Saturday, December 31, 2022

Reflections on 2022

1. Another year gone. At the beginning of the year, we were living in Fillmore, New York, in a house we had to buy because we had no other real choice. It was a nice house and a nice town. Our roosters were of course a nuisance to the neighbors. That made me uncomfortable. We did get COVID, but by then we'd had the vaccine.

I always felt in-between in New York. There was a heaviness there in my spirit. Once I stopped working at Houghton, we knew we would eventually either move back to Indiana or follow the Spirit somewhere else. We didn't broadcast that sense, of course. We let things play out until the right time. Angie enjoyed teaching at Houghton Academy, although they hadn't recovered from COVID enrollment crisis, which meant a lot of extra work for peanuts or nothing.

Indiana it was. We were grateful to find a nice house outside Marion where we have, for good or ill, multiplied chickens (and two ducks that were supposed to be females but aren't). The market was crazy when we bought, but at least we caught it before interest rates soared. I like the house, although I still remain separated from most of my books, my one materialism. 

Angie had a bad accident at the end of August that could have killed her. We were quickly putting the chickens in the coop as a large wind storm approached, and a large tree branch fell on her head, flattening her. Fractured vertebrae, subdural hematoma. She is in the final stages of recovery, thank the Lord. She will hopefully return to work at least part-time this coming month.

My children are all on a good path. Stefanie gets married in April and has a good job working out of Miami. Stacy has emerged from COVID working at a fulfilling job in Chicago. After finishing at Purdue, Tom has decided to become an electrician and is studying in Chicago as well while working. Sophie has just finished one semester on a master's degree at the University of Edinburgh.

2. I have continued to work for Campus Edu this year. It has been a very stimulating year, working with a number of colleges to build next-generation digital courses aimed to appeal to digital natives. I've learned a lot. With the departure of Erin Crisp, I have slid into the chief academic role, a position very familiar to me from Wesley Seminary and IWU. Here is a reflection on three takeaways from this past year.

I often ask myself what I would do if I had the authority to lead a college. Right now I'm working on the service side. We're trying to help colleges from the outside. What would I do if I were in the driver's seat of a college? Here are some of my current thoughts for anyone to use:

Residentially, there has to be something different that draws students to your campus. 

  • For Christian colleges, ideology is usually somewhere in the mix. Maybe it's a denominational school. Maybe it's a conservative school. Maybe it's a "social justice" school. It's at least a consideration--what "idea flavor" does your school have?
  • By the way, I don't think trying to suddenly switch your "brand" works very well. You just lose the group you have without necessarily gaining the group your BOT or alumni think you should be going after. Changing brand usually takes some time. On another note, your real brand is decided by outsiders. You can't just say, "We're this," if everyone thinks you're "that." Perception is reality when it comes to marketing.
  • Location, location, location. Who or what is within 50 miles of your campus? This can be a problem for schools in the middle of nowhere. If you are in an area with significant economic challenges, leverage PELL.
  • Tuition/room-board. Tuition resets have not historically done much good, but I still believe that most Christian colleges should only cost about $20,000 total to attend. 
  • For most colleges, a warm, fun atmosphere is ideal. What are your rooms like? What are your dorms like? What are your athletic facilities like? It is not uncommon for a third to half of a school's students to be involved in athletics of some sort. I get push back from faculty saying, "They should be here to study." But "shoulds" don't get students to a campus.
  • A former employee at a college did a Minecraft version of the campus. I thought this was brilliant. What would have been even greater if the students designed and regularly played something like this so that the lines between the real campus and the imaginary one began to blur into each other.

  • You should have clear paths to jobs. You need the staples--some relevant business program. Nursing has been drying up, but I still believe in it. You might want to specialize (e.g., rural nursing). Something relevant in computer science or cybersecurity. Partner with nearby industry in STEM.
  • Don't let the curriculum get pruned down to those staples or the same blase core that everyone else has. What are your flavor majors? What's the unique thing that some niche knows you are the place to come for?
  • Partner with other schools online (Campus is perfect for this) to retain the majors you think you need to close because they are financially unsustainable? Share faculty with partner schools for them.

  • I believe in the Campus product. We have trailers for our "digital" courses. I love this. Our gold courses have short video overviews for every module. For my philosophy class, we did some quick videos to introduce hard readings.
  • Eventually, there will be AI interactive components to online courses (and residential). I can see Oculus-like virtual learning in them as well. This is not that far off. Online courses will increasingly have a video game feel. Why not use students in a game design major to help design online course experiences? Virtual classroom learning experiences are sneaking up on us.
  • The residential campus should become increasingly hybrid. I think it's at least worth exploring having some classrooms equipped for HyFlex classes, with some students participating live in the class at a distance. There are ways to keep it from being what it was during the COVID nightmare.
3. I've worked on a number of writing projects this year, both with publishers and self-published. The two mainstream publishing ventures have been an old contract on inductive Bible study (which is still in the final stages) and a volume, Explanatory Notes on Hebrews that I submitted to Cascade. I look for that volume to come out in January. I hope to finish the IBS book by end of January.

In the meantime I self-published several volumes. These largely came from material I had already written. Publishing them is a stress-reliever for me.

First, I self-published the second and third volumes of the systematic theology material I blogged several years ago. More of this to come.
I also self-published Explanatory Notes on Jesus' Birth. This is commentary on John 1, Matthew 1-2, and Luke 1-2. I hope to self-publish a similar volume around Easter: Explanatory Notes on Jesus' Death and Resurrection

In the category of humor, I captured some of the "Deep Thoughts" I used to do when I was a professor at IWU (and added): 4. Did I reach my goals from last year? I did not run 750 miles. Angie's accident effectively ended my running. I did continue my "Through the Bible" series on Sunday. I have put a mess of video on YouTube. In late November, I passed 10,000 subscribers. This is mostly because of the Hebrew course I have been building on Udemy. I hope to launch it early next week.

I would say I have the equivalent of one semester of Hebrew content in this course and will continue to add until it has a full year's worth of content. It teaches Hebrew while reading through the book of Jonah (Jonah 1-2 is complete). I think it will be a good course, with vocabulary as part of it. I'm going to charge $24 to have permanent access. Supplemental written material will eventually fill it out.

5. I stopped taking courses with Southern New Hampshire and Arizona State. Just don't have the bandwidth.

Thus concludes 2022. On to 2023.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Three Systematic Theology Volumes Done

Eight years ago, I started a series of blog posts on Christian theology and ethics. I have now published three of those volumes. In fact, the heart of a Wesleyan systematic theology is now finished. The Wesleyan tradition doesn't have a lot of these, the Wesleyan Church especially. 

Luther Lee (founder of the Wesleyan Methodist Church) published one, I think. My favorite one was done by H. Orton Wiley in the early twentieth century. He was Nazarene. The Nazarenes have a couple others also (H. Ray Dunning, for example). The United Methodists might claim Thomas Oden's theology, although his goal is not to be specifically Wesleyan.

So this is a pretty rare bird. When the final volume on ethics is edited, I'll also publish all four volumes in one binding. Links to the volumes on amazon are attached to the titles.

God and Creation

Christ and Salvation

The Spirit and the Church


Saturday, December 17, 2022

Explanatory Notes on Birth Stories -- Published

I have now finished publishing Explanatory Notes on the Birth Stories. This is verse by verse commentary on John 1:1-18, Matthew 1-2, and Luke 1-2. All of it is also available unedited here for free on the blog. 

The printed version is available here.

The Kindle version is available here.

I will probably try to do an Explanatory Notes on the Crucifixion/Resurrection Stories too around Easter.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

John 1:2-18 Explanatory Notes

Finishing up my Explanatory Notes on the Birth Stories of Jesus. John 1 isn't really a birth story, but as the Scriptural reference for the Incarnation, it seemed appropriate to include in the book.


2. This [one] was in the beginning with God. 3. All [things] through him came to be and apart from him not even one thing came to be.

We know that, when we get to verse 14, we will find out that John is referring to Jesus. For the moment, however, let us suspend this knowledge and follow the train of thought. John is talking about the Logos, the Word. John 1:1 tells us that the Word was in the beginning and that "it" was with God. Verse 2 puts these two data points together. In the beginning, the Logos was with God.

The statement that the Logos was the means of creation would have come as no surprise to anyone from the synagogue of Alexandria in Egypt. For example, it is hard to imagine that Apollos had not heard such things in the Great Synagogue growing up there. Philo, the most prominent Jewish thinker of the day, considered the Logos, the Word of God, to be the instrument "through which" this world was constructed (Cher. 127). The Word of God is both the image of God and the "instrument" God used to make the world (Leg. 3.96). And this is understandable since God repeatedly speaks the world into order in Genesis 1.

John 1:3 adds that the Logos was not just the instrument God the Father used to create some things but the means by which God created all things. Not even one thing created came to order apart from the Logos. Again, Philo would have agreed. For him, the Logos stood at the intersection of God and the creation.

I have chosen to translate the pronoun in 1:3 as "him" rather than "it." We know that ultimately John is thinking of Jesus. Later in the Gospel, we will get a clear sense that Jesus was conscious prior to his descent into the world. That is to say, John is not merely speaking metaphorically here, as if the Logos was not a person prior to the incarnation, when Jesus took on human flesh. Jesus pre-existed as a conscious person. "Glorify me with the glory we shared before the foundation of the world," Jesus says in John 17:5.

We might say that Jesus is here said to be the agent of creation. We can take such language literally--Jesus was actually the person of the Trinity who directed creation. Or we can take such language figuratively--Jesus is the very meaning and purpose of all creation. I do not think there is a dogmatic answer to this question. The second is certainly true. The first may also be the case.

4. That which has come to be in him was life, and the life was the light of human beings. 5. And the light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not extinguished it.

Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). This "prolog" in John is the introduction to John's Gospel. [1] We are not surprised to find that John anticipates themes we will see later in the Gospel. In John 1:14 we will see that Jesus is this Word from God who brings life again to the world. Jesus is the one who has brought light again into the world.

In Stoic thinking, the Logos was the Mind directing the cosmos. We all had this "implanted word" (cf. Jas. 1:21) inside us. Since resistance is futile, the "logical" thing to do is to submit to it and be content no matter our circumstances (cf. Phil. 4:11). "Everything happens for a reason," you might say. We should therefore submit ourselves to God.

What was God's will for this world, God's plan? God's plan was life. God's will for this world was the restoration of light from darkness. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son so that whoever has faith in him will not perish, will not die, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Clearly, God creates life by means of his Word in Genesis 1. God speaks plants and animals into existence. God speaks humanity into existence. God is on the side of life. God created light on the very first day of creation. And God saw that it was good.

God's Word for the world is life and light. Here we depart a little from the language and thinking of Stoicism and Middle Platonism. [2] The world is not currently as God wants it to be. The world that God once created alive has undergone death. The light that God created has gone dark to a large extent.

The world thus needs a Word from God again. The world needs a new creation. The same Word that God spoke in the beginning needs to be spoken again in re-creation.

We are not prone to think of darkness as a thing. Like the Neoplatonists that would rise in Greek thought in the third century, we rightly think of darkness as the absence of light. However, John is not thinking of that kind of darkness in the last part of this verse.

In terms of good and evil, darkness is a force in the world. In this context, darkness is always trying to extinguish and put out the light. Darkness tried to put out the light of Christ. It failed. Jesus--God's Word for the world--came to restore life to the world. He came to restore light in the world. The darkness did not success in extinguishing it.

6. A man did come, having been sent from God, his name John. 7. This [man] came as a witness, to witness concerning the light in order that all might believe through him. 8. That [man] was not the light but [came] in order that he might witness concerning the light.

As in the Gospel of Luke, there is another origin story intertwined with that of Jesus. John the Baptist was also sent by God. The tone of the Gospel toward John the Bapist is a little different in John than in the other Gospels. The tone is entirely positive, to be sure, but the Gospel of John puts John the Bapist's role into clear perspective. John comes second.

In Acts 19, we find out that there were followers of John the Baptist's teaching at Ephesus some twenty-five years after he was beheaded (Acts 19:1-7). The apostle Paul is curious that they have not received the Holy Spirit, even though they have been baptized. In Acts, this means they are in a limbo, not yet fully in the people of God. [3] Paul is puzzled.

We can hypothesize that not every follower of John the Baptist's teaching went on to believe on Jesus. We can also hypothesize that, at least at one time, a significant group of such individuals were situated in Ephesus. Although it was because of his ignorance, Apollos started out as one such individual (cf. Acts 18:25).

The Gospel of John seems to be written in such a way as to make it clear that John the Baptist was only the forerunner to Jesus. John "was not the light" coming into the world. Jesus was the light that came into the world. John's role was only to "give witness" to the light of Jesus. As soon as Jesus arrives, as we will see, John makes it clear that "it is necessary for that one to increase, but for me to decrease" (John 3:30). In fact, the Gospel of John never even records Jesus being baptized by John.

John thus came as a witness to the one who could come afterward, Jesus. The purpose? So that people would believe or have faith through Jesus. Although we cannot see it in English, the verb "to believe" is pisteuo in Greek. The noun, "faith," is pistis. In the original Greek you can clearly see that this is the same verb root. In the right context, the verb "to believe" can thus also be translated as "to have faith." [4] 

The theme of needing faith in order to have eternal life is one of the key themes of the Gospel of John, and we see it here for the first time. Notice in this instance that Jesus is not the object of faith but rather the means by which the world might come to faith in God (the Father). John the Baptist gave witness concerning Jesus, the light through which the world might come to faith.

It is easy to miss the fact that the New Testament focally sees Jesus as the way to God the Father. Jesus is the one in whose name we have access to the Father. Jesus' sacrifice is the means by which we can approach God. Jesus is the way, and the earliest followers of Jesus were called "followers of the Way" (cf. Acts 9:2). John the Baptist prepared "the way" of the Lord (John 1:23).

9. [The other] was the true light coming into the world, which lightens every human. 10. In the world he was, and the world came into existence through him, and the world did not know him. 11. To his own he came, and his own did not receive him.

There are two ways to translate John 1:9, depending on where you put "coming into the world." If you go with the word order, Jesus is the true light that brings light "to everyone who comes into the world." This wording would emphasize that the light is for everyone in the world.

Perhaps John only meant to say that the light of Christ is available to everyone. That is certainly what my tradition believes, the Wesleyan tradition. We do not believe in "limited atonement," that Jesus only came for some in the world and not everyone. 

Theologically, we might explore an even more universal sense to the verse. We might suggest that, even to those who have never heard of him, Jesus brings light to every human in the world in some way. Wesleyan theology calls such light "prevenient grace," the grace of God that reaches out to us before we are even aware of it.

The sense that "God judges us according to the light we have" is an old concept that I grew up with as a Wesleyan. In that sense, God evaluates our hearts not so much according to what we know but according to how we respond to what we know. In this regard, the Wesleyan (and Quaker) traditions are more heart-oriented than head-oriented, which I would argue is in fact the biblical priority.

However, grammatically, the expression, "coming into the world" could also modify "the true light." As I have translated the sentence here, it states that Jesus, the Logos, was the true light coming into the world. And, yes, he lightens every human. Although this primary sense is not the word order, the overall context seems to emphasize the arrival of Jesus into the world, the incarnation. We do not necessarily have to choose between the two interpretations. John could have meant a double entendre.

These verses already recognize the rejection that Jesus faced from his fellow Jews. At the time of John's writing in the late first century, this dynamic had become overwhelmingly clear. Even as early as the late 50s, Paul wrestles with the fact that Jesus seemed to be welcomed more by non-Jews than by Jews. Romans 9-11 wrestles with this puzzle. By the time Acts was written perhaps in the 80s and John perhaps finished in the 90s, this reality must have been deafening.

How ironic and tragic. Here is the very meaning and purpose of the universe, the very wisdom of God for the creation, the "Logos" of God. And God's own people reject him. They reject God's wisdom and purpose for them. They reject the creator of the universe.

12. But as many as received him, he gave to them authority to become children of God, to those who believed in his name, 13. who not from bloods nor from the will of flesh nor from the will of a husband, but they were born from God.

However, many did receive him. They were not primarily Jews. They were not primarily of the same blood as Jesus. They were not of the same flesh as Jesus. They were not the "biological children" of God, as it were. They were spiritual children.

To become the true children of God, all that is necessary is faith. If we believe in the authorizing name of Jesus, the way to God the Father, we can become the children of God. It is our act of faith in Christ that makes us children. As human beings, we have no choice in whether we are born. Parents may actively seek for a woman to get pregnant, or it may happen coincidentally. 

But one does not become a true child of God by accident. We must "receive" Christ. We have faith that he is the Christ. Such individuals are born of God the Father and are the true children of God.

There is obviously a sensitive dynamic in play here in relation to Israel. Paul does this dance as well. He makes it clear that God has not rejected his people (Rom. 11:1). All Israel can still be saved and Paul believes they will eventually turn back (Rom. 11:12, 26). Still, true Israelites and the true children of God--whether Jewish or Gentile--are those who embrace Jesus as the Christ (Rom. 2:29; John 8:39). 

14. And the Logos became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory, a glory as of the only begotten [Son] from the Father, full of grace and truth.

This is the key verse in the Bible proclaiming the "incarnation." Incarnation means "in flesh." The Logos came to earth "in the flesh." A carnivore is an animal that eats meat. Jesus came to earth, "in the meat," so to speak.

A Stoic or Middle Platonist might have no problem agreeing with the statements about the Logos earlier in the chapter. This is the verse where they would say, "Huh?" "What?" The Gospel of John boldly proclaims that the very meaning and purpose of the universe became embodied in a person, Jesus Christ. 

Theologically, this is when the second person of the Trinity took on our humanity. Gregory of Nazianzus put it this way in the late 300s, "that which is not assumed cannot be healed." Jesus fully became human so that he might "heal" and save humanity. Hebrews 2:14 put it in this way: "Because the children partook of blood and flesh, he similarly partook of them so that through death he might destroy the one having the power of death, the Devil." 

God became man. Some versions say, "and dwelt among us," but this is a weak translation. The verse implies something much more powerful. The Word of God "tabernacled" among us. The image is that of the wilderness tabernacle in Exodus.

In Exodus, Israel wanders around the desert for forty years. However, during that time, the portable tabernacle travels around with them. Moses meets with God in that tabernacle, and the glory of God is so striking on his face that he wears a veil not to terrify the people.

Jesus was God tabernacling with his people on earth again. Everywhere that Jesus went, there was "God with us," Immanuel. Everywhere that Jesus went, there was the presence of God among us.

Jesus himself is thus a kind of counter-temple. The temple arguably had been destroyed for a couple decades by the time John was finished. The audience of John would recognize that they need not be concerned by its absence because Jesus was the temple to end all temples.

It is thus no surprise that John goes on to speak of how God's glory was present in Jesus, just as it had been present in the temple in the desert. The beloved disciple confirms that he was an eyewitness of the Jesus on earth. "We beheld his glory." They may not have fully realized it at the time, but it was indeed the "glory of God's only Son. 

Those of us who believe are all the sons of God. And we are brothers and sisters with Christ. However, there is also a unique relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son. Theologically, they have existed in eternal relationship since eternity past. Christ is the "only-begotten" of the Father in this way. He is "begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father."

I have frequently heard individuals pit grace against truth. Grace is when God lets you off the hook for something you deserve. Truth is when God sticks it to you. 

I get it. There are times when the truth is uncomfortable (like when you fall off a tall building). There are times when we need to experience the consequences of our actions because reality just doesn't seem to be getting through to us and we need to snap out of it and come to our senses. There are other times when we sorely could use forgiveness and "a lighter sentence."

However, despite these important truths, John did not likely mean for us to hear grace and truth as opposites. For John grace and truth are on the same team. Jesus is the truth, as well as the way and the life (John 14:6). Jesus is the true pathway to God the Father.

But Jesus as the truth is fully God's grace and love. The truth is the way of salvation. Jesus came because God so loved the world, and that love has provided the way, the truth, and the life.

15. John witnesses concerning him and has cried out saying, "This [one] was the one whom I said, 'The one coming after me has come to existence before me because he was first from me.'"

Again, John the Baptist was not the Messiah. His job was to point to the Messiah, to prepare the "Way" for the coming king. Here John himself testifies to Jesus' pre-existence, even though on earth he was born first. The Word was in the beginning. John was not. The Word came first. He is the elder, and the one with priority.

16. Because from his fullness we ourselves have all received even grace upon grace, 17. for the Law was given through Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of John is giving these words of John the Baptist to its audience, to the Christians of Ephesus almost a century after the birth of John the Baptist, but also to us today. From the "fullness" of Jesus, the Word of God become flesh, from the Jesus whose body is the bread of life, from the one who gives us living water to drink, is not just one unmerited gift from God but grace upon grace. Through Christ, we receive gift after gift.  

The Law came through Moses. It brought condemnation. It brought only anticipation of salvation. It brought out our need for God's grace but did not mediate the grace itself. Grace, God's unmerited favor and forgiveness, came from Jesus. The truth, the way to life, came through Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ.

18. God no one has seen at any time. The only-begotten God who was in the bosom of the Father, that [one] has explained [him]. 

How do we know what God is like? Look at Jesus. We cannot visibly see God the Father. Even in the Old Testament, the appearances of God seem to have come through his messengers. [5] Some also speculate whether the pre-incarnate Christ made some appearances during the old covenant. Certainly, many later Christians have thought so, although the Bible itself does not clearly say so.

What then is the clearest way to know God the Father? It is through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the "only-begotten God" who has "exegeted" him. [6] After all, he is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15). He is a "reflection of his glory and an impression of his substance" (Heb. 1:3). He was with God before he came to earth, in the "bosom" of the Father. [7]

Again, how do we know what God is like? Look at Jesus. "God is love," 1 John 4:8 says. Jesus certainly displayed that identity in his earthly mission. And the sending of Jesus itself was a reflection of this core characteristic of God (cf. John 3:16).

[1] Like many introductions, it is quite possible that John 1 was one of the last parts of the Gospel to be written. There are of course those in the past who have suggested that the Gospel may have had a "composition history." For example, it is sometimes suggested that John 21 was also added in the later stages of John's composition. It refers to the beloved disciple in the third person--"he is the one giving witness to these things" (21:24). It is at least possible that the core source for John was the beloved disciple but that God also inspired some of those in John's circle to help edit the Gospel into its final form. These musings may or may not be particularly useful to most readers of John.

[2] In revelation, God meets us where we are, but he does not leave us there. Even if there could be overtones of the language of Middle Platonism and/or Stoicism here, the most fundamental framework of John's theology is the narrative of the Jewish Scriptures. 

[3] Receiving the Holy Spirit is the indicator that one has been saved and become part of God's people in the thinking of Acts and Paul. Without the Spirit, one does not belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9). The Spirit is God's "seal" of ownership on us (e.g., Eph. 1:13). The Spirit is the security deposit on our eternal inheritance (e.g., 2 Cor. 1:22).

[4] Any given word can have multiple meanings. A word does not have all these meanings at the same time (overload fallacy). In some sentences, pisteuo has more of a connotation of believing. In others, it has more of a sense of having faith. Similarly, the noun pistis sometimes has more the sense of faith. In others, it has more a sense of belief.

[5] It is hard to say what Moses saw when he looked at the "back of God" in Exodus 33:23. It was surely God meeting Moses within his understanding of God. God has no body in this world other than the body of Jesus.

[6] Interestingly, the article "the" is again missing from both mentions of God in this verse.

[7] Apparently, the beloved disciple was not troubled by the apparent metaphor of God being pregnant.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Explanatory Notes -- John 1:1

1:1 In the beginning was the Logos, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1. If you have grown up as a Christian, the expression, "the word of God," probably makes you think immediately of the Bible. The Bible is indeed the word of God. However, the New Testament was not yet collected when these words were written down. It is natural for us to come to the words of the Bible with the definitions in our heads, but to know what the Bible actually meant when God first inspired it, we need to know what these words meant when the author of John wrote them. [1] 

Spoiler alert. We will find out who this Logos is when we get to John 1:14. The "Logos of God" is not the Bible in this context. It is Jesus. Christ is the Logos. "The Logos became flesh, and tabernacled among us."

[I have since inserted several 100 words here on an orthodox, theological reading of John 1:1. It will appear in the published version, Explanatory Notes on Jesus' Birth.]

The phrase, "the logos of God" had a history. It had a known background at the time of Christ. It was not an expression that the beloved disciple came up with himself. Yes, we can find references to the "word" in the Old Testament. Psalm 119:105 says, "Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path." This psalm probably did especially have the Law, the Pentateuch, in mind. 

More immediately, John 1:1 has clear echoes of Genesis 1 and God in creation. "And God said, 'Let there be light.'" God speaks the entire creation into order in Genesis 1. Each day of creation begins with the word of God. The phrase here, "in the beginning" is clearly meant to echo Genesis 1:1.

2. However, much happened in the hundreds of years between Psalm 119 and the Gospel of John. In the Greek world, the Logos was a major part of Stoic philosophy, which originated around 300BC. In Stoicism, the Word was the Mind that governed the world. Those things that happened in the world happened because the Word wanted it to happen. Like fate, it was pointless to fight against the Word, because everything would certainly end up the way the Word directed it to be. 

Rather, you should "love your fate" (amor fati). The Stoic conception of the divine Mind was very amenable to the Jewish understanding of God. In fact, a famous Stoic hymn by Cleanthes called, "A Hymn to Zeus," could almost have been written to the God of Israel.

What makes this Greek background potentially relevant is the fact that some prominent Jewish thinkers, especially at Alexandria in Egypt, integrated the Old Testament sense of God's word and God's speaking with this Stoic philosophy, also mixing in some Platonic philosophy as well. This mixture of philosophies is known as "Middle Platonism." The best-known Jewish thinker to use this synthesis to interpret the Bible is Philo, who was probably born around 20BC.

From Platonism, Philo believed that God was the ultimate pattern of all things. The Logos or Word of God was the image of God, God's shadow. Then the world was a copy of the Word. In his synthesis, the Word was the instrument of God in creation, the one "through whom" God made the world. From Stoicism, Philo saw the Logos as the pilot of the world, the tool God uses to implement his will in the world.

A keen eye will see some possible parallels between this "Logos speculation" and various passages in the New Testament. The prologue of John is the most obvious intersection, as we will see, but several other passages also come to mind:

  • Colossians 1:15 -- "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (cf. Philo, Special Laws 1.81).
  • Hebrews 4:12 -- "The Logos of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword" (cf. Philo, Heir 130).
  • Hebrews 10:1 -- "The Law, having a shadow of the good things to come, not the image itself of the things..." (cf. Philo, Allegorical Laws, 3.96).
  • 1 Corinthians 8:6 -- "For us [is] one God, the Father, from whom all things... and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things" (cf. Philo, Cherubim 127).
Whether these parallels prove to be substantial or not, they are at least worth investigating.

3. a. "In the beginning, was the Logos."
How would a Jew like Philo have understood this statement? God created the world by speaking it into existence. The Word of God is God's will for the world in action. God said, "Let it be," and it was. Everything started with God speaking.

b. "The word was with God."
John uses a unique expression for "with" here. It is not the normal word of accompaniment. It is normally a word that means "to" or "toward." The Word was toward God does not really make a lot of sense at first glance. It would make more immediate sense if John had put, "the Word was from God."

On the one hand, it is hard to know the colloquialisms of late first century Ephesus. Perhaps this preposition simply meant "with" in town. Or perhaps it means something like, "the Word belonged with God." "The Word related or pertained to God."

c. "The word was divine."
This part of the verse has long been a point of debate. Jehovah's Witnesses translate the verse, "The Word was a god," pointing out that there is no word "the" (called the article) on God. However, there is a grammatical rule called "Colwell's Rule" that argues that the reason it doesn't have the article is the order of the Greek words. The order is "God was the Word." 

Colwell noted first that this is a situation where you have two nouns joined by "was," which is called a "to be" verb. He then noted that the "predicate" comes first (the predicate is the part of the sentence in English that normally comes after the verb). In this situation in the Greek language, he noted, the first noun usually does not have the word the on it, even though it is part of the meaning.

Bottom line? He argued that it should be translated, "The Word was God."

In general, when a noun in Greek does not have the word the on the front, it does not mean that we should stick the word a or an in front of it. The article ("the") in Greek is used when you are talking about a specific thing. However, without the article, the noun tends to be talking about a kind of thing. 

For this reason, I wonder if the best translation is something like, "the Word was divine." "God" in this case would give a categorization of the Logos. What category does the Logos belong to? It belongs in the category of God. 

It remained for the Church to unpack the precise relationship between the Logos, Christ, and God the Father. What we often find is that orthodox Christian belief is not simply a matter of "the Bible alone" or "the Church." God used both to reveal proper Christian understanding. We should not be troubled then if John 1 sowed seeds that came to full blossom in the understanding of the Church in the 300s and 400s.

It would be very easy for me to believe that God used the thinking of Alexandria to help some early Christians have words to express some of these mysteries. Did Jewish Logos speculation provide the early church with language to express mysteries about Christ, mysteries that God then helped develop into orthodox Christology in the Church of the next few centuries? In this regard, I have long been struck by the fact that Apollos was an extremely educated and eloquent man from Alexandria (Acts 18:24).  

Philo does have a passage where he notes the absence of the word the in relation to God. In the Greek translation of Genesis 31:13, one instance speaks of the God and another only of "God" without the word the. To what does the second instance refer? It refers to the Logos. To Philo, the word logos without the word the on the front "calls God's oldest Word 'God'" (Dreams 1.130).    

[1] Tradition is that the Gospel of John was written by John the son of Zebedee, one of the first disciples Jesus called (cf. Mark 1:19). The Gospel itself only indicates that the "beloved disciple" was the source of the Gospel's information (John 21:20-24). We will refer to the author as John and the beloved disciple for convenience.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Luke 2:21-52 Explanatory Notes

Christ with the Doctors
Musei Capitolini, Rome

2:21 And when eight days were fulfilled for him to be circumcised, and his name was called, "Jesus," which was called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
1. Leviticus 12:3 says that a male child is to be circumcised on the eighth day outside the womb. When God became human, God came to earth as a Jewish male. God did not come as every human, just as none of us are every human. We are specific humans.

So God came to earth as a specific human, just as we all are specific humans. Jesus did not have all eye colors. He had one eye color, although we do not know what it was. In theory, he could have come to earth as a woman, but he came to earth as a man. As a Wesleyan, I believe this choice was practical rather than theological. 

And God came to earth as a Jew, in keeping with his use of the Israelite people as the path by which salvation would come to the earth. God did not choose Israel because they were a more numerous people or a better people (cf. Deut. 7:7). God had a relationship with Abraham, and he followed that relationship as a path to bring the Christ to the world.

Luke says nothing about the incarnation. In Luke, the story of Jesus begins with Mary. He does not mention Jesus' existence before he came to earth.

2. The name given him is Jesus, as Gabriel had instructed in 1:31. They follow God's instructions. Luke does not tell us what Matthew 1:21 is more explicit about. Jesus name means "Yahweh saves." Jesus presumably was not circumcised at the temple. A Jewish boy would normally be circumcised locally. 

22. And when the days of their cleansing were fulfilled according to the Law of Moses, they led him to Jerusalem to present [him] to the Lord, 23. as it has been written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male opening the womb will be called holy to the Lord."
Leviticus 12:4 goes on to speak of the purification of the mother after childbirth, thirty-three days after the birth. Jesus himself would not necessary be required for presentation at the temple. The purification in question had to do with the woman, but Luke's wording is curious. He says the days of "their" cleansing. Theologically, we know of course that Jesus did not need cleansing, but he fully participates in his humanity.

Luke quotes Exodus 13:12. Every human is supposed to belong to the Lord. Every Israelite is of course especially supposed to be set apart to the Lord. Wesleyans would generally consider the focus on males in the old covenant to be a mixture of ancient patriarchal culture and the unfortunate consequences of the Fall. 

Notice how quickly in life all men--in fact all people--become "unholy" to the Lord. The default desire of the Lord it seems is for us all to belong to him from the very beginning. Yet our sin soon separates us from him. "All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).   

Luke would seem to emphasize conformity to the "Law of Moses" or the "Law of the Lord." We might put this emphasis into a general theme in Luke-Acts that Christians are peaceful, law-abiding participants in the Roman Empire. They are not troublemakers, as rumors around the empire might have suggested. Nero, when he was looking for a scapegoat for the fire of Rome in AD64, thought it would be believable to blame Christians. Yet here we see that these Jewish (Christian) folk are Law-keepers.

Luke also seems to orient his entire telling of the early Christian story around Jerusalem. Luke starts in the temple. Luke ends in Jerualem with them waiting for the Spirit, with Luke not even mentioning the resurrection appearances in Galilee. Acts accordingly begins in Jerusalem, and its first seven chapters are there. Paul goes to Jerusalem five times after believing, before and after every missionary journey. It is from Jerusalem that Paul heads to Rome for the story's end. 

24. And to give sacrifice according to what has been said in the Law of the Lord, "a yoke of turtledoves or two younglings of pigeons."

This is a poor person's sacrifice (Lev. 12:8). The clear implication to any Jew is that Jesus did not come from a wealthy family, even if they were in the lineage of David. We have already seen this theme of God elevating the poor and weak while bringing down the rich and the powerful. The type of sacrifice that they offer is fully in keeping with this theme of Luke-Acts.

Notice that they offer sacrifices in the temple. Jesus does not need cleansing, but we note that the earliest Christians participated in the temple even as late as Acts 21 (vss. 24, 26). Clearly Luke has a positive view of the Jerusalem temple. In all of Luke-Acts, only Acts 7:48 gives any hint that the temple might not be an ongoing part of Christian Judaism, including regular sacrifices.


25. And behold, a person was in Jerusalem to whom the name [was] Simeon. And this person was righteous and devout, awaiting the encouragement of Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him.
Joel Green calls the ongoing testimony of individuals like Simeon and Anna, "character witnesses." [1] What especially makes their witness powerful is the fact that they do not know Jesus, Mary, or Joseph. the witness is coming from the Holy Spirit. We remember again that the activity of the Holy Spirit is another one of the major emphases of Luke-Acts.

Simeon was a righteous person. Again, it is worth pointing out that for Luke this is real righteousness, not imputed righteousness. By this word Luke suggests that Simeon was a person who actually did the right thing. He kept the Jewish Law. His presence at the temple emphasizes this fact. He is also "devout"--he carefully follows the righteous rituals and practices of Israel.

He is waiting for the "consolation" or "encouragement" of Israel. Obviously, this "consoling" of Israel will involve the coming of its Messiah, its promised king. However, given what Luke says elsewhere (e.g., Acts 1:6), it likely also includes the restoration of Israel as a people and "nation." [2] He is waiting for Israel to be freed from Roman domination and rule.

26. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit not to see death before he would see the Messiah of the Lord [3]
Notice the role of the Holy Spirit in revelation. It is the Holy Spirit that most often brings God's word to his people. Simeon has been promised that he will not die before "the Christ of the Lord" arrives. He is thus awaiting the "anointed one" to come, the promised king who will rule in the liberated Israel to come. Messiah is a word based on the Hebrew for anointed one (meshiach), while Christ is based on the equivalent Greek word (christos).

27. And he came by the Spirit into the temple and when the parents led in the child Jesus so that they might do according to the thing having been customed by the Law concerning him, 

Again, we see the leadership of the Spirit. Simeon is clued in by the Spirit that it is time for him to go to the temple for the fulfillment of the promise to him. All these miraculous events are signs that testify that Jesus will be someone very great because his birth and youth were surrounded by spectacular signs and wonders.

Many Christians can attest to this sort of leadership of the Spirit. They are led to pray for someone just as--as they later find out--that person is undergoing a particular trial. Christians regularly attest to being told by the Spirit to go talk to someone at just the right needed moment. Christians can attest to feeling like they should go somewhere, later to believe it was the prompting of the Spirit.

Simeon thus arrives at the temple in time to meet Jesus and his parents. They are, again, fulfilling the expectations of the Law. They are Law-observant. They are law-keeping and respectable people.

28. ... even he himself received it into the arms and blessed God and said, [4] 

29. "Now you release your servant, Master, 
     according to your word, in peace...

So Simeon takes Jesus into his arms and sings or at least goes poetic. Simeon's song is parallel to Zechariah's song. The song is often called the "Nunc Dimittis" after the first words of the poem in Latin: "Now you send away." The "Master" in question is God the Father, since Simeon is holding the baby Jesus. God is our Father to be sure. God is also our Master and us his servants.

Many Christians operate with this sense that God has called them to some work or some task. They keep at that ministry or vocation until they feel "released" by God. Simeon had a promise from God. He did not feel like he could depart from this world until it was fulfilled. There was a part of his soul that was burdened, worried about his people. Now he can depart in peace. The burden has been lifted. The Lord has released him.

30. ... for my eyes saw your salvation,
     31. which you prepared in the face of all the peoples, 

32. a light for revelation of the Gentiles
     and glory of your people Israel.

Jesus will bring about the salvation of Israel and the whole world. Salvation for Luke is not merely a spiritual or eternal salvation. It is healing. It is restoration. It is wholeness. It relates to Israel collectively. It relates to each individual as a whole person--physically and economically. The poor are no longer poor. They are saved. The lame are no longer lame. They are saved.

God has prepared this "rescue" for all people, not just for Israel. Luke 2:32 is one of the clearest indications of the theme that the gospel is for the whole world. Assuming that Theophilus was a Gentile, it was for him as well. If Luke was truly the author of Luke-Acts, then he was a Gentile too. The gospel was for him. In Acts, the gospel goes "to the ends of the earth," which they would have conceptualized as Rome, the end of the civilized world. 

Even though the gospel is for all nations and all peoples, it is good news that brings glory to Israel as God's special people. Since God has used them as the vessel to save and restore the whole world, they receive special honor. Glory is honor-shame language, a way of thinking that is often foreign to us. We are taught to be true to ourselves and not worry about what other people think. In the biblical world, honor and glory meant something.

33. And his father and mother were marveling at the things that had been spoken concerning him. 34. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this [one] is set for the falling and rising of many in Israel and as a sign that will be spoken against 35. --and even your soul itself a sword will pierce--so that the thoughts from many hearts might be revealed."

You can know something without really knowing it. Mary and Joseph "know" that Jesus is going to be great. They have been told he will be called the Son of the Most High. With our hindsight, we know a great deal more about the scope of this greatness than they understood at the time. Despite what they know, they "marvel."

Simeon blesses Mary, Jesus, and Joseph. He "honors" them. Right now, it would be easy for Joseph and Mary to think that they were superior to Jesus, a baby. But Simeon looks into the future and sees that Jesus will be a bone of contention among Jews. Paul himself will give inspired musings on the fact that most of Israel had not believed in their Messiah. Many "spoke against" Jesus and the Jesus movement.  

Those who believed in him would rise in the kingdom. Those who did not would fall. The acceptance or rejection of Jesus would reveal the true thoughts and intentions of their hearts.

We do not know anything really about Mary in the early church. There are legends of her going to Ephesus with John, the beloved disciple. There are the ruins of a very early church there. But such traditions go well beyond Scripture, and it is hard to know for sure what happened. 

Luke may hint that at some point she herself would face some struggle of faith over Jesus. The tone of the passage suggests that she would emerge from that "piercing" of her soul with faith.


36. And Anna was a prophetess, daughter of Phanuel, from the tribe of Asher. This [woman was] advanced in many days, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity.
The second "character witness" at the temple is named Anna. In her is an intersection of two themes in Luke-Acts. Luke highlights the role, value, and full participation of women in the gospel, and Luke emphasizes God's care for widows and the poor. God takes those on the margins and brings them into the main. 

She only lived with her husband for seven years before he died. She was a virgin when she got married, and she remained an unmarried widow from then until her advanced age. Both of these facts were considered virtuous. In 1 Corinthians 7:40, Paul considers a widow who remains unmarried the more desirable option. 1 Timothy 5:11-12 similarly imply the virtue of a widow who does not remarry.  

Luke gives details, which adds to the concreteness of these events. We know who her father was. We know what tribe she was from. Asher was of course one of the "ten lost tribes" of the northern kingdom, which was destroyed in 722BC by the Assyrians. This is perhaps another hint of the coming restoration of all Israel. 

Like Mary and Elizabeth, Anna is another example of a woman of great virtue and honor. She is also a prophetess. Luke-Acts has no problem whatsoever with a woman who prophesies. One of the indications of the age of the Spirit is that the daughters of Israel will regularly prophesy along with the sons (cf. Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28). 

Of course, there are important female prophets in the Old Testament as well. Deborah is the highest political authority in Israel as well as being a prophetess (Judg. 4:4-5). Huldah is a higher spiritual authority than the high priest in 2 Kings 22:13-14. 

Acts 21:9 mentions the four virgin daughters of Philip the evangelist, who were prophetesses. 1 Corinthians 11 assumes that ordinary women in a local congregation like Corinth will prophesy in the normal course of weekly worship. The very reason that Paul instructs them to wear a veil in worship is to keep social and cosmic order while they are prophesying.

Prophesying in these contexts is like preaching. It is bringing a direct word from the Lord to the audience of the prophecy. It suggests that nothing stands in the way of women being preachers in the church today. Indeed, the age of the Spirit, where all believers are filled with the Holy Spirit, removes all the barriers of our physicality to preaching. [5]

37. And she herself [was] a widow until eighty-four of years, who was not departing from the temple, with fastings and prayers worshiping night and day

She is eighty-four years old. The centrality of temple for Luke is again confirmed. Just as the apostles will be at the temple daily after Pentecost, she apparently spends the vast majority of her time, even at night, at the temple. What does she do there? She prays. She fasts. She worships. She is thus a model for what we do in worship today. 

38. And at that hour having come, she confessed in response to God and was speaking concerning him to all those awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem [6]
Like Simeon, she arrives just in time, presumably by God's prompting. She also recognizes that Jesus represents the "redemption" or liberation of Jerusalem from bondage. While this is certainly a spiritual liberation, it seems more than just that. Anna is looking for the liberation of Israel as a political entity also. This concrete liberation was presumably also part of God's plan. Paul sees this political redemption in the future as well (Rom. 11:26). 

Perhaps Acts implies that the reason it did not happen back then was the disbelief of the Jews of that day. This is at least what seems to happen repeatedly in Acts (e.g., 13:46). We should not see this as a permanent turn away from Israel. We are rather in the "times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24) until times of refreshing come (Acts 3:20).

Return to Galilee

39. And as they completed all the things according to the Law of [the] Lord, they returned to the Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.
Luke again reiterates that the story of Christ is a story that is Law-observant and law-keeping. Christians at heart, when they are doing what Christians do by nature, are not troublemakers. Mary and Joseph stay in Jerusalem long enough to fulfill all the rightful aspects to childbirth.

In Luke's story, again, Mary and Joseph begin in Nazareth, to to Bethlehem for the census, then return to Nazareth in the northern region of Galilee. If all we had were Matthew's Gospel, we would assume that they all started out in Bethlehem and only went north to escape Herod's son Archelaus.

40. And the child grew and was getting strong, being full of wisdom, and [the] favor of God was upon it.

As John the Baptist grows as a young man (Luke 1:80), Jesus also grows. He grows physically. We will learn in 2:52 that he also grows in wisdom. This concept may be difficult for many of us, because almost think of Jesus as a divine mind in a human body. As we will mention in that verse below, this sense of Jesus was declared a heresy in the first few centuries of Christianity. Jesus was fully human, which meant that he learned and grew in wisdom as he grew.

Clearly, the favor of God (the Father) was upon Jesus as he grew. I left the translation as "it" here since the word for child in Greek is neuter. But, of course, Jesus was no "it." The word for favor here is "grace." Theologically, we would say that any favor on Jesus was deserved, so "favor" is a better translation in this instance. Words take on different meanings in different contexts.

The Temple at Twelve

41. And his parents used to go yearly to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. [7] 42. And when he became of twelve years, when they were ascending according to the custom of the feast,[8]

Again, we should not miss the consistent message that Luke is giving subliminally that Jesus came from a Law-observant family. Jewish males ideally were supposed to present themselves before the Lord three times a year at three festivals, one of which was the Passover (23:17). The only place to do so at the time of Jesus was the Jerusalem temple.

Luke only mentions two times that Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover: at the age of twelve and the week of his crucifixion. The Gospel of John will add two more during Jesus' earthly ministry, giving us the sense that Jesus ministered on earth from two to three years. The trip to Jerusalem was an "ascent" because Jerusalem is on Mt. Zion, surrounded by hill country.

This is the only record we have in any of the Gospels or the New Testament about Jesus' childhood. There are apocryphal "infancy Gospels." There is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas [9], in which Jesus has bears kill children making fun of him. There is also the "Proto-Gospel of James," the earliest attestation of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Neither of these likely second century works likely have any historical value.

43. ... and after having completed the days, when they were returning, Jesus the boy remained in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know. [10] 44. But, considering him in the company, they went a journey of a day, and they were seeking him among the relatives and the acquaintances. 45. And not having found [him], they returned to Jerusalem looking for him.

The first thought many of us have when we read that Joseph and Mary left Jesus behind is that this was an instance of horrible parenting. When they later punish him for it, we are even more puzzled. We may even picture a "nuclear family" of two parents and 2.5 kids. 

However, the family of the first century was an extended family rather than a nuclear family. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins were part of the basic family unit. Even more, the whole village of Nazareth and its surrounding village may have had individuals in the company. In short, this was a large group of people traveling together, and it would have been assumed that Jesus was somewhere in their company. In the perspective of Luke, it was the child's responsibility to be in this group.

It thus takes them a day's journey to realize that Jesus is not in their company. "Have you seen Jesus?" "No, is he with Aunt Hannah and cousin David?" A day's journey would normally be about twenty miles, although possibly less with such a group. On a good day, that would be about a third of the way back to Nazareth. They likely would have traveled up the plain by the Jordan River.

To their horror, they finally come to the conclusion that he is not with Aunt Martha and Cousin Isaac. They turn around and go back.

46. And it happened after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the middle of the teachers and listening to them and inquiring of them. 47. And all the ones who heard him were amazed at the understanding and his answers.

They do not immediately know where to find him. No doubt they began in whatever home in which they had stayed. John 19:25 mentions that Mary had a sister. If she was the wife of Clopas, then it is at least possible she lived in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12). Whoever it was, Jesus is not there.

Presumably, they look at the home of every acquaintance they know in Jerusalem. Perhaps they go the the authorities of Jerusalem, both Jewish and Roman. There was probably little interest on their part to help an insignificant Galilean, let alone a child. Or maybe they go to the temple because they are finally seeking these authorities out as a long shot.

Finally, they go to the temple, where they should have gone first--at least if they truly understood. The fact that it is three days might be significant. Jesus will rise from the dead in three days. He will rebuild this temple in three days (cf. Mark 14:58).

Jesus is in the middle. This position suggests that he is the main teacher in this group. He is asking them questions. They answer. He listens. He asks a follow-up question.

You can tell by a person's questions how deep their understanding of a subject is. Jesus amazes them with his understanding. It is not just that he is only twelve years old. We might assume that he is asking questions on a level equal to their own understanding.

48. And having seen him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, "Child, why have done thus to us? Behold, your father and I, being in torment, were seeking you."

From an earthly perspective, from a parent's perspective, we totally understand Mary's frustration and concern. From the standpoint of an ordinary child, he has not honored his parents. He has caused them great torment, not to mention whatever expense might have been associated with extra time in Jerusalem. 

If he were an ordinary child, he would have failed his duties as a child. Of course Jesus is not an ordinary child. Jesus is the heir apparent to the throne of Israel. He will be called the Son of the Most High. Theologically, we have to assume that he had not sinned. The proper perspective on the event is a heavenly one, not an earthly one.

49. And he said to them, "Why were you seeking me? Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in the matters of my Father?" 50. And they themselves did not understand the word that he spoke to them.

They still do not seem to understand him. They have the pieces, but they cannot put it together. Even to hear that he was dealing in the matters of his "Father" must have been puzzling, since they would naturally think of Joseph. "The matters of your father were to stay with the group."

The eyes of the Spirit see so much more than our human eyes can see. We can see everything horizontally in front of us and miss the vertical, heavenward dimension of the situation. What is obvious from God's perspective may seem foolish from ours and vice versa. Paul will say that "the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom" (1 Cor. 1:25).

51. And he descended with them and came to Nazareth, and he was subject to them. And his mother stored all these words in her heart.

Mary does not understand, but she remembers. She is open to future understanding. It will eventually become clear. She stores Jesus' words in her heart.

Jesus "was subject to them." This statement suggests that they discipline him. He is punished for the trouble he has caused them. From the standpoint of a human parent, this punishment makes sense. However, again, they do not see the situation from a heavenly point of view.

52. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and maturity and in favor with God and people.

As we mentioned above in 1:40, Jesus grows in wisdom and maturity. The early Christians struggled in the 300s and 400s to figure out how Jesus' humanity and divinity might fit together. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 decided that Jesus was fully human and fully God in such a way that neither his humanity or divinity should be diminished.

Apollinaris argued in the late 300s that Jesus had a human body but a divine mind. This "heresy" is very common in popular Christianity. I've heard a story of a pastor that thought Jesus did not need to sleep. He was pretending in the boat to be sleeping during the storm. This way of thinking was decided against in the year 381 at the Council of Constantinople.

Another wrong idea was proposed by a man named Eutyches. To him, Jesus' human nature was like a drop next to the ocean of his divine nature. You might as well just say he only had a divine nature. Again, the Council of Chalcedon concluded that it was unbiblical to diminish Jesus' human nature. Indeed, Luke does not diminish Jesus' humanity, and in fact Acts 2:22 calls Jesus "a man having been approved by God among you by powers and wonders and signs that God did."

Jesus did not come out of Mary's womb speaking fluent Aramaic. As a full human, he had to learn it. His bodily functions worked just like ours do. Mark 13:32 indicates that he did not access his omniscience while on earth. His human mind did not know everything. He did not fully access his omnipotence but showed us what is possible for humanity through the powers of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:22; cf. Mark 6:5).

It is therefore a legitimate question to ask when Jesus in his human mind realized that he was the Messiah, let alone the second person of the Trinity. At his baptism, God declares to him that Jesus is his beloved Son. Is the the moment. These things are divine mysteries. What we know is that Jesus' wisdom increased as he grew up, as great as it may have been to begin with in comparison to other humans.

He also grew in favor with others. Whatever biases they might have had against him because of suspicions around his birth, those who knew him with an open heart immediately recognized his greatness and that this was a person with a greater destiny than them. 


[1] Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 145.

[2] We shouldn't think of "nation" in this context as a nation-state of the sort we have today. It is hard to find a good word but what we mean is an independent political entity tied to a specific people group.

[3] pluperfect made with a periphrastic; a prin e construction with an aorist subjunctive and an

[4] temporal infinitive clause, intensive of autos

[5] Two verses are often used to argue against the whole weight of Scripture to the contrary. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is completely irrelevant to this question, given that 1 Corinthians 11 assumes women will bring words from the Lord to the church. If these verses were original, they must have had to do with disruptive speech.

So the whole weight of the counterargument falls on 1 Timothy 2:12. The context again pushes in the direction of the husband-wife relationship and the home. It cannot be about prophetic words given the entirety of the rest of Scripture. One verse should never be the basis for a whole theology, especially one that is unclear.

The whole passage is curious, almost sounding like it says wives are saved from Eve's sin through childbirth (2:15). We know, of course, that all sins are redeemed through the blood of Christ, whose death and victorious resurrection have forever undone the curse of the Fall in Genesis 3:16. To perpetuate the wife's subordination to the husband when we can adopt the trajectory of heaven (e.g., Mark 12:25) is to make excuses to unnecessarily perpetuate creation's unredeemed state.

[6] dative of time

[7] iterative imperfect

[8] genitive absolute

[9] Not to be confused with the so-called "Gnostic Gospel of Thomas."

[10] temporal infinitive clause, with genitive absolute continuing

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Luke 1:57-80 Explanatory Notes (Birth of John the Baptist)

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
The Birth of John the Baptist
1:57 And the time was completed for Elizabeth, for her to give birth, and she begat a son. 58. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord magnified his mercy with her and they were rejoicing with her.
Love rejoices with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). The promise to Zechariah is fulfilled. The miracle reaches its culmination in the birth of John the Baptist. The disgrace of Elizabeth being barren in that culture is removed and is replaced with great honor and favor from God. Notice again the way that Luke tells about the role that women play in the good news, something very striking for that day. 

59. And it happened on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were calling it by the name of his father Zechariah. 60. But, answering, his mother said, "No, but he will be called John." 61. And they said to her, "[There is] no one from your kindred who is called by this name."
According to Leviticus 12:3, a Jewish male was to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (cf. also Gen. 17:12). In keeping with a general theme in Luke-Acts, the family of John the Baptist are law-observant Jews. Everything is done decently and in order.

The tradition would have been to call the son after the name of the father. Different cultures have different practices with regard to naming. In some cultures, the name of the grandfather is passed on to the grandson. In American culture, there are no regular naming practices. Luke indicates that it would have been conventional for Zechariah to name his first-born son after himself. At the very least, the son should have been given the name of a relative.

Those at the temple are thus puzzled that they would name him John, but they are following the instructions of the angel (1:13). As we mentioned above, the name John indicated that God is gracious. God was gracious to Elizabeth and Zechariah in giving them a son when they were unable to conceive. And God was being gracious to Israel by giving them an opportunity to repent before the judgment. The gift of repentance was the gift of salvation, and John was its first messenger. 

62. And they were signaling to his father in relation to what he would want it to be called. 63. And having asked for a tablet, he wrote saying, "John is his name." And all marveled.

The story does not indicate whether Zechariah was aware that they had already asked Elizabeth about the name of the boy. We should probably assume that the two had communicated previously about what the angel had told him. Elizabeth and Zechariah are in complete agreement. The boy will be called John. Perhaps they expected Zechariah to countermand her. Perhaps they questioned whether the woman would be correct or have such a say. Both Elizabeth and Zechariah are in full submission to God, and it would seem she is taking the spiritual lead here, with Zechariah keeping up.

It is the nature of human society to establish rituals and patterns. It would be impractical to "reinvent the wheel" every time we came to a decision. The tendency of most people toward "conserving" the way we have always done things often protects society from the potential dangers of experimentation. It would seem God has implanted in humanity just the right proportions of "conservative" to "progressive," with most slowing things down but a sizable proportion moving things forward.

We see God intervene at various times in both ways. God often reminds us of his nature from all eternity, which will never change. We must hold on to that eternal past. At other times God shakes things up. He keeps us from getting stale. He moves us forward. Things are constantly changing. We will not thrive if we cannot adjust and adapt.

John the Baptist was God's interruption of the status quo of Israel, not least because the status quo was on the wrong track. God graciously stepped into history once again and shook things up. And the name of the boy that first symbolized that was "John."

64. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue, and he was speaking, blessing God. 65. And fear came on all them living nearby, and in the whole hill country of Judea all these words were being talked about.

Zechariah has been punished sufficiently. The time for repentance is over. The time for rejoicing has arrived. Zechariah is now free of his doubts. The barren is now fruitful. She who was disgraced is now blessed. 

The power of God is a frightful thing. An elephant may like us, but its power can still squash you. God of course does not step on people by accident. Power is scary when we understand how vulnerable we are next to it. It is no wonder that the angel tells both Zechariah and Mary not to fear when he appears.

Rumors spread when there are omens of this sort. If Zechariah and Elizabeth live in the country already, the rumors did not have long to travel. Judea is the southern region of Israel where Jerusalem is. This is the area that Luke centers so much of his narrative around.

66. And all those who heard were themselves putting in their heart saying, "What then will this child be?" For even the hand of the Lord was with him.

As we already mentioned, the events surrounding a child's birth and youth were seen as indicators of what would happen in a person's adult life. When the people realize the spectacular nature of John's birth, they assume that God had great plans for the child in life. They would assume that God would do great things through him as a man.

Zechariah's Song

67. And Zechariah, his father, was filled with Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying...

The action of the Holy Spirit is a key theme of the Gospel of Luke as well as the book of Acts. One of the activities of the Holy Spirit is to bring words of prophecy to the people of God. Prophecy in this case is not about the far distant future but the future of those to whom the prophet speaks. In this case, the prophecy is not only for Zechariah and those around him, but for the early church through the voice of Luke.

Note that Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit even before the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. W remember that the Holy Spirit was active in Old Testament as well as New Testament times. The Spirit comes on various individuals in the Old Testament (e.g., David in 1 Samuel 16:13; the prophet in Isaiah 61:1). The difference is that being filled with the Spirit becomes the norm of all God's true people after the Day of Pentecost. In the Old Testament, the Spirit seems to fill people more selectively for specific purposes.

68. ... "Blessed [be] the Lord, the God of Israel, because he looked upon [us] and made redemption for his people. 69. And he raised a horn of salvation for us in the house of David, his son, 

Zechariah's Song is sometimes called the "Benedictus" because it begins with the word "Blessed." Remember that Mary's Magnificat was also named after the first words of her song. To bless someone is to give it honor. Obviously, God does not need our praise, and we can add nothing to him, but we can honor him. To bless God is to give God the honor that it his do. Of course when God blesses us, the benefit is much more substantial!

Zechariah honors God for being faithful to his people. God's people needed to repent so that they could be reconciled to him. God was under no obligation to take them back. Yet, predictably because of his love, he has set in motion a plan of redemption again. They are in bondage again and need to be freed. God would "redeem" and free them again.

However, this redemption would be a final redemption. It would be a final salvation or rescuing of them from the consequences of Israel's sin. The "horn of salvation" would be the Messiah, the Son of God, the promised descendent of David. The phrase comes from 1 Samuel 22:3 and Psalm 18:2. Zechariah thus echoes the promises there. The worthy Lord would save Israel from its enemies.

70. just as he spoke through the mouth of the holy ones from the age of his prophets, 71. salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, 72. to do mercy with our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73. the oath that he swore to Abraham our father...

The salvation whose beginnings start with John was not unanticipated in the Old Testament saints and prophets. The echo of David is an example. Those with the eyes of the Holy Spirit, as they read the Scriptures, could have anticipated that God would raise his king and save his people from their enemies. Salvation for Luke is again far more corporate than individual. It is the salvation of Israel collectively and concretely that is in view. It is rescue from the political and spiritual enemies of Israel. 

In Acts 1:6, Jesus does not tell his disciples that they are wrong to look for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. We would be wrong to think Luke (or Paul for that matter) believed God had forever abandoned them. It is rather a question of the timing. "It is not for you to know times and seasons that the Father set by his own authority" (Acts 1:7). 

The faithfulness that God is showing to the present and future generation of Israel is God keeping faith with the earlier patriarchs and fathers of Israel, even back to Abraham. The relationship that God had with Abraham continued with Isaac and Jacob down to Moses and God's people to David and beyond. There is a continuity of God's people from age to age. God saving Israel is God keeping his promises to Abraham and David. 

God made a covenant with Abraham, a solemn commitment to bless his descendants. God keeps his promises. God made an oath that he would bless Abraham's seed. Hebrews 6:13-14 also mentions this oath, and Romans 4:13 remembers this promise. It is an act of God's mercy, since Israel does not deserve such grace.

74. "... to give to us to serve him without fear, having been rescued from the hand of enemies, 75. in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

After rescue from their enemies, Israel could return to serving God without fear of judgment. What is the path that is without such fear? It is the path of holiness and righteousness. Righteousness for Luke is a life that actually walks right with God. 

Luke 10:27-28 make it clear what such a life of righteousness looks like. It is a life where one loves God will all his or her heart, soul, mind, and strength, as well as loving one's neighbor as one's self. When asked who one's neighbor is, Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan, indicating that one's neighbor is the person in need, even if it is someone to whom we do not want to show love.

If one belongs to God, one is holy, set apart to him. Only those who walk in righteousness are holy to God. To walk with God in righteousness as God's belongings is to walk in holiness.

Luke-Acts make it clear that walking in righteousness involves loving one's neighbor in very concrete ways. The Good Samaritan helps the man who has been mugged and needs physical help. The gospel is "good news for the poor," "freedom to prisoners," "sight for the blind," and the oppressed set free (Luke 4:18). Walking in righteousness for Luke certainly includes doing these sorts of things.

76. "And you, child, will be called, 'prophet of the Most High,' for you will go before the Lord, to prepare his ways, 77. to give knowledge of salvation to his people by forgiveness of their sins...

Mary's child will be called "Son of the Most High" (Luke 1:32). John the Baptist is then the "prophet of the Most High." The Most High here is presumably God the Father rather than Jesus, as it was in 1:32. The mention of preparing the way of the Lord is an allusion to Isaiah 40:3. The Lord in this case is thus Jesus. 

The way John prepares for Jesus is by leading the people of Israel to repent of their sins so that they might find forgiveness. Forgiveness of sins is the path to salvation from Israel's enemies. John the Baptist will show them the way.

78. "... through bowels of mercy of our God, in the [days] the dawn from high will visit us, 79. to shine upon those in darkness and to those sitting in the shadow of death, to guide their feet into the way of peace."

As we look at the "psychology" of the New Testament world, we see pictures from their day that are metaphorical to us today. We think today of the heart as a muscle, a pump that provides the body with blood and thus oxygen. But the biblical metaphor sees the heart as the center of our character and intentionality.

The bowels were the center of our longings and desire. Our bowels are the location of our kindness and compassion (e.g., Col. 3:12). Paul actually calls Onesimus his "bowels" in Philemon 12, an indication of his affection toward him. In Zechariah's Song, it is God whose "bowels" show Israel his affection. The result is God's mercy on them, giving them a chance for forgiveness.

The sun is currently down for Israel. They are in days of darkness. But John the Baptist signifies the coming of the sunrise, the dawn of light on God's people. 1:79 is an allusion to Isaiah 9:2: "The people walking in the darkness see a great light." Matthew also sees the mission of Jesus as fulfilling this passage in Matthew 4:16.

The path out of darkness is a path to peace. It is a path from the hostility and oppression of Israel's enemies to freedom and peace. The expression, "the way of peace," is probably an echo of Isaiah 59:8, a passage that Paul also echoes in Romans 3:17. Isaiah 59 is bemoaning the sins of Israel that have separated it from God. "None is calling for righteousness; none is pleading for truth" (Isa. 59:4). 

In short, Isaiah 59 says, they are walking in darkness. But the promise is that "the Redeemer will come to Zion" (59:20), a promise that Paul also echoes in Romans 11:26. The Redeemer will turn transgression away from Jacob. [1]   

80. And the child increased and was becoming strong in spirit, and he was in the deserted [places] until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

John the Baptist was destined to be manifested to Israel. His task would be to "prepare the way of the Lord," to prepare for the introduction of Jesus, the Messiah (cf. Luke 3:4; 7:27). Like Elijah, he would be a person who dwelt in the desert (Mal. 4:5; Luke 1:17). He was a Nazarite, who did not drink wine or strong drink (1:15). 

God prepares John for this mission. As he grows, he becomes stronger and stronger in his spirit, as well as his body. The child "increases." John was no doubt willing to serve God in the way God wanted him to serve. John was a willing participant in God's plan. God would not have chosen him if he had not known he would accept God's calling. 

[1] The Hebrew reads that the Redeemer will come "to those who turn from transgression in Jacob." Paul follows the reading of the Greek translation: "he will turn ungodliness from Jacob."