Give Peace, O Lord

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt had been commissioned to compose a work to be premiered at a peace concert in Barcelona on July 1, 2004. The piece, “Da Pacem Domine” (Give Peace, O Lord), was begun two days after the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, in memoriam of its victims. It has been performed in Spain every year since, in commemoration.

The text of “Da Pacem Domine” has its origins as an antiphon circa 6th or 7th century (though, as the liner notes to Pärt’s 2005 release Lamentate and the 2009 In Principio state, this piece is based on 9th century Gregorian antiphon), a Christian hymn sourced from 2 Kings 20:19, 2 Chronicles 20:12,15 and Psalm 72:6-7. Prior to Pärt’s adaptation, it was apparently last used in Roman hymnals (and perhaps in the Church of England) in the late 1800s.

The vlogger below set this prayer of peace—as sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir & Paul Hillier—against a backdrop of soberingly haunting black and white war-themed images:

Da pacem, Domine,
in diebus nostris,
quia non est alius
qui pugnet pro nobis
nisi tu, Deus noster

Give peace, O Lord,
in our time,
for there is no other
who fights for us
but you, our God

Yet I offer this more broadly. To all in need of peace for a variety of reasons, may the Prince of Peace grant it to you faster than you can say “amen”.

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Letter From a Concerned Follower

And as before, I’ve again used the title of a Pedro the Lion song for a blog post. This time the track is from the album The Only Reason I Feel Secure…Is That I Am Validated By My Peers:

It’s weird to think of all the things
That have not been keeping up with the times
It’s ten o’clock the sun has now
Just begun to set the western hills on fire

I hear you don’t change
How do you expect to keep up with the trends?
You won’t survive the information age
Unless you plan to change the truth
To accommodate the brilliance of men, the brilliance of men

Some folks think we’re better now
Social evolution’s new synthetic
Will keep us on a straighter path
As better men use brand new math
With no wrong answers

I’m just a little bit worried
Do you have some sort of plan?
Have you been finally defeated
By the cunning of these fully evolved men?

I hear that you don’t change
How do you expect to keep up with the trends?
You won’t survive the information age
Unless you plan to change the truth
To accommodate the brilliance of men, the brilliance of men

Book Review: A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, by Steve Delamarter

[Steve Delamarter, A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2002, Sheffield Academic Press, London, UK, 99 pages]

delamarter

Essential Complement to Charlesworth’s OTP

To those of a Christian or Jewish persuasion (or those researching either of these belief systems) who own Charlesworth’s two-volume The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (OTP) I would call this an essential complement. It includes “all of the references of the Protestant scriptures contained in the footnotes and in the margins of the OTP” (p 7). Including the footnotes is quite the bonus.

After a very brief preface, followed by a short piece by James H. Charlesworth himself titled “Biblical Stories and Quotations Reflected and Even Adumbrated in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha”, then a brief intro by Delamarter, there are two separate indexes, the first for Volume One and the second for Volume Two. In each of the latter two, Delamarter lists, in order by the 66 books of the Christian Bible (excluding the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon), first the Biblical reference, then its corresponding parallel/allusion/echo in the OTP to its right. If it’s an Old Testament reference following more closely the Septuagint (over against the Hebrew), the Scripture verse will have a parenthetical “(LXX)” following it. From Charlesworth’s first volume, for example, there are four OTP intertextual references to Genesis 2:7:

Apocalypse of Adam 1:2
Apocalypse of Adam 2:5
Testament of Isaac 3:15
Testament of Abraham 11:9 ftnt c

These are all on four separate lines in the index, with the last one adding (LXX) after Gen. 2:7, since this is an LXX, not an MT reference.

The author’s desire is “that, by means of this index, users will have a more convenient point of entry into the study of the intertextuality of scripture and Pseudepigrapha than has ever been available before” (p 10). I’d say this work succeeds marvellously in that aim.

Erratta: On page 47 it should be Jude 6 rather than Jude 5 as the reference from/to 1 Enoch 10:4.

Probing the Prologue in the Gospel According to John: John 1:6-8

[See Introduction; John 1:1-2; John 1:3-5]

Some believe the prologue was initially a Christian hymn, repurposed by the Gospel writer.48 At least a few with this perspective construe 1:6-8 as an interpolation, an addition to the original hymn.49 Yet even if the prologue had its genesis as a hymn, with the Gospel writer adapting it, inserting these verses for his own aims, one should hardly view 6-8 as merely parenthetical, as if almost superfluous. On the contrary, these three verses are integral to the overall purpose.50 They serve to shift the light in 1:4-5 from some ambiguous post-creation period to the public sphere at a particular time—thus revealing the apparent polysemy in v. 5—via the witness of a man named John.51

This man, John, is ‘sent from God’ (v. 6). Within the prologue (and the Gospel) he is never identified as “the Baptist” or “the Baptizer”, however the writer consistently records him elsewhere in terms of this function by using various forms of the verb baptize (βαπτίζω, baptizō: 1:25, 26, 28, 31, 33; 3:26; 10:40). Accordingly, he shall be called “the Baptizer” here, in order to differentiate him from the Gospel writer.

The Baptizer will be mentioned yet again in the prologue (v. 15).

A Man Sent from God

 Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος, ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ,52 ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης
Egeneto anthrōpos, apestalmenos para theou, onoma autō̧ Iōannēs
Came (a) person,53 having-been-sent from God, name to him John
There was a man, sent from God, named John.

This verse begins with the same verb used throughout v. 3—ginomai (here in the aorist form, egeneto). However, it serves a different purpose in this context, taking on a slightly different nuance. The verb here functions as a discourse marker, signaling a transition, introducing a new character54 (cf. Mark 1:4).

Yet there may be an additional implication in this context. Though the aorist egeneto can be used to signify a ‘coming into being’ at a point in time (cf. 8:58: “Before Abraham came into existence/was born”), it can also indicate a time period, such as an entire lifetime. When considered in conjunction with the perfect participle apestalmenos, as well as the final clause (cf. Luke 1:13: “Your wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son, and you shall call him John” [to onoma autou Iōannēn]), this interpretation gains plausibility.55 In other words, when the initial (principle) verb is taken in its full sentential context, the Baptizer’s entire existence, beginning from his birth (as foretold in Luke 1:11-20 by Gabriel, who announced both his purpose and the Nazarite restrictions to be placed upon his entire life), is likely authorial intent.

The introduction of the Baptizer in the prologue, his ‘coming’ (egeneto), is contrasted with the introduction of the Word (vv. 1-2), aka the Light (vv. 7-9ff), as ‘being’ (ēn).56 While the Baptizer came (egeneto), as one sent from God within the course of human history, the Word (the Light) existed (ēn) with God in the beginning, pre-history.57 Moreover, the Baptizer was a man (anthrōpos), while the Word (the Light) is identified as God (theos).58

The participle apestalmenos, from apostellō (its noun form apostolos, “apostle”; apostolē is “apostleship, assignment”), means more than merely “sent” here.59 It connotes being commissioned or consigned for a particular purpose. The Baptizer was consigned by God.

The Baptizer Testifies about “the Light”

οὗτος ἦλθεν εἰς μαρτυρίαν ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός,
houtos ēlthen eis martyrian hina martyrēsȩ̄ peri tou phōtos,
This-one came for testimony so-that he-might-testify concerning the Light,
This man came as a witness, to testify about the Light,

The writer proceeds from the general of v. 6 to the more specific in 7. In contrast to egeneto in v. 6, ēlthen (the aorist of erchomai) here is best defined “of making an appearance: come before the public, appear”.60 It focuses on the Baptizer’s ministry.

Strictly speaking, a subject pronoun (houtos here) is redundant—all finite verbs encode person and number (though not gender)—so the presence of the demonstrative pronoun provides some measure of emphasis.61 The sense is this particular man (as opposed to another).

The Baptizer was commissioned to bear witness to the Light—not unlike Moses before him, who was commissioned (LXX: apostellō) by the LORD, YHWH to go to Pharaoh, to lead the sons of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10-15).62 The Light is picked up from verse 5, thus firmly situating ‘it’ in the first century via the Baptizer. And, as Hurtado asserts, this ‘Light’ “can only be Jesus, as the succeeding narrative goes on to explain in 1:19-34”.63 Verse 1:31 provides the most succinct statement of his commissioning: “…I came baptizing in water so that He [Jesus] might be revealed to Israel”. This serves as further evidence towards negating the position that “the Word” was an ‘it’—an utterance, or merely a personification of God (see The Word was an “it”? section in 1:1-2).

The clause hina martyrēsȩ̄ is epexegetical, that is, it serves to further explain the preceding eis martyrian.64 The Baptizer came as a witness, but for what purpose specifically? He came as a witness, to testify about the Light.

While the Baptizer’s testimony places the Light into the specific historical setting ca. 30 AD, from the undefined period (and ambiguous function) of vv. 1:4-5,65 one should not think to limit his witness to his first century ministry. The Baptizer continues to testify via this Gospel’s written record (and other New Testament writings) as each new reader imbibes its elixir of life.

Jesus, in speaking with the Pharisees (John 8:12), claims to be “the Light of the world” (to phōs tou kosmou), and those who follow Him will not walk in darkness, but will have “the Light of life” (to phōs tēs zōēs)—certainly a reference to 1:4-5. In v. 4, however, the narrator states that life (zōē) was in the Logos and that this life was “the Light of humanity” (to phōs tōn anthrōpōn).

Jesus explicitly or implicitly refers to Himself as “the Light” a number of times in John’s Gospel (3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36; 12:46).

ἵνα πάντες πιστεύσωσιν δι᾿ αὐτοῦ.
hina pantes pisteusōsin di’ autou.
that all might-believe through him.
so that all might come to believe through him.

Since the genitive form (autou) of the Greek personal pronoun autos could represent either a masculine or neuter noun, there is initial ambiguity as to its referent: belief through whom? Is it the Light or the Baptizer? The ambiguity quickly vanishes when the larger context is considered. The subject is the Baptizer, and the emphasis is on his testimony about the Light; thus, the Baptizer is the intended referent. Belief in the Light is to be effected through the Baptizer. The next verse reinforces this. John the Baptizer’s ultimate goal is to bring all to belief in the Light through his testimony—a lofty objective, indeed.

Pantes pisteusōsin di’ autou (“all might believe through him”) here should be compared to panta di’ autou (“all through Him”) in 1:3. In v. 3 panta (“all”) is neuter, denoting the entirety of creation; comparatively, pantes (“all”) in v. 7 is masculine and (obviously) limited to humans. Since anthrōpos, “human”, is masculine, it is reasonable to assume the masculine pantes of v. 7 corresponds with “the Light of humanity” (to phōs tōn anthrōpōn) of v. 4. The life in the Word is the Light of humanity, and John’s objective is that all humans believe in this Light of humanity.

The use of “believe” here is the very first in John’s Gospel. It forms the initial bookend of an inclusio, with “believe” in 20:31 the other bookend. The Baptizer is one witness among quite a few in this Gospel (the Father, the disciples, etc.), another one being the recording of Jesus’ signs “so that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31).66

The aorist subjunctive pisteusōsin, “might believe” is likely ingressive, signifying initial coming to faith (“might come to believe”).67 Yet the temporal sphere of the verb’s action should be understood as encompassing both the Baptizer’s entire earthly ministry and his continuing legacy via the Gospel. All might come to believe by the Baptizer’s words as he spoke them in the first century, and all might come to believe via the record of the Baptizer’s testimony in John’s Gospel in the ensuing centuries on up to the present day.

The Baptizer was Not the Light

οὐκ ἦν ἐκεῖνος τὸ φῶς, ἀλλ᾿ ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός.
ouk ēn ekeinos to phōs, all’ hina martyrēsȩ̄ peri tou phōtos.
not was that-one the Light, but so that he-might-testify about the Light.
He was not the Light, but ˻he came˼ to testify about the Light.

Once again we find a demonstrative pronoun (ekeinos) used for the Baptizer. In this context, especially given its placement after the verb, it is emphatic, referring back to the demonstrative houtos at the beginning of v. 7.68 The italicized He in the translation illustrates this emphasis.69

Excepting the adversative conjunction alla (the final a elided here), “but”, the last two clauses (hina martyrēsȩ̄ peri tou phōtos) mirror two clauses found in the middle of v. 7. As the phrase is elliptical, with the verb omitted, a verb must be supplied from either v. 7 (ēlthen) or v. 6 (egeneto, or a form of apostellō).70 Most popular English versions insert “he came” (ēlthen)—as rendered here. This seems best, for this is the nearest anteceding principle verb.71

Some believe the emphatic He was not the Light may have been stated in response to a group of individuals who viewed the Baptizer as the Light/Christ (Messiah) or some other lauded figure.72 Possible Biblical evidence for this may be inferred from John 1:19-25 (cf. 3:22-36) and Acts 18:25-19:7. However, some caution must be exercised here, for the Baptizer is highly regarded in this Gospel (and elsewhere), so to see this strictly as a polemic against a presumed John the Baptizer sect is likely overstating the case.73 Rather, this emphatic statement more likely provides a transition to v. 9.74 Moreover, Jesus identifies the Baptizer as “the lamp” (ὁ λύχνος, ho lychnos) in John 5:35. The lamp came not to self-illuminate, he came to shed light on the Light.

_________________________________

48 Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.334-337; cf. Edwards, Discovering John, pp 84-97.

49 See, e.g., Bultmann, Gospel of John, pp 15-18, 48-49; cf. Bruce (F. F. Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John), who supposes, “It may have been originally a separate composition which has been integrated with the Gospel by having two preliminary sections of narrative dovetailed into it—verses 6-8 and verse 15…” (p 28; cf. p 34). Martin Hengel (“The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth” in Bauckham/Mosser, John and Christian Theology) is “convinced that this hymn corresponds to the text of the Prologue and that only the two passages about John the Baptist in vv. 6-8 and 15—written in the same style as the hymn—have been inserted to clamp it to the Gospel” (p 268).

50 See Ridderbos, Gospel of John, p 41; Barrett, St. John, p 159.

51 See Carson, Gospel, pp 119-120; Lincoln, Truth on Trial, p 58.

52 There is no article preceding θεοῦ here, though it is true that the article is lacking before “God”, “Father”, and other ‘concrete’ nouns in prepositional phrases at times throughout Scripture—and as noted earlier in the comments to 1:1a of the non-concrete “beginning”. In John’s Gospel it is lacking after παρα̒ (“from/by”) only a few times (John 1:6 [παρὰ θεοῦ]; 1:14 [παρὰ πατρο̒ς]; 9:16 [παρὰ θεοῦ]; 9:33 [παρὰ θεοῦ]; and maybe 16:27 [split in the manuscripts between παρὰ θεοῦ, παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ, and παρὰ {τοῦ} πατρο̒ς]); however, note the presence of the article in a dozen others (John 5:44 [παρὰ τοῦ μόνου θεοῦ]; 6:45 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 6:46 [παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ]; 8:38 [παρὰ τῷ πατρι̒, παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 8:40 [παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ]; 10:18 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρός μου]; John 15:15 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 15:26 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς, παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 16:28 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; and, John 19:25 [παρὰ τῷ σταυρῷ])—two to three times as many with the article, depending on how one interprets the text critical data in 16:27. Perhaps it’s significant that every time the article is present before “God” and “Father” after παρα̒ Jesus (Word-made-flesh) is speaking, while the times the article is lacking occurs in narrative (1:6; 1:14) or when others are speaking (9:16; 9:33)—excluding verse 16:27 from this analysis. More work needs to be done—that is, analyzing the other prepositional phrases in John—before coming to any conclusions. Of course, we already covered πρὸς τὸν θεόν in both 1:1b and 1:2, but the presence of the article in these may be understood to be a method of differentiating the anarthrous θεός in 1:1c (θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος) from ὁ θεός in 1:1b and 1:2, while simultaneously providing some commonality yet distinction between ὁ λόγος as θεός in 1:1c and ὁ θεός of 1:1b and 1:2. In other words, the arthrous θεός in the prepositional phrases of 1:1b and 1:2 may have a separate discourse function.

53 Ανθρωπος is considered gender neutral, generally (e.g. John 1:9; 2:25), yet in the cultural milieu of the first century, the a priori assumption would have been male (see Jaime Clark-Soles’ essay “‘I Will Raise [Whom?] Up on the Last Day’: Anthropology as a Feature of Johannine Eschatology” in New Currents through John: A Global Perspective, eds. Francisco Lozada, Jr. & Tom Thatcher [Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006], pp 33-34). So, even though “man” (as opposed to “woman”) would be assumed, on first reading one should think gender neutrally. Of course, here in 1:6 the gender is made clear by both the masculine participle and the masculine name in the final clause. Note that in John 4 the Samaritan woman is consistently referenced as γυνή, even when she self-references (“being a γυναικὸς Σαμαρίτιδος” [4:9]).

54 Johannes P. Louw & Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1989), Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.1, “γίνομαι,” p 811 (§ 91.5); cf. Beasley-Murray, John, p 12; Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26. Bultmann (Gospel of John, pp 48-49, n 3) sees Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος as a Hebraism, comparing with wayᵉhı̂ ʾı̂š ʾeḥāḏ in Judges 13:2, 19:1 from the same book, and 1 Samuel 1:1, thus, to his mind, providing evidence that (a) this section (vv. 6-8) is not part of the original hymn, but the narrator’s own comments, and (b) that the narrator writes in a Jewish flavor as of one from the area of Syria (p 6). Bultmann finds other commonalities with the Hebrew, as well (p 49, n 3); cf. Ridderbos, Gospel of John, p 41. Contra Hengel (“The Prologue”, pp 276-277), who views the verb as punctiliar, paralleling it with ἐγένετο in v. 14.

55 The perfect verbal form can be defined in shorthand as ‘past action with present results’ (see, e.g., H. E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament [New York: MacMillan, 1927], pp 200-205); however, importantly, the time element, including duration, must be determined by context. In the overall context of vv. 6-8, and even the larger context of the entire Gospel, the participle ἀπεσταλμένος here could be viewed as strictly covering his ministry as the Baptizer. Yet, with the initial aorist ἐγένετο and the final clause which seems to allude to Luke 1, it can be viewed as encompassing his earthly existence in its entirety. The aorist ἐγένετο by itself can be understood as either a past action at a particular point in time (“came-to-be”, i.e. birth) or as encompassing a long time period (the aorist is perfective in aspect—see here for explanation), to include even the Baptizer’s whole life. If the participle was also an aorist (or if ἐγένετο was absent, and “sent” was the principle verb and in the aorist), we might be inclined to understand the entire verbal action as strictly punctiliar. But in view of the perfect participle here, ἐγένετο may be better perceived in a constative sense, to include not only the Baptizer’s public ministry (which is not mentioned until the next verse), but his entire ‘coming’, i.e., his earthly life in its totality. In other words, the past action of the perfect would be God’s initial sending (at conception or birth) and the ‘present results’ would consist of his entire earthly life. When comparing the future tense of Luke 1:13’s “you shall call the name of him John” (a then-prophecy) with “Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος…name to him John” (a general truth post-prophetic fulfillment), and given the evidence provided just above, it seems reasonable to see v. 6 as referring to the entire life of the Baptizer. Moreover, comparing ἐγένετο here to ἦλθεν in v. 7, and the specified function stated for the Baptizer there (see below), it seems the Gospel writer intended to start from the general in v. 6 and move to the more specific in v. 7.

56 See Westcott, St. John, para 1146. This writer, though, calls the referent in v. 9 “the Word”.

57 Brown (John I-XII, p 8) observes that ἐγένετο here is, of course, the same verb used in v. 3 and compares with the use of ἦν in vv. 1-2, noting that the former is used of creation, seemingly concluding from this that the Gospel writer used ἐγένετο as a way of identifying the Baptizer as a creature. Leon Morris (Gospel According to John, p 89) is more explicit, acknowledging that, while ἐγένετο here places “no particular emphasis on creation”, the usage in this context “must be held to point a contrast between Jesus and John”.

58 Köstenberger, John, BECNT, p 32.

59 Morris (Leon Morris, Gospel According to John, p 89, n 48) notes that the passive ἀποστέλλω here (cf. 3:28) contrasts with the active voice when this verb is used for Jesus being sent from the Father.

60 BDAG, “ἔρχομαι” (1.b.), p 394.

61 Cf. οὗτος in 1:2.

62 See Barrett, St. John, p 159.

63 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, p 365.

64 Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26; Barrett, St. John, p 159. Lincoln (Truth on Trial, pp 21, 58-60ff, 146) asserts John the Baptizer’s witness is part of a larger “lawsuit motif” in John’s Gospel.

65 See Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, p 34; cf. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, p 129.

66 The bracketed “come to” signifies a text critical issue in 20:31, in which manuscripts are divided between the aorist and the present tense-form.

67 Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26.

68 Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26.

69 The KJV renders it “He was not that Light”, likely in an effort to retain, as closely as possible, the original word order in translation.

70 See Harris, John, EGGNT, pp 26-27.

71 This yields ἀλλὰ ἦλθεν ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός. While some English versions pick up “sent” from v. 6, this seems dubious. It requires making a periphrastic construction (adding ἦν [from the first clause of v. 8?] to ἀπεσταλμένος) or changing the participle to an aorist (or perfect?) indicative. Louw and Nida (L&N), noting that ἵνα clauses can be “markers of purpose for events and states (sometimes occurring in highly elliptical contexts)”, take ἐγένετο from v. 6 (cf. Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26), rendering this phrase but (this happened) in order that he could witness concerning the light (p 785 [§ 89.59]). But if we apply L&N here we would have two near-consecutive parallel ἵνα clauses (in v. 7 and v. 8) with different meanings, the second one taking the principle verb from the verse preceding the first one (v. 6). Applying Occam’s razor seems prudent here: supplying the principle verb found in the sentence from which this phrase is sourced (v. 7; ἦλθεν) is the simplest solution. While we certainly cannot impose English upon the Greek, this resembles the solution in the following: He went to the convenience store to pick up some milk. He didn’t go grocery shopping, but to the convenience store. We would understand the ellipsis as “he went”, that is: He didn’t go grocery shopping, but [on the contrary] he went to the convenience store (to pick up some milk).

72 See Brown, John I-XII, pp LXVII-LXX; Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.388-391.

73 See Ridderbos, Gospel of John, p 42.

74 Barrett, St. John, p 160; Carson, Gospel, p 121.

Of Minor Prophets And Their Prostitute Wives

Once again this blog title is the same as that of a song by David Bazan, from his ‘band’ Pedro The Lion.

All the time you were burning my letters
You were only acting the part
You think without me you’ll get on much better
But you don’t even know your own heart

Come home, darlin’
Come home quickly
Come home, darlin’
All is forgiven, so come home quickly

I treated you as if you were a princess
You treated me like a cop
I gave you boundaries to save you from certain death
Dangling from the end of the rope

Come home, darlin’
Come home quickly
Come home, darlin’
All is forgiven, so come home quickly

But you’re still playin’ for a love you’ll never find
Outside these arms of mine

The whole town is one step behind you
With the hang man on call
They’ve got the judge and you’re convicted without a plea
But darlin’, they will listen to me
Darlin’, they will listen to me
Darlin’, they will listen to me

Secret of the Easy Yoke

The title of this blog post mirrors the title of its subject, namely a song by David Bazan, as performed by his ‘band’ Pedro The Lion. The lyrics are below, and you can hear it here:

I could hear the church bells ringing
They pealed aloud Your praise
The member’s faces were smiling
With their hands outstretched to shake
It’s true they did not move me
My heart was hard and tired
Their perfect fire annoyed me
I could not find You anywhere

Could someone please tell me the story
Of sinners ransomed from the fall
I still have never seen You
And some days I don’t love You at all

The devoted were wearing bracelets
To remind them why they came
Some concrete motivation
When the abstract could not do the same
But if all that’s left is duty
I’m falling on my sword
At least then I would not serve
An unseen, distant Lord

Could someone please tell me the story
Of sinners ransomed from the fall
I still have never seen You
And some days I don’t love You at all

If this is only a test
I hope that I’m passing
‘Cause I’m losing steam
But I still want to trust You

Peace, be still
Peace, be still
Peace, be still

 

Fishers of Persons

Now as He was walking along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers—Simon (the one called Peter) and his brother Andrew—casting nets into the lake, for they were fishers. And He said to them, “Come follow Me, and I will make you fishers of persons1” (Matthew 4:18-19).

Our subject verses, Matthew 4:18-19, along with the parallels Mark 1:16-17 and Luke 5:1-11 (cf. John 1:35-42), are among the number of New Testament (NT) references to fishing. Most Christians (and non-Christians) in the West are aware of the fish symbol used to signify Christianity. Nowadays it can be found on cars, various kinds of jewelry, etc. But what does the “Jesus fish”, the ichthys (or ichthus) symbolize exactly? Why and when was it first used?

fish_plain

credit: Wikimedia Commons

Possible OT and Jewish Background

While Jesus may have seized the opportunity to use the “fishers of persons” comparison simply because Simon Peter and Andrew were fishermen, it seems probable that this metaphor was also chosen to counter contemporary negative Jewish fishing metaphors. If so, the effect would have been to contrast those metaphors of God’s judgment with these fishers who will “pluck human beings out of the net of Satan and transfer them securely into the net of God”2 (cf. Matthew 13:47-48).

The Old Testament (OT) provides a number of metaphorical references to fishing, the majority relating to judgment:

  • The LORD (YHWH) sending ‘fishermen’ to catch the wicked Israelites (Jeremiah 16:16)
  • YHWH using the Babylonians to capture wayward Israel by ‘hook’ and ‘net’ (Hab. 1:14-15)
  • God threatening to take away the unrighteous of Israel via ‘fishhook’ (Amos 4:2)
  • YHWH equating Pharaoh and his people to fish who will be hooked (Ezek. 29:3-5; cf. 38:4)
  • Various peoples being caught by ‘fishnet’, symbolizing God’s judgment (Ps. 66:11; Ezek. 32:3).

Closer to the time of Christ, the Qumran community, via the Dead Sea Scrolls, provided commentary (pesher) on Isaiah 24:17, illustrating how YHWH judges the disobedient by sending Belial (Satan) to ensnare them:

Belial will be sent against Israel, as God has said by means of the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, saying: ‘Panic, pit and net against you earth-dwellers’. Its explanation: They are Belial’s three nets about which Levi, son of Jacob spoke, in which he catches Israel and makes them appear before them like three types of justice. The first is fornication; the second, wealth; the third, defilement of the Temple. He who eludes one is caught in another and he who is freed from that is caught in another (Damascus Document [CD IV:13-19]).3

Yet, amidst all the negative fishing imagery in the OT, Ezekiel 47:9-10 speaks of a new Temple (cf. Rev. 22:1-5), one with a river which will provide abundant life to fish (and all other creatures, vegetation, and trees receiving sustenance from it—Ezek. 47:11-12):

9 And it will come to be that every living creature that swarms wherever the river flows will live; and there will be a great multitude of fish, because this water will flow there, healing the seawater—making it freshwater. Everything will live where this water flows. 10 And it will come to be that fishers will stand on its banks: from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places to spread the nets. There will be many species of fish, just like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea—a multitude of many kinds of fish.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah, came “to preach the good news to the poor…to proclaim freedom to the captives, renewed sight for the blind, and to relieve the oppressed” (Luke 4:18), in fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1!

NT usage of ICHTHYS, Fish

The Greek word for “fish” is ιχθυς, which is transliterated—exchanging each Greek letter for corresponding English letters—ichthys or ichthus. The Greek letters in the previous sentence are in miniscule minuscule, like our lower case letters. In majuscule, akin to our capital letters, the word is ΙΧΘΥΣ—as in the figure below—or, transliterated, ICHTHYS. The earliest Greek NT manuscripts are in majuscule; the miniscule would develop later. ΙΧΘΥΣ is found twenty times in the NT. (The word for “fisher” is the unrelated ἁλιεύς, halieus.)

Since the English transliteration has seven characters to the Greek five, further explanation seems necessary. The second and third Greek letters are digraphs in English—two letters representing one sound—whereas they are indicated by one symbol in the Greek. Here are the Greek-to-English correlations:

I, ι (iota) = I, i
X, χ (chi) = CH, ch
Θ,θ (theta) = TH, th
Υ, υ (upsilon) = Y, u/y
Σ/C, σ/ς (sigma) = S, s

fish_ichthus

credit: Wikimedia Commons

While Mark 1:16-17 is nearly identical to our subject verses Matthew 4:18-19, the good doctor Luke expands the incident considerably. Luke’s Gospel records the first great catch of fish, chronologically, in the NT (Luke 5:1-10). Simon Peter, after fishing all night and coming up empty, is instructed by Jesus to go back out into the deep water. After expressing a bit of reluctance initially, Simon relents, catching so many fish that he needed another boat to help retrieve them all!

Apparently feeling ashamed for his lack of faith, Peter fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Away from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Sensing the feelings of awe within Peter, Andrew, James, and John, Jesus tells them to not be afraid, for they were now to catch people. Certainly, this first great catch of fish must be symbolically linked to their future great catches as “fishers of persons”.

The remaining NT passages containing ΙΧΘΥΣ are:

  • “…if he asks for a fish, will you give him a snake?” (Matthew 7:10; Luke 11:11)
  • The miraculous feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-22; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13
  • The miraculous feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15:32-29; Mark 8:1-10)
  • Paying the “Temple tax”, via the first fish Peter was to catch, in which would be a silver coin (statēr) worth four drachmae (Matthew 17:27)
  • The broiled fish that was given to the risen Jesus (Luke 24:42)
  • The account of the risen Jesus instructing the disciples to again throw out their net, a near recapitulation of the first great haul of fish, excepting their lack of hesitation this time (John 21:6-14)
  • The Apostle Paul comparing the flesh of humans with the different flesh of animals, birds, and fish as he discusses the new spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:39)

There is one more Scripture relevant here—though it does not contain ichthys, it does contain the Greek word for “dragnet”. It is the Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-50), which is a mixture of the negative OT judgment metaphor and a different take on the NT ‘fishers of persons’ analogy, in the form of eschatological (end times) judgment/salvation (cf. Matthew 13:30, 40-42; Revelation 14:14-20)

Use of ΙΧΘΥΣ in early Christianity

In the first century AD, many Christian converts met in private homes.4 After the Christian faith gained wider acceptance, buildings were erected specifically for worship.5 These early places of worship were unadorned and plain, for Christians were concerned about possibly falling prey to idolatry.6

In these early days, one would not find drawings or sculptures of Christ; however, eventually, symbols representing our Lord and our faith would be made.7 Rather than fashioning a likeness of Jesus’ human form, “they made a figure of a shepherd carrying a lamb on his shoulders, to signify the Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep”8 (John 10:11). The Messiah was also represented symbolically as a lamb.9 Other Christian symbols used were: a dove to represent the Holy Spirit; a ship, to signify the Church, the ark of salvation, sailing towards heaven; a lyre, to represent joy; an anchor, to symbolize hope; and, “a fish, which was meant to remind them of their having been born again in the water at their baptism”.10

These symbols began to be used on everyday items at home, such as lamps, vases, rings, bowls, wall-hangings and the like.11 Fish symbols were also found in the Roman catacombs in pictures with bread and wine—in some the fish is swimming in the water with a plate of bread and a cup of wine on its back, evidently alluding to the Last Supper or Eucharist.12 The oldest known ΙΧΘΥΣ-monument, the Cœmeterium Domitillae (cemetery of Flavia Domitilla) in the catacombs, is dated perhaps as early as the late first century, to the middle of the second.13 This one depicts three persons with three loaves of bread and one fish,14 a likely reference to the miraculous feedings.

It is unknown when, but someone ingeniously invented an acrostic (backronym) based on the letters of ΙΧΘΥΣ: ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟΣ ΣΩΤΗΡ (IĒSOUS CHRISTOS THEOU YIOS SŌTĒR), which translates to JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S SON, SAVIOR.

ΙHΣΟΥΣ  = IĒSOUS = JESUS
ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ = CHRISTOS = CHRIST
ΘΕΟY = THEOU = GOD’S
ΥΙΟΣ = YIOS = SON
ΣΩΤΗΡ = SŌTĒR = SAVIOR

fish_table

Legend has it that during the early stages of Christianity and its attendant persecution, a Christ-follower, upon meeting someone whom they thought could be a fellow Christian, would seemingly nonchalantly draw one arc of the ΙΧΘΥΣ in the sand.

fishhalf

One arc of ΙΧΘΥΣ

 

If the other individual responded by drawing the intersecting arc, thereby completing the fish symbol, they would each know the other was a fellow sojourner in the faith.

fishhalf2

Completed ΙΧΘΥΣ

 

Conversely, if the other individual was not a Christ-follower, the gesture would be viewed as mere doodling and not reveal the faith-belief of the original drawer.15

According to Schaff, the ICHTHYS was the symbol most used.16 “It was the double symbol of the Redeemer and the redeemed”.17 Tertullian (ca. 155-225 AD), in his De Baptismo (On Baptism), makes this connection explicitly:

Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life! A treatise on this matter will not be superfluous; instructing not only such as are just becoming formed (in the faith), but them who, content with having simply believed, without full examination of the grounds of the traditions, carry (in mind), through ignorance, an untried though probable faith…But we, little fishes (pisciculi [ED: Latin]), after the example of our ΙΧΘΥΣ Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water…18

In the following, Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150—215 AD) instructs fellow believers to steer away from idols, as he delineates these from the symbols described earlier. Note that he alludes to the ‘fishers of persons’ analogy:

And let our seals be either a dove, or a fish, or a ship scudding before the wind, or a musical lyre, which Polycrates used, or a ship’s anchor, which Seleucus got engraved as a device; and if there be one fishing, he will remember the apostle, and the children drawn out of the water. For we are not to delineate the faces of idols, we who are prohibited to cleave to them; nor a sword, nor a bow, following as we do, peace; nor drinking-cups, being temperate.19

In a somewhat convoluted mixing of metaphors linguistic devices, Origen (ca. 185-254) takes the miracle of the fish with the coin to pay the Temple tax and turns this into an allegory of Peter as fisher of persons:

As then, having the form of that slave, He pays toll and tribute not different from that which was paid by His disciple; for the same statēr sufficed, even the one coin which was paid for Jesus and His disciple. But this coin was not in the house of Jesus, but it was in the sea, and in the mouth of a fish of the sea which, in my judgment, was benefited when it came up and was caught in the net of Peter, who became a fisher of men, in which net was that which is figuratively called a fish, in order also that the coin with the image of Caesar might be taken from it, and that it might take its place among those which were caught by them who have learned to become fishers of men…20

The following comes from an early Christian novel (ca. 3rd to 4th century AD) Acts of Xanthippe, Polyxena, and Rebecca (part of what is known as New Testament Apocrypha). Note the reference to ‘fishers of persons’, and the possible allusion to the Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-52):

Thou hast sought me [Xanthippe], lowly one, having the sun of righteousness in my heart. Now the poison is stayed, when I have seen thy [Paul’s] precious face. Now he that troubled me is flown away, when thy most beautiful counsel has appeared to me. Now I shall be considered worthy of repentance, when I have received the seal of the preacher of the Lord. Before now I have deemed many happy who met with you, but I say boldly that from this time forth I myself shall be called happy by others, because I have touched thy hem, because I have received thy prayers, because I have enjoyed thy sweet and honeyed teaching. Thou hast not hesitated to come to us, thou that fishest the dry land in thy course, and gatherest the fish that fall in thy way into the net of the kingdom of heaven.21

Below is an ΙΧΘΥΣ inscription found in Ephesus (modern-day Turkey). Note the 8-spoked wheel. This is made by taking the letters, one at a time, superimposing each one over the other(s). The top and bottom of the iota must be suitably curved in order to fashion the wheel.

fish_ephesus

Early Christian inscription with the Greek letters “ΙΧΘΥΣ” carved into marble in the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Ephesus at Turkey

 

In the Sibylline Oracles, Book 8, verses 284-330 (Greek text 217-250)–dated ca. 3rd to 5th century AD–an acrostic is formed from the first letter of the first word in each line, resulting in (in English): JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S SON, SAVIOR, CROSS (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΕΣΤΟΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟΣ ΣΩΤΗΡ ΣΤΑΥΡΟΣ [IĒSOUS CHRIESTOS THEOU YIOS SŌTĒR STAUROS]). Similarly, Augustine, in his de Civitate Dei (xviii, 123) forms an acrostic in the same manner, but without “Cross”—spelling out the ΙΧΘΥΣ (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟΣ ΣΩΤΗΡ).

Evidence seems to indicate that the ΙΧΘΥΣ-symbol fell into disuse prior to the middle of the fourth century.22 It was apparently revived on or just before 1970, during the “Jesus movement”. The ICHTHUS is quite prevalent today, at least in the West.

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1 “Persons” translates the Greek ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos), here in the plural, the word from which we get anthropology, the study of humankind.  My translation “persons”, as opposed to “people”, goes against current norms, for the term is usually confined to formal or legal contexts, such as “missing persons” or “persons of interest”. However, this is precisely, why I chose the term! Who are we to ‘fish’ for? According to Paul’s list in First Corinthians 6:9-10, we are to fish for thieves, swindlers, adulterers (yes, adultery is still on the books as a crime in some states, and it is certainly contrary to Mosaic Law), slanderers, etc., aka “persons of interest”, until they are ‘convicted’. And these were among those converted in the 1st century. Yet, I do not wish to limit the meaning in such a manner, as this term is simply a lesser used plural of “person”. Thus, consider my usage here as a synonym to “people”, but with the added underlying sense of individuals with less-than-optimum character. And who—besides Jesus—does not fit that description anyway? In the sense that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:12; cf. 3:20; Psalm 14:1-3), we are all “persons of interest”! All such persons need to be ‘caught’. Moreover, the Day of the Lord will only come when all “missing persons” are ‘found’ (2 Peter 3:8-10).

2 Joel Marcus, Mark 1–8, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 184.

3 Florentino Garci̒a Marti̒nez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English, 2nd ed., transl. Wilfred G. E. Watson (Netherlands: Brill, Leiden/Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), p 35. Cf. 1QH 3:26

4 James C. Robertson, Sketches of Church History: From A.D. 33 to the Reformation, Accordance electronic ed. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1912), p 86; Larry W. Hurtado, Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), p 3.

5 Robertson, Sketches, p 86.

6 Ibid.; Philip Schaff, Apostolic Christianity, History of the Christian Church 1; Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), paragraph 799  / (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), p 168; Philip Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, History Of The Christian Church 2; Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), paragraph 6357 / (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), p 267. Hereafter, references to Schaff will be dual credited as the Accordance paragraph / the Hendrickson page(s).

7 Robertson, Sketches, pp 86-87; Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6358-91 / pp 267-68.

8 Robertson, Sketches, pp 86-87.

9 Schaff, Apostolic Christianity, para. 799  / p 168.

10 Robertson, Sketches, p 87.

11 Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6358-59 / p 268; Cf. Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, pp 267-281, 867-868; Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria, Ante-Nicene Fathers, ANF II; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 12131 [Elucidations on Clement of Alexandria’s “The Instructor (Paedagogus)” Book II, Chapter III: On Costly Vessels].

12 Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6403, 9210 / pp 279, 280 (in footnote 2).

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 “Fish Symbol”, ReligionFacts.com, 18 May, 2017, Web, as accessed 25 Aug, 2018. <www.religionfacts.com/fish>

16 Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6403 / p 279.

17 Ibid.

18 Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ANF III; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 28175 [Tertullian “On Baptism” Chapter I. Introduction: Origin of the Treatise].

19 Roberts, Donaldson, & Coxe, eds., Fathers of the Second Century, ANF II, para. 11707 [Clement of Alexandria “The Instructor (Paedagogus)” Book III, Chapter XI: A Compendious View of the Christian Life].

20 Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgin and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement, Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I–x, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, Ii, and X–xiv, ANF IX; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 79992 [Origen “From the Second Book of the Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew”, Book XIII.10].

21 Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgin and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement, Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I–x, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, Ii, and X–xiv, ANF IX; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), paragraph 77323 [“Life and Conduct of the Holy Women Xanthippe, Polyxena, and Rebecca”].

22 Schaff, Ante-Nicene Christianity, para. 6404 / p 280.