in the 1st Century. Surely the content of the preached
sermon would highlight Jesus' compassion and power to help those in dire need and
the central role of faith in these healing/exorcism stories. This message would
certainly have spoken to the Early Church. Subsequent to the period of oral
circulation, such stories found their way into written form, and then, were included in
the various Gospels.
At this point, the Redaction Critic notes the literary, historical and theological
context of this healing story and notes how this paragraph finds several parallel
stories in terms of Jesus' miraculous power (disciples out at sea in a storm—Mk.
4:35-41; Exorcism of the Gadarene demoniac—5:1-20; the raising from the dead of
Jairus' daughter—5:21-24a, 35-43).

A pronouncement-story is another genre that follows an understood format. They

are expressed as short stories about an action or controversy that leads up to a climactic
pronouncement on a given story. In Mark 2:23-28, we find a pronouncement story that
leads to the climactic statements of Jesus, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for
the Sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." This dual-
pronouncement serves as a "punch-line" of the story:

The Structure of a Pronouncement Story Mark 2:23-28

Introduction or Setting (v. 23) for the 23 One Sabbath he was going through the
Ensuing Accusation grainfields; and as they made their way his
disciples began to pluck heads of grain.
Accusation—Rhetorical Question (v. 24) 24 And the Pharisees said to him, “Look,
why are they doing what is not lawful on
the Sabbath?”
Jesus' Response to the Accusation (vss. 25- 25 And he said to them, “Have you never
27) read what David did, when he was in need
and was hungry, he and those who were
with him:26 how he entered the house of
God, when Abiathar was high priest, and
ate the bread of the Presence, which it is
not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and
also gave it to those who were with him?”
Climactic Pronouncements (vss. 27-28) 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was
made for man, not man for the Sabbath;28
so the Son of Man is lord even of the

· The Introduction or Setting for the Accusation (v. 23) provides the information as
to the location—in the grainfields, the time—on the Sabbath and persons
involved—Jesus, the Disciples (Pharisees) and the occasion—the disciples are
plucking grain on the Sabbath. The Introduction is not superfluous to the story or
the pronouncement (position of the Form Critics) but ties the pronouncement to a
given historical occasion.
· The Accusation is expressed through a rhetorical question. The disciples are
violating some type of religious legislation; however, they are not directly
addressed. Instead the religious critics accuse Jesus for allowing this violation
among His group.
· Jesus' Response to the Accusation (vss. 24-27) involves a substantiating
comparison of a leader with his group (David with his men; Jesus with His
Occasion Jesus' Response
Leader: "He was going . . ." (v. Leader: "what David did" (v. 25)
Group: "His disciples made their Group: "those who were with him"
way" (v. 25)
Action of Leader and Group: Action of Leader and Group: "ate
"pluck ears of grain" (v. 23) bread of the Presence" (v. 27)
Violation: "they did what is not Violation: "which is not lawful for
lawful on the Sabbath" (v. 24) any but the priests to eat" (v. 27)

Jesus' substantiates the activity of His disciples by comparing it to the action of

David and his men. In each case, there is a certain relationship between the leader
and his group, wherein the freedom that is accorded to the leader also holds true
for the members of his group. Further, there is a comparison between the hunger
of His disciples and the ravishing hunger of David's men. Thus, the leader is able
to violate the religious legislation because of the physical needs of the members.
What holds true for him also "spills over" to the members. Thus, Jesus
substantiates the freedom of the disciples by their relationship to Him by pointing
out the way in which David and his men were allowed to violate the religious
· The Climactic Pronouncements (vss. 27-28) provide a summary statement that
builds upon the preceding narrative—in this case, a controversy story, which
allows for a teaching pronouncement as to why the Sabbath was made—to be
subordinate to people, not vice-versa. The second pronouncement proclaims
Jesus' Lordship over the Sabbath, i.e., "what He says . . . goes." If He declares
freedom to express the Sabbath's purpose—that freedom "spills over" to the new
community that He builds.
· This pronouncement story directly relates to questions that would have arisen
during the period of the Early Church: "What is the purpose of the Sabbath?"
"What is Jesus' attitude to the Sabbath?" "How does the new community of faith
relate to its rich heritage in Judaism as it bears upon OT legislation, particularly to
the Mosaic Ten Words?" "What meaning does the Sabbath have for Gentiles?"
"How does Jesus' Lordship affect the way that new Christians should regard the
Sabbath?" These are the types of questions that arose in the 1st Century, which
then occasioned the Evangelists to draw from the "fund" of the oral tradition, and
then narrate a story about a supposed "violation" of the Sabbath with its
pronouncements. Another example of a life-setting might occasion the question:
What is the Christian attitude towards wealth supposed to be? Such a question
might occasion passages such as Mk. 10:2-9, 10-13, 13-16, 17-22. Many of the
more radical form critics would argue that the Early Church created de nova such
stories to meet the needs of the early Christians in different parts of the
Mediterranean Sea. Further, the radical Form Critics also argue that the tradition
emerged from Hellenistic soil; thus, they argue that the tradition is really
Form Criticism is a helpful discipline in that it makes us aware of the oral
tradition and the role of early preachers in communicating the various paragraphs as
sermons to the community. As we consider the life-situation (Sitz im Leben) in the Early
Church of the Gospel tradition, we are reminded of the fact that there was an oral period,
e.g., as Acts shows. Further, the Gospels can "come alive" as we reckon with the use of
the Jesus tradition in the earliest Christian churches.2 We are made aware of the structure
that would have been readily understood by the audiences and the readers of these
paragraphs. Form Criticism may provide some guidelines for interpreting the individual
paragraphs. Each paragraph represents a different genre and needs to be read in light of
that genre's understood structure. Questions about a particular literary form do not attack
the historicity of an event. In our earlier illustration, a lead article in a newspaper must
be read in a different way than an advertisement or a comic.
To be sure, there are dangers inherent in the more radical approaches to Form
Criticism. It makes the Evangelists responsible for laying out the various paragraphs
with a "scissors and paste" (Copy and Paste) approach. The Form Critics argue that the
four Evangelists are "compilers" of the Jesus-tradition rather than creative and thoughtful
editors of the tradition. Thus, in Form Criticism, there is no allowance given to the
theological concerns of the Evangelists. A certain type of historical skepticism often
accompanies discussions or writings about Form Criticism. Some of the more radical
Form Critics, such as Bultmann, ascribe a highly creative role in the formation of the
tradition to the Christian community, which he said, felt entirely free to ascribe its own
insights to Jesus. This results in a kind of "slope," in which the solid historical
foundation of the Jesus-event seems to dissolve. We find an utter contrast between a real
Jesus who desires personal relationship with Himself and the spirit-like figure, who has
disappeared from the sphere of history, relegated to the dust of the more radical Form
The lasting contribution of Form Criticism is its concern for the period of oral
transmission, through the Early Church's preachers. As readers, we need to appreciate
the contributions of Form Criticism, but we also need to be cautious. Even though some
of conclusions can be rejected, this does not invalidate the legacy that this discipline has
contributed to our understanding of the transmission of the Jesus-tradition.

Further Reading
The books related to Form Criticism in the Gospels are numerous—too many to
list. What we offer are some books that represent the various approaches by the Form
Critics. They range in approach from liberal to evangelical to fundamentalist:
Herman Gunkel and Julius Wellhausen—already developed Form Criticism for many
portions of the OT
Rudolph Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1963).
Martin Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, (Cambridge: J. Clarke, 1934).
Bernard Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript, (Lund: Gleerup, 1961).
W. Kelber, The Oral and the Written Gospel, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983)
E. V. McKnight, What is Form Criticism, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969).
Vincent Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition, (London, Macmillan, 1933).
A series of four commentaries from the Contemporary Evangelical Perspectives, e.g.,
Ralph Martin, Mark Evangelist and Theologian, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan
2 From unpublished notes from my colleague, Dr. Charles Holman.
Publishing House, 1972).
Four Females who Encounter Jesus:

Amidst many texts in the Gospels that provide more lengthy interactions of
women with Jesus, there are four brief stories (often overlooked) in the Gospels that
express Jesus' concern for women; Jesus provides healing or life, particularly for those in
an unclean status, expressed through the language of the taboo. In the first three contexts,
there is an unclean person, either in an unclean status, due to the loss of blood, having an
unclean spirit, or in the sphere of death. The last story notes the male objection of the
synagogue official with respect to the time of the woman's healing; she is a woman who
lives in the sphere of the unclean ("having an unclean spirit" – Lk. 13:11) and is
exorcised/healed "on the Sabbath." In each situation, Jesus is unresponsive to the
objections concerning religious and social taboos; he abrogates such distinctions and

Jairus' Daughter and the Woman with the Hemorrhage (Mk. 5:21-43 par.).
There are two miraculous encounters with females in this paragraph, expressed
through a beginning (Mk. 5:21-24a), interruption (vss. 24b-34) and a sequel (vss. 35-43).
Jairus' daughter is present in the agonized and desperate plea of her father, a local
synagogue president. He requests that Jesus lay his hands upon the girl in order to heal
her; Jairus underscores her desperate condition through the expression, "at the point of
death." This daughter comes from the highest rung of the Jewish social and religious
ladder while the interrupting narrative informs the reader of a nameless woman, who
stands on the lowest Jewish rung; she is religiously unclean, discouraged, socially and
religiously ostracized, and financially destitute. Bonnie Thurston notes, "the woman is
marginalized on four counts. She is female, without a male relative to be her advocate
(we know this because she is not identified by male kin), without financial resources (she
has spent her money on doctors—first-century gynecologists? (v. 26), and she is subject
to the blood taboo. Leviticus 15:19-30 sets out the limitations on menstruating women.
Not only is this woman considered 'unclean'; she makes 'impure' anything or anyone she
touches."1 Continuity is evident in the two stories, that while Jesus is in the midst of a
great bustling crowd, He nonetheless takes time to respond to two desperate needs of
individuals. In fact, there are three situations of extreme need within three paragraphs in
Mk. 5:
5:2-5—desperate condition of the demoniac spelled out in detail, "a man from the
tombs in the sphere of an unclean spirit, superhuman physical strength,
masochistic, unable to be tamed, crying, gashing himself with stones"
5:23—"my little daughter is at the point of death" . . . daughter died (5:35)
5:25-26—"flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under
many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew
Due to the woman's gender and the nature of her "unclean" condition,2 she
approaches Jesus in a covert manner. She hopes that she can receive healing from Jesus'
garment without having to identify herself: 27 "She had heard the reports about Jesus,
1 Bonnie Thurston, Women in the New Testament: Questions and Commentary, (New York: The
Crossroads Publishing Co., 1988), p. 71.
2 Due to a loss of blood there is a loss of life (Lev. 17:11), thus rendering a person unclean.
and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, 'If I
touch even his garments, I shall be made well'" (5:27-28). As a result, the woman and
Jesus both perceive some sort of change from within, without any verbal interchange or
recognition of each other:
29 "And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she
was healed of her disease.
30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him,
immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, "Who touched my garments?'"
Jesus is not directly involved in the healing, a fact, which is underscored by His revealing
question, "Who touched my garments?" noted in three verses (29, 30, 31). No direct
intercession is made to him; if the woman makes intercession, God—not Jesus is the
person to whom intercession is made. Jesus is aware that power had gone forth from
himself (v. 30), but he does not know who had touched him so as to be healed. The
personal power of Jesus is also the power of a personal God. While Jesus does not make
a decision for healing of a woman, God does; God controls His own power by HHHis
free and personal decision. In this case, God is concerned for wholeness of life for a poor
and desperate woman; He acts on the basis of her need and internal reasoning. When
Jesus responds to her, he does not reply in a way that the woman would ever suspect.
Instead of reproof, Jesus interprets her covert action as faith, blesses her with peace and
declares long-term health instead of suffering (5:34). This woman models the
faith-response that Jesus looks for—a trust that God is acting in a special way in Jesus.
While her initial trust may be a superstitious belief in Jesus' cloak, nevertheless, she does
manifest faith in God coupled with a trust in Jesus' power that could be found in his
cloak. As such, the exemplary woman is contrasted with the male disciples, who ridicule
Jesus' question (5:31). The disciples' query to him about the futility of such a question in
the midst of a pressing crowd is noteworthy, because it indicates that the woman's touch
was one of faith, an action distinctly different from the jostling of the crowd."3 This
woman is a barometer for measuring the male disciples' "unfaith." In a similar way,
Jesus' response to Jairus and the hopeless situation of a dead daughter also reveals the
deep-seated misunderstanding of the mourners. They disbelieve; they believe that Jesus
can heal but once a girl has died, she has passed into a sphere, in which they regard that
Jesus is impotent. From their standpoint, this is surely no occasion for faith—she has
"passed the point of no return." By His double-entendre, Jesus states that though the girl
is dead, from his perspective, her death is but a mere sleep, from which he would awaken
her. As with Simon's mother-in-law, Jesus takes the young girl by the hand (a condition
of "defilement") and raises her. He speaks to her in Aramaic. There are three stories in
this segment, in which Jesus does not hesitate; he involves Himself with situations of
5:2—a male demoniac in the sphere of the tombs
5:24b-34—a woman with an unclean hemorrhage
5:35-43—a daughter who has died
Thereby, Jesus allows Himself to be "defiled" in situations of uncleanness by a
man (for his daughter) and by two unclean females (from the Jewish perspective); he
affirms the full worth and dignity of women and their place within His new community.
The family of faith and the physical family are not mutually exclusive categories; they
3 Mary Ann Tolbert, "Mark," Woman's Bible Commentary, ed. by Carol A. Newsome and Sharon H. Ringe,
(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), p. 268.
are both affirmed. Jesus expresses a fatherly concern for a little girl and celebrates with
joy as he gives this young girl to her parents. We find the familiar "silence" charge in
Mark—with the witnesses inside the house; however, it is impossible to imagine that this
event would have remained secret. With the woman healed of her hemorrhage, there is
no silence charge; rather, it is an event that needs to be made public, although the healing
has been in secret.
The Widow of Nain's Son (Lk. 7:11-17).
In Lk. 7, we find another instance of paired stories of a male Centurion's concern
for a slave (v. 2) and a widow's supreme loss of an only son (v. 12). In the case of the
widow, Jesus sees a funeral procession, is filled with compassion for the widow, and then
interrupts the procession, approaches and touches the coffin (thereby incurring
defilement) and speaks to the young man, who sits up in his coffin and begins to speak.
Jesus gives him back to his grieving mother. This is surely a genuine act of compassion
for a widow, whose only source of hope was her son—now dead; the son would have
been able to provide support for her needs. Not only is she bereft of a husband, but her
family line is severed. This raising of a dead son does not involve forgiveness or faith;
however, the motive is clearly "compassion" (v. 13). The outcome is reverential fear,
praise to God, and the resulting affirmation that a great "prophet" has arisen, God has
surely visited His people (v. 16), and a widespread fame (v. 17).
The story clearly demonstrates Jesus' concern for women, especially widows.
Through this encounter, Jesus illustrates His rejection of false distinctions between clean
and unclean; He eliminates the idea of prejudicial treatment for those in need, especially
women. More than once in Luke's Gospel, the stories are knit together as they express
Jesus' mission to the "outsider." In this chapter, as elsewhere, He tampers with the
religious, racial and social taboos of Jewish particularism. A slave of a Gentile centurion
is healed by Jesus' word (7:1-10). Jesus then proceeds to halt a funeral procession, touch
the coffin,4 and raise up a deceased young man, the only son of a widowed mother (7:11-
17). And, as He defends the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus is recognized to be the
friend of tax-collectors and sinners (7:18-35) as well as a great prophet (v. 16). In Luke
7, Jesus responds in such positive and warm ways to a Gentile centurion and his needy
slave, a Gentile, a widow, tax-collectors and sinners—the people who are most aware of
their broken condition. His attitude towards outsiders is an amazing truth to consider.
Healing/Exorcising a Woman on the Sabbath (Lk. 13:10-17).
While Simon's mother-in-law is healed on the Sabbath with full approval, a
woman is healed on another Sabbath and thereby criticized by a synagogue president.
This male synagogue official, in response to the Sabbath issue, directs his comments, not
to Jesus, but to the crowd. While he vainly solicits their response to the "when" of her
healing, Jesus answers the Sabbath question. This woman has suffered with a "spirit of
sickness" and "being bound by Satan" for eighteen years (13:11, 16). The woman is
unable to stand erect, which does not prohibit her from entering the synagogue—on the
Sabbath. The woman rejoices (v. 13) for now she has a new reason for rejoicing, i.e., her
healing even in the midst of her opponents' opposition. She is also called "a daughter of
Abraham" (v. 16) even in her demon-possessed condition. Nowhere does this specific
term occur in the Gospels, much less does it refer to one who is demon-possessed. Jesus
reveals his opponents' hypocritical treatment and their resultant shame. By way of
4Touching a coffin incurs one day's defilement (Numb. 19:21-22); by touching a corpse, Jesus would
contract uncleanness for a week (Numb. 5:2-3; 19:11-20).
contrast, the crowd (like the woman) was rejoicing (13:17) at his wonders—on the
Sabbath. The woman's response is contrasted with his male opponent—the synagogue
official and the "opponents." In English, the word opponent refers to both masculine and
feminine adversaries; in Greek usage, either in the NT or LXX, not only is the word
"opponent" a masculine gender word, but it is only used of masculine adversaries in the

Jesus nullifies religious and social taboos as he responds to the needs of four
females, who are in the sphere of the "unclean." A hemorrhaging flow of blood, death,
having an unclean spirit—these are no barriers to his life-giving responses. He even
raises people from the dead when there is no intercession; it is simply Jesus' observation
of a funeral procession that causes him to stop the procession. He sees that the creation
celebration means a joyous festival, which now finds realization in acts of healing, e.g.,
the woman "having an unclean spirit," who is unable to stand erect. Far from her being
unclean, she is called a "daughter of Abraham." Further, three of the four occasions
narrate how certain male figures are the ones who object to Jesus' open stance towards
the female gender. Jesus heals women, takes them seriously. He openly affirms their
worth and dignity through miraculous encounter. He neither trivializes nor patronizes
these women but models his acceptance and affirmation of these females in the context of
the taboo; he easily dismisses such social and religious taboos.
Galatians 3:23-4:10

In the Pauline letters, the term "adoption" (uiJoqesiva) is used either of
the Jews (Rom. 9:4) or of Christians (Gal. 4:5; Rom. 8:15; Eph. 1:5) as sons (daughters)
of God. In these letters, Paul seems to presuppose that his readers would know what he
means by the use of the term. The term "adoption" (Gal. 4:5) speaks to both a Jewish and
Graeco-Roman audience and is clearly used in a theological context. Adoption is the
means by which God's people become His children. While the language of the passage
highlights "sons" (Gal. 3:26; 4:6, 7, Rom. 8:14, 19; 9:26) the term is inclusive, and is
expressed in other texts as "children" (Rom. 8:16, 17, 21). In II Cor. 6:18, which borrows
the language from Isa. 43:6, the idea broadens in the inclusion of daughters:
Isa.43:6 I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south,
Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth.
The text under discussion serves as one of the answers to the issue of religious anxiety.
When some of our basic needs (love, security and meaning) are not met, we feel and
express anxiety. Within the Bible we find all sorts of human attempts to find security.
Humans try to use the Law as a means of codifying the divine-human relationship, which
in a very real way is a human attempt to find security. Through meticulous observance of
certain codes, life becomes manageable and controllable.

The Larger and Immediate Context

The letter to the Galatian churches is a passionate letter that expresses anger at
times and is reflected in the way in which the letter is introduced. In 1:1-4, Paul avoids
the normal niceties of letter-writing as he immerses himself into the problem infecting the
Christian community in Galatia. Throughout the letter, Paul is arguing for the primacy of
the Gospel message; the Gospel is promise not law, received by personal trust not human
performance, and issues in freedom not bondage. Throughout the letter, Paul expresses
his disappointment of the Galatian Christians who are "toying" with the possibility of
substituting human performance and religious regulation ("circumcision") for the
freedom that has been effected in Christ Jesus. Genuine freedom was an important
question as it is significant today as well. Through careful argument, Paul affirms the
wonderful news of freedom from anxiety, religious performance, religious pride and false
substitutes. Freedom is also positive in nature as a Christian is oriented to the positive
expression of what the new life offers and the security which is afforded to Christians.
In Gal. 3:1ff., Paul argues for the primacy of the promise of God through
several contrasts:
q The Law does not alter the divine promise. Paul demonstrates the priority of the
divine promise in that a promise was made to Abraham four hundred and thirty
years prior to the giving of the Law, which was not annulled by the giving of the
Law on Sinai. The promise, which focused on Christ (Gal. 3:16), still remained
valid; the promise looked beyond Abraham, Isaac and the growth of the Hebrew
people to embrace the Christian community years later. Paul also uses an
illustration from legal custom to seal his point:
Gal. 3:15 To give a human example, brethren: no one annuls even a man’s will,
or adds to it, once it has been ratified.16 Now the promises were made to
Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to
many; but, referring to one, “And to your offspring,” which is Christ.17 This is
what I mean: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward, does
not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.
q The Law does not serve the same purpose as the promise. The Law served as a
measuring rod to show the disease of the human condition, "the Law was added
because of transgressions" (Gal. 3:19). The Law could correct but not cure. By
way of contrast, the promise served to make alive. Paul expresses the positive
through a contrary-to-fact conditional sentence in which both halves are regarded
as untrue: "for if a law had been given which could make them alive [which it
wasn't], then righteousness would indeed be by the law" [which it is not] (Gal.
q The Law is temporary while the promise is eternal. In 3:23-24, Paul argues
against the broad sweep of time to underscore the temporary nature of the Law
that came late while the promise of God covers a much broader time period.
While the Law began with Moses and concluded with the death of Jesus Christ,
the promise begins with Abraham and will be concluded by the return of Jesus
Christ, who will inaugurate a transformed eternity.
q The Law is limited in its scope while the promise is comprehensive in nature. In
3:26-29, Paul demonstrates the freedom of the promise, the new relationship, the
intimate nature of the new life and the unifying promise of the new relationship in
the full gamut of fractured human relationships.

Structural Analysis

There are three main paragraphs in this section that are vitally related:
The new position as sons [children] of God (3:23-29)
Explanation of what sonship means—freedom (4:1-7)
Contrast with Galatian error about sonship—bondage (4:8-11)
Paul affirms the wonderful new position that has been made real in Jesus Christ, being a
son (daughter) of God with an altogether new freedom, an adoption that is personal and
intimate, with the solid promise of a glorious inheritance yet in store. Above all, the new
life means freedom. For Paul, the Galatians have slipped back into bondage and have not
fully realized the glorious nature of their freedom as sons and daughters of God.


Verse 3:23
3:23 Now before faith came,
we were confined under the law,
kept under restraint until faith should be revealed.
There is a temporal contrast between the time of faith and the time of the law,
made explicit by the adverbs, "now", "until”:
"Now before faith came," contrasted with "until faith should be revealed"
The clause, "Now before faith came," is compared to the clause, "we were confined
under the law."
Explanation is given for the expression, "confined under the law" by the
clause, "kept under restraint." What does the expression, "kept under restraint mean"? (a)
The two verbs, ''confined" (frourevw) and "kept under restraint" (sugkleivw)
are used in contexts of imprisonment by military guards (see II Cor. 11:32; Acts 9:24).1
In a derived sense, both verbs emphasize the fact that law holds people in prison,
confined, with no escape. The NEB translates the clauses, "we were close prisoners in
the custody of the law."
The purpose of the period of restraint is expressed by the clause, "should be
revealed." Thus, the reign of the law was divinely ordained to prepare for the reign of
Christian freedom (4:3).

Verse 24
24 So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified
by faith.

The result of the temporal contrast is stated with the introductory "so that":
"so that the law was our custodian until Christ came"
The custodian, boy-leader or tutor, was a slave charged to lead a boy to and from
school and to watch over his conduct while still a minor. The custodian was not involved
in education but served the primary purpose of discipline. In ancient drawings the
custodian is depicted having a rod or cane in his hand. J.B Phillips thinks that a modern
equivalent of the term is a "strict governess.” Freedom from this custodian is predicated
upon the coming of Christ.
By applying the metaphor of the custodian to the law Paul stresses two points:
1) The Law’s function is to impede and hold down sin, 2) The tenure of the Law is
limited. Since all are "under sin" (3:22) and "under the law," they have all under a curse
(3:10), the curse of the Law (3:13).
Thus there is continuity between two metaphors, the jailer and the strict
custodian which are compared with the law. The law expresses the will of God for His
people, informing them of commands, negative and positive, and the warnings for
disobedience. Like a jailer the law confines people. Like a custodian, the law rebukes
and punishes for sin.
The result of Christ's coming is that "we might be justified by faith.” What are
the implications of this new status of being justified by faith? God did not intend that this
period of imprisonment and discipline would be permanent. The oppressive work of the
law was merely temporary which awaited the coming of Christ so as to effect genuine
freedom. It is clear that only Christ can deliver His people from the law's harsh discipline
and punishment. The purpose of the Law was to shut up people in prison until Jesus
should set His people free; the other metaphor expresses the truth that people are put
under tutors until Christ should make His people free as sons and daughters.

1 The same verb is used metarphorically, referring to God's peace and power which guards.
Verse 25
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian;

Contrast is apparent in the introductory adversative, "but.” Because of the new

reality of faith, this means that the relationship to the custodian is no longer in effect:
"we are no longer under a custodian"

Verse 26
26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

Explanation is given of the implications of the new status of faith:

"for in Christ Jesus you are all sons/daughters of God"
The status of being children of God is contrasted with being under a custodian, confined,
and kept under restraint (3:23).
"for in Christ Jesus you are all sons/daughters of God"
This means that God is no longer the Judge who punishes or Tutor who disciplines His
people, but is the Father who has accepted and forgiven His people. Fear and dread are
replaced with security and enjoyment.
Instrumentality is expressed in the phrase, "through faith." That is to say, the
means by which the new state is effected is through faith:

Verse 27
27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Progression is evident in the way in which the Galatians became sons/daughters

of God, through faith. It was not only accomplished through faith but also through being
"baptized into Christ." Baptism is that sacrament which is the complement of faith, a
sign of union with Christ, and a public commitment of death and resurrection with Christ.
It is noteworthy that baptism is spoken of once, while faith is mentioned five times in this
paragraph. Justification occurs through faith and baptism is the outward and visible sign
of faith-union with Christ. In a letter in which Paul is dealing with the issue of
circumcision, it is inconceivable that he would substitute another human work, which
would lead to justification.
Progression is also apparent in that the language of sonship/daughtership is
expressed by the clause, "put on Christ." Not only are you sons and daughters but you
have put on Christ as well. What does the phrase, "put on Christ" mean? (a)
The reference here is closely allied with the practice of newly baptized converts
putting on new garments, following their baptism in the water, as a sign of their new life.
Perhaps the metaphor is also related to the toga virilis, which a boy would put on, upon
entering into manhood; it served as a sign that he had grown up.

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free,
there is neither male nor female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

The result and implication of the new status is given, one person in Jesus Christ. In
Christ, His people belong only to God and to each other as brothers and sisters,
irrespective of race, religion, economic and class distinction, or gender.
With this three-fold pairing, we find the utter abrogation of differences, which had
formerly separated these groups, Jew which had been hostile to Gentile, slaves which
were bitterly opposed to their free masters, and the hostility which characterized the
male-female relationship, particularly in a patriarchal society.

Explanation is offered for why all such differences have been abrogated:
"for you are all one in Christ Jesus"
Paul wants to make it crystal clear that the one common meeting ground in the
face of differences of race/religion, economic and social status, and sexual disharmony--
is Christ Jesus. Secondary differences, which hitherto had separated, now vanish through
the incorporation of believers in Christ. The differences are still there, but they do not
matter; they have been abrogated and should not create any sort of barrier to vital
fellowship. All are to be recognized as equals in Christ Jesus.

Verse 29
29 And if you are Christ's,
then you are Abraham's offspring,
heirs according to promise.

There is a cause-effect relationship between being in Christ Jesus (3:27),

"Christ's" and the new status of being "Abraham's offspring":

Cause Effect
"in Christ Jesus"(3:28) "Abraham's offspring" (3:29)
"Christ's"(3:29) "heirs according to promise” (3:29)

To become a valid offspring of Abraham is not dependent upon performance vis-

à-vis the law; rather, it is faith that makes one a child of Abraham in a real sense.
Explanation is offered as to what it means to be Abraham's offspring, in that it
means being "heirs according to promise." Drawing upon the previous metaphor and
discussion Paul affirms that when sons are old enough, they pass from life under the Law
to life as a full heir of the promises of God.
Drawing upon the former observations, there are three results, which follow from
being in Christ:
1. We are sons/daughters of God (vss. 26-27)
2. In Christ we are all one (v. 28)
3. In Christ we are Abraham's seed and heirs (v. 29)
God's people find their place in eternity, related properly to God as sons and daughters,
related to each other as brothers and sisters, and related to the holy history of God's
people through the ages. Genuine conversion affects one's entire worldview and way of
understanding and relating to others.

Gal. 4:1
1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child,
is no better than a slave,
though he is the owner of all the estate;

This paragraph (4:1-7) is related to the former paragraph in that Paul explains
what it means to be an heir. Both the opening and closing verses of this paragraph deal
with the explanation of what it means to be an heir. Paul compares human status with
that of the freeborn orphaned son. The opening words, "I mean" clearly point the readers
to see that Paul is explaining what he formerly stated in 3:29 about the new state, of being
Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. His argument, taking the past into
purview, affirms the glorious position of sonship and freedom and contrasts the new
relationship with the fear and bondage of slavery. He then agonizes over the present fact
of the matter, "How, then, can you turn back to slavery?" (vss. 8-11).
In vss. 1-2 Paul draws a temporal and ideological contrast between the child and
the slave. For a set period of time, there is no observable difference between the bona-
fide child and the slave. The difference between the child and the slave will become
apparent at the "date set by the father".

Period of Time as a Son (Minor) Date Set by the Father (Adult)

1. no better than the slave 1. better position than the slave
2. owner of all the estate (but not apparent) 2. owner of all the estate (apparent)
3. under guardians and trustees 3. no longer under guardians and trustees
1. same position as the son 1. lesser position than the son
2. no ownership of estate 2. no ownership of estate
3. under authority of all 3. under authority of all

Paul draws from his Palestinian background in which a father appointed a

guardian who could handle the son's possessions in his interest. Outwardly, and for a
time, the minor son was not free, but beholden to the guardian. Thus, through this
comparison of the child's status with that of a freeborn, he explains the interim character
of the law. It was only for a period of time.

2 but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father.

Vss. 1, 2 present the generalized principle of the child and slave and
corresponding position of the child at the set time that is followed by the particularized
application to the readers, made explicit by the opening words, "So with us":

When we were children But when the time had fully come
“we were slaves to the elemental spirits “God sent forth His Son, born of a
of the universe” woman, born under the law to redeem
those who were under the law so that we
might receive adoption as sons”

A certain comparison is made between the old status as children, which is

likened to the position of slaves, subject to the elemental spirits of the universe. What are
the implications of this comparison? He has told his readers that the law was given to
Moses by God not Satan, and mediated through angels (3:19), good spirits not bad. What
Paul may mean is that Satan took a good thing (law) and twisted it in order to enslave
men and women. God intended the law to lead people to Christ, as a stepping-stone to
genuine liberty. Satan uses the law to drive men and women to despair in the face of the
impossible, from which there is no escape.
We can also observe a certain comparison between "slavery to the law" and
"slavery to the elemental spirits of the universe". What does the term, "elemental spirits
of the universe" mean? (a)
The meaning of the term, stoiceiva tou' kovsmou is disputed: It
could mean "elements, rudiments of learning (ABC's) as in Heb. 5:12, or "elemental
substances" (earth, air, fire, water), or "elemental signs of the Zodiac", or "spirit-
elements", i.e. celestial beings who govern the direction of the world. Perhaps the
clearest referent is "slaves to spirit-elements," parallel to those described in 4:8 as no
gods. In Col. 2:8 they are contrasted to Christ and appear to be like principalities and
powers.2 What are the implications of this comparison? (e)
People find it hard to enjoy the full inheritance as children of God because they
are slaves to superstition. Some look to magical spells and secret ceremonies to drive
away the hostile demons and to placate the good spirits. Others consult the astrology
section of the newspaper so as to determine their day, in the hope that the right match-up
of stars will bring them luck. Things like private charms, lucky numbers, ouija boards,
good luck coins--all are signs of superstitious bondage--ancient and modern. The
shocking thing is that Paul seems to include the Jews in this picture of slavery. The God-
given law had become so distorted through abuse that its true intention had, in fact,
become a superstition as well. It bound its followers in prison, punished them for failure,
and sapped their energy with fear. In the words of J. B. Phillips, God becomes the
Cosmic Policeman, leading to the anxious concern, "What if we do the wrong thing?”

4 But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son,
born of woman,
born under the law,

The Son is particularized in the clauses, "born of woman, born under the law".
The first clause emphasizes the necessary human condition for the fulfillment of His
mission, while the second clause underscores Jesus’ submission to the Law, which
allowed Him to be able to fall under its curse.

2 Col. 2:8 See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human
tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.
5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as

The purpose of God's sending the Son is expressed in two ways:

1. In the infinitive clause, "to redeem those who were under the law"
2. In the clause introduced by the conjunction, "so that":
"so that we might receive adoption as sons"
What does the term "send" mean?
The verb in the early Church denoted a specific sending of someone in the service
of the Kingdom with authority fully grounded in God.
There is continuity apparent in the "Son" and "sons" and also contrast in terms of
"the Son" and others who are "adopted sons/daughters." The adoption language may well
reflect the Graeco-Roman practice wherein the adopted minor is emancipated from the
authority of his natural father and is placed under the authority of his adoptive father.
The new position of privilege, authority, security and inheritance, are clearly expressed in
the preceding verses, through the several temporal contrasts. From the Jewish
perspective, the term "adoption" may signify the history of God's interaction with his
people Israel. As heir to the Abrahamic promise, Israel was redeemed from slavery in
Egypt at the time of the Exodus (Gal. 4:1-2; Hos. 11:1; Gen. 15:13).

6 And because you are sons,
God has sent the Spirit of his Son
into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"

A cause-effect relationship is expressed between the status of sons/daughters and

the subsequent sending of the Spirit in human hearts, made explicit by the preposition,
"And because you are sons/daughters...God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our
There is repetition of the verb "send":
"God sent forth His own Son" (4:4)
"God has sent the Spirit" (4:6)
The particular role of the Spirit in the human heart is spelled out in the phrase, "crying,
Abba! Father!" Abba is an Aramaic diminutive for "Father". It is the word that !Jesus
uses in intimate prayer to God. J. B. Phillips translates the expression, "Father, dear
We can observe progression between the status of sonship (vss. 4,5) and the
privilege of sonship (v. 6). Divine adoption is clearly connected with the gift of the Spirit
in the human heart (Rom. 8:15) as well as the Abrahamic promise of universal
sovereignty (Gal. 4:1). Rom. 8:15 as well as Gal. 4:5 contains elements of the Exodus
typology, heirship with Christ, the ability to pray the "Abba-prayer," and a future
fulfillment. Believers, who have received the gift of the Spirit, eagerly await their future
fulfillment, their public glorification, consisting of the transformation of their body. The
divine purpose of sending His Son was to procure sonship and daughtership; the divine
purpose of sending the Spirit is that His sons and daughters might experience sonship and
daughtership. The indwelling Spirit witnesses to the new relationship and prompts
Christian prayer.

7 So through God you are no longer a slave
a son,
if a son
then an heir.
This verse is related to the former verses by way of summary made explicit
through the opening conjunction, "so". Paul summarizes the new status of
sonship/daughtership, which also means being an heir, which in turn, is contrasted with
the former status of being a slave. The Christian's real position is that of freedom.

8 Formerly, when you did not know God,
you were in bondage to beings
that by nature are no gods;

This paragraph is related to the former paragraph by way of contrast. Paul

reminds the Galatians of their former way of life, which was bondage. His readers have
come to know God (4:9) with an implied freedom and new status, but have reverted back
to their former condition of bondage (4:9). Correspondingly, he agonizes over their
reversion to bondage; instead of living in freedom they slip back into bondage. As an
incentive to freedom, Paul is compelled to make his readers remember their former way
of life.
Explanation of the former condition of not knowing God is given in the clause,
"you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods." Paul reminds the Galatians
of their pagan background, contrasted with the Christian background of knowing God, so
as to highlight the utter illogicality of reverting back to a situation that was bondage to no
gods; such reversion is preposterous, a denial of what the people of God have become.
Contrast is apparent between "God" and "no gods".

9 but now that you have come to know God,
or rather
to be known by God,
how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits,
whose slaves you want to
be once more?

Paul draws a temporal contrast between "formerly" and "now," made explicit by
the conjunction, "but":
"but now that you have come to know God"
Paul also draws an ideological contrast between, "when you did not know God"
(4:8) and "now that you have come to know God."
Paul explains what it means to know God in the concessive clause, "or rather to
be known by God." That is to say, knowing God, means being known by God. The
Galatian's knowledge of God did not arise from within the readers, but is the result of
divine choice, divine election, an idea which is consistent with the OT portrayal (cf.
Amos 3:2; Jer. 1:5; Gen. 18:19).
The question in 4:9b is rhetorical in that Paul does not really expect an answer:
"how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose
slaves you want to be once more?"
His question is really a rebuke. By their legalistic bent, they utterly reject their true status
as sons/daughters and heirs, spelled out in 4:1-7.
There is a repetition of the idea of slavery to the "elemental spirits" in 4:3 and 4:9
"we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe" (4:3)
"turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you
want to be once more?"
The adverb "once more" continues the idea of their "former" (4:8) condition of

10 You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years!

The bondage is particularized with reference to the observance of days, and months, and
seasons, and years. Special days like the Sabbath and Yom Kippur are meant. The
months such as the New Moon, and seasons like Passover and Pentecost are intended.
The observance of years might be linked to the sabbatical year (Lev. 25:5). Paul states
that their irreligion has degenerated into external formalism and is no longer the free and
joyful relations and communion of a child with a father. Vibrant experience of a healthy
father-child relationship has been replaced by a dreary routine of rules and regulations.

11 I am afraid I have labored over you in vain.

There is a cause-effect relationship between their regression into bondage to

elemental spirits and observances of times and Paul's fear that his work at Galatia was for


Between these three paragraphs, we find the second paragraph (4:1-7) related to
the first paragraph (3:23-29) by way of explanation in that Paul explains the implications
of what it means to be a bona-fide child and heir. The third contrast is a sharp contrast to
the second paragraph in that the Galatians are desirous of opting for bondage and slavery
as opposed to genuine freedom as children.
What are the implications of this apparent regression to bondage? Why is it true
that people at times choose bondage and slavery as opposed to genuine freedom and
vibrant experience? It is one thing to say, "I don't deserve being made an adopted child".
It is altogether a different matter to say, "I do not desire it. I prefer slavery to being a son
or daughter." Legalism is attractive to the alternative of genuine freedom, because
freedom at times can be more threatening than legalism. Legalism offers security in that
this approach to the Christian life tells you what to do. It is predictable. It demands a
corresponding discipline and gives people the feeling that they are working very hard to
please God, and thus He ought to be pleased with their efforts. Legalism also caters to
human pride in that it can give an air of distinctiveness as you keep regulations that
others ignore. It can also offer a sense of belonging to others in that you are living life by
the same dictates. Why is it that children who grow up in military schools and then spend
20 years in the military will often feel utterly incapacitated when they go into retirement?
Bobby Ferguson lived in the Iowa State Penitentiary. For about 40 years he had
lived there. In fact he was born there. His mother was a prisoner at the time of his birth.
Recently, Bobby Ferguson was released from prison, encouraged by the warden to make
a new life for himself on the outside. He could not do it. He begged the governor of
Iowa and the warden of the prison to allow him to return within the guarded walls that
had been his lifetime dwelling. His petition was granted and Bobby Ferguson worked as
a custodian in the penitentiary that he called home until the day that he died. What
governed Bobby Ferguson? Surely the cry for security. Freedom for most of us is
difficult to bear. We say on the one hand that we want it, but then find it hard to live
with. Part of our role as physicians of the inner person is to help people realize the true
position that is inherent in a faith-union with Christ. People that are anxious, who have
regressed from their faith-position in Christ, need to be set free from the legalism, that is
in fact, a desperate attempt to find security. It really is a no-win situation. Instead of a
simplistic exposure of legalism (whatever form that may take), people need to understand
the glorious privilege of being children of God, knit together with Jesus, baptized into
Christ, children of Abraham, heirs according to the divine promise, endowed with the
precious gift of the Spirit, who guarantees a "Father, dear Father" relationship with God.
"For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received
a Spirit of adoption as sons/daughters by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father'" (Rom. 8:15).
General Overview of the Parables
Mark 4:2 He began to teach them many things in parables

More than one-third of Jesus' recorded teaching is delivered by means of parables.

Through the parables Jesus expresses truth and reality in the form of stories rather than by
theological statement or argument. While they faithfully transmit the vital message of Jesus,
parables represent a genre of literature that is sometimes difficult to understand; therefore, it is
not strange that diverse interpretations abound. At the same time, the parables have had a
striking influence on English idiom. Without thinking, we use the idioms "counting the cost,"
"building on sand," "using your talents," "burying your talent," and "passing by on the other
Most children are well-acquainted with the game of kickball; thus its rules are a helpful
model for teaching them the new game of T-ball or baseball. In education we learn on the basis
of what is already known. Likewise, the parable is a form of teaching through stories in which
comparison is made between the known and the unknown. The parables are used to show how
knowledge can be applied in new and different situations. Common ground is a means of
discovering and applying new truth.
Parables are natural expressions of a mind, which sees truth in word-pictures, rather than
abstractions or linear logic. Jesus never aimed at a systematic or logical presentation of His
teaching--as in the logical manner of a professor in a classroom. A logical presentation divides a
subject into its parts, the different elements of an outline, and deals with them separately. Jesus'
method of parabolic instruction may indicate that analysis and logic are not the primary
motivations for important life decisions.
Jesus directs the parables to people who can see truth in concrete picture stories. Instead
of using abstractions such as "Don't be ostentatious when you give to the poor," Jesus says,
"Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the
synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have
received their reward.
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
(Matt. 6:2-3)
The latter picture is ludicrous, but its application to benevolent giving is powerful.
Jesus' thoughts are full of such illustrations, figures and striking expressions: "I send you
as sheep amidst wolves"; "Be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves";
"O Jerusalem, often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen
gathers her chickens under her wing." These figurative expressions invite twentieth century
readers, no less than they did the first century audience, to proceed beyond the metaphor to the
teaching's primary aim and application, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of literalism. Thus, when
Jesus says, "It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the
of " (Mk. ), He issues a serious warning about the peril of riches which blocks entrance into the
Parables convey a deeper level of understanding to the serious as opposed to the casual
hearers or readers. Consider, for example, the crux interpretum in Mk. 4:11ff. Rabbinical
history shows that after a Rabbi shared his wisdom, he would be followed to his home by the
more avid hearers with whom--under questioning--he would then share deeper truths. This may
be the situation in Mk. , for when Jesus was alone, "Those who were about him [!] with the
twelve asked him concerning the parables." Accordingly, the famous "in order"(i{na)-clause
in v. 12 may indicate a result, rather than a purpose. No, He does not intend that His teaching is
not to be understood but such non-understanding is the inevitable result when a hearer is only
casually interested in what He says.
On a deeper level, there is usually some truth that listeners need to grasp, for they do not
see the problem before them. If the parable is merely an illustration, then Jesus contradicts His
own stated purpose of speaking in parables,"that seeing they may see and not perceive, and
hearing they may hear and not understand..." (Mk. 4:11f). Parabolic speech does not merely
illustrate truth that the simple-minded can understand; it speaks to an audience with specific and
pressing needs and aims to meet those needs

Definition of Terms

Old Testament Background. The Greek term, “parable” (parabolhv), also found in
the LXX, should point us to a likely OT background. The Hebrew term, mashal (lv*m*) refers
to several forms of speech: "proverb," “a taunt” (an object of popular contempt),1 “similitude,”
"parable," “prophetic figurative discourse,” “poem,” “the sayings of the wise man,” i.e., “riddle.”
Similarly, the verb lv^m*, means “to be like,” thus establishing a comparison. Generally, the
noun lv*m* refers to an indirect way of saying something as contrasted with plain speech.2
Similarly, in the inter-testamental period the term is used to refer to “hidden meanings” that "the
one who devotes himself to the study of the law of the Most High!" is able to perceive (Sirach
Sirach 39:1 He seeks out the wisdom3 of all the ancients and is concerned with
2 he preserves the sayings of the famous and penetrates the subtleties of parables;
3 he seeks out the hidden meanings of proverbs and is at home with the obscurities of
We find here a parallelism between wisdom, prophecies, subtleties of parables, hidden meanings
of proverbs, and obscurities of parables. The idea of hidden meaning implies the conviction
held by many of the Jews that many of the sayings in the Bible have a deeper meaning and are
dark sayings intended to stimulate thought. When God utters a word, He means more than what
is stated on the surface. For example, when He inspires a prophet to make a prediction in
somewhat allegorical terms, there is more than meets the eye. The term, mashal can also mean
an apocalyptic prediction, such as by Balaam (Num. 23:7, 18, 24). Thus, the meaning can imply
a comparison to some secret meaning.4
The Hebrew mashal is always at least one full sentence and is expressed by Jesus in a
variety of ways:
Matt. 5:4 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
1 As Manson notes, Jesus does not use the mashal in the sense of a "taunt-song" or "byword." The closest
approximation would be heard from mockers at the crucifixion, "He saved others; himself he cannot save.", T.W.
Manson, The Teaching of Jesus, (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1931), pp. 61-62.
2 Ezek. 18;2
3 Jesus' parabolic teaching differs from the wisdom teachers who dealt in very practical ways of living within

society, e.g., choosing a wife, treatment of friends. In the intertestamental period wisdom was linked with prophecy
and Torah.
4 Thus hd*yj! is rendered in the LXX by parabolhv as a riddle or perplexing saying (Ps. 48:4; 78:2; Ezek.

Form of a question
Mk. "Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness how will you season it?"
An imperative
Lk. "And he said to them, 'Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal
yourself; what we have heard that you did at Caper'na-um, do here also in your own
With a pointed application
Matt. "When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables they perceived that
he was speaking about them."
The antecedent of "his parables" refers to the trilogy of parables beginning with .
The term, “parable,” in the Gospels. The noun “parable” (parabolhv), found 52
times in the NT, is almost exclusively found in the Synoptic Gospels.5 The term “figurative
saying” or “likeness” (paroimiva) is found only in the Gospel of John. Note should also be
taken of the related Synoptic adjective “like” or “similar” (oJvmoio") and the related verb “I
shall liken” (oJmoiovw)--idioms that may also introduce a parable.6 The aorist tense of the
verb, similar to the Hebrew perfect tense, is used to establish some fictional event told in
narrative form.
The term “parable” (parabolhv) is cognate with the verb, “to cast alongside”
(parabavllw). The preposition “along/alongside” (parav) can be used in a purely
local sense to mean “on the side of."7 In this sense, the parable is told in human or natural terms
and is thereby cast alongside the truth or its application. The preposition “alongside”
(parav) also implies a note of authority, as in the verb “to hand over” (paradivdwmi),
used in connection with the oral tradition. Paul “hands over” the tradition he has received to the
CorinthianChurch in such a way that his will and authority prevail.8
This idea of “to place alongside” carries over in the Gospel parables. In Classical Greek
the term only denotes a reference while in the Gospel tradition it conveys a note of authority.
Jesus exercised authority and fixed the meaning of a truth or application by a parable.9
We find a rather broad way in which the term, "parable" is used and translated in the
Gospels. At least seven fairly distinct uses of the word "parable" are distinguishable in the
A parable:
Mark With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they
were able to hear it,
A parable which expresses everyday experience:
Mark "From the fig tree learn its parable: as soon as its branch
becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
The natural experience of a fig-tree putting forth its leaves which evidences the nearness of
summer is used as a parable for another truth.
5Itdoes occur twice in Hebrews:
Hebrews 9:9 (which is symbolic [h{ti" parabolhV] for the present age). According to this
arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper,
Hebrews 11:19 he considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively
speaking (kaiV ejn parabolh/') he did receive him back.
6 “The KingdomGod is like...(Matt. 11:16).
7 "Alongside the river" (Acts 16:13) or "alongside the sea" (Matt. 13:1).
8 Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, is “the one who hands over” (oJ paradivdou"). Judas delivers Jesus to the

9 See Friedrich Hauck, "parabolhv,", TDNT, vol IV, pp. 758-760.
Sayings of a wise man--mashal
Mark "And he called them to him and said to them in parables, 'How
can Satan cast out Satan?'"
Here the rhetorical questions is a vital part of the parable.
General truth expressed as figurative sayings10
Luke " He told them a parable also: 'No one tears a piece from a new
garment and puts it upon an old garment; if he does he will tear the new, and the
piece from the new will not match the old.'"
The term parable here is an extended metaphor and overpowers the listener/reader by the weight
of generalization, i.e., Who can possibly argue this natural principle?
Luke 4:23 "And he said to them, 'Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb,
`Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard that you did at Caper'na-um, do
here also in your own country.'"
Here, the term parabolhv is used of a popular proverb.
Luke 10:29-37—The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Mixed forms
Mark 4:1-9, 13-20—The Parable of the Soils
Different verbs are used to introduce the parables: “said,” “told” or the verb “place before"
While the noun "parable" come from Greek language and culture, this does not mean that
the parables are to be interpreted from the context of Greek literature.11 The Greek parable refers
to a literary unity, a metaphor, that is part of a sentence. Jesus' use of parables differs radically
from that of the Greek orators, for whom the parable was often a mere adornment of speech used
to highlight their persuasive power. The parables of Jesus, however, need to be positioned
within the language and thought of the OT. They were not an altogether innovative way of
speaking introduced by Jesus, but He did use parables with a different purpose and force,
investing the form with new meaning and pointed application.
Parable and metaphor. Many of the NT parables are, in reality, metaphors that have their
roots in the Old Testament, e.g., “You are the light of the world.” The parable is a secret that
bears upon the lives of the listeners and readers. On the whole, the parable is a story that
confronts its listeners with a message that is not obvious and that, through a comparison of two
dissimilar things, drives its point home. C.H. Dodd has provided a classic definition of the term
At its simplest, the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life,
arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient
doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.12
In a similar way Caird notes:
If a comparison is explicit, we call it a simile, and it is meant to be taken literally. If it is
implicit, we call it a metaphor, and it is non-literal . . . All the more complex forms of
comparison--fable, parable, allegory, and typology--are elaborations of these two basic
10 Not so much as a specific secret but a general truth that implies the spread of God’s Kingdom.
11 contra A. Jülicher who draws clear distinction between simile, metaphor, similitude, and allegory which he argues
is taken over from Greek rhetoric. Die Gleichnisreden Jesu, (Freiburg: Verlag von J.C.B. Mohr, 1899), I, p. 52.
12 C.H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1961), p. 16.
The parable is a creative fiction that contains a corresponding analogy to a life-situation.
It may contain a character or central figure whose story invites reflection and application by
providing a warning, an example, or an encounter with the wonder of the Jesus-event. "The
immediate object of the story is to be intelligible and interesting in itself; but its ultimate aim is
either to stimulate the conscience, or to awaken religious insight in the hearers, or both
together."14 Many of the parables can only be understood if the hearer/reader is driven to the
point of making a decision15--only to discover that one has waited too late. By the time the story
is over, the listeners have already passed judgment upon themselves. One of the great values of
parabolic speech is that it does not impose truth upon humans from the outside, but puts people
in a position where they discover and ponder the truth for themselves. The parables strike for a
verdict and demand an opinion on the story or its outcome, before the probing "bite" is
understood. Jesus tells a parable and "demands that the hearer react . . . in the power of the story
to attract and hold one's attention."16 In an allegory, metaphors substitute for known facts.
However, the known material form is communicated in an altered form. When reading the
parables and trying to position them in their own life-setting one can sense that the parable has a
new message that is not known. The unknown message is one that the audience needs to grapple
with, but cannot look at directly.
The parable's use of metaphorical speech implies the presence of some sort of problem
that must be faced. The question then becomes how to bring the hearers face to face with the
problem, directly or indirectly. If we can allow A to stand for the meaning (application), then B
stands for the metaphor. Jesus uses B when he means A. Why? Often the reason is that the
audience is blind to A or that if A were to be expressed directly, the response would surely be
negative. Funk writes:
The true metaphor, it was said, reveals a mystery...The poet directs attention to B in order
to allow A to come into view, for A is not there to be looked at directly.17
For example, in Lk. 7, Simon the Pharisee is blind to the divine forgiveness that has already been
extended to and gratefully received by the prostitute which is now motivating her lavish display
of emotion and gratitude. Far from rejoicing in the grace of God, He is embarrassed and critical.
He is also blind to the limitations of his own gratitude. Jesus directs his attention to the Parable
of the Two Debtors to explain the woman's gratitude--she "loves more" (, 47)--and to expose his
own lack of gratitude--he "loves little" ()--truths that Simon is unable to perceive directly.
The parable is an exercise in imagistic thinking and is a literary type basic to the Hebrew
mind which has a logic all its own. The intent of the parable is not primarily conceptual or
rational; rather it conveys a particular aspect of the KingdomGod that needs to be heard and
acted upon. The parable seeks to evoke an impression and create an experience as well as to
provoke a response. The parable's effectiveness lies "in the responsiveness of those to whom it is
addressed."18 If Jesus were to express such parabolic truth in the twentieth century no doubt he
would use images and stories from our culture, such as stoplights, policeman, sky-scrapers, bull-
dozers, truck-drivers, and labor unions. Perhaps we may look at the interpretive task as
understanding the widening circles around the parable. Parabolic teaching contextualizes truth
as it makes application to the life-situation of the hearer and reader.
14 Manson, p. 65.
15 The most popular example is found in Nathan’s Parable of the Poor Man and the Rich Man
16 Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, (Downer's Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1991), p. 236.
17 Robert W. Funk, Language, Hermeneutic, and the Word of God, (New York: Harper & Row, 1966),

p. 145.
18 Manson, p. 66.
One must view form and structure of a parable to ascertain the intention of Jesus relating
it. In proceeding to the interpretation of various parables the audience must see itself as the
hearer, aware of the differences of language and culture, but yet vitally cognizant that it stands in
great need of understanding, obedience and trust. The parables must make a similar appeal to
religious life and conscience. One needs to be sensitive to the ways in which the parables can be
applied to new situations.19 The attempt must be made to take the various texts on their own
terms and to make--with care--an application of each that is consistent with its original sense.

Stylistic Aspects of the Parables

The parables follow popular stylistic methods that are very similar to those used by their
Rabbinic contemporaries:
Introduction. The parable is usually introduced by a standard formula usually from the
Evangelist. The normal introduction, “The Kingdom of God is like . . .,” refers specifically to
the entire story, not simply the opening individual or thing within the story. The parables also
exhibit certain rules or principles of storytelling that are found in many cultures and folklore20:
 Repetition and parallelism (everything is the same in the Parable of The Two Builders
except for the foundation--Matt. 7:24-27).
 The rule of three in which the emphasis is placed on the third and last member (Priest,
Levite, Samaritan in the Parable of the Good Samaritan--Lk. 10:25-37).21
 Rule of contrast (Two Sons, Matt. 21:28-32; Two Houses, Matt. 7:24-27).
 Stress on the end (Laborers in Vineyard [reckoning scene], Matt. 20:1-16; Four
Soils[the good soil], Matt. 13:1-9 par., the sending and fate of the beloved son in the
Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Matt. 21:33-44). Often the conclusion of the parable
evokes a judgment, decision, reversal of action or thinking.
 Single theme or unified perspective (Wedding Feast, Matt. 22:1-14 [banquet goes on
while a major military attack is being launched]).22 Feelings and motives are only
important as they bear upon the story.
 Popular details omitted (Prodigal Son, Lk. 15:11-32; Description of the innkeeper in
the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Lk. 10:25-37, Friend at Midnight, Lk. 11:5-8;
Dishonest Manager, Lk. 16:1-8; Unforgiving Servant, Matt. 18:21-35).23
 Role or position reversal (Pharisee and Tax-Collector, Lk. 18:9-14).
 Importance of action instead of words is highlighted (Dishonest Manager Lk.
16:1-8).24 In the Parable of the Two Debtors (Lk. 7:36-50) the action of the creditor
19 The exclusive concentration on history has been reflected in both fundamentalist and liberal scholarship and has

led to distortion or recklessness with the biblical text.

20 Bultmann highlights many of the stylistic laws that seem to be part of the structure of many parables. See Rudolf

Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, pp. 188-192 for further examples of these rules.
21 With 3 obstacles to growth of the seed.
22 The speakers and writers did not have footnotes. Thus, it was not necessary to relate how the entire military war

was being waged while the food was still “hot on the table.” The characters of the parables are not intertwined
except as is necessary for the story.
23 We do not learn of the Prodigal Son’s mother, the wife of the friend who is awakened in the middle of the night,

how the steward had gotten himself into debt, nor how the servant could owe such an astronomical debt.
24 The stress seems to fall upon his action in view of the impending crisis. No attempt is made to exonerate his

actions; the focus of the story is not to be found in long dialogues--but rather, activity--reducing the respective
alone is singled out without dialogue or explanation.
 Concluding word or question makes the point explicit (Two Debtors)25
 Effect of parable is seldom mentioned.26
While the simile or similitude presents a typical pattern overcoming the listeners by sheer
weight of generalization, the story-parable tells a freely invented story with a series of verbs in
the past tense. We are told of a particular event or fictional instance (although analogous), which
does not overpower the reader through what is universally acknowledged. The parable can help
the reader “assimilate the improbable without bursting the story.”27 The discipline of form-
criticism has helped us to see many of the conventional literary forms that are important aspects
of parabolic speech.

History of Parable Interpretation

From the time of Jesus till the twentieth century, the interpretation of the parables has
reflected an ongoing tension between a one-point approach and a full allegorical method.
Apostolic age till the end of the middle ages. The earliest interpreters (e.g., Origen)
interpreted the whole of Scripture as allegory and were indebted to the method used by Philo.
Underlying this method is the assumption that the revealed documents contained Christian
doctrine that was sometimes veiled. Origen was not interested in the historical method, but tried
to find specific meaning in each element of a parable. Thus a parable did not present a story but
interpreted elements in a cipher-like manner.28
The allegorical interpreters, from Philo onwards, based their understanding of parables on
a presupposed triad (body, mind, and soul). They argued that the truly spiritual interpreter is
able to press beyond the first two levels of Scripture to the third level--the spiritual meaning.
The tendency of a thoroughgoing allegorical approach is to destroy the basic unity and thrust of
the story-parable as to dissolve it into independent points.
The Reformation and post-Reformation era. During the time of the Reformation and
post-Reformation era, both Luther and Calvin repudiated the thoroughgoing allegorical method
of earlier interpreters; the outspoken Luther likened the former interpreters to "clerical jugglers
performing monkey tricks."29 He even went so far as to say that Origen's exegesis is worth "less
than dirt." As Scripture was translated into the language of the people, new attention was given
to the plain and obvious meaning of the text. Calvin stated: "We ought to have a deeper
reverence for Scripture than to reckon ourselves at liberty to disguise its natural meaning."30
In the nineteenth century, Trench’s book on parables was the standard work on the
parables of Jesus. Although he does not define the term “parable” (parabolhv), he likens
the parables to another parable: "Each one of the parables is like a casket, itself of exquisite
workmanship, but in which jewels richer than itself are laid up; or like fruit which, however
lovely to look upon, is yet more delectable in its inner sweetness."31 While he argues for the
25 e.g., "What will the lord of the vineyard do?" (Matt. 21:40), "Which of them will love him most?" (Lk. 7:42).
26 Rudolf Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1963), pp. 178-205
for further examples and analysis.
27 Via, p. 12.
28 Thus, for example in Origen's treatment of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the lord = the Son of God,

servants = stewards of the Gospel, reckoning = the final judgment, unforgiving servant = Antichrist or the devil.,
Origen, Commentary on Matthew XVIII.
29 Noted by Fredrick W. Farrar, History of Interpretation (London: MacMillan and Co., Ltd., 1886), p. 328.
30 John Calvin, Harmony on Matthew, Mark and Luke III, p. 63.
31 R.C. Trench, Notes on the Parables of Our Lord, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1948 reprint),
central point, he nonetheless finds many independent meanings within the parables, e.g., the ring
is the gift of the Spirit in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.32 We contend that the background of
the terms should be found in the OT thought and should be interpreted through that perspective.
Also in the nineteenth century, Jülicher wrote a significant book, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu
(1888), in which he stemmed the tide of allegorical interpretation. He argued in a compelling
way for two central principles: 1) Jesus' parables are similitudes (extended similes) not
allegories, and were designed to make but one point. He looked for the one "point of
comparison" (tertium comparationis) in each parable, not three or four; 2) Each point of each
parable can be reduced to a moral expression of the most general nature. For example, he
suggests that the point of the Parable of the Dishonest Steward is "Wise use of the present is the
condition of a happy future."33 His theory and method drew almost exclusively from rationalism
and Greek rhetoric, causing him to interpret the parables in the Gospels as moral applications.
Happily Jülicher freed the parables from the subjectivism of thoroughgoing allegories;
however, his basic frame of reference is questionable, because he limits the parables to stories
that convey general moral sayings. Another of his basic assumptions is that the parables are not
necessarily transmitted as Jesus told them. He argues on the basis of doublets, i.e., that stories
reveal two different settings or contexts (Matt. 24:28 = Lk. ). For example, the lost sheep in
Matthew 18:10-14 is an individual, a brother who has fallen into sin and needs to be sought out
and restored, while in Lk. 15:3-7 the lost sheep embraces a group--the tax-collectors and sinners.
It is possible that Jesus told some of the parables on different occasions. In the process of
oral transmission there was no doubt some transformation and updating of the parables to meet
the needs of the early Church. Certainly a thematic grouping seems to be evident in the Gospels,
e.g., the Kingdom parables grouped in Matt. 13 as a portion of one of Matthew’s five “books.”
The parallels between Matthew and Mark are not complete, but they do represent different stages
in the transmission of the Gospel material.
Jülicher struggled with the legitimacy of allegorical exegesis and confidently affirmed
that any interpretation, which finds more than one point, is wrong. This limitation means that the
stories can never say anything more than can be expressed in a one-point sentence. For example,
he argues that the Parable of the Four Soils can have no sub-points or allegorical referents, which
are found in the interpretation of the parable, e.g., the thorns and thistles = cares and anxieties of
this life which choke out the Word of God. Jülicher did not believe that Jesus ever spoke in any
sort of allegorical forms. Therefore, in Jülicher's view, any text that seems to contain some
allegorical allusions (explicit or implicit) is the creation of the Church--not Jesus.
In the twentieth century two scholars, Dodd and Jeremias (1935-1970), armed with
Jülicher's basic one-point approach, positioned the parables within the eschatological context of
the KingdomGod. Eschatology means the doctrine of the end (ejvvscaton), the
realization of God's eternal purpose in history. Both Dodd and Jeremias argued that the parables
of Jesus must be understood within the saving act of God in Jesus Christ. Although they
followed Jülicher's lead, by looking for the central point of comparison, they deviated from his
second premise of a general moral truth and positioned the parables within salvation-history in
which the living God acted upon the stage of human history for salvation. They argued that the
appointed time had happened; the end of the ages had come. Jesus' preaching was not about a
moral disposition in human hearts, but was the announcement of God's radical and decisive
activity for salvation, signaling the presence of the future KingdomGod in the person, work and
words of Jesus.
32 Thus, for instance he likens the oil in the Parable of the Ten Maidens as either faith or good works.
33 Adolf Jülicher, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu, II, p. 495.
In the 1920's the discipline of form criticism came on the scene (Dibelius and Bultmann).
This discipline argued for the period of oral tradition in which the parables, pairs, or trilogies
circulated in the early Christian communities through their preachers and teachers. They argued
that during this period of transmission, many of the original contexts were forgotten or lost--at
which time the early church preachers re-applied (updated) them to their own needs. Thus, the
form critics sought to restore the parables to a genuine life-setting in the ministry of Jesus. Their
basic purpose was to find the proper setting for the individual parables. Jeremias, for example,
positioned the parables of grace ("God's mercy for sinners") as Jesus' defense of his table-
fellowship with tax-gatherers and sinners.34 The more radical form criticism appeals to certain
primal laws that become the means by which specific parables are judged as authentic or
inauthentic. The form critics also subjected the miracle stories in the Gospels to the same type of
Form criticism must be taken seriously but the application of its principles seems to be
somewhat subjective. Jeremias, one of the most radical form critics, argued that the evangelists
significantly altered the Gospel tradition by embellishment and changes of audience (especially
Luke).35 He argued that the Church made the parables serve as exhortation for the early
Christian churches. When Dodd interprets the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matt. 22) and the
Great Feast (Lk. 14), he allows little room for the specific application in the Jesus-setting.36 He
argues that the life-setting of most of the parables is the conflict of Jesus with His opponents and
he does not allow for direct use of the parables to the disciples. Moreover, for Jermias, most of
the parables deal with eschatology and position the KingdomGod within an eschatological
framework. Jeremias argues that parables that deal with the Parousia were originally directed to
the members of the early Church who were struggling with the delay of the Parousia and who
needed to hear the message: “Don’t be sluggish because the Parousia is delayed. Be alert, even
though...” He contends that allegorization took place during the period of oral transmission
within the primitive Church and extended through the Evangelists.
C.H. Dodd, along with Jeremias, stressed the centrality of eschatology in the presence of
the KingdomGod--not the moralisms of Jülicher. Dodd applied the central message of the
KingdomGod to all of the parables. God had a purpose that was foretold by the Old Testament
prophets and fulfilled in Jesus and His work. Dodd's eschatology was realized eschatology in
that the entirety of God’s saving activity is seen in Jesus. Thus, any passage that speaks of a
future fulfillment is non-genuine or spurious. Dodd maintains that everything relies on the
ministry and work of Jesus. He argues that parables, which deal with the harvest, relate to the
time of Jesus' earthly ministry. This, however, means that Jesus had only the present time in
view. Dodd leaves no room for the coming of Jesus in glory with a new heaven and earth when
faith will give way to sight. For example, there is no room in his eschatology for a day of
judgment as is portrayed in the following:
Lk. 12:46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him
and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful.
Both Dodd and Jeremias measure the Gospel records by their own understanding of eschatology.
Consequently, if a parable does not fit with their view, then this is a sure sign that the parable or
its future fulfillment is not attributed to the words of Jesus. Often parables and parts of parables
are eliminated if they do not fit with their understanding of eschatology. However, it is rather
34 Also A.T. Cadoux, Parables of Jesus
35 This is one of the reasons that Jeremias looks to the versions of parables in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas.
36 However, Jeremias is a bit more "conservative" in his affirmation that there is continuity between Jesus and the

early church with respect to the Parousia parables. p. 51.

strange to allege that the early Church misunderstood the parables of Jesus as they were given,
especially in a culture which prized the careful transmission of oral tradition.
Dibelius (also a form critic) insisted that the Evangelists transformed the meaning of the
parables by adding introductions, conclusions, and twisting the original meaning of the parables.
Like the nineteenth century writers, Dibelius said that a parable is meant to convey a moral truth.
A scholar such as Rowlinson is convinced that in the process of transmission the
circumstances and original life-setting of the parables were lost, as was their original
significance. He finds it difficult to understand the parables at all. B.T.D. Smith believes that
the applications are appended to the parables and that they are sure signs of additions by the
early Church. He argues that the original parable was obscure and thus, when clarity is found
within a parable, it is a sign that the community revised the material. Thus, he argues in a
direction opposite from that of Dibelius.
We should take careful note of the radical way in which many scholars have dealt with
the Gospel records. Jülicher is relatively mild when compared with some of the later form critics
who maintain that a good deal of the Gospels is fabricated, i.e., they are stories ex eventu (after
the fact). There is no apparent method in this procedure of the form critics. If a text does not
seem to fit with a theory, then it is dealt with accordingly. The form critics treat the Gospels as
theological treatises that present the contrast: Unorthodox Judaism receives Jesus (Galilee)
while orthodox Judaism (Jerusalem, Pharisees, etc.) rejects Jesus. They structure the entirety of
the Gospel records to fit this framework. To be sure, the parables went through some process of
alteration in the early Church, but this hardly means that they are the product of the early
Rabbinic parables. More recently, scholarship has turned to the Rabbinic parables to see
what might be understood from the parallels in form between these and Jesus' parables. The
Rabbinic parables demonstrate a fluidity of thought--from a one-point parable to a mixed parable
to a full-blown allegory. A true allegory is a string of metaphors attaching meaning to each
detail of the story. Generally, the Rabbinic parables are metaphors that are used as illustrations,
as is reflected in the common introduction, “This is hard to understand, but the situation is
analogous to...”37 Usually the Rabbis do not tell stories, but when they do the material is based
on facts are already known. Scholars such as P. Fiebig and C.A. Bugge have surveyed the 2000
plus Rabbinic parables that show similarities with Jesus' parables. Their work has been further
developed by D. Flusser, a Jewish NT scholar. The following are examples of the various types
of Rabbinic parables:38

A one-point The text, "Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord." (Exod. 4:13)
parable: Unto what was Israel like at that moment? They were like a dove
fleeing from a hawk and about to enter a cleft in the rock where there is
a hissing serpent. If she enters, there is the serpent! If she stays out,
there is the hawk!
The point of comparison is the predicament of a dove who is unable to
escape peril on either hand. This is compared to the predicament of
Israel, hemmed in on all sides either by the Egyptians or by water.
A mixed- "He found him in a desert land! (Deut. 32:10). That is Abraham.
form: A parable. It is like a king who went out, he and his army, to the desert.
37See Paul Fiebig, Die Gleichnisreden Jesu, (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck]), pp. 25ff, 34ff.
38Taken from Harvey K. McArthur & Robert M. Johnston, They Also Taught in Parables, (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Publishing Co., 1990), pp. 42, 76-77.
His army forsook him in a place of hostility, in a place of enemy troops,
in a place of robbers. And a certain brave man went to him and said to
him: "My lord and king, Do not allow your heart to fail, and have no
anxiety. By your life, I swear that I will not desert you until you are
back in your palace and asleep in your bed."
Accordingly it says: "And He said unto him: I am the Lord who
brought you up from the Chaldees" (Gen. 15:7)
In the parable, the king represents Abraham and the brave man is God;
the reader is led to see the protecting and guarding role of the brave
man. However, there are other items that have no independent
significance, e.g., enemy troops, place of robbers, palace, etc.
An allegory The text, "And the Egyptians fled against it" (Exod. ).
Unto what is the matter like? It is like a dove that flees from a hawk and
enters the palace of the king. The king opens the eastern window for her
and she goes out and flies away. When the hawk pursuing her enters the
palace, the king shuts all the windows and begins shooting arrows at
him. Even so, when the last of the Israelites came out from the sea, the
last of the pursuing Egyptians entered into the bed of the sea. The
ministering angels then began hurling at them arrows, great hailstones,
fire and brimstone, as it is said: "And I will plead against him with
pestilence and with blood...and great hailstones, fire and brimstone"
(Ezek. 38:22).
If we interpret the king as God, then each element of the parable
corresponds with its reality: dove=, hawk=Egypt, palace=sea,
arrows=arrows, great hailstones fire, brimstone; saving of the dove by
opening of the eastern window=Exodus

While the OT and Rabbinic traditions offer numerous parallels that are earlier
than,39 or contemporary with, the ministry of Jesus, the use of parables in the Gospels is unique
in its sheer volume. Although Jesus uses OT background material, His parables are far more
than explanations of OT texts or of Rabbinic exegesis. Jesus shifts the content from Torah
(Rabbinic exegesis) to the KingdomGod within its eschatological framework. His stories are
used in given historical contexts to instruct people who have specific issues and needs--He aims
for a verdict, conversion, change of life, and trust.
For the Rabbis, on the other hand, parables are used to prove a statement or illustrate a
text; they are not primarily intended to provoke interaction between the speaker and listener.
Jesus uses parables to bring His hearers to a new realization, to confront them with decisions that
have not yet been made, to bring about a change in the misery of others, to stir inertia, or to
expose the blindness of the audience. Often the parables become the weapons of conflict,
prompted by a problem or a question that is not found in the Rabbinic parables. The parables of
Jesus also are used to invite people to share in the life of the Kingdom. They embody, for
example, the father's plea to his older son to come in "out of the cold" and share in the joy of a
lost brother--now found. The goal of the parable is not realized in experience unless the
conscience has been stimulated and changes are made in thought, attitude and behavior.
39 Nathan's parable to David (II Sam. 12:1-10); prophet's acted parable (I Kings 20:35-40); the Song of the Vineyard
(Isaiah 5:1-7); Eagles and the Vine (Ezek. 17:2-10); Lioness and Her Cubs (Ezek. 17:2-10); the Vine (Ezek. 19:10-
14); story from the woman of Tekoa about her two sons (II Sam. 14:5-20).
Existential, cultural, aesthetic, and structural studies. In recent years there have been
some new contributions in the area of parable studies (A.N. Wilder, D. O. Via, G. V. Jones). The
existentialist interpreters look at the aesthetic role of the parable, which present a new
understanding of human existence and summon a human response. Kenneth Bailey's work is
especially helpful in terms of the cultural setting and cultural implications of various parables.
In the last two decades, a new approach called structuralism has developed as a discipline
or method. Most notably, J. D. Crossan looks at various parables in terms of movement and
category (e.g., servant-parables), reversal, opposition, resolution, etc. Some of the categories
that are used may be helpful in looking at the broad structure of individual parables. On the
whole, the various studies have not produced substantial exegesis of the text that takes the text
and its context seriously. Frequently, this approach does not take the given literary and historical
context seriously and is hampered by a subjectivism that lacks a clear method.

Recent "Re-thinking"

Traditional stock metaphors. There has been a growing awareness that rigid distinctions
between parable and allegory are artificial and impose upon the NT parables a grid that is
arbitrary since the “dividing line is hard to draw.”40 This is especially true for the parables in
which some of the traditional or stock metaphors are used--metaphors that suggest natural
meaning or common referents, e.g., King = God; Father = God; supper = Messianic Feast. There
are a number of images used in the OT that naturally carry allegorical significance, e.g., God as
the Shepherd of Israel, Israel as the vine with God as owner of vineyard. Jesus’ and the
Evangelists’ audience, steeped in the OT, would naturally recognize these Old Testament
metaphors where they occur in the stories of Jesus. This does not mean that the parables are
thoroughgoing allegories but that they contain allegorical elements that remove them from the
category of one-point parables (Jülicher). This is expressed as a multi-plex approach, by Craig
Blomberg, who has argued against a clear distinction between parable and allegory.41
Interpreters should be aware of the OT background that may lie behind the NT
parables—allusions, which would have been natural and unforced to the original hearers and
The parables with a history. Many of the metaphors found in Jesus’ teaching
demonstrate the unity of the Bible in terms of historical connection. For example, Isaiah’s Song
of the Vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7) is taken up in Matt. 21:33-46 (par.) and the two parables share
common vocabulary, themes, typology, promise-fulfillment and unity of perspective. The same
God, who acted in creation, the Exodus, the conquest, and the exile, has acted in history in the
person of Jesus Christ and moves history forward the eschaton. Just as Isaiah warns Judah that
her fate is well deserved (Isa. 5:1-7), so he also prophesies of the eschatological vineyard of
promise (Isa. 27:2-6--apocalyptic). The same themes of judgment and promise are taken up in
Jesus' Parable of the Wicked Tenants and are illustrated by the destruction of the wicked tenants
and the emergence of a new people who will render fruit (Matt. 21:43). This unity between
parables separated in their telling by 500 years, demonstrates that God has a unified purpose for
40 Via, p. 14.; Brown writes, “Certain parables cry out for an allegorical interpretation of their details.” Raymond
Brown, “Parables and Allegory Reconsidered”, New Testament Essays, (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1965), p.
256; Matthew Black, “The Parables as Allegory”, Bulletin of the John Rylands Literature, (1959-60), p. 248. J.J.
Vincent, “The Parables of Jesus as Self-Revelation,” Studia Evangelica, (1959), pp. 85-88; J. Arthur Baird, “A
Pragmatic Approach to Parable Exegesis: Some New Evidence on Mark 4:1-11, 33-34”, Journal of Biblical
Literature, 76, (1957), p. 207.
41 Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, (Downers Grove: The InterVarsity Press, 1990), pp. 29-70.
His people that embraces the whole of Scripture. As Hasel points out, “On this pilgrimage there
are many stops and many initial fulfillments, but each one of them becomes a point of departure
again until all promises will finally be fulfilled at the end of time.”42
Reinterpretation. The progressive work of reinterpretation of metaphors and symbols in
Jesus’ stories is being re-evaluated. This is consistent with the writers of Scripture who use
Scriptural metaphors from earlier generations and reinterpret them in light of current events and
future hope. It is also consistent with von Rad’s central point that salvation history encompassed
a process of reinterpreting old images and early traditions.
This continuous reinterpretation to which the old stories about Jahweh were submitted,
did not do violence to them. Rather, they were predisposed to it from the very start.
Their intrinsic openness to a future actually needed such fresh interpretations on the part
of later ages; and for the latter it was essential to their life to take up the tradition in this
way and give it a new meaning.43
This process is what Bultmann calls “radical openness for the future.”44 Stock metaphors like
the fig-tree as a metaphor for Israel are used to portray a new word of God to a new situation;
then they are reinterpreted so as to embrace the old and the new. This means that the old
metaphor, new word, and new event are incorporated into the mainstream of salvation history.
Cullmann writes,
Salvation history does not arise by a simple adding up of events recognized in faith as
saving events. Instead, each time corrections of the interpretation of past saving events
are undertaken in the light of new events. This of course never happens in such a way
that an earlier account is disputed. Rather, aspects formerly unnoticed are by virtue of
the new revelation now placed in the foreground creating a correspondingly wider
Typology. The words "typology" or "typological/typical" do not refer to the naive
approach of the seventeenth century in which a hidden allegorical meaning was regarded as the
key to unlocking the secrets Scripture, e.g., details of the furniture of the wilderness tabernacle
were given double meanings as types of Christ and salvation. Rather, a proper working
definition of typology reveals the organic unity of Scripture. Dunn notes:
Typology sees a correspondence between people and events of the past and of the future
or present. . .For its part, typology does not ignore the historical meaning of a text, but
rather takes that as its starting point. Typological exegesis then is based on the
conviction that certain events in the past history of Israel, as recorded in earlier scriptures,
thereby revealed God’s ways and purposes with men and did so in a typical manner.46
The typological approach does not ignore history, but rather affirms it. With the eye of
faith it looks beyond the history of circumstances to discern the purpose and activity of God
within the larger salvation history. As Wright notes, “To convict a New Testament writer of
error or questionable exegesis in individual passages does not in the least necessitate the
assumption that his interpretive attitude and point of view were wrong. Indeed, typology . . . is
more of an attitude that a precise methodology.”47 This attitude is one by which the exegete
42 Gerhard Hasel, New Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (Grand Rapids: William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), p. 196.
43 Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol. II, translated by D.M.G. Stalker, (New York: Harper & Row

Publishers, 1965), p. 361.

44 Rudolph Bultmann, Primitive Christianity, (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), pp. 180ff.
45 Oscar Cullmann, Salvation in History, translated by Sidney G. Sowers, (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1965), p. 88.
46 James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977), p. 86.
47 G. Ernest Wright, God Who Acts: Biblical Theology as Recital, (London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1969), p. 64.
looks at the events and words from two perspectives: 1) the literal historical meaning and 2) the
typological meaning as foreshadowing future events. The task is that of uniting historical
exegesis with the broad view of salvation history that allows for “the prophetic power resident in
the Old Testament prototypes”.48
Receptivity. The parable reveals something new that is unknown except by a right
interpretation. At times, the disciples need an explanation, and thus, they turn to Jesus for the
proper understanding. As at one time He opened the OT Scriptures to the Emmaus disciples (Lk.
24:32), today, by the Holy Spirit, He is ready to teach modern disciples the meaning of the
parables that He once told. We must let it speak to us directly if we are to understand it at all.
We must allow ourselves to be moved so as to know what the speaker of the parable is getting
at.49 This does not mean a complete subjectivism, but it means that we must also approach the
Scripture with a similar receptivity. In brief, faithful understanding of the parables depends on
the air of expectancy with which we approach them. To be sure, various methods must be used
to discover the meaning of the text, but we are most likely to understand the original intent of a
parable if we approach it with humility and spiritual receptivity--as the disciples often did.

The Grouping of Parables in the Composition of the Gospels

Different groupings and ordering of the parabolic material in the Gospels appear to be
arranged by theme.
Markan grouping. In Mark 2, the ministry of Jesus is viewed as a wedding celebration.
Jesus is the reason for the celebration (2:19ff.). In Mark 3, the ministry of Jesus is no
celebration, but a conflict with Satan (-25). Jesus must first bind the strong man (Satan). In
Mark 4, the writer continues his account with three parables (4:1-32) including a concluding note
on Jesus' parabolic method. Jesus has gathered twelve disciples around Him. (-19). He has
encountered misunderstanding; His own family believes He has lost His mind (-21). Soon after
the Parable of the Strong and Stronger One (-27), the three parables of chapter 4 follow in
succession. Mark presents the parables of the Kingdom. Jesus speaks in enigmatic language; He
is aware of misunderstanding, yet He is also buoyant and confident that His ministry will not be
futile. The three parables show the reality of the different responses to Jesus and His message.
The Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly is unique to Mark (-29).
In ch. 11, we read of the first events of Passion Week with the triumphal entry, cursing of
the temple, cursing of the fig-tree (parabolic action). Chapter 12 offers the Parable of the
Wicked Tenants (12:1-12), followed by two parables in Mark 13 (the Parable of the Budding
Fig-Tree in -29 and the Servant Entrusted with Supervision in -37).
Matthean grouping. Matthew highlights the King, who has both fulfilled and embodied
the Davidic hope by manifesting His dignity and power. Matthew uses the parables to portray a
broad sweep of "salvation-history" (the parables in Matthew 13 and at least two trilogies of
parables in Matt. 21-22 and Matt. 25). The bulk of Matthew's parables occur in chs. 12-13, 18,
20-25; twelve are unique to his Gospel. He organizes the parables to allow the reader to see the
past, present and future of the KingdomGod. The past and present are used with a very pointed
thrust. In the past, God's people rejected the prophets; now they reject both John the Baptist and
Jesus. They did not casually neglect God's messengers but they did violence to them. Thus, the
48 von Rad, vol. II, p. 373. See Raymond E. Brown, “Hermeneutics”, The Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. by
Raymond Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, Roland E. Murphy, (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968), pp. 605-
623. Also James Barr, “Typology and Allegory”, Old and New, pp. 103-148.
49 Eduard Schweizer, Jesus, (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1972), p. 26.
judgment that fell upon them was well deserved. These parables express the warning, "Be aware
that the same divine judgment can happen to you who are the new people of God." Several
parables and groups of parables seem to be grouped together in response to some ecclesiastical
and catechetical issues, e.g., church discipline and discouragement about the delay of the
Lukan grouping. The parables in Luke function in a different manner since the
eschatological framework is not as prominent. Luke is more interested in the response of people
to the deeds of Jesus, a response, which is crucial in the Fourth Gospel. While Mark and
Matthew stress the newness and immediacy of the events, Luke longs for greater understanding
of the meaning of Jesus. Fifteen parables, unique to his Gospel, are largely found in the "Travel-
Narrative" (chs. 10-19).
Matthew and Mark press their readers to discover what these things mean. The Gospel
writers, along with Paul, do not write to satisfy curiosity or to impart esoteric knowledge to the
"initiated", but to call forth faith.50 The reaction of individuals to the Jesus-event is crucial--in
fact it is a matter of life and death. Luke's parables often highlight trust as the response to God's

Purpose of Parables

Mark provides his readers with a setting that includes the geographical, historical and
biographical terms, which introduce the parables, explanations of some of the parables and the
purpose for His parabolic teaching.
Mk. 4:1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about
him so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole crowd was beside the sea on
the land.
The graphic detail of this text gives us the character of the historical event, i.e., that Jesus
taught from a boat so that He would not be crushed by the crowd (Mk. 3:9; Lk. 5:1), but it may
also reflect Jesus' intent of putting some distance between Himself and others. There is more in
His parables than the crowds can apprehend. Likewise, there is a certain descriptive simplicity
in the Gospels wherein both a simplicity and depth is seen. Our experience may be similar to
looking at the bottom of a deep but very clear lake. The transparency of the water is deceptive in
that it makes the lake appear to be shallow. So it is with the parables. Jesus deals with
mysterious divine secrets. Jesus the Teacher wills to impart things to people, but is painfully
aware of the results in people who do not understand or cannot fathom the depth of His message.
Mk. When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him
about the parables. 11 And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the
kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 with the result
that they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so
that they may not turn again and be forgiven.' "
The parables both reveal and conceal the KingdomGod; they also reveal and conceal the divine
purposes for speaking in parables. Jesus uses language that conceals the truth with the result that
certain people might not be able to understand, repent, and be forgiven.51
According to Mark, Jesus is primarily the Eschatological Son of Man. In Him, God
50 The Gospel of Thomas, by way of contrast, is a kind of theosophy, to be found by the one with the true knowledge
51 contra Via's rendering of the "in order (i{na)" clause. Dan Otto Via, The Parables, (Philadelphia: Fortress
Press, 1967), p. 8.
accomplished all He had in mind for His chosen people. Mark's emphasis on teaching
(didavskein) is missing in Schweizer's work.52 This is an element Schweizer overlooked
when he emphasized Jesus as the eschatological preacher of the soon-coming-kingdom. To be
sure, Jesus is the preacher who preaches an imminent eschatology. However, this does not
necessarily exclude the teaching aspect of Jesus' ministry. Jesus comes as the Messiah; one of
His tasks is to instruct and confront the people of God with what God is doing in this last hour.
Often the parables are weapons of conflict spoken in the heat of the moment as Jesus deals with a
particular problem or issue that has surfaced in His dealings with others, especially His critics.
The parables reveal that God's people must know what He is doing because Jesus desires
His people to participate in His kingdom and share in His work.
Mk. 4:2 And he taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to
them: 3 "Hear! A sower went out to sow.
The text indicates the close relationship between parables, teaching, and hearing (listening). The
verb "to hear/listen" (ajkouvw), found thirteen times in Mk. 4, is the NT equivalent of the
Hebrew verb "to hear" (um^v*) which means far more than the physical activity of hearing with
one's ears. The verb implies a perception, response, and relationship between what the speaker
says and how the person or audience responds to the message. The verb implies weighty
matters or things of great importance.53 The living Word of God forces people to make decisions
which either convert or harden. The same work of God brings both salvation and destruction:
Isa. 28:13 Therefore the word of the LORD will be to them precept upon precept, line
upon line, here a little, there a little; that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and
snared, and taken.
Jer. Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer which breaks the
rock in pieces?
In Mk. 4:12, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 9:6:
with the result that they may indeed see  but not perceive,
may indeed hear  but  not understand;
lest they  should turn again,
 be forgiven."
In its own context, the passage in Isa. depicts the later results of Isaiah's ministry read
back into the "prophetic-call" itself. The text in Isaiah's time, as well as in the mission of Jesus,
affirms that God has His own ways in carrying out His purpose. People have the organs of
perception, yet they are yet unaware of what they perceive or hear. The issue is how people
52 Albert Schweitzer, The Mystery of the KingdomGod, (1913), pp. 94-115.
53 Deuteronomy 6:3-4
rv#a& twc)u&l^ T*r=m^v*w+ la@r*c=y! T*u=m^v*w+ 3
rB#D! rv#a&K^ da)m= /WBr=T! rv#a&w~ i*l= bf^yy!
bl*j* tb^z* Jr#a# i=l* i*yt#b)a& yh@l)a$ hw`hy+
p .vb*d+W
.dj*a# hw`hy+ Wnyh@l)a$ hw`hy+ la@r*c=y! um^v = 4
Deut. 6:3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them; that it may go well with you, and that you
may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and
4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD;
respond to the given word.
The clause, "lest [unless] they should turn again and be forgiven," is difficult and has
been variously explained.54 We should bear in mind that the conjunction of result "so that"
(i{na) is followed by two doublets. The first doublet includes the participle, "while seeing,"
which gives the positive statement that reveals only appearance for it is negated by the reality,
"they might not see." The second doublet offers the positive appearance, "while hearing," which
is negated by the reality, "they might not understand." The statements of rejection and judgment
prepare for the final purpose clause, "in order that they might not return," which is also negative
in thrust.

Result Positive (appearance) Negative (reality)

with the result while seeing they might not see (mhV
that (i{na) (blevponte") i[dwsin)
(with the result while hearing they might not understand
that—i{na) (ajkouvonte") (mhV suniw'sin)

All of the people (crowd, large group, the twelve) possess the ability to hear, which Jesus
presupposes by His opening word "Hear" (ajkouvete). But in Isaiah, the Israel that the
prophet addressed did not care, and thus the prophetic voice resulted in the further hardening of
the peoples' hearts, which is similar to the response of many people in Jesus' day. In like
manner, Jesus is aware of His critics and of the elements in the crowd that did not respond to
Him in a positive fashion.
Because of their rejection of Jesus, God rejects such people and takes away whatever
they had (Mk. ). The text of Mk. 4:10-12 affirms that Jesus chose the parabolic medium so as to
"symbolize God's judgment upon his opponents."55 We prefer to hear of the God of grace rather
than the God of judgment. However, the hardness of heart in Isaiah's time (Isaiah 6) means that
the will of God can only be carried out by a remnant who will do the work of God (Isa. 1:9).
Jesus does not appear to want the majority to return because He knows that their "turning" will
not be genuine. Snodgrass notes: "The strong words in Isaiah 6:9-10 were not an indication that
God did not want to forgive people. They were a blunt statement expressing the inevitable.
People would hear, but not really understand."56 In a general way, the crowds understood that
Jesus was speaking about the central reality of the KingdomGod, but they did not perceive that
Jesus was Himself the fulfillment of the Kingdom. Thus, the parable communicates truth to His
disciples, while hiding the truth from unresponsive and hostile opponents. Osborne's
identification of the parable as an encounter mechanism is helpful57 in that the parable allows for
a wide variety of purposes: to challenge, to force a decision, interpret, invite, grasp and hold
attention, evoke both positive response and self-judgment. For those who are hardened the
parables evoke further judgment and hardening. For those who are open, the parables lead to
faith and committed discipleship.
54 See Everett Harrison, A Short Life of Christ, (Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1968), p. 103. Joachim
Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus , pp. 13-18 argues that the clause is a shortened form of "in order that it might be
fulfilled." Instead of the suggested result clause, "...for those outside, everything comes in parables with the result
that..."(i{na), is a mistranslation of a relative clause, "...all things come in parables to those outside who..." (oi{)
p. 78.
55 Osborne, p. 238.
56 Klyne Snodgrass, "Parable" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), p.

57 Osborne, p. 239.
What occurred under the old covenant was a faint foreshadowing of the KingdomJesus
for He senses that a remnant (Isa. 1:9)--not an entire nation--will constitute His Kingdom. In
Mark 4:12, the phrase "with the result that" (iJvna),58 expresses the result of His parabolic
teaching. The very use of parables by Jesus accords well with the nature of His ministry for His
parables are not intended for all people. It is true that God's redemptive purpose is for all--yet
God lays down His rules, which are vital to His redemptive plan. Even though His message
would encounter misunderstanding and hardness of heart, Jesus teaches in parables to elicit trust
and obedience. It is noteworthy that in Jn. , the same text of Isaiah 6 is used of a hardening
process; resulting not from parables but from "signs" (shmei'a).
Some scholars maintain that there is a difference between the plain sayings of Jesus and
the parables in that the parables are enigmatic. One may ask, however, if even the sayings of
Jesus are always "plain." Some of His sayings are difficult to grasp; their meaning is not
immediately obvious. The sayings of Jesus, no less than His parables, call for careful thought.
Take, for example, the saying, "Blessed are those that mourn." There is a contrast that requires
some thought. There often appears to be as much implied in the sayings of Jesus as in the
parables. Of course there are interpretive problems with the parables, but it is clear that these
picture stories convey a secret meaning that is both concealed and revealed.

The Audience of the Parables

The Gospel narrative presents us with three separate groups who heard the parables: 1)
the crowd, 2) the group larger than the disciples, 3) the twelve disciples, as may be seen in the
following texts:
Mk. 4:1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about
him so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole crowd was beside the
sea on the land.
10 And when he was alone those who were about him with the twelve asked him
concerning the parables.
The crowd. The crowd, which is outside, realizes that Jesus speaks to them in the form of
a mashal, but they do not understand the message. A vital relationship with Jesus is needed to
understand His parables. He intends that His message be understood by His audience, whether
large or small. Therefore, He questions the crowd about the parables and urges them to open
their ears.59 Although the crowd may or may not be able to fathom the content of the parable,
Jesus believes that the crowd is able to perceive something unique in the parables.
Mk. 4:3 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to
hear it; 60

The masses realize there is something new and strange about Jesus' parables although the
message of the particular parables is not always clear and obvious. It forces the hearers to think
and to be ready to change their attitude and behavior. Via says, “It is true that Jesus’ parables
58In Matthew, the conjunction is "so that" or "with the result that" (wJvste) and introduces a clause of result.
59Mark 4:9, 30; 7:14; 12:9; Matt. 18:12; 21:28; Lk. 6:47; 18:
60Mark 4:21 And he said to them, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not on a stand?

There are two questions in v. 21, one prefaced by a mhv, "not" (which expects a negative answer, ["of course
not"]) and one prefaced by, oujc, "not", (which expects a positive answer ["surely"]). And the verb is "comes"
(e[rcetai) not "is brought into" (eijsfevretai). "A lamp does not come (into a room) does it? Does it
not come in order to be placed on a lampstand?"
draw upon the familiar world, but the familiar is used in a new way. Thus old ways of thinking
are challenged, and resistance to change may impede understanding. So in this way a parable
may be hard to understand more because of the existential situation of the hearer.”61
We find that the crowd in the Gospels is confused and divided (scivsma Jn. ), not
only about Jesus' identity, but also about His parabolic teaching. We see a full array of opinions
and reports about Jesus and His parables, resulting in a wide spectrum of opinions about Him
(Jn. -13, 25-27). Those who are "outside" have not experienced the power of God in Jesus'
words and works. They see a strange prophet or a wandering Rabbi who has gathered a few
"hard hat" workers, a tax-collector, and some fishermen from the GalileanSea. The outsiders
failed to see the new age of the Spirit emerging before their very eyes.
In the parables, Jesus shows Himself as the same enigmatic character that His miracles
reveal. He healed and He cast out demons, but never for the purpose of drawing misguided
attention to Himself. He revealed God's redeeming love in His deeds, but no less in His words.
His entire work is mysterious, yet openly manifest. As the Servant of God's royal power, He is
the means of ushering in the KingdomGod.
The group larger than the twelve. The group larger than the twelve appears to be a
company of people who follow Jesus with regularity, but were not among the twelve. In Mark 3
this group was composed of "those whom he desired," from which Jesus made His selection of
the twelve. From the evangelists, evidence suggests that some of these were women (Lk. 8:1-2;
Acts 1). Given the nature of these disparate groups, the aim of a parable may differ from one
group to another. Much will be dependent upon the readiness of individuals in one group or
another to hear the lesson that a parable imparts.
Mk. And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired; and
they came to him.
14 And he appointed twelve to be with him, and to be sent out to preach
This group is similar to the remnant in Isaiah's time (Isa. 1:9). God will reach His goal through a
remnant; a goal that has all in view. As Manson notes: the use of "those around him" with the
twelve designates the general sense of "followers," "partisans," or the "retinue" of someone.62
As a whole, this group with the twelve is presented in contrast to the crowd. What places a
person or group in one class or another is an understanding of "the mystery" and the response to
the parables. "Those in whom religious insight and faith are awakened by the hearing of
parables press into the inner circle for more."63
The twelve. The twelve alone are given the interpretive key to the parables,
notwithstanding their frequent perplexity at their meaning (Mk. ; ). As these disciples are given
the parables, they become much like children who receive a new toy but do not know what to do
with it, how to wind it up, how to assemble it, or what the toy is supposed to do.
Understandably, the new and mysterious nature of the KingdomGod means the disciples will
often be perplexed. But Jesus assures them that they have a special position. By following
Jesus, God's power will be manifest to them and they will come to discern the meaning of His
parables. Jesus says to them, "You are in a privileged position, more than all people."
Matthew 13 portrays a clear contrast between the insiders and the outsiders; expressed
with a number of nouns and pronouns:

The Outsiders The Insiders

61 Via, p. 10.
62 Manson argues from the use in II Macc. p. 75.
63 Manson, p. 76.
2 Such large crowds gathered around him 10he disciples came to him and asked,
that he got into a boat and sat in it, while "Why do you speak to the people in
all the people stood on the shore. parables?"
9 He who has ears, let him hear.
"Why do you speak to the people in
but not to them. 11 He replied, "The knowledge of the
secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been
given to you,
Whoever does not have, even what he has 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he
will be taken from him. will have an abundance
13 This is why I speak to them in parables: 16 But blessed are your eyes because they
"Though seeing, they do not see; though see, and your ears because they hear.
hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of
Isaiah: "`You will be ever hearing but never
understanding; you will be ever seeing but
never perceiving.
15 For this people's heart has become
callused; they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise
they might see with their eyes, hear with
their ears, understand with their hearts and
turn, and I would heal them.'
34 All this Jesus said to the crowds in 36 Then he left the crowds and went into
parables; indeed he said nothing to them the house. And his disciples came to him
without a parable. saying, "Explain to us..."
35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by
the prophet: "I will open my mouth in
parables, I will utter what has been hidden
since the foundation of the world."

There is a clear distinction here between the hearers--a fundamental separation between
the insiders and outsiders. The question is: "Who is outside and who is inside?" "Great
surprises may be in store when God will throw open his books. He himself says that the first will
be last, and the last will be the first. These words about those outside and those inside are
certainly not spoken in order to make us feel secure between our churchly fences, as if we were
those inside and the others--the pagans, the godless, the unbelievers--were those outside."64 The
peril of the disciple is a "deadly self-satisfaction"65 that hinders the effect that a parable might
otherwise have. In essence, hardness of heart defeats the intended purpose of parables.
The crucial issue is understanding the mystery (musthvrion). There are two ways
of being related to the mystery--to be on the inside or outside. The insiders understand the
mystery of the KingdomGod. On the other hand, despite being insiders, the disciples may fail to
understand the mystery of the KingdomGod:
Mk. And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you
64 Emil Brunner, Sowing and Reaping, (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1965), p. 10.
65 Manson, p. 78.
understand all the parables?

Theology of the Parables

The KingdomGod = God is at Work in Jesus in a Special Way. Jesus' message is that
God's Kingdom is "on its way" with the radical change that it brings. No longer is the "good
news" directed only to the Jewish people; it embraces all human longing. The word "Kingdom"
(basileiva) does not simply imply a corporate identity, but intimates a process in which
God rules in the present time, anticipating the Day in which all powers will be subject to Him.
Jesus desires to make God real to the people. As Jesus and His disciples preach, it is clear that
this is only the beginning of a process that culminates in the eschatological rule of Christ. God
takes the initiative, and the response of trust (pivsti") means the listener truly hears the word
of the Kingdom. Jesus proclaims that God is at work establishing His reign on the earth, but He
does not say how this will be done. What He does do is call people to complete obedience. The
clearest claim of the presence of the Kingdom is the Parable of the Strong and Stronger One in
which Jesus views His own ministry of exorcism as a sign of the presence of God's rule (Matt.
12:28 par.). The very fact that people flocked to Jesus is a sign that God's power is at work in
Him in a special way. He possesses a real drawing power and charm that magnetizes the people.
Many of the parables are introduced by words such as "To what shall we liken the
KingdomGod." Thereby we are urged to compare the image created by the parable to the reality
portrayed. To understand the central point of a parable means to apply it to the reality of the
KingdomGod. Both the Baptist and Jesus announced God's royal rule. The message is
paradoxical: If He is Lord, why does He come? If He is not Lord, why should He come? In
Jesus, God was adding something. In Jesus, God unfolds His purpose of salvation and judgment.
In the OT, God's coming was not a localized concept limited by space and time, but the
saving activity for humankind. The message, "The Kingdom of God is at hand," means that God
manifests His royal power. He is not controlled but controls everything and brings about what is
new. The world, as we know it, will be transformed. His Kingdom is neither a natural or
historical development, which was the great misunderstanding of the Jews in Jesus' day. He is
no arbitrary potentate, nor is He beholden to a favored nation with its national hopes, political
opportunities and aspirations, including the overthrowing of enemies. Many Jews and Christians
believe the KingdomGod is embodied by the present State of Israel. On the contrary, the
emergence of the State of Israel in our day represents no fulfillment of the KingdomGod. In the
OT, people were never able to anticipate what was the next step of God in His Kingdom. God's
divine activity in His coming is the fulfillment of His purpose.
Mystery of the Kingdom. The secret of the Kingdom, given to the disciples,
distinguishes them from all others. The "mystery(ies) of the Kingdom" (taV musthvria
th'" basileiva" tw'n oujranw'n) is both revealed and hidden. The term
"mystery" (musthvrion) refers to something that formerly had been hidden, but that
suddenly becomes open; it refers in Ladd's words, to "a revealed secret."66 It means the
communication of something that was otherwise unknown. C.F.D. Moule defines the term as:
"The idea that God's thoughts and ways are not men's but that they are his secret which is not
obvious to human wisdom but which he may reveal to those whom he chooses was familiar to
everyone who listened attentively in the synagogue."67 The community spoke of a "secret
66 George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,
1974), p. 93.
67 C.F.D. Moule, "Mystery", Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), p. 480. See
purpose" (zr*), which likewise was used in connection with the Kingdom (tWKl=m~). God's
Kingdom does not function by political policy, but by the act and power of a King. God pursues
His goal by establishing His Kingdom, the very "secret" which He reveals to disciples.
The disciples stand in a wonderful and privileged position because they have been
entrusted with the secret, i.e., it has been given to them.68 In other places in the Gospels the
mystery revealed is the identity of Jesus (Mk. ), the knowledge about Jesus as the Messiah. In
extra-biblical sources there are other types of secrets that are revealed. In the Gospel, however,
the basic revelation consists of the mighty acts of God in Jesus of Nazareth. The special goal is
God's royal rule on earth (Matt. ). Mark says:
he did not speak to them (the crowds) without a parable, but privately to his own
disciples he explained everything.
34 cwriV" deV parabolh'" oujk ejlavlei aujtoi'", kat·
ijdivan deV toi'" ijdivoi" maqhtai'" ejpevluen pavnta.
The so-called "plain sayings" are always on the human level, e.g., "let him come after
me" (Lk. ), but they do not reveal the way in which God acts through His Kingdom on earth.
The parables are not intended to give ethical pronouncements or some kind of "interim-ethic"
(Schweizer). If we try to find a mere moral meaning in the parables, we miss their intent.
However, this does not mean that the parables are only eschatological and that no practical
application intended. What is Jesus' concern? He directs His listeners to the plan that calls for a
whole-hearted response and commitment reaching down into every area of life. In the light of
God's ultimate revelation we cannot go on with business as usual. Nor can parables be taken
simply as ethical exhortations; they are positioned within the wonderful act of divine grace,
which effects an inner transformation and expresses that changed life in appropriate ethical ways.
If Jesus is only regarded as a teacher of ethical principles, no explanation exists as to why He
met so much opposition, which ultimately led to His death on the cross.
If the parables convey the secret of God's Kingdom, then we are dealing with a person
who cannot be dismissed as another desert prophet or wandering Rabbi. According to Bultmann,
Jesus is a Rabbi who had His own ideas and what He said had little significance either for the
early Church or for us.69 However, it is important that through the secret or mysteries of the
Kingdom, Jesus enables His disciples to share in the secret of God's purpose:
Matt. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son
except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son
chooses to reveal him.70
Through the revelation of the secret, imparted by God to Jesus, Jesus the Son is thereby able to
pass on the spiritual truth of the Kingdom to His disciples. Jesus begins the prayer (v. 26) with
the praise of the Father for concealing His truth from the wise and intelligent and revealing it to
infants (). The contrast is striking and yet it becomes the basis for the Son's confidence and
invitation which follow:
"Come to me, all you who are heavily burdened" ().
According to Jewish rule 1) The bearer of the truth had a responsibility to pass it on, and
2) The recipient had no right to alter the form by which God had communicated it to him. In this
prayer (Matt. 11:27ff.), Jesus claims a special unmediated relationship to God, which must be
68 The perfect passive form, devdotai ("it has been given") is significant. It implies that God has given or

revealed this mystery to the disciples for all time..

69 Rudolph Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, Theology of the New Testament
70 This verse is regarded by Bultmann as a "bolt out of the Johannine blue", and thus is spurious. However, there is

absolutely no textual tradition which would warrant such a conclusion.

shared with others. Obviously Jesus was convinced that what He had was not His own, but came
to Him by divine revelation. Accordingly, what He hands down to His disciples are not simply
the literary metaphors--King, Father, and Shepherd. Far more He is committed to impart the
special purpose of God--that God is acting in Jesus the Son in a special way. God pursues His
goal by establishing His Kingdom; the very secret that He reveals to the disciples and which
refers to the will of God and the comprehensive secret of God for the new age.
Doctrine of God. As we encounter the parables, it is made plain that God stands behind
these parables in actual experience and relationship--not in mere systematic theological
categories. He is, for example, the King, the Master, the Fisherman, the Owner of the Vineyard,
etc. To say the least, the stories are diverse. Apparently Jesus could sense the extensive
diversification of God's dealings with humankind, such as with homeowners, widows, tax-
collectors, peasants, farmers, children playing make-believe. And God is portrayed in His
kindness, mercy and goodness. Jesus does not affirm that the world is basically good, but He
does imply that God is a God who has planned from eternity that His benevolent nature be seen
in human life. In the Parable of the Four Soils, God provides food and gracious care for His
people. Moreover, His people are the instruments through whom His grace will be given to
others: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst...for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). In the
Parables of the Treasure Hidden in the Field and Pearl of Great Price, God is the One who offers
such unheard-of "lucky-finds." Behind the Parable of the Good Samaritan lies God, with a
vested interest in humanity--a God who comes to people on a rescue mission out of groundless
compassion.71 The Parable of the Friend at is not intended to be a mere admonition on true
friendship, but reveals a compassionate God who does not need to be awakened before He
responds to His people when they earnestly and continually pray.
The Divine Initiative. Consistently, the argument moves from the lesser to the greater,
"how much more will God. . ."72 In the Parable of the Fig-Tree (Lk. 13:6-9), God does not owe
anything to humanity; nevertheless, God is long-suffering. In the ministry of Jesus, God offers
humankind a new chance. For through His ministry there can be a new beginning--a beginning
that people are only able to make by a positive response to Him, based on God's prior offer. God
maintains the positive goal He has in view, just as the gardener maintains the vineyard and fig-
tree with the expectation of the final harvest. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, God takes the
initiative and does not wait for the sheep to come to its senses. The human situation is not one in
which "all's well that end's well." It is just the opposite. People refuse to take the redemptive
work of God seriously. The human race has already advanced to edge of the abyss and except
for the grace of God and the restraining arm of God--humankind will be lost. The Parable of the
Laborers in the Vineyard affirms that God Has his own ways, which are contrary to human ways
(Isa. 55:8-9). Nonetheless, He finds a way to inspire people to participate in and to partake of
His redemptive purpose in Jesus Christ.
God’s activity. Taken as a whole, the parables proclaim a God who acts. They do not
present a concept of God but reveal the activity of God.73 Something wonderful and unheard of
is taking place in the world in space and time. The parables are about a God of goodness and
mercy who manifests Himself in the face of human callousness. At the same time, the parables
affirm the supremacy and superiority of God. Although the universe and the world are hostile, it
is the activity of God that makes life meaningful, not fortuitous chance. The parables make us
71 This does not mean that we are warranted to make the parables into extended allegories, as with Augustine.
72 Qal W}h!ômer
73 This is a contrast with the god of Plato who sits and contemplates, while only the Demi-Urge acts with respect to

aware that God will reach His goal; nothing can defeat Him--not even a mixed community
(Parable of the Weeds, Parable of the Dragnet). In the Parable of the Weeds, God's
superabundant wisdom overrides the plan of the servants and it foils the wisdom of "the Evil
One" who sowed the weeds. The parables assure us that God oversees all unfortunate events and
follows through with His steadfast purpose.
God's power. The parables present no mystical view of God or life. The difficulties,
hardships, and enemies of God are all taken seriously. The sowing parables affirm that, in spite
of failure, God will still overcome all obstacles and barriers to life and productivity. God's
omnipotence is not abstract, but is made real in Jesus' promise that “with God all things are
The parables make it clear that the opposition and enmity of others is not merely directed
against disciples but is directed against God Himself. Nevertheless, the difficulties and obstacles
encountered will not hinder God from achieving His redemptive purpose. God has so arranged
this world that despite all of the forces of distrust and destruction that people bring upon
themselves; God's goal of redemption never falters.
The parables also present us with a God who establishes a moral order underlying the
world. A moral law is evident in the parables although it is not uniform everywhere. There is a
clear cause-effect relationship between the unbelief and actions of the Jewish leaders in
Jerusalem and their final destiny. God not only works in the world but acts upon it. This needs
to be kept in mind when we think of Jesus as the One who is in the world. At the same time,
God's activity in world events is not the same as His action in His Kingdom, but through these
events God acts upon the world. There is a teleological goal--the eschatological KingdomGod.
It is a magnet which imperceptibly draws things and people to the end for which they are
destined. The parables present us with pictures of the Kingdom as a Wedding Feast or a
Messianic Banquet. They tell us that the end, the eschatological goal, will be reached and
thereby, they inspire hope for the future.
The Parables of the Mustard Seed, Leaven, and Seed Growing by Itself emphasize the
non-violent way by which God reaches His goal. This goes contrary to our human way of
thinking. Through the parables Jesus notes how the presence of God in this world transforms
and engenders growth rather than causes destruction. Jesus never allows His opponents to tell
Him how He should act--He even rebukes the militant zeal of his disciples, when, on more than
one occasion, they opted for some type of violence or retaliation (Lk. -55). Jesus does not give
His disciples options from which to choose. Even more so, He leads them to follow Him to the
goal, the true goal He reaches for.
Other parables reveal the sovereign power of God as He establishes His rule as Lord. He
is really King of this world; even in the face of its unbelief. God will choose the moment for His
action and until He gives the sign, the coming KingdomGod cannot be consummated. Jesus
constantly prepares His disciples for this divine purpose. The landlord will not return to the
wedding feast until all aspects of preparation have been accomplished. Furthermore, God does
not send a message to the thief in advance of His coming. In the Parable of the Ten Maidens, it
is certain that the bridegroom is coming.74 In the Parable of the Rich Fool, the farmer has been
successful and can retire early. To be sure, we find work and a social order in the parables, but
the real error comes in thinking there must be some reward for human accomplishment, i.e., a
material future that one is owed. When God calls the rich man a fool, He implies that the rich
man did not take God seriously.75 The necessity of working hard is part of the curse placed upon
74 The Greek present participle, " the One who is coming" (oJ ejrcovmeno") used with a futuristic meaning
is parallel to the Hebrew Qal active participle, "the One who is about to come" (aB*h^).
humans for sin (Gen. 3)--hence work is not the way of salvation. The Parable of the Dragnet
reckons with the reality of final salvation and judgment that He and His angels will effect. Not
everything that goes into the net will be kept; nevertheless the Church needs to be reminded of
Her role in bringing men and women into the net. The Church is an instrument that God uses, but
God alone is in control of human destiny.
In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Abraham speaks in God's name; with no
reason given why God should arrange special miraculous signs so that everyone can be
converted. Our ways are not God's ways (Isa. 55:8). God's sovereign power is the only "right of
way." In the Parable of the Talents, no reason is given for the differing amounts. God is free
and exercises His right to give as He pleases. He is utterly free to violate social decorum and
convention as He passes by the "upper echelon" to reach to the outcast.
In many ways, Jesus shows that our narrow concepts and exclusive human views are
much too limited for God. His desire is inclusive; God wills that all should be saved. Human
egoistic thinking often conveniently classifies humankind into groups, which are restrictive in
nature. But, the parables of Jesus make sense only if we see a divine purpose at work in the
world for all of humanity. Some parables are replete with details about the consummation and
its joy. In the parables of the consummation of the age, Jesus offers the opportunity of
harmonious and joyful fellowship with Himself--not the sumptuousness of the meal. While
people often take "sonship" and "daughtership" lightly, Jesus makes us aware of how far God
transcends human love by offering the almost unbelievable joy of fellowship with Him.
Fellowship with God is not a sentimental experience or a psychological state; it is a true miracle
of God's grace. Human beings are made sons and daughters of God with Christ as Lord.
Humanity receives no ongoing contract with God as a Cosmic Employer. The son in the far-off
country does not inherit the farm, but he is offered a home with joy and celebration. At one time,
he lived a life of his choosing, but then found through various reversals that life lived recklessly
and selfishly could never satisfy his soul. And so he made his way home. We can and do feel at
home here. Nevertheless, God's goal lies in the direction of another world that bursts the narrow
boundaries of our limited thought and language.
The Place of Christ in the Parables. Reading the parables also makes us aware that
they embrace Jesus and His mission. Parables are dependent upon the presupposition and
recognition of Jesus as the Anointed of God who inaugurates the inbreaking of the KingdomGod
in His person, including His words and His works. Indeed, without the recognition of the
inbreaking of the KingdomGod the parables are meaningless. While some of the parables
contain allusion and inference, as a whole they proceed on the presupposition of the Messianic
We need to sense the emphasis on what Jesus (not the Church or Israel) is doing. Jesus
does not publicly proclaim Himself as Son of God. Even His use of the term, "Son of Man," is
in the third person. He leaves it to his audience, the Evangelists, as well as the early Christian
communities to make the necessary inferences not only from His plain sayings but from His
parables. In the interpretation of the Parable of the Soils, the Sower who sows the Word of God,
the "good news" (eujaggevlion) is equivalent to Jesus. In a similar but veiled way, in
the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Jesus speaks of Himself as the one who comes to Israel, His
vineyard (cf. Isa. 5:1-7). Outwardly, the work of Jesus compares well with the work of prophets
before Him. He--like the prophets--faced stiff opposition. He appears only after the prophets
have run their course. As in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Jesus appears in all probability
in the Parable of the Wedding Feast as the Son for whom the banquet is held.
In the Parable of the Seed Growing by Itself, Jesus points to the eschatological process;
the growth of the seed independent of human activity. The progress of God's Kingdom is
certain, but it depends on the initial work of sowing, i.e., by Jesus. The growth of the seed is
gradual, but steady.
Jesus draws others into ministry with Him. His success is bound up with the success of
His servants (Parable of the Talents/Pounds). The reference to servant-language in Isa. 53 is
mirrored in the numerous references to servant(s) in various parables.
Likewise the predictions of the passion are not ex eventu ("after the fact"), as seen in the
fact that in some of the parables we find simple references to antagonism, labor, risk, and its
implications for discipleship. If the early Church had wanted to fabricate parables ex eventu,
then we would expect that a number of the parables should contain more detailed references to
the whole of the Passion Story. In one parable (Lk. 15:3-7), Jesus risks the loss of the whole
flock for the sake of one lost sheep. He is well aware of the implication that His program of
salvation would entail when extended to all; thus His critics malign His table-fellowship with the
"low-lifes" of society (Lk. 15:1-2).
Moreover, in the parables Jesus acts in the name of God. He represents God as He tells
the parables; He desires to lead the audience along the path that He wants them to follow. As
Son, He does not want to claim the Father's place, only as a Servant, He will live in conformity
to the Father's will. In our time, it is easy to lose the idea of representative action of the one for
the many. While Jesus, during His last week, anticipates the Messianic Feast (Lk. -18), He faces
the unnerving prospect of the cross (cf. Jn. ). At the same time, He contends with disciples who
are intent only on positions of prestige in His Kingdom (cf. Lk. ). Once again, Jesus dons the
servant mantle. He is the Servant, intent on His redemptive death (Mk. ). Quarreling disciples
should find their pattern of service in Him.
Creation. Jesus finds certain signs within the world of God's rule over nature, more than
in the powerful manifestations of His power.76 He looks to the fields with their wildflowers, to
the trees with their birds, sparrows, and ravens. God is at work in both creation and providence
with simple yet miraculous events such as growth, harvest, and the changes of weather. His rule
embraces His entire creation of beauty and order; His commitment to that creation implies
providential care over all His creatures--animals and humans. The picture of God making
clothes for the flowers and preparing meals for the sparrows is the picture of a God who is Lord
of Creation by being the servant in love of all his creatures."77
The Human Person. What does Jesus think of human beings? Each person possesses,
He affirms, infinite and inestimable worth. Even the very hairs of your head are numbered
(Matt. ). He reminds His people of this through His stories, describing an inestimable worth that
exceeds by far the worth of the birds of heaven. The argument moves from the minor to the
major. "If it is so that God cares for ravens in this way, are you not worth much more than they?
Then rest assured that God will provide for you."
On the other hand, Jesus is also very aware of human sinfulness. He argues that the
security of human beings is not to be found within themselves (The Parable of the Rich Fool and
the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus). Security can only begin with the plea, "God be
merciful to me, the sinner." The parables reveal that the person who acts in a righteous manner
is the exception, rather than the rule (The Parable of the Good Samaritan). Whereas Paul tends
to express doctrinally what sin means, Jesus uses parables (cf. Lk. 18:9-14) to portray the ways
that sin manifests itself. By means of the parables, Jesus breaks through a false and illusory self-
76 Psa. 19:2; I Kgs. 19:11; Psa. 18:7-16; 104; 114; Hab. 3: Job 38ff.
77 Manson, p. 163.
satisfaction to awaken people to a better quality of life in the present. He shows what people
may become when they turn away from the passing illusions of this life and place their trust in
the Creator and Redeemer, by accepting the life He offers.
The Human Response. The divine invitation to new life comes to an audience that
needs to hear the precious summons of God to be His people. The invitation comes with the
expectation of a response.78 God remains the initiator and humans respond as the objects of
God's plan. In the wedding feast parables, the host is embarrassed if his house is not full of
Election. The parables contain the mysterious amalgam of the divine will and human
response (negative and positive). We read that God acts for the benefit and well-being of people.
The idea of election is a characteristic feature of the new age. It is not up to the human farmer to
determine how much grain should be grown, but to the divine Farmer. God decides that only the
good grain is to be harvested and in what proportion; he then harvests the wheat and burns the
chaff in His own time. God bestows intrinsic value on people whom He chooses. As the
Fisherman, God can decide which fish are good and which fish are not, and He demands respect
for His power and authority. The man without a wedding garment comes to the wedding feast
clothed as he is, thinking that it does not matter (Man Without a Wedding Garment); he fails to
acknowledge that he is living in a monarchy. The proper response to God means a trust in God's
power and a correlated trust in God's plan
Commitment. Through the use of simile, metaphor, and story-parable, Jesus calls for a
wholehearted commitment that disdains material treasures through an awareness that no one can
serve two masters. The parable concluding the Sermon on the Mount is the Parable of Two
Foundations; it calls for doing the words of Jesus--thus insuring a foundation that will withstand
the hostile forces of life. Jesus' parables about forgiveness, likewise, show the necessary
obligation of the forgiven one to likewise forgive others. The Parable of the Dishonest Manager
tells of a rogue who demonstrates his commitment to a sure future. Radical and committed
discipleship is the focus of the twin-parables (The Parable of the Tower-Builder and the Parable
of the King Going to War).
Activity. The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids suggests that election and commitment
imply activity--the wise bridesmaids prepare for the wedding procession with oil sufficient to
cover the delay of the Bridegroom. And God gives the opportunity to people to respond in
action to His plan. He will make every effort to help His people, to support them, and to give
them the courage to respond in appropriate and meaningful ways for He provides work for them
to do.
One of the great dangers of eschatological preaching is to use it as a cloak for human
laziness. In the parables activity is crucial. The poor laborer is at work in the field when he
finds the unexpected treasure. The pearl merchant is intent on his business when he finds the
choice pearl. Seeds germinate and fruit trees are expected to produce good fruit. Those who
receive the talents and pounds are expected to do something with what they have received in
Humility. In the midst of their activity people are to sense that what they have been given
is of supreme value and they must leave ultimate evaluation to God. The shepherd knows better
than the sheep what real freedom means. The laborers in the vineyard must acknowledge that
their master is free to be gracious and is in no way beholden to their narrow view of a work-ethic
which demands remuneration. The servants (disciples) are not to be premature separators
This goes against the grain of theologians such as Strauss and Feuerbach, who say that in religion men give a

mythological interpretation of social events.

between wheat and weeds. The parables emphasize both a human response to the unmerited
grace of God and a corresponding human inability to raise an objection to God's utter freedom to
act as He will. People are to realize that the value of the KingdomGod is not only for the
individual but for others (mustard seed, crop of wheat). There is a risk factor implied in the gift,
for some will be lost. People are challenged to make a decision. When they decide for the
KingdomGod, their response also entails a commitment to others in need (Parable of Sheep and
Goats; Parable of Good Samaritan).
Astonishment and joy. The parables reveal that a vital part of the trust-response to Jesus
lies in a sense of awe and wonder that should characterize the people of God. To use C. S.
Lewis' phrase, they should be "surprised by joy" and amazed at the goodness of God, which not
only reaches them, but which must be shared. Whether the people of God be other shepherds,
women of a Palestinian town, servants, or an older brother, they are called to celebrate their
joyful find. People should be grateful for what they receive.
Responsibility in light of the future. The parables indicate that the people of God are to
be expectant of a future in which God's royal power and plan will be realized. People are to be
fully appreciative of the first fruits, but also aware that a full harvest is yet to come. They are to
respond to the Kingdom because God invites them out of a world that fails to make sense and
certainly offers no hope. A number of parables of the consummation speak of the glorious future
when the plan of God will be ultimately realized. Exception has been taken to Jeremias and
Dodd because of their neglect of this issue. To be sure, many of the parables announce the
necessity of decision now. At present the dough is still being leavened and the dragnet continues
to be cast. But the future will come when the lump of dough is fully leavened and the total catch
of fish is caught, at which time God will do the sorting. These parables and others affirm a
glorious future and final divine goal that are yet to be realized. It is true that those who hear the
parables live in the present, not in the future, but they are encouraged by the knowledge of the
future that will surely come. This future goal includes human responsibility and insight that the
Parable of the Unjust Steward shows. The people of God will experience that final goal that will
certainly be attained as their supreme good. The banquet will be celebrated and is in no way
conditioned upon the acceptance of all.
Responsibility with wealth. More than the other Evangelists, Luke underscores the
proper attitude towards the material aspects of life and the appropriate use of resources. Several
of the parables in Luke's "Travel-Narrative" are unique to Luke. They point the readers to the
true value of human life and the corresponding need to use money and possessions in a way that
enhances life and relieves the hardship of others. True disciples know how "to travel light" and
to have their priorities in order with respect to their finances and the needs of others. The
humorous story of the rogue in Luke 16 (Parable of the Dishonest Manager) points the disciples
in the direction of the shrewd use of money so as to make friendships with eternal benefits in
view (12:33). The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus points to the dire consequences of
mercy-less living. Life is on loan from God () and brings with it distinct accountability.
Prayer. The parables teach Jesus' disciples to pray; thereby, they can expect God their
Father to act. The Lukan parables on prayer underscore the wide gulf that exists between human
behavior and God's willingness to respond to His disciples who pray. The argument moves from
the lesser to the greater and also from the negative to the positive. If a nasty judge (Lk. 18:1-8)
will act because a fearless widow nags him, or if a groggy neighbor will get up in the middle of
the night because of his neighbor's persistence--then how much more will God act on behalf of
His people who pray and pray persistently. He is not like the judge or the groggy neighbor, but
is a heavenly Father who is more than ready to respond to His people.
Expectancy for the future. Parables reveal that the eschatological end is often far
different from our expectations. Who could possibly conceive that such a small mustard seed
would emerge as the largest of trees? In parables where the chief figure goes away and returns,
we learn that the realization of God's ultimate purpose requires a period of time in which God is
seemingly absent. These parables affirm that, in spite of His absence, He will return. And, at
that time, people will have to render account of their stewardship of the Kingdom. The return of
God will mean both judgment and blessing. The returning Master (King) does not aim to trap
His people; the intervening period will test them as to whether or not they have taken the
Master's claims seriously. A future reckoning is sure to occur. The Master's return will reveal
Him in a real and personal way to the people of the Kingdom. The problem with much of the
language of the consummation is that we are dealing with limited language trying to express
ineffable benefits and eternal results.
Responsibility not calculation. His coming can take place at any time. The parables do
not indicate precisely the time of His coming, but they nonetheless point to the proper human
attitude and response to His coming. The Parable of the Ten Maidens tells how the people of
God need to allow for the delay of the Parousia and to live faithfully in the interim. Speculation
and calculation of times and seasons demands nothing from people. The mere fact of the future
casts an irrevocable responsibility on the people of God to live in such a way that reflects that
future. The parables leave no doubt that the coming will mean evaluation and sifting that leads
either to reward or penalty. People are not masters of their own lives, but must live with
accountability to God, in view of what they have been given. The overriding message is "Enter
into the joy . . . Enter the hall . . . Respond to the grace of the Kingdom."
Service and availability. The proper response also entails service. People are to be
attuned to how God might use them. If people are transformed by the power of God, they
assume the servant mantle. As Jesus takes the form of the Servant of the Lord, disciples likewise
are to be transformed into His servants, alert to the divine demands. We are to accept the
position that God gives to us, and the conditions in which we find ourselves. It is not a matter
about having ten talents or one, but about a willingness to work according to His plan.
Realism. The people of God are also to realize that they are confronted by a world that is
indifferent to what they do, and, therefore, they must develop their own sense of identity and
being. Unfeeling response by the world is a sign of enmity, which is not overcome by power and
aggression. The people of God must realize that they are not ultimately responsible for the
failures of others that may occur on the pathway of obedience.
Reward. In the parables, Jesus does not say that the disciples are to make the right
response to obtain a reward. The idea of a future reward, however, makes humans aware of the
goodness of God. The Pharisees had their own doctrine of calculable pay for their efforts, but
disciples are called to render their service freely with no thought of pay differential (The Parable
of the Laborers in the Vineyard). Moreover, God's system of reward is not doled out by some
sort of "sliding scale." The parables rather affirm His sovereign right to give out rewards as He
wills--He is not beholden to human ideas (cf. Isa. 55:8-9).
Repentance, trust, and obedience . Only those who repent, i.e., "return," will share in the
Kingdom. The verb "repent" or "turn" (bWv) does not primarily mean "to feel sorry" but to
make a radical "turnabout" and return to one's true position. The Hebrew verb implies that
people have gone astray and a radical change in attitude towards God's saving work and moral
laws is essential. Repentance (metavnoia) is not moralistic ("I'll try harder") or
compensatory ("If I just do this then perhaps God will reward me"), but involves a
transformation of the entire person who acknowledges "I have deserted the Lord" (cf. II Sam. ).
Closely related is the response of "trust" (pivsti"), wherein one is able to participate in the
saving event. True discipleship means to risk one's life for the KingdomGod. Discipleship--
always at the forefront of Jesus' teaching--finds expression through the parables. Stories such as
the Parable of the Two Builders and the Two Sons emphasize a discipleship of active obedience.
The builder who is wise does the words of Jesus, even as the son who does the will of the father
is the son who goes to work in the vineyard. Discipleship is obedience not in mere words, but in
deed. The Parable of the Master and Servant (Lk. 17:7-10), for example, reveals God's
expectation of plain obedience without thought of reward.
Mercy and forgiveness. The parables also affirm the need to extend the same mercy and
grace that one has received to others in need. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant reveals
that divine forgiveness of a human debt ought to make a difference in the way that the spirit of
forgiveness is extended to another. The Parable of the Good Samaritan emphasizes how to
become a neighbor whoever that person may be, "Go thou and do likewise," Jesus said (Lk. ).
The Antagonist. The reality of an antagonist is expressed in various parables. Jesus
speaks of the "Strong One", indicating that the KingdomGod is no mere organic process (e.g.,
the Parable of the Mustard Seed), but a conflict between Jesus, who ushers in God's redemptive
purpose, and Satan. If there be "automatic growth" (see Mk. --aujtomatikw''") such as
Dodd's "realized eschatology" proposes, then it can only be due to the power of the Gospel. One
cannot, however, dismiss the opposition and destructive power of the Evil One. The Parable of
the Weeds makes us aware than Satan pursues his goal in a clandestine way. In the Parable of
the Four Soils, he opposes the work of Jesus by snatching away the seed that is sown. Numerous
parables affirm that God's Kingdom faces stiff opposition. However, the parables also point to
the ultimate victory over Satan. The Stronger One (Jesus) invades the house of the Strong One
(Satan), ties him up, and then is able to ransack his house and give new life to those who are
thereby exorcised.
p. 1

The Holy Spirit in Pauline Thought


The area of pneumatology in the Pauline material is difficult to probe, since the
Spirit is the very power by which we look at the Spirit. Christology is the theological
understanding of the Jesus-event: His pre-existence, historical existence and his post-
resurrection existence. However, when we come to pneumatology, we deal with a private
and personal experience, which cannot be seen. We can observe certain types of
behavior and observe a particular manifestation of the Spirit such as tongues or healing.
However, these gifts are not the Spirit nor are they at the core of the Holy Spirit.
Pneumatology deals with the most intimate and intense experience of the divine power,
whose entrance or impact upon individual Christians or the community is clearly
discernible (I Cor. 1:4-7; Gal. 3:5). However, the personal experience of the Holy Spirit
is not so clearly noted.
Paul was a prophet and charismatic figure and has been called "the theologian of
the Spirit," for he offers a broad teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit,
expressed in his written dialogue with numerous churches. He did have visions and
ecstatic experiences (I Cor. 9:1, "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?";
I Cor. 14:18, "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all"; II Cor. 12:1-
4—Paul caught up in the third heaven; II Cor. 12:12, "The signs of a true apostle were
performed among you with all steadfastness, with signs, wonders and powers"). These
texts provide evidence that Paul assumed the legitimacy of the experience of the Spirit in
his own life; however, he fought for the proper understanding of the Spirit in personal
and community life.

I. The Person of the Holy Spirit is integral to the Trinity.

Three primary texts affirm the essential person of the Holy Spirit within the
Eph. 4:4-6 "One Spirit"
"One Lord" (Christ)
"One God"
I Cor. 12:4-6 "the same Spirit"
"the same Lord" (Christ)
"the same God"
II Cor. 12:13 "grace of the Lord Jesus"
"love of God"
"fellowship of the Holy Spirit"

In other less explicit texts, the terms, "Holy Spirit" and "Christ" overlap; several terms
are interchangeable: "Spirit of God," "the Spirit of Christ," "Christ," "Christ in you"
"Spirit of Him" "His Spirit"—all refer to the same reality (Rom. 8:9-11; cf. I Cor. 15:45;
Gal. 5:25; Gal. 5:16; I Cor. 12:3).
Rom. 8:9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God
dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to
him.10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is
J. Lyle Story
p. 2

life because of righteousness.11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the
dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your
mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
If one does not have the Spirit, then one does not have Christ; if one does not have Christ,
then one does not have the Spirit (Rom. 8:9; I Cor. 12:12-13). There is no such thing as a
Spirit-less Christian. Therefore, to be a Christian, means that one is also a "spiritual
person" (pneumatikos).
Scattered throughout the Pauline corpus are a number of verbs, which point the
readers towards the personal being and activity of the Holy Spirit. As a "full member" of
the Trinity, the Spirit is deeply personal and converses in a personal way within the
Trinity and subsequently communicates personal things to people. The Spirit:
Intercedes on our behalf (Rom. 8:26-27)
Leads us in the ways of God (Gal. 5:18, Rom. 8:14),
Bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16)
Can be grieved by sin (Eph. 4:30)
Gives life to those who believe (II Cor. 3:6)
Searches the deep things (I Cor. 2:10)
Knows the mind of God (I Cor. 2:11)
Indwells believers (I Cor. 3:16; Rom. 8:11; II Tim. 1:4)
Works all things (entire salvation process) for good (Rom. 8:28)
Communicates to the worshiping community (I Cor. 12-14)
Desires things that are contrary to the flesh (Gal. 5:17)
Teaches the content of the Gospel to believers (I Cor. 2:13)1
As a member of the Trinity, the Spirit conveys the indwelling presence of God in the "New
Temple." Fee draws together three threads concerning the experience of God that are
fulfilled by the Spirit's advent: "(1) his association of the Spirit with the new covenant;
(2) the language of "indwelling"' and (3) his collocation of the Spirit with the imagery of
the Temple."2 Paul links together life under the new covenant with the indwelling by the
Spirit of the New Temple, i.e., the body of Christ.3 The personal and corporate
experience of the Holy Spirit is linked to OT texts such as Ezek. 36:26-27; 37:14; 31:31-
33) in which God promises a transformed heart that replaces a heart of stone with a heart
of flesh and a new spirit. These promises are expressed in II Cor. 3:1-6, wherein Paul
says that the Corinthians are "written by the Spirit of the Living God" "on tablets of
human hearts" (II Cor. 3:3). Paul views himself as the minister of this new covenant.
This covenant concerns life, transformation of the inner person by the Spirit, certainly not
the abusive and demanding "letter" of the law (II Cor. 3:5-6). The renewed or
transformed spirit will enable God's people to follow God's decrees. God's Holy Spirit
will communicate the very presence of God that will reside within people, "He has made
us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the
letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

II. The Work of the Holy Spirit

The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit are clear indications to Paul that
the "last days" had begun. Yet Paul is also very aware that there is a "not yet" attached to
1 Cf. Fee for this list and fuller comments, p. 830.
2 Fee, p. 843.
3 Cf. II Kgs. 8:10-11; I Cor. 3:16; 12:13.

J. Lyle Story
p. 3

the last days, which still await a fulfillment. The Spirit is the eschatological Spirit that
belongs to tension of Christian life that is lived in community together. Since the Spirit
communicates salvation (past, present and future), it stands to reason that the Spirit's role
is evident in all three time-periods. The outpoured Holy Spirit is a clear indication that
the messianic age has already come; the Spirit provides the dynamic for personal
transformation that is experienced now. However the Spirit is also the clear guarantee of
the final consummation that lies in the future. Just as the whole of Christian faith and
experience is paradoxical, so the central role of the Spirit belongs to the paradox. The
Spirit is both the fulfillment of the eschatological promises as well as proleptic of the
final consummation. The Spirit is the present down payment of salvation that is oriented
to the future, towards the full inheritance. "The Spirit is the evidence of the one, the
guarantee of the other."4
The Christian life is the "dispensation/era of the Spirit" and the Spirit acts in
power at the beginning, the middle and the end. Christian conversion and baptism are
bound up with the experience of the Spirit; Christian behavior means to "walk by the
Spirit," the community is empowered by the Spirit's grace-gifts," Christian virtues are an
outgrowth of the Spirit's life and Christian hope for life eternal and immortality is
predicated upon the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, in I Thess. 4:8, Paul
affirms that God continues to give "His Holy Spirit to you" in the process of
sanctification. The language of the Temple is associated with words such as
"indwelling," in the individual Christian and in the midst of the Christian community.
The Spirit is spoken of being located in the "heart" (II Cor. 1:22; 3:3; Gal. 4:6; Rom.
2:29; 5:5) and is spoken of as a "dwelling" (I Cor. 3:16; II Cor. 6:16; Rom. 8:9-11; Eph.
2:22). The Spirit is located "in you/us" according to I Thess. 4:8; I Cor. 6:19; 14:24-25;
Eph. 5:18). Two other passages speak of "God's dwelling in the midst of His people" (I
Cor. 14:24-25; II Cor. 6:16); the texts build upon the language of Isa. 45:14, "Surely God
is among you" and the promise of the new covenant, "I will dwell among them and they
shall be my people" (Ezek. 37:27). The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force but the
very presence of God who indwells His people. In many respects, the Holy Spirit can be
regarded as the experienced reality of God. The implications of this experience will be
unpacked as one grows in the Christian life. Dunn draws an analogy between a child's
experience of parental love before the child is able to talk about this love.5

A. Initial Experience (past)

1. The Spirit works effectively in the proclamation of the Gospel and mission of the
Church (I Cor. 2:1-4; I Thess. 1:5; Gal. 3:2-5; Rom. 1:1-4).
Paul's letters validate the all-important role of the Spirit in his original preaching
ministry; the Spirit initiates people into the Christian experience. A clear statement of
the Spirit's initiating role is expressed in I Cor. 2:1-4. Paul disclaims lofty words of
human wisdom. His message is Christ crucified. His speech and his message were
"in demonstration (ajpovdeixi")of the Spirit and power." The word
"demonstration" (ajpovdeixi") is a technical term in rhetoric. It does not mean
that the message is opposed to wisdom, but that human wisdom is not the source of
4Gordon Fee, God's Empowering Presence, (Peabody, Massachusetts, 1994), p. 826
5James Dunn, The Theology of the Apostle Paul, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1998), p.
J. Lyle Story
p. 4

Paul's message. In II Cor. 4:13, Paul says, "It is written, 'I believed; therefore I have
spoken.' With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak." Paul
connects the work of the Spirit to: understanding the Gospel, to preaching and hearing
the Gospel that leads to faith—all, including both speaker and hearer are the object of
the work of the Spirit.
The work of the Spirit is in evidence in I Thess. 1:5 in successive terms, e.g.,
"power," "the Holy Spirit," and "full conviction" since the terms reflect the
Thessalonians' initial experience of faith. In Gal. 3:2, 5, Paul speaks about the
Galatian's initial reception of the Spirit by the hearing of faith. The Spirit is received
as a people respond to the Gospel, which is proclaimed to them. Christian life is
based upon the hearing of the Gospel, "How can they believe in the one of whom they
have not heard? And how can they preach unless they are sent?" (Rom. 10:14-15).
The preaching of the Gospel is both preceded by faith and accompanied by faith
(Rom. 10:14; I Thess. 2:13-14; Eph. 1:13). The Spirit enables the faith-response.
Other Pauline texts affirm the role of signs and miracles and full supply of the Spirit's
"gifts of grace" (I Cor. 1:5, 7; Rom. 15:18-19; II Cor. 12:12; I Thess 1:4-6; Gal. 3:1-
3; I Cor. 2:4-5). In turn the Spirit fills the believers with boldness and the wisdom to
testify about Jesus (I Thess. 2:2).
The powerful work of the Spirit in preaching is grounded in the resurrection. In
Rom. 1:1-4, Paul refers to Jesus as "designated Son of God in power according to the
Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead." The Spirit confirms by a
demonstration of power and majesty that Jesus was appointed as Son of God. The
Spirit's role in the resurrection of Jesus was a very powerful demonstration of Jesus'
Divine Sonship. Perhaps Paul expresses the truth that death could not take permanent
hold of One with such a nature, "You will not allow your Holy One to see corruption"
(Psa. 16:10).

2. The Spirit effects initiation of people into a vibrant community (I Cor. 12:13; Eph.
4:4; I Cor. 6:17; II Cor. 3:3; Titus 3:5; I Cor. 2:6-13).
Externally, the Holy Spirit is the agent who aids in the proclamation with the
presence of confirming signs. The Spirit is the One who brings God's truth to people.
For Paul, the Spirit aids the proclaimer in articulating the message and in creating a
receptive attitude in the hearer. From an internal perspective, the Holy Spirit is the
person and the power who prepares the hearer to receive the truth and appropriate the
Gospel message. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they had received the word
(Gospel message) with "joy in the Holy Spirit" (I Thess. 1:6). The Spirit enlightens
minds and hearts. All believers are possessors of the Spirit. There is no one who can
respond to the claims of Christ without being activated and indwelt by the Holy
Paul takes it for granted that God has given the Spirit to believers: "Consequently,
the one who rejects this, does not reject a man, but God who gives His Holy Spirit to
you" (I Thess. 4:8). The plural pronoun, "to you" includes all believers.

3. The Spirit initiates baptism into the vibrant community, Christ's body (I Cor.
12:13; Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:28; Eph. 4:4-5).
There are different opinions as to whether this experience is identical with or

J. Lyle Story
p. 5

subsequent to the conversion experience. The only passage where Spirit and baptism
are definitely linked, is I Cor. 12:13, "For in (ejn) one Spirit we were all baptized
into (eij") one body . . . and all were made to drink of one Spirit." The preposition,
"in" (ejn) can be used in an instrumental sense, making the act of baptism to be the
work of the Spirit, "For by one Spirit." However, this does not agree with the other
NT instances of the verb "baptize" linked with the preposition "in" (ejn). In each of
these instances, the preposition refers to the sphere in which the baptizing activity
takes place (water, spirit). Being baptized in the sphere of the Spirit and being
drenched by the Spirit are alternate ways of expressing how people become members
of the one body of Christ. Baptism has as its goal, incorporation into the body, which
implies that no one can be in the body without the activity of the Spirit. If baptism in
the Spirit means a post-conversion experience, then it would lead to the conclusion
that there were those who were converted who were not part of the body. The
concluding statement, "All were made to drink of the one Spirit" shows the basic
solidarity of all Christians in the Spirit (image of pouring water on dry/thirsty
land—Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:28).
There is a similar parallel with Eph. 4:4, where "one body," "one spirit," and "one
baptism" are all linked together. Paul's central argument for the life of the Spirit is
substantiated by the well-remembered experience of their reception of the Spirit (Gal.
Paul uses several figures of speech to express the corporate and organic character
of the work of the Spirit. Paul even uses the metaphor of sexual union to express the
mutual indwelling, "He that is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him" (I
Cor. 6:17).
In II Cor. 3:3, Paul speaks of the Corinthians as letters written with the Spirit of
the Living God, in contrast to literal letters written with ink. He assumes that all
believers are indwelt by the Spirit at the time of their conversion, "He saved us not on
the basis of works which we have done, but according to His great mercy, by the
working of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit." In I Cor. 2:6-13, the apostle
announces that the Holy Spirit enables people to understand and believe the work of
redemption. This is no special esoteric knowledge, reserved only for those who are
initiated; it does reflect insight and trust in the historical events of the cross and the
full significance of the cross, resurrection and ascension. Taking all these texts into
consideration, the Holy Spirit assumes the major role in the initiatory experience.6 It
is the reception of the Spirit that signals the beginning of the Christian life (Gal. 3:2f.)
and constitutes the immediacy of personal relationship with God (II Cor. 3:13-18). In
particular, the Spirit is manifest by an outpouring of God's love, assuring a Christian
of being "beloved" by God, especially in situations of adversity (Rom. 5:5).

4. The Holy Spirit sanctifies (II Thess. 2:13; I Cor. 6:11).

This term is a comprehensive one, which includes everything that the NT says
about Christian living. The "holiness" word-family assembles together the past,
present and future work of the Spirit who separates/sets apart the believer for the
worship of God. In II Thess 2:13, Paul tells his readers this, "But we ought always to
6Cf. Rom. 5:5; Titus 3:6; II Cor. 1:21; II Thess. 2:13; Rom. 15:16; Rom. 2:29; I Cor. 6:17; I Cor. 6:11; Gal.
4:29; Gal. 3:2-5
J. Lyle Story
p. 6

give thanks to God concerning you brethren, beloved by the Lord, because God chose
you from the beginning for salvation, through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in
the truth." The Spirit plays a key role in the "sanctification/setting apart" of believers
unto God, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified,
you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of God" (I
Cor. 6:11). Paul maintains that believers are unable to sanctify themselves. God is
always the subject of the verb, "sanctify," i.e., sanctification is a Divine act wherein
God sets apart people for Himself. The verbal form is always passive with respect to
believers, "they are sanctified." On the Divine side, the Spirit is expressed as the
active agent who sanctifies/sets the people of God apart. The Spirit also calls the
believers to disengage themselves from certain kinds of behavior that belonged to
their previous lifestyles (I Cor. 6:11). The gift of the Spirit marks the beginning of a
life-long process of being saved, sanctified and being conformed to the image of
Christ (II Cor. 3:18; II Thess. 2:18; Rom. 8:28; 16:16; Gal. 6:8; Eph. 3:16f.).

B. Present Role

1. The Spirit draws the people of God into a corporate and inclusive life together (I
Cor. 12:13; I Cor. 12:7; I Cor. 14:5, 26; II Cor. 13:13[14].

People do not simply become Christians as individuals but are "baptized in one
Spirit into one body" (I Cor. 12:13). They are vital parts of a new social and organic
network. The Spirit creates the fellowship and is the vivifying and creative power,
who brings about genuine Christian fellowship—a mutual sharing in the Spirit. The
shared experience (koinwniva) of the Spirit is the basis of the Philippians'
common life, "if there is any fellowship in the Spirit . . ." (Phil. 2:1). The Spirit
creates an organic body, whose members come together for worship, mutual support
and fellowship, working in an interdependent manner, so forming Christ's body on
earth (I Cor. 12:4-31).
Paul equates the Spirit with the OT language of "promise," as the fulfillment of
the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:3). The list of OT quotes in Rom. 15:9-12,
indicates that Paul's understanding of Gentile inclusion is part of God's eternal plan.
Thus, in a couple of passages, Paul equates the Spirit with the language of "promise,"
and thereby includes the Gentiles with the eschatological people of God. Something
wonderful had happened in the lives of Gentiles when the Spirit had been poured out
on them as it had been poured out on the Jews (Acts 10:45). Gentile believers were
led into an acceptance with Jewish believers, since God has already accepted them
(Gal. 2:8-9).
In Gal. 3:14, the promise of the Spirit is equated with the blessing of Abraham:
"He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the
Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the
The promise is actualized in the inclusive gift of the Spirit—to Jew and Gentile
alike—and is received by both groups through faith.
In Eph. 1:13-14, Paul addresses Gentiles, and affirms the reality that they have
been sealed with the "Holy Spirit of promise" (the Holy Spirit, which had been

J. Lyle Story
p. 7

promised to Israel). Both Jew and Gentile receive this wonderful promise, which
unites them together in the new people of God. Jews and Gentiles alike possess the
Spirit that binds them together as fellow-heirs of the inheritance that is beyond their
wildest imagination. In Eph. 4:1-3, Paul speaks of the one hope of their calling, that
through the Holy Spirit, Gentiles have become fellow-partakers of the Good News of
God and the final inheritance that will embrace both Jew and Gentile.

2. The Spirit bestows power and spiritual gifts in the worship context (Rom. 15:18;
Eph. 3:16; I Cor. 12-14).

The Spirit assumes a vital role in the community context. Paul prays for the
Ephesians, "That he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit
in the inner man" (Eph. 3:16). If there was special power to perform signs and
wonders by the power of the Spirit, it was only for the advancement of the Gospel:
Rom. 15:18ff, "in the power of signs and wonders by the power of the Holy Spirit . . .
In I Cor. 12-14, Paul writes extensively about spiritual gifts, which have special
relevance in the Corinthian context. The gifts are sovereignly apportioned by the
Spirit (12:11). He underscores the truth that each Christian possesses at least one gift,
which is not for self-improvement but for the benefit, "edification" or "upbuilding" of
the community and the "common good" (12:7). The Divine apportionment of the
gifts reflects the fundamental principle of unity and diversity, designed to lead to a
full appreciation and interdependence on the giftedness of others. The spiritual gifts
are to lead to proper confession of Jesus' Lordship and edification of the other
members of the community. They are not given as tokens of one's spiritual
attainment but to provide help to the community engaged in worship. Paul requests
that the gifts be used with proper order, decorum and gracious attitudes (I Cor. 14:37-
Clearly, the varied gifts, which are given to the community, are positioned with
the context of community worship. The worship in the early churches was
spontaneous, apparently orchestrated by the Spirit. Worship is a community event
and is not relegated simply to one worship leader; all participate in the worship event
(Eph. 5:18-20; Col. 3:16ff.). While all may participate (I Cor. 14:23, 24, 26, 31),
chaos is ruled out (I Cor. 14:33), and the community is to be governed by some
guidelines. As with prayer and prophecy, songs become the sphere for the Spirit's
inspiration (I Cor. 14:14-15, 26; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). Paul affirms the essentially
charismatic nature of their worship by the commands, "Stop quenching the Spirit…"
(I Thess. 5:19-20). The texts in Col. and Eph. seem to indicate that the singing was
corporate Christian praise to God in a kind of charismatic hymnody inspired by the
Holy Spirit.

3. The Spirit fosters the experience of adoption into God's family (Rom. 8:14ff; Gal.

Two passages are particularly important: Rom. 8:14ff.; Gal. 4:6. In Rom. 8:14,
Paul states that all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. Further,

J. Lyle Story
p. 8

when we cry "Abba, Father," it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit
that we are God's children. The consciousness of sonship or daughtership is directly
related to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. In Gal. 4:6, Paul says that God has
sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba, Father." In this text, Paul
contrasts the prior life under the Law and the life of faith. Life under the Law is
equated with the status of a slave, while the life of faith is compared to genuine
sonship or daughtership. His readers, although in danger of reverting once more to
slavery, are adopted sons and daughters with full privileges and a full inheritance; the
evidence of this privileged relationship is their experience of the Spirit, especially the
Abba-cry within them. Because the Aramaic form is retained, it shows the
importance attached to these words.7 It is the same Spirit who enabled Jesus to cry
"Abba, Father, who enables all adopted children to approach the Father in the same
personal way. Fee notes, "Paul's intent in both texts is to remind believers that the
reception of the Spirit is what makes them children, as is evidenced by the cry
"Abba."8 Therefore, in the term adoption, uiJoqesiva, Paul signifies the new
intimate relationship into which believers have entered (Rom. 8:23; 9:4; Eph. 1:5—a
family relationship sealed by the Spirit.

4. The Spirit illumines (I Cor. 2:10-16).

For Paul, the Spirit is active in the initial proclamation of the Gospel, in the
response given to the Gospel (internal and external), and also bringing fresh insight to
believers. The expression, "taught by the Spirit," sums up Paul's approach to spiritual
understanding. In I Cor. 2:10-16, Paul draws a parallel between natural and spiritual
discernment. He senses how natural and spiritual communication of thought are
comparable. What is the point of contact, the point of comparison between the two?
It is the need to possess the receptive faculty so that transfer of thought or spiritual
understanding can be effected. For example, two retired baseball players who may
meet each other for the first time, are able to strike up a conversation, based upon
shared experiences and feelings from the lore and lure of the baseball diamond.
Correspondingly, if people are to know anything at all about life in the Spirit, they
must drink of the Spirit (I Cor. 12:13). The Spirit, which is God's has been granted to
them; therefore, the Spirit is the common point of contact between the human and the
Divine. He writes about the depths of God of which people as a whole are ignorant.
Because only the Spirit of God understands the things of God (I Cor. 2:11), the Spirit
is in a position to reveal these things to people (I Cor. 2:11). In 2:13, Paul would
seem to say that Christians who are taught by the Spirit are able to interpret spiritual
truth to those who possess the Spirit (cf. also Rom. 8:5--"Those who live according to
the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit"; Rom. 12:2, "be transformed by
the renewal of your mind"). The revelation in I Cor. 2:10-16 is directly concerned
with the meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ, "words taught by the Spirit" (v. 13).
The Corinthians seem to have abandoned the essential message of the cross for
human wisdom and argument. The Spirit reveals what had formerly been hidden
(2:9-10), what God has given to His people through the scandal of the cross (v. 12).
In some respects, the role of the Spirit is analogous to the experience of a university
student who wrestles with a problem, only then, "to have the lights come on." In this
7Cf. Joachim Jeremias who believes that these words are traced back to the words of Jesus.
8Fee, p. 856.
J. Lyle Story
p. 9

text, the divine wisdom stands in total contradiction to the normal pattern of human
wisdom; God has redeemed a fallen humanity by a total contradiction in terms, "a
crucified Messiah" (Deut. 21:23). In Eph. 3:2-13, the Holy Spirit also reveals that the
Gentiles are heirs together with the Jews in the promise in Jesus Christ. The
revelation of this mystery of the inclusion of both Jew and Gentile is the work of the
Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14; 2:18).

5. The Spirit effects release from bondage to genuine freedom (Gal. 3:22; 5:1, 16;
Rom. 8:13; II Cor. 3:17)--motif of walking—Gal. 5:16; Rom. 8:1-3; II Cor. 3:17.
In Judaism, Paul had known the frustrating experience of seeking for salvation
through the works of the Law, i.e., by human performance. Ultimately, he came to
recognize that genuine freedom comes only through the Spirit and not by his own
efforts. He asks the Galatians, the pointed question, "Did you receive the Spirit by
works of the Law or by hearing with faith?" (Gal. 3:2). The question is rhetorical;
both he and his readers know the answer. They did not receive the Spirit through
human effort. We find expressions of release and positive freedom in several
passages, which cohere with the Spirit's work:
Gal. 5:1—"for freedom, Christ has set us free"
Gal. 5:16—"Walk by the Spirit and you will by no means fulfill the desire of the
Rom. 8:13—"For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the
Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live."
II Cor. 3:17—"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
At several places within Paul's writings, Spirit and Law are contrasted. The Law,
promulgated in Judaism became sidetracked and corrupted by sin, the flesh and the
devil—a deadly combination of power spheres, bringing about bondage and ruin.
However, when the Spirit enters a person's life, the Spirit begins a process of
transforming people into a new humanity, positioning people to fulfill the righteous
requirements of the Law (Rom. 8:4). Paul urges the Roman Christians to put to death
any sinful practices—through the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). He also prays that the
Ephesians be strengthened by means of God's Spirit in the inner person (Eph. 3:16).
Fee notes, "For Paul the Spirit marks the effective end of Torah, both because the
coming of the Spirit fulfills the eschatological promise that signals the beginning of
the new covenant, thus bringing the old to an end, and because the Spirit is
sufficiently to do what Torah was not able to do in terms of righteousness, namely, to
"fulfill in us who walk by the Spirit the righteous commandment of Torah" (Rom.
For Paul, the Christian life is lived out in the ambiguities of the age that is and the
age to come. He expresses the tension of weakness and strength in the context of the
Spirit, "the Spirit assists us in our weakness" (Rom. 8:26). The weakness
encompasses our present existence and includes our sinful nature and behavior. This
message of the Gospel is powerful, accompanied by the Spirit's manifest power and
yet, it is proclaimed in the context of the weakness of the messenger himself (I Cor.
2:1-3; II Cor. 12:7-10). There are a number of texts wherein Paul correlates the
Spirit's power and human weakness: Rom. 8:17-27; II Cor. 12:9; Phil. 3-9; Col. 1:24;
I Cor. 2:3-5; I Thess. 1:5-6). In I Thess. 1:5-6, Paul reminds the new converts at
9Fee, p. 815.
J. Lyle Story
p. 10

Thessalonica that they became Christians by the power of the Spirit, but in the
context of their reception, they experienced suffering, although accompanied by
paradoxical joy. This very paradox was well expressed by the preaching of the power
of the crucified One (I Cor. 1:18-25).

6. The Spirit enables the Christian to live a new life "according to the Spirit"
(katav pneu'ma) and not "according to the flesh" (kataV
The Christian life is a "constant struggle with the flesh,"10 expressed through a
contrast between "life before" in the flesh and "life after" (in the Spirit). The
expression, "according to the flesh" means the old way of looking at things, the
"human point of view." It describes a former way of life that has been overcome by
the advent of the Spirit, "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of
view (kataV savrka). Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do
so no longer" (II Cor. 5:16). The new point of view (kataV pneu'ma) now
determines the meaning of human existence. As Fee notes, "The 'flesh' perceives
things from the old age point of view, where value and significance lie in power,
influence, wealth and wisdom (cf. I Cor. 1:26-31). But in Christ, all of that has
passed away; behold the new has come, the time of the Spirit, in which there has been
a total, radical restructuring of value and significance."11 The people of God are what
they are through an experience of grace and the transformation by the Spirit;
consequently, human perceptions are to be measured "from a spiritual point of view."

7. The Spirit guides and empowers for ethical conduct and prayer (Rom. 8:14, 26ff.;
Phil. 1:19; Eph. 6:18; 2:18; Gal. 5:16, 22).
The Spirit is essentially significant in guidance in terms of ethical decisions. In
describing the Christian life, Paul often uses the metaphor of walking (Rom. 6:4;
14:15; Eph. 5:2; I Cor. 7:17; Eph. 2:10; 4:1; II Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:8; I Thess. 4:1).
Against the Jewish background of "walking," i.e., conducting oneself ethically, Paul
uses the metaphor in connection with the Spirit. "Walk by the Spirit and you will by
no means fulfill the desires of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). There is a fundamental clash
between the "Spirit" and the "flesh"; the context highlights the vital function of the
Spirit—to empower and direct Christian behavior in the inevitable struggle. The
classic passage, which links the Spirit's work and Christian character is found in Gal.
5:22ff. In this chapter, the role of the Holy Spirit is central (Gal. 5:13-6:10) and is
frequently expressed, "in/by the Spirit" (pneuvmati). Paul tells the Galatians to
complete the Christian life by the very agency with which they began, "the same
Spirit" (3:3). They are commanded to "walk in the Spirit" with the confident
assurance, "and you will not fulfill the desire of the flesh" (v. 16). Christians who act
in this responsible manner are "led by the Spirit" and evidence the organic fruit of the
Spirit (5:22-23). They also behave "in accordance with the Spirit" (v. 25) and when
they "sow to the Spirit", they will "reap eternal life," that is also from the Spirit (6:8).
Paul speaks of the "fruit of the Spirit," and adds a list of nine virtues, which constitute
the fruit. They are contrasted with the works of the flesh; it is a contrast, which is not
10Fee, p. 817.
11Fee, p. 821.
J. Lyle Story
p. 11

accidental. The metaphor of fruit implies an organic relationship that is absent from
works. Whereas works are connected with self-effort, fruit is not. Just as fruit in a
garden is dependent on the Creator's supply of sunshine and rain, so the fruit of the
Spirit grows in complete dependence on the Spirit; these virtues display the
characteristics of Christ in Christians, enlivened by the Spirit. Such "fruit" covers a
very broad range of attitudes, virtues and behavior—both personal and communal.
Paul does not attempt to regulate Christian behavior with rules of behavior and
specific codes of conduct; he is convinced that the life of the Spirit is that of freedom
and empowerment. It should also be noted that there is a close link between ethics
and the joyful attitudes of the worshipping community:
"Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual
songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to
God for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:18-20).
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one
another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with
gratitude in your hearts to God" (Col. 3:16).
The Spirit also fulfills a certain role in communicating God's love: "And hope
does not put to shame, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit." In Col. 1:8, Epaphras is said to have made known to Paul,
the Colossians' love in the Spirit.
Paul recognizes that the guidance of the Spirit is indispensable. All who are
children of God are led by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14). This does not simply refer
to the initial conversion experience but a day by day awareness of the Spirit's
presence and guidance.
This theme of guidance is especially meaningful in the context of prayer.
According to Rom. 8:26ff., the Spirit recognizes our weaknesses and comes to our
assistance, especially in helping the people of God to pray intelligently. His
assistance goes beyond mere support of people; the Spirit personally intercedes on
our behalf.12 The Spirit enables the Abba prayer (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6) and directs
Christians to pray properly (Rom. 8:26); the Spirit also prays on behalf of those
whom He indwells ("groans" Rom. 8:27). Access to God is granted by the Holy
Spirit (Eph. 2:18), thus, "praying in the Spirit" is urged upon believers as an ongoing
practice (Eph. 6:18). Prayer is a distinguishing mark of the new community of faith,
the true Israel, as the community prays and worships in the Spirit (Phil. 3:3; Phil.
1:19). Paul not only believed in prayer but practiced prayer and urged the ongoing
activity of prayer (I Thess. 5:16-18).
There seem to be two major foci for the prayer concerns that Paul enjoins: 1)
ongoing struggle against principalities and powers (often human attitutudes), 2) the
penetration of the Gospel into unreached territories (Eph. 6:18-20). Paul's prayer life
is prompted by the Spirit, "in the Spirit," and accompanied with great joy and
thanksgiving for what God has done in Christ and thanksgiving for the people whose
lives have been touched. To be sure, Paul experiences some private charismatic
occurrences (II Cor. 12:1-10); however, he does not use these experiences to bolster
his own fame, reputation or status as an apostle. He keeps those experiences to
himself in a private and discreet manner.

12For other verses where the Spirit is connected with prayer, cf. Phil. 1:19; Eph. 6:18; Eph. 2:18.
J. Lyle Story
p. 12

C. Future Expectation
8. The Spirit is the eschatological guarantee of ultimate fulfillment
(ajrrabw'n—II Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14 also related to sfravgi",
sfragivzw; ajparchv—Rom. 8:23).
Paul positions the person and work of the Holy Spirit within the broader context
of the "already but not yet," tension that exists within the NT. The Church lives
between the times; the Kingdom of God has come and yet the Kingdom will come in
splendor. The Spirit-filled community lives as a people whose true citizenship is in
Heaven and thus, it awaits consummation (Phil. 3:20). Christians live the life of the
future in the present evil age.
Paul uses the various word-pictures of the "downpayment," seal," or
"firstfruits"—three metaphors, which highlight the guarantee of eschatological
fulfillment of a grand and glorious future. The word "down payment"
(ajrrabwvn) is a word, which frequently appears in contracts and agreements.
A woman sells a cow and she receives one thousand drachmae as an
ajrrabwvn, which guarantees the remainder of the purchase price, yet to be
paid. There is a troop of dancing girls that are engaged for a village festival. They
are paid so many drachmae in advance as an ajrrabwvn. There is also the
stipulation that final payment will be made after the performance has been finished.
The ajrrabwvn was an advance payment, a first installment, a partial
payment, which was a pledge and guarantee that in due time, the full payment would
be made.13
The Spirit is also described as the "first fruits" (ajparchv) in Rom. 8:23—a
pledge of the full harvest that is yet to come. In I Cor. 15:20, 23, Christ is described
as the first fruits (of resurrection), the guarantee of the resurrection of Christians.
Present existence belongs to the "already" phase of the Kingdom of God (Mk. 1:15).
The future is the "not yet" phase, the time of grand fulfillment. As Fee notes, "the
first sheaf is God's pledge to us of the final harvest . . .the Spirit plays the essential
role in our present existence, as both evidence and guarantee that the future is now
and yet to be."14 Christians live "between the times," with respect to the resurrection
that has already occurred, "raised with Christ" (Rom. 6:4-5) and the future bodily
resurrection (Rom. 8:10-11).
Similar to the term ajrrabwvn, the noun "seal" (sfravgi") borrows its
significance from commercial practice. The term is found in II Cor. 1:21-22, Eph.
1:13; 4:30). When a man sealed a document or a will, he guaranteed that it was his,
and that he, through the seal, was prepared to stand by the contents and the
conditions. The seal was a stamped impression in wax and, denoted ownership and
authenticity and it also affirmed the security of the owner. A sack or a package could
be closed with a seal over a knot. This seal was the sender's guarantee that the goods
really came from him. Thus, the seal of the Spirit emphasizes the present and future
mark in which God claimed His people for His own. In these texts, the seal marks the
people of God off as God's particular possession and also orients them to the future,
"sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30). Clearly, the Spirit is the guarantee,
which orients the believer to the sure hope of a certain and final consummation.
13 James Hope Moulton, George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids:
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1930), p. 79.
14.Fee, p. 807

J. Lyle Story
p. 13

In Paul's understanding, the metaphors express the conviction that the Spirit
means the inauguration but not the consummation, the present gift that points ahead
to the future reality; the Christian life is lived out in the creative tension of the two
ages. In Rom. 8, the Spirit, along with the Christian and all of creation "groan" in
eager expectation of the children of God being revealed (Rom. 8:19, 23). It is
important to note that the Spirit here is present in the context of weakness. At the
present, all believers are incomplete and the Spirit "groans" for them in their
incomplete condition. They await the full realization of God's purpose. The present
gift of the Spirit is a blessed foretaste of future glory, continuously pointing to the
eschatological redemption of the body. The Spirit guarantees the full possession of
the blessings in the present age and the untold blessings of the age to come, which
will not only include renewal of people but the entire creation (Gal. 5:22; Rom.
15:13; Rom. 5:2; Rom. 8:23-25).

9. The Spirit will effect the transformation of believers with a body like that of the
Risen Jesus.
The Spirit will enable the future transformation of believers in their
glorified bodies. The future expectation is based upon the
resurrection/transformation of Christ, which has already occurred. As Paige
notes, "The corporeality of a risen Jesus could be potentially troubling in two
ways: (1) it might seem to give Jesus a corruptible nature (because he shared in
material existence); and just as serious, (2) it might make Jesus a distant figure,
exalted into heaven but separated from the feelings and needs of his people on
earth. Paul avoids these pitfalls, preserving Jesus' exalted nature in a new body,
and at the same time, his immanent presence with the faithful in the Spirit
("spiritual body" I Cor. 15:44 does not mean 'a body made of spirit' or bodiless
existence; rather it indicates a body fit for the existence of resurrection
life—simultaneously corporeal and 'spiritual')."15 The Spirit is also the guarantee
of the future resurrection, "God will also raise us through the Spirit who indwells
us" (Rom. 8:11). The real presence of the Spirit in personal life is the solid
guarantee of the "future life" even in the context of human mortality and the
certainty of physical death in the present age (8:10).


Clearly, the work of the Holy Spirit is full-orbed and embraces the entire
Christian faith, past event, present experience and future hope and is positioned within
the broad context of the overlap of two ages. People frequently isolate one particular
aspect of the person and work of the Holy Spirit, e.g., "signs and wonders," "fruit of the
Spirit" (ethical behavior), prayer, particular gifts of the Spirit—and these particular items
become a litmus test for gauging their own spirituality or the spirituality of others. Many
of these efforts reflect the human tendency to be simplistic, reductionistic and
stereotypical—all of which reflect the human need to control one's own understanding
and environment. For Paul, the work of the Holy Spirit is comprehensive—bound to the
saving event of Jesus, the Christian life and witness, the worshipping community, the life
15T. Paige, "Holy Spirit," Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press,
1993), p. 408.
J. Lyle Story
p. 14

of evangelism and the future hope. Life in the Spirit does not point us to what we
ourselves can do but to what the Spirit can do through us. May we grow in our
appreciation and appropriation of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, who may fill
us with the passion to be filled with the very life of God and express that life in a full and
complete way to a world that is desperate need of a Savior. Our time has come for a
greater search and rediscovery of the reality and empowerment of the person and work of
the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8; II Cor. 3; Gal. 5)
O God, you are my God,
Earnestly I seek you;
My soul thirsts for you,
My body longs for you,
In a dry and weary land,
Where there is no water (Psa. 63:1)
Jesus said, "Listen to the wind—You cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes.
Yet how real and powerful a thing it is. So it is with God's Spirit" (Jn. 3:7ff.). We are
like Nicodemus; we accept the mystery of the wind and the wind's effects. Similarly, we
need to accept the mystery of the person and work of the Holy Spirit although we cannot
directly see what it is. We are always in need of developing and recovering the faith that
God can work and still will work in a dynamic way in our lives.

J. Lyle Story
Story p. 1

Introduction to Mark

Author: Mark
Date: circa A.D.65-67
Theme: The Suffering Son of Man who is in fact the Son of God
Key Words: Authority, Son of Man, Son of God, Suffering, Faith, Disciple,

Even though the Gospel of Mark is anonymous, the early tradition is united that the
author of this gospel was Mark, the close associate of Peter (cf. 1 Pet. 5:13; Acts
12:12,25; 13:13; 15:37-39; Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philem. 24). The earliest witness to
Markan authorship stems from Papias, bishop of the church at Hierapolis (c. A.D. 135-
140), a witness that is preserved in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History. Papias describes
Mark as "the interpreter of Peter." There are different sayings from the early church
fathers which likewise attribute the Gospel to Mark. In view of the fact that the early
church was careful to connect the gospels with the apostles, it is impressive to find a
general acceptance of Markan authorship for the second gospel, even though he was not
an apostle.

The church fathers state that the Gospel of Mark was written after Peter's death (Nero's
persecution--A.D.64,65; e.g., Irenaeus). The internal witness from the Gospel of Mark
likewise points us to the period between A.D. 65 and 70, in view of the fact that the
Jewish War (A.D.66-70) and the destruction of the temple have not yet occurred (Mark

In A.D. 64, Nero accused the Christian community of setting the city of Rome on fire,
and subsequently instigated a fearful persecution in which Paul and Peter perished. In the
milieu of a persecuted church, living constantly under the threat of death, the evangelist
Mark writes his "good news." Clearly he wants his readers to draw encouragement and
strength from the life and example of Jesus. What was true for Jesus was to become true
for the apostles and disciples of all ages. The servant is destined to follow the Lord
(10:43-45). The somber shadow of Jesus' forthcoming Passion appears in the Baptist's
imprisonment (1:14), even before Jesus' public ministry begins (1:15). The Passion
becomes explicit in Jesus repeated announcement, "And He began to teach them that the
Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and
scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (8:31; see 9:31; 10:32-34). And
His suffering was to become the norm for committed discipleship: "Whoever desires to
come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me" (8:34). Mark
leads his readers to the cross of Jesus wherein they can discover meaning and hope in
their suffering.

Story p. 2

The structure of Mark's Gospel reveals the various geographical movements of Jesus
which is climaxed by His death in Jerusalem and subsequent resurrection. After the
Introduction (1:1-13), Mark narrates the public ministry of Jesus in Galilee (1:14-9:50),
and Judea (10-13), culminating in the Passion and Resurrection (14-16). The Gospel of
Mark can be roughly seen as two halves joined together by the "hinge" of Peter's
confession of Jesus as the Messiah (8:27-30) and first Passion prediction (8:31ff.)
The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the Gospels, which excludes genealogies,
the birth and early Judean ministry of Jesus. The evangelist moves rapidly from one
scene to another, thus, making it a Gospel of action. This is why Mark accentuates the
Gospel record with the use of the Greek word eutheos, most of the time translated
"immediately." The word occurs 42 times in Mark, more than in all the rest of the New
Testament. Mark frequently uses the Greek imperfect tense, denoting continuous action,
thus, setting the narrative of the Gospel at a rapid pace.
Mark's audience is considered to have been Roman Gentiles. The use of
Latinisms in the Gospel (see 4:21; 12:14; 6:27; 15:39) and the lack of stress on Jewish
customs and law confirm such a premise.
In the Introduction (1:1-13) Mark leads his readers to understand that the events
of (1:2-13) are "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (1:1). The
beginning includes the fulfillment of OT prophecy (1:2,3), the preparatory ministry of
John the Baptist (1:4-8), the baptism of Jesus (1:9-11), and Jesus' temptation (1:12,13).
The next section, the Galilean ministry of Jesus (1:14-9:50), opens with the
declaration, "Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the
gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God
is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel'" (1:14,15). The initial declaration is
followed by the call to individual disciples (1:16-20), suggesting Jesus' purpose of
creating a new community. The disciples are formally appointed in 3:14,15, and later
sent out in mission (6:7-13).
Within this section of Jesus' Galilean ministry (1:14-9:50), we find two major
movements: 1) The growing popularity of Jesus with the masses; and 2) The rising
opposition to Jesus among the Jewish hierarchy. On the one hand, Jesus' fame as a
miracle worker and exorcist spreads (1:28, 32-34, 37, 45; 3:7-12; 4:1; 5:20,21;
6:31,33,53-55; 7:36; 8:1). Indeed, that very popularity is somewhat of a hindrance to His
central mission of preaching (1:38,45). Jesus is the One who moves in compassion
towards people in the extremity of human need (4:35-41--disciples on the sea; 5:1-20--
Gerasene demoniac; 5:21-23, 35-43--Jairus' daughter; 5:25-34--the woman with the
hemorrhage). On the other hand, the opposition of the religious hierarchy hardens. A
series of controversial stories show criticism of Jesus' forgiveness of sins (2:1-12), his
fellowship with tax-collectors and sinners (2:13-17), his refusal to fast (2:18-22), his
breaking of the Sabbath (2:23-28; 3:1-6), and the exorcising of demons (3:20-27,etc.). In
ch. 4 Jesus resorts to open-air preaching using parables to interpret the nature, growth,
fulfillment, and consummation of the Kingdom of God.
In 7:24-9:50, Jesus turns to northern Galilee, a quasi-Gentile country, and again
He shows concern for the Gentiles and their needs (7:24-30--Syrophoenician woman;
7:31-37--deaf mute). He feeds the people (8:1-10) just as He had fed the Jews (6:30-44).
The key event of this section is precipitated by Jesus' question to Peter, "But who do you
say that I am?" (8:29). Peter's confession, "You are the Christ" (8:29) is followed by the

Story p. 3

first Passion prediction (8:31) and Peter's demurral. His answer to Peter means that in the
age to come, the Christ/Messiah will be a conquering King (see Dan. 7:13-14). But now,
the destiny of the Son of Man is suffering, humiliation, crucifixion, and, yes, resurrection.
The second major section of Mark's Gospel, Jesus' ministry in Judea, begins in the
region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan" (10:1), and points forward to the final
drama which is to be played out in Jerusalem. The entire section of the gospel is
dominated by the Passion of Jesus. He proceeds to the cross calmly and resolutely. More
conflict stories appear: divorce--10:2-12, rich young ruler--10:17-22, true greatness--
10:35-45, cursing of fig tree--11:12-14, Temple-Cleansing/Cursing--11:15-19, authority--
11:27-33, Parable of Wicked Vinedressers--12:1-12, taxes to Caesar--12:13-17,
Resurrection--12:18-27, greatest commandment--12:28-34, and widow's two mites--
12:38-40. The stories develop in intensity, so much so that after the Parable of the
Wicked Vinedressers in 12:1-11, (wherein the beloved son was killed and cast out of the
vineyard), "they sought to lay hold of Him...for they knew He had spoken the parable
against them" (12:12). With a tragic sense of irony, Mark informs the readers that the
religious leaders sought to fulfill the very purpose of the parable. The Apocalyptic
Discourse (13) is occasioned by the disciples' claim concerning the greatness of the
temple (13:1) and by their question concerning its destruction as predicted by Jesus
The last three chapters cover the events between the plot to arrest Jesus (14:1-2)
and the visit of the women to the tomb (16:1-8). In between these two events we read of
the anointing of Jesus for burial (14:3-8), His betrayal (14:10-11), the Passover meal
(14:12-21), the institution of the Lord's Supper (14:22-26), Gethsemane (14:32-42), and
the arrest and trial before the Sanhedrin and Pilate (14:43-15:15). The remainder of ch.
15 relates the mockery, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus. Mark 16:1-8 records the
announcement to three women that Jesus is risen and that His disciples will see Him in
In many ways, Mark emphasizes the Passion of Jesus so that it becomes the gauge
by which the whole of Jesus' ministry and the ministry of His disciples may be measured:
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a
ransom for many" (10:45). Jesus' entire ministry (miracles, table-fellowship with sinners,
choice of disciples, teaching on the Kingdom of God, etc.) is set within the context of the
self-giving love of the Son of God, climaxed on the Cross and in His Resurrection.

In reading Mark, we sense the question that concerns him, "Who is Jesus?" At times the
revelation of who He is, is a secret (e.g. 1:42-44); at other times the secret comes out into
the open (e.g. 5:19,20). As Mark unfolds his gospel of Jesus Christ through narrative,
dialogue, and teaching, he intends for his readers to come to a full understanding of Jesus'
1. Jesus' Messianic Authority. Mark presents Jesus as a person with authority,
the Messiah of Jewish hope. His authority is expressed:
a. As a teacher (1:21,22)
b. As a teacher-exorcist (1:27)
c. Over the forgiveness of sins (2:1-12)

Story p. 4

d. Over the Sabbath (2:27-28; 3:1-6)

e. Over Satan and unclean spirits (3:19-30)
f. Over the mystery of the Kingdom of God (4:10-11)
g. Over nature (4:35-41; 6:45-52)
h. Over the Law (7:1-13, 14-20)
i. Over the temple and sanctuary (11:15-18)

2. Son of God. The opening title of Mark's work, "The beginning of the gospel
of Jesus Christ, Son of God" (1:1), gives us his central thesis concerning the identity of
Jesus. We find the language of sonship both in the Baptism and Transfiguration (1:11;
9:7). Twice we read that evil spirits (supernatural) confess Him to be the Son of God
(3:11; 5:7; see also 1:24, 34). Indirectly, His divine sonship is alluded to in the Parable of
the Wicked Vinedressers in which the beloved son was sent on a dangerous mission
(12:6). Finally, the narrative of the crucifixion concludes with the Centurion's
confession, "Truly this Man was the Son of God" (15:39). While Jesus prefers the
ambiguous term "Son of Man" for Himself, Mark leads his readers to a true
understanding of Jesus as the Son of God. People thought of Jesus as a madman or
fanatic (3:21), prophet (8:28), even as the Messiah (8:29). It is in the very depth of his
humiliation on the cross, that one man--a Roman centurion--ventures to call him, "The
Son of God" (15:39). Mark arranges his material so as to lead up to this confession.
Throughout the gospel, Jesus is often defined by who He is not. His divine sonship can
only be understood in His humiliation, completed in the crucifixion, and vindicated by
His resurrection from the dead.
3. Son of Man. In 8:29-31, when Jesus asks his disciples, "But who do you say
that I am?", Peter responds with the words, "You are the Christ" (8:29). Then we read
that Jesus substitutes the term "Son of Man" for Himself as He announces His Passion:
"the Son of Man must suffer many things..." (3:31). The first of its fourteen occurrences
is found in His authority as "Son of Man" to forgive sins. It is also linked to His
authority over the Sabbath (2:29). The other uses of Jesus' self-designation are linked to:
1) His present humiliation, suffering, and death; and 2) His future coming in glory
In the trial scene before the Sanhedrin, the high priest asks Jesus whether He is
the "Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" (14:61). Jesus answers, "I am (Christ), but then
interprets what He means: "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of
the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (14:62). At this point the high priest
understands what Jesus says and charges Him with blasphemy. Jesus builds upon the
language of Daniel 7:13ff. which describes a glorious future coming of the Son of Man
on the clouds of heaven. As Son of Man, He is present in His humiliation (8:31), but He
will also come one day in glory as Son of man (8:38). Jesus did not call Himself
Christ/Messiah, because the popular understanding of this term was wrong. For the Jews,
a suffering Messiah was a contradiction in terms.
Mark, with his eye upon discipleship, suggests that Jesus' disciples must possess a
penetrating insight into the mystery of Jesus' identity. Even though people continually
misunderstand Jesus' identity and demons confess Jesus' divine sonship, Jesus' disciples,
unlike demons, must take up the cross and follow Him. The coming in glory of the
vindicated Son of Man is the coming in His unveiled power and glory. For now the veil

Story p. 5



In Mark's Introduction (1:2-13) which he calls "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus
Christ, Son of God" (1:1), he refers to the Holy Spirit three times (1:8; Spirit in 1:10,12).
In 1:8, the Holy Spirit is used as part of a double contrast: 1) person, 2) activity. In terms
of person, John the Baptist contrasts himself with the coming One in these words: "There
comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop
down and loose" (1:7). The second statement in 1:8 contrasts John the Baptist's present
activity of baptizing with water with the future activity of the coming One:

"I indeed baptized you with water,

but He will
baptize you with the Holy Spirit"

John administers the sacrament of baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (1:4),
while the coming One will bestow the eschatological gift of the Spirit (cf. Joel 2:28f.; Is.
32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 36:25-27; 37:14; 39:29).
In 1:10, it seems clear that before Jesus can bestow the Spirit, He must receive the
Spirit. The descent of the Spirit on Jesus ("and the Spirit descending upon Him like a
dove") suggests the arrival of the Messianic age.
In 1:12, the Spirit that has just descended upon Jesus, now "drove Him into the
wilderness." Jesus enters into the wilderness experience of temptation in obedience to
God and in fulfillment of His Servant-vocation.
In 3:29, the Holy Spirit is referred to with the phrase, "he who blasphemes against
the Holy Spirit." The person who utters such a blasphemy "never has forgiveness, but is
subject to eternal condemnation" (3:29). The sin against the Holy Spirit is set in contrast
to "all sins...whatever blasphemies people may utter" (3:28), for these sins and
blasphemies "will be forgiven." The context must be the clue which will help us decide
upon the meaning of "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit." The scribes blaspheme against
the Holy Spirit in that they attribute Jesus' Spirit-effect exorcisms to Satan (3:22). Their
blurred vision made them incapable of true discernment. In 3:30, Mark explains why
Jesus makes this severe pronouncement: "because they said, 'He has an unclean spirit'"
(see 3:22).
As a part of Jesus' conflict story with His opponents (12:35-37), He mentions how
the Holy Spirit has inspired Scriptures in claiming that David spoke by the Holy Spirit
(12:36), the words that refer to Jesus.
As encouragement and help in the face of hostility and court proceedings, the
disciples are promised the gift of the Holy Spirit: "But whatever is given you in that
hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit" (13:11). In that special
hour of need, God, through the Holy Spirit, will give them the word to speak.
Aside from these explicit references in Mark, there is a cluster of words that are
linked with the gift of the Holy Spirit: power, authority, prophet, healing, laying on of
hands, Messiah/Christ, Kingdom, etc. In keeping with the secrecy of Jesus' real identity,
Mark holds to a minimum, direct references to the Holy Spirit in the same way that he
avoids emphasis upon Jesus' Messiahship. To have emphasized either truth, could have

Story p. 6

been easily misinterpreted. Mark prefers to have his readers grapple with the mystery of
the Servant who suffered, was humiliated, crucified, who gave His life a ransom for
many, and was raised from the dead. He urges the Church to look beyond popular
misconceptions about the Messiah and the Holy Spirit, to see in this hidden figure, the
Son of God.



A. Summary statement 1:1

B. Fulfillment of OT prophecy 1:2,3
C. John the Baptist's ministry 1:4-8
D. Jesus' baptism 1:9-11
E. Jesus' temptation 1:12-13

I. Jesus' Galilean (and wider) ministry 1:1:14-9:50

A. Beginnings: initial success and conflict: 1:14-3:6
B. Later stages: a growing popularity and opposition 3:7-6:13
C. Ministry inside and outside of Galilee 6:14-8:26
D. Ministry on the way to Judea 8:26-9:50

II. Jesus' Judean ministry 10:1-16:9

A. In the Trans-Jordan 10:1-52
B. In Jerusalem 11:1-13:37
C. The Passion 14:1-15:47
D. The Resurrection 16:1-9

Introduction to Luke
Author: Luke Date: A.D. 75 Key Words: Prayer, Thanksgiving, Joy, Holy Spirit, Kingdom,
AUTHOR. Both style and language offer sufficient proof that the third gospel and Acts were written
by the same person. The prologue (Lk. 1:1-4) is a literary device, used by Greek writers, and serves
as a prologue for Acts as well. The expression, "The former account" (Acts 1:1) most probably refers
to the third gospel. The fact that both books are dedicated to Theophilus, also strongly argues for
common authorship. Church tradition attributes these two works to Luke, the physician, the traveling
companion of Paul (Col. 4:14; Philem. 24; II Tim. 4:11), and the author of the "we"-sections of Acts
(16:10-18; 20:5-21:17;
27:1-28:16). The gospel of Luke is thus, the first-half of a "two-part volume" of "all that Jesus began
both to do and teach" (Acts 1: 1).
DATE. Luke appears to have been written after the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70). There are a number
of predictions within the gospel that seem to reflect this era (19:41-44; 21:24; 23:28ff.). One of the
most revealing passages is 21:20, where for the Markan "abomination of desolation" (Mk. 13:14),
Luke substitutes the expression, "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that
its desolation is near." One of Luke's distinctive ideas, i.e. the delay of the Parousia (arrival and
presence) of Christ also argues for a later date. Although Luke's gospel is firmly rooted in the
fulfillment of Jewish hope, the gospel as a whole is the gospel of Gentile Christianity, and reflects a
period of missionary expansion to the Gentile world.
BACKGROUND. Luke writes his gospel primarily for a Gentile audience. His Greek is excellent
and demonstrates a masterful control over language. For the sake of his Gentile readers, Luke omits
Semitic words, and usually translates Hebrew or Aramaic words without explanation. Luke's gospel
presents Jesus in His manifest concern for all peoples, a concern that is apparent in the infancy
narrative, "A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people, Israel." (2:32), In
a particular way, Luke's Jesus extends Himself in compassion to those who need Him most--Gentiles,
women, tax-collectors, publicly acknowledged sinners, Samaritans, and criminals, etc. The gospel
concludes with the commission and promise of the risen Jesus that" repentance and remission of sins
should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." (24:47). Many of the
passages that are distinctly Lukan, represent a ministry to the outcasts, e.g. Zacchaeus (19: 110).
Luke presents us with a universal perspective as he writes the record of events that are central to the
entire history of the human race. The genealogy of Jesus is carried back. not to Abraham, the father
of the Jewish race, but to Adam who is the father of us all. Adam was the first and original Son of
God (3:24-38).
An outreach to Gentiles becomes even more apparent in Luke's second volume, Acts. The ministry of
the Holy Spirit, beginning in Jerusalem (chs. 1-7), leads to the more extensive ministry in Judea (chs.
8-15), and Samaria (ch. 8), and especially to the far-flung borders of the Mediterranean Sea,
including Paul's final journey to Rome, the center of the Gentile world (chs. 9-28). The Spirit of God
occupies a prominent place in both of Luke's volumes. Acts begins where the gospel concludes, i.e.
with the promise of the coming of the Spirit (see Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:8). For Luke, the Spirit of God is
the means by which the new world-wide community is formed. The Holy Spirit, the driving force in
the birth-narratives (chs. 1-2), and initial ministry of Jesus (chs. 3-4), is the One who inaugurates the
Church (Acts 1-2). In both Luke and Acts, the Spirit enables Jesus and His followers to proclaim the
Kingdom of God to all classes of people.
Luke portrays the whole history unrolling in three time periods--the period of the OT the period of
Jesus (relatively shortt and the period of the Church. All the prophets prophesied until John the
Baptist--which means that John belongs to the prophetic past. During the period of time, the Spirit is
active and very powerful but the Spirit is associated with Jesus only. And when the Spirit is
mentioned, the Spirit is a promise for the future (12: 12).
Another theme related to the Spirit is the theme of joy. It is like a thread that goes through the entire
Gospel. We read that Jesus Himself rejoiced in the Holy Spirit (10:21 )--the word there means an
intense and exuberant
In the prologue (1: 1-4), Luke establishes his purpose in the composition of his gospel. He wants
Theophilus to be assured of the certainty of the things in which he was instructed (v. 4). Luke
substantiates the certainty/accuracy of his work with four reasons: 1. His concern with early origins
with priority given to eyewitnesses (v. 2),
2. His aim to be comprehensive, i.e."all things" (v. 3), 3. chronological, i.e. "an orderly account" (v.
3), 4. accurate, i.e. "the certainty" (v. 4).
Luke's purpose is realized through a salvation history, "a narrative of those things which are most
surely believed among us" (v. 1). In his narrative of "holy history" Luke also explains why the end of
the present age has not yet come. The ministry of Jesus (Luke) which gives way to the ministry of the
Church (Acts) must reach "the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8), which implies the delay of the Parousia
(arrival and presence of Jesus), as well as the extension of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the
purpose of God, fulfilled in Jesus' history is continued in the Church's life and witness. Through the
rejection and humiliation of Jesus by His own people, Jesus becomes the Savior of the world. In
Acts, Jesus' death is likewise regarded as an expression of the divine purpose of reaching out to the
whole of humanity (2:23). Jesus is the suffering Servant of the Lord, Messiah, and Lord, but above
all, He is a "light to the Gentiles." Even Luke's genealogy reveals that God's saving deed is for all
people, seeing that Jesus' pedigree is traced back to Adam.
A secondary purpose of Luke's gospel is apologetic in that he wishes to affirm the position of
Christianity vis-a-vis Judaism and the Roman State. The Christian gospel is not seditious, and thus,
Pilate, representing Rome, declares repeatedly that Jesus is innocent (23:4, 14, 22). And yet, "Herod
and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the peoples of Israel" (Acts. 4:27) are together responsible
for Jesus' death (see Acts 3:13,26; 4:27,30 and Isa. 52:13-53:12). More than the other Gospels, Luke
emphasizes that Pilate is unwilling to sentence Jesus to death, "Why, What evil has he done? I have
found in him no crime deserving of death; I will therefore chastise him and release him (23:22;
23:13-16). God has made the Church the true heir of Judaism. The coming of Jesus is the fulfillment
of Jewish hope, now opened up to the whole world (2:2538).
CONTENTS. Following the prologue (1: 1-4), Luke gives in succession, the birth and infancy
narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus. The language of this section (1 :5-2:52) reflects the best of
OT piety, expressed through several great hymns. Preparation for Jesus' public ministry is the subject
of 3:1-4:13. Luke introduces the ministry of John the Baptist to the people (3: 1-20) and to Jesus (vss.
21-22), and follows with a interpretive genealogy (vss. 23-38). Following the Baptism, Jesus is
tempted in the wilderness (4:1-13).
The Galilean ministry (4: 14-9:50) is introduced by the powerful sermon of Jesus in Nazareth (4:16-
30), which sounds forth the universal thrust of Jesus' ministry (v. 27), beyond the confines of Israel.
His ministry which follows Markan order, narrates various healings, controversy stories, and
teachings concerning the kingdom of God.The disciples are called and appointed (5:16:16),and sent
out in mission (9:1-6).We also find two Passion pronouncements (9:22, 44-45), which prepare the
readers for the subsequent narrative.
The summary statement of 9:51 marks the beginning of a new section (9:51-19:45), "Now it came to
pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to
Jerusalem." The material of this section is distinctly Lukan reflecting Jesus' teaching on prayer,
miracles, wealth, forgiveness, compassion, table-fellowship with tax-gatherers and sinners. We find
some twelve temporal or geographical indicators (9:51; 13:22; 13:33; 17:11; 18:31; 18:35; 19:1;
19:11; 19:28; 19:37; 19:41; 19:45) Luke's distinctive concern is expressed uniquely through several
parables: the good Samaritan, the friend at midnight, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son,
the rich man and Lazarus, the Pharisee and the tax-collector. The reader is prepared for Jesus'
rejection and death at the hands of Jerusalem's religious authorities (18:31-34). Ironically, the people
of Jerusalem receive their king (19:28-40), although this kingdom will not appear immediately
The Jerusalem ministry (19:45-21:38) includes narrative (19:45-48), controversy stories (20:1-21 :4),
and a final eschatological discourse (21:5-38) The Passion, which issues in the glorification of Jesus
is the theme of the last three chapters. The Passover meal (22: 1-38), is followed by Jesus' passion,
death, and burial (22:30-23:56). Ch. 24 includes various resurrection appearances and a brief account
of the ascension. The climax is impressive-"And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up
His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from
them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,
and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God." (24:50-53).
CONTEMPORARY AND PERSONAL APPLICATION. From a devotional perspective, there are
several distinctives in Luke's gospel which call for special comment:

1. Look upon Jesus, the True Man and you will discover who you were meant to be. In his
genealogy, Luke traces Jesus' origin to Adam, the son of God (3:38), and thus portrays Jesus as the
fullness or perfection of humanity. Luke offers his readers the goal to which they are to aspire. This
does not mean that the Christian life is a simple effort of the will to imitate the Savior. Rather, the
dynamic of the Spirit is the means by which the Christian's life is brought to fullness. Both Jewish
and Gentile history are brought to completion by Christ, the inexhaustible source from which people
of all ages draw from the Spirit of the Risen Jesus.

2. Learn to appreciate the full humanity of Jesus. Jesus, who is fully divine is also fully human. As a
man, Luke presents the full gamut of human emotion: sorrow, joy, warmth, gentleness, etc.--even as
He retains His glory.

3. Let your concern for the world reflect the all-inclusive love of Jesus. Luke offers his readers a
picture of Jesus that is similar to the words written on the Statue of Liberty, greeting travelers and
immigrants to the United States:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free... Send these, the homeless,
tempest-tost to me. The concern of Jesus for the lost, poor, homeless, socially and religiously
dispossessed, hungry--is the proper concern both for the individual Christian and the Church. For
Luke, the Church does not exist for itself but for the world around it with its heartbreak, despair, and
lost condition. A Church only concerned with its respectability does not represent the Jesus we find
in Luke, who breaks through all barriers and crosses over the line to reach those who are aware of
their need.
4. Experience the power of the Risen Jesus. Luke, in his two volumes underscores the power and
authority of the Risen Jesus--a power and authority which must infuse both the individual Christian
and the Church. The first thing that Peter does on the day of Pentecost is to prove that the
manifestation of spiritual power proceeded directly from the Risen Jesus (Acts 2:33). Before proper
witness can be borne to the Risen Jesus, the Church must be empowered by the Holy Spirit (24:49).
The good news that we find in the gospel of Luke is not only about a person of the past, but the
companion volume of Acts shows how His ministry of power is continued through the Spirit-filled
Church. The Risen Lord is present in dynamic power in and through the personal Holy Spirit. Such
power needs to be appropriated. 5. Learn to experience the dynamic power of prayer. In the gospel
we repeatedly find the union of the Holy Spirit, Kingdom, and prayer. Luke highlights the prayer of
Jesus, both by example and explicit teaching. The operation of the Holy Spirit in the extension of the
Kingdom of God is directly related to the practice of prayer. It was so with Jesus and is so with the
individual Christian and the Church.
CHRISTOLOGY IN LUKE. Luke's witness to Jesus Christ is quite diversified:
1. Jesus is the prophet, a frequent title, occurring in 4:24; 7: 16, 39; 9: 19;
24: 19. In His sermon at Nazareth, Jesus implies that He is no less a prophet than Elijah who was sent
to the Gentile woman of Zarephath (4:26).

2. Jesus is the Son of God In addition to the meaning of divine nature and origin, the term,"Son of
God" is linked with the term "Son of Adam" (3:38). Luke's emphasis upon a universal salvation finds
early support in the genealogy, wherein Jesus' ancestry is placed within the family tree of the entire
human race.

3. Jesus is Messiah. Not only does Luke affirm Jesus's Messianic identity but he is careful to define
and redefine the nature of Jesus' Messiahship. Jesus is preeminently the Servant who steadfastly sets
His face to go to Jerusalem "to be received up" (9:31,51). Jesus is the One who was reckoned with
transgressors (Isa. 53:12; Lk. 22:37), Son of David (20:41-44), Son of Man (5:24), and the suffering
Servant (4:17-19).

4. Jesus is the exalted Lord. Luke uses the term "Lord" eighteen times in his gospel (50 times in
Acts). The term finds its theological basis in the resurrection of Jesus, wherein God has made Him
both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), but is also used of Jesus prior to the resurrection. Most of the uses
of the term are found in passages distinctly Lukan (7: 13, 19; 10: 1,39,41; 11 :39; 12:42, etc.).
5. Jesus is the friend of the outcasts and the lowly Consistently He is gracious to society's rejected
ones, i.e. publicly acknowledged sinners and Samaritans. Jesus' attitute towards those of a lesser
rank, e.g. is positive. His attitude toward women is likewise affirming and sensitive. Luke includes
both narrative and parable which underscore Jesus' positive ministry among those who come from a
lower station in life. he stands ready to forgive and to share the sacred rite of table-fellowship with
the weak and ostracized (see 5:27-32; 19:1-10). God accepts those whom people reject: prodigal son
15:11-32), good Samaritan (10:25-37); the story of the sinful woman (7:36-50); and the story of
Zacchaeus. Jesus is sharply criticized for his inclusive message and his deliberate choice of the riff-
raff of· the population to be his friends. This emphasis is very similar to the Pauline understanding of
grace--God is interested in the ungodly and he takes the initiative in seeking them out, and is willing
to accept them on the basis of faith, and faith alone. The good news of Jesus is that God loves
sinners, loves them just as they are--and he goes out to seek them even before they have begun to
turn to him. This is a message that the Church has found to be hard to believe and hard to declare. It
is much easier to believe that God likes good and respectable people--and produce a new form of
legalism. Jesus is humane, gentle, kind, and sympathetic to the special needs of this group.
THE HOLY SPIRIT ACCORDING TO lUKE. There are seventeen explicit references to the Holy
Spirit in Luke, which suggest a variety of functions:

1. The Holy Spirit is the source of prophetic/ecstatic inspiration. The sudden reappearance of the
Spirit of prophecy that is present in the birth narratives ofchs. 1-2 is striking (1:15, 41, 67; 2:25, 26,
27). Luke wants his readers to see in this prophetic activity, the inauguration of the new age, of the

2. The Holy Spirit enables Jesus to fulfill His ministry--the Spiritanointed Messiah. In chs. 3-4, there
are five explicit references to the Spirit, used with progressive force. The Spirit, which comes upon
Jesus in bodily form like a dove (3:22), leads Him into the wilderness to be tempted (4:1), and
following His victory over temptation He returns to Galilee in the power of the same Spirit (4:14).
Moreover, as He reads in the synagogue, the memorable Messianic words in the Servant passage, i.e.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me..." (4:18; Isa. 61:1, 2), He claims
that they are fulfilled in Him (4:21). Evidence for His charismatic ministry is not only evident in the
remainder of ch. 4, but in the whole of His ministry of power and compassion.

3. The Holy Spirit, through petitionary prayer, effects the Messianic ministry. At critical junctures in
that ministry, Jesus prays, before, during, or after the crucial event (3:21; 6:12; 9:18, 28; 10:21). The
same Holy Spirt that was effective through Jesus' prayers will empower the disciples' prayers (18:
18), and link the Messianic ministry of Jesus to their mighty ministry through the Church (see 24:48,

4. The Holy Spirit spreads joy, both to Jesus and the new community.
There are five Greek words, denoting joy or exultation, which are used twice as often in Luke than
they are in Matthew or Mark. At the time when the disciples return with joy from their mission (10:
17), "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said..." (10:21). As the disciples are waiting for the
promised Spirit of Jesus' Father (24:49), "they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great
joy, and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God." (24:52-53).
I. Prologue 1:1-4
II. The Infancy Narratives 1:5-2:52
A. Annunciation of John the Baptist's birth 1:5-25
B. Annunciation of Jesus' birth 1:26-38
C. Mary's visit with Elizabeth 1:39-56
D. John the Baptist's birth 1:57-80
E. Jesus' birth 2: 1-40
F. The boy Jesus in the Temple 2:41-52
III. Preparation for Public Ministry 3:1-4:13
A. John the Baptist's ministry 3: 1-20
B. Jesus' baptism 3:21-22
C. Jesus' genealogy 3:23-38
D. The temptation 4:1-13
IV. The Galilean Ministry 4:14-9:50
A. At Nazareth and Capernaum 4: 14-44
C. Sermon on the plain 6: 17-49
D. Narrative and dialogue 7:1-9:50
V. The travel narrative (on the way to Jerusalem) 9:51-19:28
VI. The Jerusalem ministry 19:29-21 :38
A. Events at Jesus' entry 19:29-48
B. Controversy stories 20: 1-21:4
C. Eschatological discourse 21 :5-38
VII. The Passion and Glorification of Jesus 22: 1-24:53
A. The Passover meal 22: 1-38
B. The passion, death and burial of Jesus 22:39-23:56
C. The resurrection and ascension 24: 1-53
Story, p. 1


The Nature of the Gospel(s) and Biblical Theology

As we begin our study into the gospels, we need to be reminded of a verse in the
NT, wherein the evangelist Luke comments on the thoughtful reception of the Gospel by
the newly converted Berean Christians:
Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the
Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined
the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Now Paul had just been at Thessalonica and praises the Thessalonians more than
any other church. But then he goes to Berea and evidently spent much time there--
expounding the Scriptures on a daily basis. The Bereans believe, and do not resist the
new interpretation, but they sit down and make careful and accurate research into the
content, accuracy, historicity, and meaning of their faith. They were interested and
committed and had welcomed Paul and Silas' preaching, but now they wanted to find out
the truth for themselves. The idea of careful investigation resembles the technical sense
of the term apology (ajpologiva) in early Christian literature, like Justin Martyr.
The term is used elsewhere in the NT:
Phil. 1:7 It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my
heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the
defense and confirmation of the gospel.
1 Pet. 3:15 but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to
make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet
do it with gentleness and reverence;
What happened at Berea is similar to the process that is a vital part of our lives,
and needs to be an ingredient in our study together. The Bereans examined the Scriptures
daily to see if these things were so. It is my desire that we learn how to develop and
frame theology for ourselves. Private personal study took place at Berea--not second
hand reading alone.
As we read and reflect upon the gospels, we too need to do our own homework
with the text of Scripture, and building our theology in the Bible's own terms. We need
to try to import ourselves into the historical situation, and free ourselves from our
preconceived notions, pet theories and biases, and let the text of Scripture speak for itself.
Definition. George Ladd has offered us a definition of the term biblical theology
which will assist us in our work this quarter. I imagine that for many of you, the term is a
bit vague and nebulous, which is not clearly distinguished from Christian Doctrine or
Systematic Theology. Ladd says, Biblical theology is that science which deals with the
process of the self-revelation of God, deposited in the Bible in its own historical setting in
its own terms, categories and thought forms.1 On the one hand, biblical theology is a
descriptive discipline that tells the story of God and His concern and activity on behalf of
humanity. On the other hand, biblical theology is intended to lead to the proper human
response of trust, obedience, and worship. While we will try to understand the Jesus
story through the lens of the four evangelists, we will also need to be deeply sensitive to
the way in which the Jesus story affects our lives and commitments, the message that we
1George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Co., 1977), p. 25
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 2

live and speak.

A few of the words call for special comment. The word science means discipline
or course of study that is based on the revelation that God has already made. In a normal
science or science class, e.g., high school biology, physics, or chemistry, we deal with
impersonal objects or chemicals or even animals. With every experiment that we made
in a particular class, we always took the first step; we were active and our subjects were
passive. But now, as we deal with the Bible and spiritual reality, we are dealing with
God's process of self-revelation in which the initiative lies with God. Only as God has
chosen to reveal Himself to people, can we know anything at all. All spiritual life, by its
very nature, is closed up within itself--it's hidden, and such life can only be known
through revelation. I can know you and your spiritual life as you choose to reveal
yourself to me. It that is true with us as humans, then how much more is that true with
God and humanity. Paul said:
1 Corinthians 2:11 For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of
the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except
the Spirit of God.
The inward hidden content of God's mind can become your possession and mine only
through a voluntary self-disclosure from God. Further, people must be in possession of
the critical faculty of the spirit, which is also shared by God, before they are enable to
fully understand. God must come to us before we can come to Him.
Process. Another key term is the term process. In biblical theology as we
understand the term revelation, we are dealing with God's activity and the meaning of
that activity. We look at the various ways in which God has communicated with
humanity--over a period of time. God has dealt differently with people at different
periods of history-He has spoken different words and done different deeds. There is a
difference between the way in which God spoke to Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, and
on into the NT, with John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, and the early Church. God spoke
different messages in Noah's day, in the Exodus, the monarchy, the Exile, the life and
death of Jesus, and the fall of Jerusalem.
Unity and diversity. The task of biblical theology is to let the writers of Scripture
speak in their historical setting and context--allowing for the diversity to be heard. For
us, there is often a real tendency in the early years of Christian experience to adopt a flat
view of the Bible--to assume that all of the Bible says the same thing. And we may not
be sensitive to the diversity that is found within the Bible. We need to allow for both a
unity and diversity. As we approach the Gospels we need to allow for the uniqueness
and diversity of the writers. We need to allow the gospel writers to speak for themselves
as they have been inspired by the Holy Spirit. As we are sensitive to the diversity of the
different writers--then we are more able to explore the unity of God's revelation to
Martin Luther in 1521 at the Council of Worms affirmed that the Bible alone was
the sole authority over the Church's teaching--over and against the pope and ecclesiastical
tradition. And thus the Reformation churches sprang up based on the sole authority of
Scripture, and the assumption that all of Scripture was saying the same thing. And yet,
during the next year, Martin Luther was struggling with the differences between the
books of James and Hebrews, on the one side, and the epistles of Paul, on the other. In
his preface to his translation in 1522, he expressed something of this diversity and variety

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 3

of witness, and yet this never really came out, presumably because of the Church's
position on the unity of Scripture. Then, for 200+ years, an artificial blanket of unity was
thrown over the interpretation of Scripture which precluded the variety and diversity of
the Bible. In the late 17th century books began to appear with Biblical Theology as
titles, but really they were books that were compilations of proof texts for theologians
and pastors.
Then, at the end of the Enlightenment into the 18th century-19th there was a
major pendulum swing, in which the Bible was simply regarded as a human book, written
by men, like any other book, and could be properly understood only with the methods of
historical science. As liberalism has continued up to the present, there is a tendency to
say, "Let us go back to the historical Jesus." Many have treated the Synoptic Gospels as
works of literature alone or as historical records of the faith of the primitive church.
Jesus, then loses significance for human salvation, but is regarded as a teacher of the
highest example of a life that is governed by love. While many scholars appreciate the
beauty and power of the Gospel stories, they attribute the individual units of the Gospel
tradition to the creative imagingation of the Early Church.
Over the last fifty years, there has been the emergence of a new type of biblical
theology which affirms both the unity and diversity of the Bible, which has been a
healthy and freeing sort of endeavor.
Creative Tension. Over the last fifty years there has been an ongoing debate
between the objective and subjective approach, descriptive approach vs. an existential
approach to Scripture. Debate has revolved around two questions, "What did the text of
Scripture mean?" "What does the text of Scripture mean?" The conservative camp
landed on the issue of historicity, "What did the text mean?" And the liberals
championed the existential question, "What does the text mean?" Several theologians,
Cullmann, Stauffer, Ladd--confine themselves with the historical question, and simply
establish the historical framework, the meaning of the text.
And yet, others, such as Barth and Bultmann together see the need for a personal
approach that is somewhat subjective. For instance, Barth, in his commentary on
Romans says that Luther and Calvin were men who really could understand Paul because
they were able to interpret and experience in their own time what Paul meant. Barth says
that walls which separated the first century and the 16th century became totally
The error of a purely descriptive approach is to take something that is alive, write
it down on paper, and describe in historical and analytical terms-something that is
dynamic in nature. Often, the result is a sterile sort of orthodoxy or a dead kind of
Pharisaism. On the other hand, the other danger is to divorce present day meaning from
any historical roots at all. For instance, the Reformers interpreted Paul by equating the
problem of the Judaizers in Paul's day with the Catholic Church and Church's tradition.
There is a certain coherence and similarity between the two. With this type of translation
and application, it may be that 80% is correct and analogous, while 20% may be
unexplained, and Paul may be distorted, and made to say what he didn't say.
Thus, I suggest that we can be both historically sound with what the text meant
and in current dialogue with what the text of Scripture means today. And there should be
some kind of correspondence between original historical meaning and present-day
exposition and application. Our job is to find the history in the kerygma, the preaching.

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 4

And then to find the kerygma (preaching) in the history. And then we need to have the
text of Scripture speak to us today, so that the life-giving process goes full-circle and
doesn't stop short.
Jesus said,
Matthew 7:24 Every one then who hears Matthew 7:26 And every one who hears
these words of mine and does them will these words of mine and does not do
be like a wise man who built his house them will be like a foolish man who built
upon the rock; his house upon the sand;

The point of contrast between the two statements does not lie in the hearing, but the
doing. Both the wise man and the foolish man hear--the difference is found in the doing,
the action and application. Understanding comes in the application of the message of
Jesus to life today. Therefore, every student of biblical theology who hears the words of
Jesus and constructs a system of theology, but does not act upon what he or she knows, is
like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The difference between the two
foundations is found in the doing, the experience, the existential application of the words
of Jesus.
Because Jesus is both the earthly Jesus and the Risen Lord, his words have
importance and bearing on the present. And as we read the gospels, we will need to be
sensitive to the unique and distinct message of Jesus that is articulated and expressed
through the various evangelists.

The term "gospel"

Etymology and OT antecedents. The term gospel is a modern form of the Anglo-
Saxon word god-spell which designated a story from or about a god, and is rendered by
the Latin word evangelium. The Latin term goes back to the LXX and the gospels for the
noun eujaggevlion and the verb eujaggelivzomai. The noun means
good tidings, good news, or glad tidings. Correspondingly, the verb means to preach the
good news, proclaim or tell the good/glad tidings. The KJV version uses the expression,
to publish good tidings. The same root is used in connection with the messenger, the
evangelist, who brings the good news. In Greek culture, after a naval victory, a birth of a
son, a coronation of a king, a messenger was dispatched to affected towns, families, and
cities to announce the good news of some celebrated event. In some Greek inscriptions,
the birthday of Caesar Augustus is celebrated as "for the world the beginning of good
The Greek verb eujaggelivzomai is a rendering of the Hebrew basar
(mebasar) and designates the public announcement of some saving act of God, wherein
He has delivered or saved His people from some type of crisis or defeat. That news is of
special importance to a specific group of people that wait for the good news:
Isaiah 40:9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up
your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news, lift it up, fear not; say to
the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!"
Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings
good news, who proclaims peace, who brings good news of good, who proclaims
salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
It is used with reference to the public announcement of a defeat that has been

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 5

accomplished by God or a deliverance He has effected:

1 Samuel 4:17 He who brought the tidings answered and said, "Israel has fled
before the Philistines, and there has also been a great slaughter among the people; your
two sons also, Hophni and Phin'ehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been
Psalm 96:2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to
From the gospel narratives, it appears to be clear that Jesus deliberately adopted
and applied to Himself the idea of preaching the good news from the second portion of

Isaiah 40:9 ejp o[ro"

uJyhlo;n ajnavbhqi, oJ
eujaggelizovmeno" Siwn,
u{ywson th'/ ijscuvi
thVn fwnhvn sou, oJ
Ierousalhm, uJywvsate,
mhV fobei'sqe, eijpoVn
tai'" povlesin Iouda
jIdou; oJ qeoV" uJmw'n.
Isaiah 40:9 Get you up to a high
mountain, O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength, O
Jerusalem, herald of good news, lift it up,
fear not; say to the cities of Judah, Romans 10:15pw'" deV
"Behold your God!" khruvxwsin e*aVn mhV
Isaiah 41:27 a*postalw'sin kaqwV"
I first have declared it to Zion, and I give gevgraptai:w&" w&rai'oi
oi& povde" tw'n
to Jerusalem a herald ofgood news. eu*aggelizomevnwn
Isaiah 52:7 wJ" w{ra ejpiV
(taV) a*gaqav.
tw'n ojrevwn, wJ" povde"
ajkohVn eijrhvnh", wJ"
eujaggelizovmeno" Romans 10:15 And how can men preach
ajgaqav, o{ti unless they are sent? As it is written,
ajkousthVn poihvsw thVn "How beautiful are the feet of those who
swthrivan sou levgwn preach good news!"
Siwn Basileuvsei sou oJ
Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the Luke 4:18pneu'ma kurivou
mountains are the feet of him who brings e*p * e*meV
good news, who publishes peace, who ou% ei@neken e!crisen
brings good newsof good, who announces me
salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God eu*aggelivsasqai
reigns." ptwcoi'",
Isaiah 61:1 Pneu'ma kurivou a*pevstalken me,
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 6

ejp j ejmev, ou| ei{neken khruvxai ai*cmalwvtoi"

e[crisevn me, a!fesin kaiV tufloi'"
eujaggelivsasqai a*navbleyin,
ptwcoi'" ajpevstalkevn a*postei'lai
me, ijavsasqai touV" teqrausmevnou" e*n
suntetrimmevnou" th'/ a*fevsei,
kardiva/, khruvxai
aijcmalwvtoi" a[fesin
kaiV tufloi'"
ajnavbleyin, 2 kalevsai
ejniautoVn kurivou
dektoVn kaiV hJmevran
ajntapodovsew", Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon
parakalevsai pavnta" me, because he has anointed me to
touV" penqou'nta", preach good news to the poor. He has
sent me to proclaim release to the captives
Isaiah 61:1The Spirit of the Lord GOD is and recovering of sight to the blind, to set
upon me, because the LORD has anointed at liberty those who are oppressed,
me to bring good news to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the 19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the
brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the Lord."
captives, and the opening of the prison to
those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's
favor, and the day of vengeance of our
God; to comfort all who mourn;

Nahum 2:1 jIdouV ejpiV Luke 2:10 kaiV ei\pen

taV o[rh oiJ povde" au*toi'" o& a!ggelo": mhV
eujaggelizomevnou kaiV fobei'sqe, i*douV gaVr
ajpaggevllonto" eu*aggelivzomai u&mi'n
eijrhvnhn, eJovrtaze, caraVn megavlhn h@ti"
Iouda, taV" eJortav" sou, e!stai pantiV tw'/ law'/,
ajpovdo" taV" eujcav"
sou, diovti ouj mh;
prosqhvswsin e[ti tou'
dielqei'n dia; sou' eij" Luke 2:10 And the angel said to them, "Be
palaivwsin not afraid; for behold, I bring you good
news of a great joy which will come to all
the people;
Nahum 1:15 Behold, on the mountains
the feet of him who brings good news,
who proclaims peace! Keep your feasts, O
Judah, fulfil your vows, for never again
shall the wicked come against you, he is
utterly cut off.

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 7

The use of the verb in Isaiah refers to the proclaiming of the day of salvation, whether it
means the return from the Babylonian exile or in a deeper Messianic sense. In Mark's
gospel, the term refers to the announcement of the promised salvation and the Kingdom
of God which has come in His own person (Mk. 1:14-15). In Jesus' sermon at Nazareth,
Jesus clearly applies to Himself the words of Isaiah 61:1, saying that God has
christed/anointed Him to preach good news to the poor. In other portions of the gospels,
Jesus affirms that His preaching to the poor is a clear fulfillment of the Scriptures.2
New Testament Synonyms. Frequently, the eujaggel--word family is used
synonymously with other nouns and verbs. Often the term gospel is used interchangeably
with the term word (lovgo" or rJh'ma). We find the verbs, proclaim, obey, speak,
announce, hear, confirm, have, give, or come--all of which are brought into conjunction
with the word. Correspondingly, many of the NT verbs associated with the public
proclamation of the good news are used synonymously with the verb
eujaggelivzomai: khruvssw, I preach, kataggevllw, I
The understanding of the entire word-family is closely connected with the Semitic
background of a dynamic understanding of words and speaking, so much so, that when
words are uttered they achieve a life and vitality of their own. Words are far more than
collections of syllables:
10 "For as the rain and the snow 12 So shall my word be that goes forth
from my mouth;
come down from heaven, and return not it shall not return to me empty,
thither but water the earth, but it shall accomplish that which I
making it bring forth and purpose,
sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread and prosper in the thing for which I sent
to the eater, it.
Isaiah 55:10-11

In Semitic thought, the word is a mode of action, and thus we find in Paul the affirmation
that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16-17).

The gospel is the proclamation of God's saving activity (fact)

The writers of the NT use the terms gospel, preach the gospel, to refer to the
divine proclamation of the realization of God's plan of salvation, announced to the whole
of humanity. The gospel does not mean simple statements of propositional truth but the
proclamation of a divine and saving event. God had promised this saving event, and
people had hoped for and waited for this event. And now in the words of Jesus, "time is
fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk. 1:14-15).
C.H. Dodd has highlighted the term khruvgma, kerygma, which means the
creedal formulation of certain events in the life of Jesus. As he has worked with the
speeches and preaching in the book of Acts he has isolated several key elements which
characterize the preaching or the gospel .
1. The age of fulfillment has arrived in that God has realized the promises of the
OT and brought salvation to His people (Acts 2:16-21,23; 3:18,24; 10:43)
2See Matt. 11:5; Lk. 7:22.
©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 8

2. Salvation has taken place through the ministry, death, and resurrection of
Jesus (2:22-24; 3:13-15; 10:37-39)
3. By virtue of His resurrection, Jesus has been exalted as "Lord and Christ"
4. By virtue of His exaltation, Jesus has bestowed the Holy Spirit in the Church
as the sign of Jesus' power and glory (2:33; 5:32)
5. Salvation will be consummated in the return of Jesus to judge the living and
the dead (3:21; 10:42)
6. The apostles were divinely chosen to be witnesses of the ministry of Jesus--
primarily of His resurrection (2:32; 3:15; 10:40-41)3
In early Christian preaching of the gospel, or the kerygma, there followed an invitation to
repent, believe, receive both the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and the gift of the Holy
A couple of texts encapsulate this message or creedal formulation:
In Acts 10:34-43 we find several terms that are used as synonyms: lovgo"--
word (vss. 36,44), eujaggelivzomai--preaching good news (v. 36), rJh'ma--
word, thing, event, (vss. 37,44--words/things) khruvssw--to preach (v. 42).
In I Cor. 15:1-7 we find another similar kerygma or gospel wherein Paul
enumerates certain key events in the life of Jesus that are linked to both the verb
eujaggelivzomai and the noun eujaggevlion and the content of the
1 Cor. 15:1 Gnwrivzw deV uJmi'n, ajdelfoiv, toV
eujhggelisavmhn uJmi'n,
o} kaiV
ejn w|/ kaiV
di· ou| kaiV
tivni lovgw/
eujhggelisavmhn uJmi'n
eij katevcete, ejktoV"
eij mhV eijkh'/ ejpisteuvsate.
Now I would remind you, brothers, in which terms
I [gospelled]
the gospel to you,
3Dodd has constructed the khvrugma from the early chapters of the book of Acts. Dodd also clearly
distinguishes the khvrugma from the didachv/, the Church's doctrinal and ethical teaching. Paul
1 Cor. 1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God
through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. ejpeidhV gaVr ejn th'/
sofiva/ tou' qeou' oujk e[gnw oJ kovsmo" diaV th'" sofiva"
toVn qeovn, eujdovkhsen oJ qeoV" diaV th'" mwriva" tou'
khruvgmato" sw'sai touV" pisteuvonta". The distinction between the early
Church's preaching and teaching may be helpful as long as we do not formulate hard and fast distinctions
between the two, e.g., I Cor. 9:27.

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 9

which you received,

in which you stand,
2 by which you are being saved,
if you hold it fast
--unless you believed in vain.
As Paul continues, he begins to list the various items of the primitive Christian
confession and teaching. Paul notes the reality of Christ's death and the fact that this
death was in accordance with God's promise, according to the Scriptures (I Cor. 15:3).
The mention of his burial underscores the reality of His death. The item of the
resurrection then follows, and then Paul mentions the various witnesses of that
resurrection in the appearances of the Risen Jesus. This corresponds with Dodd's last
item in his delineation of the early kerygma.

The gospel is the divine communication of God's redemptive work.

In the NT the gospel is call the word of God (40 times), the word of the Lord (8
times), or more simply, the word (40 times), while the term gospel occurs seventy three
times. The emphasis does not lie primarily in a verbal statement, but an event wherein
God's saving purpose is at work. The good news is similarly regarded as the power of
God in a dynamic sense:
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for
salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
It is within this dynamic understanding of word and gospel that John speaks of the word
of life which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and touched with
our hands (I Jn. 1:1). It is not a human plan, an outline, and is far more than sterile and
cold confessions, but the operation of a powerful good news that has been let loose in the
world--to effect salvation to all who believe. While there are many different ways of
presenting the gospel, the basic facts and foundations do not change (Gal. 1:6-9; I Cor.
3:5-9). And the basic starting point lies within the divine initiative--God offering His
supreme good to humanity.
The above kerygma in Acts and then in Paul, give us some summary statements
about the content of the good news as expressed through the early Christian preachers.
But how would Jesus' audience have heard the message? In Luke's Gospel we find the
term "good news" linked up with the following:
q Angels use the term "good news" in the annunciation of John the Baptist and
Jesus (Luke 1:19; 2:10)
q John's ministry and Jesus' ministry are summed up with the expression, "to preach
the good news" (Lk. 3:18; Lk. 4:14-21, 43).
q Jesus says that "the poor have the good news preached to them" (Lk. 7:22) and
that from the time of John the Baptist "the good news of the Kingdom of God is
being preached" (Lk. 16:16)
q Close links between the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus and the message of
Isaiah 40-46, which announced the restoration of the people of God from
captivity—into their homeland—through the mission of the Servant.
In Luke 4:16-21, we find a further window into Jesus' inaugural address in Nazareth,
which is not recorded in Mark (cf. Mk. 6:1-6) or Matthew (cf. Matt. 13:53-58). The text

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 10

of Luke 4 seems to imply that Jesus went to Capernaum and performed miracles in that
setting before he went to Nazareth (Lk. 4:14-15, 23). Luke draws attention to the
significance of this event. John is imprisoned in 3:20 and Jesus goes to Galilee and
begins to read from the text of Isaiah 61:1-2a—with an insertion from Isa. 58:6, "to send
the oppressed away in liberty," which proclaims freedom from Babylonian captivity. The
text announces the restoration of the people of God:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
Because He has anointed me
To preach good news to the poor
He has sent me to proclaim
Freedom for the prisoners
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To release the oppressed,
To proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Jesus identifies Himself with the Servant of the Lord, upon whom the Holy Spirit would
rest and anoint. Jesus announces very directly that, "Today this Scripture has been
fulfilled in your hearing" (Lk. 4:21). The verb, "to preach the good news" parallels the
verb of speaking "to proclaim." The content of the good news is directly related to
preaching to the poor, freedom, liberty, recovery of sight, release of the oppressed and the
favor of the Lord. The recipients of these messages are those who are society's "broken,"
the helpless and afflicted, the poor, the captives and the blind. The message of grace and
favor comes to those who are oppressed, afflicted and broken through the circumstances
of life. In his summary sections, Luke characterizes the preaching of good news at the
very heart of Jesus' ministry:
Lk. 4:43: "I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other
towns also, because that is why I was sent."
Lk. 8:1: "After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another,
proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God."
Lk. 9:6: So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the good
news and healing people everywhere."
Lk. 20:1: One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and
preaching the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together
with the elders, came up to him."
Jesus is so aware of the poor, the dispossessed, those who have been broken through the
circumstances of life and to those who feel on the outside. In Lk. 4, Jesus perceives that
His audience will demand such acts of healing, "Physician, heal yourself! Do here in
your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum." In His response, Jesus
appeals to the ministry of both Elijajh and Elisha—to the outsider. Both of these
prophets had performed healings for outsiders, not insiders (the widow of Zarephath in
the region of Sidon and Namaan the Syrian leper). Thus, Jesus authenticates His ministry
to the outsider—to those who are broken and poor and who need to have "good news" of
freedom spoken to them.
Jesus' announcement of the "good news" is met with two responses: 1) positive
response, "All spoke well of him" (Lk. 4:22), 2) negative response of fury, "they were
furious" (Lk. 4:28). The furious response is provoked by Jesus' gracious offer of the
good news to the outsiders. The poor were not part of the insiders, the "in-group." Jesus

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 11

makes it so clear that the relative worth of the recipients is not the gauge by which an
offer is made. The worth of people is not determined by religious standing, religious
profession, national or racial allegiance. His offer goes directly to society's "broken."
The "good news for the poor" is dynamically linked with the term "Kingdom of God."
This also accords with the message of Isaiah, wherein the prophet ties together the
restoration of the people of God with the Kingdom of God:
Isa. 40:9-10: You who bring good news to Zion,
Go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
Lift up your voice with a shout
Lift it up, do not be afraid;
Say to the towns of Judah,
Here is your God!
10 See, the Sovereign Lord
Comes with power,
And His arm rules for him,
Isa. 52:7 How beautiful on the mountains
Are the feet of those who bring good news
Who proclaim peace
Who brings good news,
Who proclaim salvation,
Who say to Zion,
"Your God reigns."
This Servant would bring in a Kingdom that would be characterized by good news, with
salvation, peace, security, confidence and help. The message comes to those who are in
genuine need and ex;perience brokenness of one sort or another. This commitment is
also expressed in Jesus' response to the Baptist's query as to whether Jesus is the Coming
One or not. Jesus' response includes the narrative of what is occurring and is climaxed by
the affirmation that the poor have good news proclaimed to them:
The blind receive sight,
The lame walk,
The lepers are being cured,
The deaf hear
The dead are being raised,
The good news is preached to the poor. (Matt. 11:6).
Neither Jesus nor the Evangelists nor early Christian preachers coined the term Gospel de
novo, but adopted the prior understanding of the term from the Graeo-Roman culture and
the Old Testament. Since the use of the term in the Gospels uses the term from the Old
Testament, particularly Isaiah, it is clear that the term Gospel has its intrinsic root in the
restoration and healing for the helpless. The preaching of the "good news" is vitally
linked with the following items:
q The Kingdom of God (Mk. 1:14-15; Matt. 4:23; 9:35; Lk. 4:43; 8:1; 16:16)
and in Isaiah (40:9-10; 52:7)
q Healing (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 11:5; Lk. 7:22; 9:6)
q Restoration of the "broken" (Lk. 4:18ff.; Matt. 11:1-6)

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 12

The Gospels are expanded kerygma

As a genre, the term gospel appears to be a genre all of its own. As you will read
Martin's book you will see the imagined thought of an early librarian trying to categorize
the four gospels. How is it to be classified?
Memoirs/Memories. The term gospel appears to have first applied to a book, as a
title, in the Epistles of Ignatius written when he was on his way to Rome to meet
martyrdom. We find this use in the writings of Justin Martyr (1:66), and he refers to the
reminiscences of the apostles "which are called gospels." While Justin Martyr appears to
compare the gospels with Xenophon's Memorabilia, in that they were written to defend
the memory of a master and leader, Xenophon defended the memory of Socrates against
the charge of irreligion and corrupting Athen's youth. However, the gospels are not
anecdotal like Xenophon's Memorabilia. Further, the concentration on the death of Jesus
is altogether different than the death of Socrates.
Myth. Some scholars of a more liberal sort use the language of myth in terms of
understanding the gospels. In a superficial way they compare the gospels with myths,
like Persephone, who was carried off to Hades, and then returned...dying and rising
again. However, when you look at the gospels, there is clearly a historical and factual
dimension to the Gospels which sets them apart from the myths, e.g., Lk. 2:1--Quirinius
who was governor over Syria; 3:1ff. the civil and religious rulers--Tiberius Caesar,
Pontius Pilate, Herod, Phillip. Whatever may be the superficial similarities, the clear
historical references set the gospels apart from the non-historical myths.
Biographies. The affirmation of historical roots and points of contact might lead
us in the direction of a biography, and there were precedents for the writing of histories in
the first century. We don't know all that happened in the life of Jesus--we have precious
little about the childhood, youth, and experiences of growth and development. The
gospel portraits of Jesus are different from first century biographies and present day
biographies, e.g., how many cigars that Winston Churchill smoked a day, or the frugal
meals of Mahatma Gandhi. We are not told much about personal details or what Jesus
looked like. The Evangelists are mainly concerned to express the significance of Jesus,
His saving activity rather than focus in upon His personality, character or appearance.
They do not devote their major attention to a discussion of Jesus' particular virtues. After
the birth narratives (Matt. and Lk.) we are plunged into the ministry of John the Baptist
and the inauguration of Jesus' ministry.
Interpreted (theological) histories to create faith. A word of caution is needed.
To say that the Gospels are not biographies might falsely create the impression that the
Gospels are not concerned with what happened. It might appear to cast doubt on the
reliability of the gospel traditions that we have.
An analogy might help. On Monday Night Football, Al Michaels, Frank Gifford,
Dan Deerdorf give us a running commentary on the football game before us. And as they
narrate the progress of the football they are interpreting the game as they go. They would
lose their contract if they proceeded to tell us everything that took place (how many cups
of Gatorade were spilled, which lineman fell, the skinned elbow of a guard, or how many
clods of dirt went flying on the last play. They interpret the story of the game between
the Cowboys and the Redskins as they go and do their best to isolate the key events of the
game as they bear upon the progress and movement of the play.

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 13

Within Israel's history, Judaism was governed by the living memory of an

event--the Exodus, which had called Israel into being. History was relived and
interpreted on an annual basis at Passover. So it was with the early Christian community.
The Christians looked back and remembered the One who had called them individually
and corporately as the Church, and recognized His living and abiding presence with them
in their services. As they witnessed to the whole life of Jesus, they remembered and
interpreted His activity in healing and exorcism, his kindness and gentleness, His
authority, His death at the hands of Gentiles and Jews, His resurrection, and appearances.
In John's Gospel we find a clear statement of purpose that shows the evangelist at work in
the selection, organization, and order of the Gospel signs with a view towards faith:
John 20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples,
which are not written in this book;
31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of
God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
If the gospel is vitally linked to the kerygma as is suggested by C. H. Dodd, then
the Gospels are expansions of that basic core. The analogy comes to mind between a
photographic picture and a portrait. A photograph gives a physical representation of the
basic picture of a person. However, a portrait gives an interpretive picture of a person,
and may capture something of the essence or distinctives of the person. For instance, if
an artist sees the subject in terms of an inner strength, the portrait may well capture that
quality of inner strength. This may well be analogous to the way that the Gospel writers
saw their role—they intend to capture the significance of the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
We only need to think of Mark's gospel, half of which is concerned with the Passion of
Jesus. Peter's confession of Jesus is quickly followed by the first of three passion
predictions (chs. 8, 9,10), and in ch. 10 we find ourselves in the last week of Jesus'
The four Gospels offer four portraits of Jesus' life and significance. From
Matthew's perspective, Jesus is the promised Prophet, "like Moses" (Deut. 18:15-19) or
as the Spiritual Messiah of Israel. Mark paints the picture of Jesus as the mysterious and
suffering Son of Man, who is in fact, the Son of God (Mk. 1:1). Luke portrays Jesus as
the Friend of Sinners, the one who accepts the marginalized. The Fourth Gospel
expresses the wonder of Jesus as the Divine Word, who embodies and expresses the gift
of life to humankind in the grip of death or as light in the midst of darkness. It is
noteworthy that none of these differences among the Gospels led to church splits as in the
case of some of the heretical "gospels"; the Early Church was quick to reject some of the
gnostic gospels. The Church possessed a certain broadminded acceptance; the leaders of
the Early Church were aware of a common root in history that characterized each of the
four Gospels. It also appears that they accepted the fact that none of them was fully able
to comprise the wealth and depth of the significance of Christ's ministry and saving
The diversity of the witness suggests the complex unity within Jesus, who evokes
such varied responses and reflections. The four Evangelists are diverse but they also
express a common core that includes the preliminary work of the Baptist, the Baptism of
Jesus, His public ministry in Galilee, generally in a Jewish context, the selection of
twelve disciples, a popular response by the common people, the thickening plot of the
religious and political leaders, the Passion and Resurrection. Further, there is a certain

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 14

combination of narrative and sayings of Jesus. The various narratives are all connected
and serve early Christian proclamation and Christian instruction. Thus, in the four
Gospels, there is a common commitment not only to theological reflection and
interpretation but a commitment to historical concerns as well (e.g., Lk. 1:1-4). In the
sermons that Luke provides in Acts, there is a similar concern to root the ongoing
ministry of Jesus through the apostles in a real history (e.g., Acts 17:7; 19:8; 20:25;
28:31). In Acts, Paul teaches "the things concerning the Kingdom of God" (Acts 28:31).
Paul does not express something new as if he is the initiator of a new religious
movement; rather, he continues the apostolic preaching of a real historical person who
impacted a real people in a real time-period. From Luke's prologue to his gospel, it is
evident that he has availed himself of eyewitnesses and the transmitters of the Jesus
tradition. He is fully aware of the historical nature of the kerygma. It would appear self-
evident that Luke would not fabricate material or introduce unhistorical material into the
Gospel narrative, when many of those who were more closely in touch with the Jesus-
event would have been able to counter.

Reasons for the composition of the gospels

Need for an Authenticating Document:

The apostles and eyewitnesses were getting older and dying and the early writers
addressed the need for an authenticating document that would solidify the block of oral
and written Jesus tradition. There needed to be an accrediting statement and account of
Jesus the Savior, what He did and what He taught.
Combat False Teaching:
The Early Church sturggled with error, false teaching and heresy. There were
deviant interpretations of Jesus (perhaps some gnostic strains). Very early in the life of
the Early Church, there were other ideas that were being handed down, other
interpretations and thus, the need for a standard by which truth could be decided.
Catechesis of New Christians:
As the church grew, there was ongoing need for instruction of new converts, a
document that would facilitate the goal of instruction. Much is said about the life of
discipleship, human relationships, how Christians are to follow Jesus in a hostile world,
relationship of Christians to the state, etc.
Surely, the writers of the Gospels envisioned that their work would be read by
non-Christians who might be convinced of the incredible message of the "good news"
and would be led to trust in this person who had changed human life and human history.
Correction of Errors:
q The first error was a miscalculation on the time scale. The early Church believed that
the Lord would come back very soon, perhaps in a matter of weeks or months--for we
find that in the New Testament, there is a transformation from an excited and
immediate expectation to a disappointed realization. It explains why Christians took
so little interest in the organization of the Church--why organize something when it is
already in the process of passing way. During the latter part of the New Testament
we find more time and energy devoted to the ordered structure of the new
community. Also, the expected shortness of the interval also accounts for the failure

©J. Lyle Story
Story, p. 15

of the early Christians to write documents that encompassed the Jesus event.
q The second error was the expectation that with the coming again of the Messiah, the
whole people of Israel would believe, and would become again what they always
were to be. The writers grappled with the problem of how the rulers of Israel, with
their deep knowledge of the Law and prophecies should fail to recognize the One who
came to fulfill them all. In the course of time there was a hardening on both the
Jewish and Christian sides. The Jews came to regard the Christians as renegades who
could no longer be accepted as forming part of the house of Israel. The Christians
were discouraged at the obstinacy of the Jews in refusing to accept the Messiah. The
church was becoming increasingly separated from the synagogue. There were some
positive examples of mutual understanding and respect. In Justin Martyr's Dialogue
with Trypho, we find that even a hundred years later than the period of the Gospels, it
was possible for Jews and Christians to meet on terms of mutual respect and courtesy.
But this was more of the exception than the rule. It has been sad that by the time of
the writing the Gospels that the term "the Jews" came to signify the enemy--and the
term no longer means racial, national or religious Jew, but it has acquired a
theological tinge of the enemies of the Christian faith and church.
And this is a sad event. Because we cannot fully live as Christians without the
help of our Jewish brothers and sisters. Many of them have found faith in Christ, and
we owe a great debt to them for the insights that they have brought.
q A third error was the belief that Jerusalem, the City of David, would become the
religious capital of the world. And there are several OT texts which point us in this
Isa. 2:2 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of
the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised
above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, 3 and many peoples shall come,
and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God
of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For
out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Zechariah equally had seen that "many people and strong nations