It is Perfectly Finished, part I

[See part II]

28 After this, knowing that now everything was completed, Jesus said—so that Scripture might be perfected—“I’m thirsty.” 29 A container was lying there full of wine vinegar; so, affixing a sponge soaked with the wine vinegar to some hyssop, they brought it to His mouth. 30 After Jesus received the wine vinegar He said, “It is finished.” Then He bowed His head and handed over His the spirit (John 19:28-30).1

John records Jesus’ last word on the cross as tetelestai, “It is finished,”2 choosing to narrate Jesus’ handing over of His spirit rather than quoting His words as Luke prefers (23:46: “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit”), thus highlighting tetelestai Here. This article will discuss the significance of this one-word statement—including the implication of the perfect tense-form—and, along the way, comment on some other aspects of these three verses.

Jesus’ Last Testament

The two words beginning this selection, after this, refer back to 19:2627 (“Here is your son”, “here is your mother”), as does knowing that now everything was completed. This indicates that Jesus’ words to Mary and John (19:26-17) completes the work He came to do in this regard. The implication in this exchange here is that Joseph is deceased, and Jesus’ desire is for His earthly mother to be cared for—as He Himself had apparently been doing.

Evidence suggests that Jewish custom allowed “a dying man . . . to settle the legal status of the women for whom  he was responsible.”3 This appears to be what Jesus is doing in 19:26-27—legally appointing John to His former position as the person responsible for His mother, a widow.4 Common practice required that Jesus would ensure that His mother Mary be “adequately cared for by a male head of household in the patriarchal culture of first-century Israel.”5 Apparently, in doing so, Jesus proclaimed what would be akin to His last will and testament.6 Importantly, rather than a sibling, Jesus entrusts a disciple to the care of His mother, in accordance with the Jewish custom of “the believing community [being] stronger than natural familial bonds,”7 for not even His own brothers believed in Him (John 7.5).  “When Jesus entrusted His mother to the Beloved Disciple, He established a new household centered on a common relationship with Jesus”8

Christ’s earthly ministry to others had come to a close:9 “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

Which Scripture “Perfected”?

There is some ambiguity in the grammar of verse 28: (a) does the clause so that Scripture might be perfected refer to knowing that now everything was completed, in turn referring to Jesus’ words to Mary and John (19:26-27); or, alternatively, (b) does so that Scripture might be perfected point to Jesus’ thirst and, ultimately, His final words “It is finished”?10 The former (a) seems unlikely, for one would have to account for Jesus expressing his thirst, and this would seem better suited to the context if the “perfected” clause refers to what follows it.  However, another option to consider is that one could assume (a), but look even further back to 19:24, in which Psalm 22:18 (“They divided my garments among them . . .”) had just been quoted, and apply “I’m thirsty” to verse 15 of the same Psalm. In this scenario, Jesus is reminded again of Psalm 22 and, recalling “my tongue cleaves . . .” of verse 15, in His humanity, He realizes that He is thirsty.11

Nonetheless, given the three-fold use of wine vinegar (oxos) here and Jesus’ final words “It is finished” upon receiving it, (b) appears most likely to be the author’s intent.12 If so, any or all of the following events must perfect Scripture in some way: Jesus’ statement of thirst, His subsequent receiving of the wine vinegar, His final statement, the handing over of His spirit.

Assuming the translation and the interpretation above are correct—option (b) above—to which Scripture does so that Scripture might be perfected refer? The two best candidates are Psalm 69:21 (LXX 68:22) and Psalm 22:15 (LXX 21:16). Each, however, has its own problems as a contender. On the former, the wine vinegar is offered with apparent malicious intent, while here in verse 29 it appears to be given without malice.13 On the latter (22:15), there’s no mention of a drink being offered. On the other hand, Psalm 69:21 specifically mentions oxos, wine vinegar, like here in our subject verses, and the noun form of the verb used here for thirst (dipsaō) is in this psalm as well, while Psalm 22:15 specifically mentions both extreme thirst and death. It should be noted that John’s Gospel elsewhere references Psalm 69 (2:17; 15:25) and Psalm 22 (19:24—right in the Passion narrative, as noted just above). Carson’s concise yet complete manner of describing one interpretation is worth quoting:

If we grant that Jesus knew he was fulfilling this Scripture [Ps. 69:21], presumably he knew that by verbally confessing his thirst he would precipitate the soldiers’ effort to give him some wine vinegar. In that case, the fulfillment clause could be rendered: ‘Jesus, knowing that all things had been accomplished, in order to fulfil [the] Scripture [which says “They . . . gave me vinegar for my thirst”] said “I thirst”’.14

But, could the clause refer and/or allude to both?15 Though graphē, “Scripture”, is in the singular here, this does not necessarily restrict its reference to only one Scripture. For comparison, even though graphē in John 20:9 is in the singular, it very likely refers to more than one single referent or section of Scripture.16 The same could apply here.

More investigation is needed.

The Fullness of Perfection

Notably, the common word used in reference to the fulfilling of Scripture, the verb plēroō (see Matthew 1:22; 5:17, etc.), is not used in 19:28, but rather teleioō—here specifically as teleiōthȩ̄ (an aorist passive subjunctive)—which is a cognate of teleō, the root of tetelestai. In other words, teleioō, the lexical form (dictionary word) of teleiōthȩ̄, is directly related to teleō, the lexical form of tetelestai. While some claim that plēroō and teleioō are perfectly synonymous,17 others assert that each has a slightly different connotation.18 Westcott makes a strong statement, perceiving a distinction between the two:

The word used (τελειωθῇ [teleiōthȩ̄] . . . for which some [manuscripts] substitute the usual word πληρωθῇ [plērōthȩ̄]) is very remarkable. It appears to mark not the isolated fulfilling of a particular trait in the scriptural picture, but the perfect completion of the whole prophetic image. This utterance of physical suffering was the last thing required that Messiah might be “made perfect” (Heb. 2:10, 5:7ff.), and so the ideal of prophecy “made perfect” in Him. Or, to express the same thought otherwise, that “work” which Christ came to “make perfect” (John 4:34, 17:4) was written in Scripture, and by the realisation of the work the Scripture was “perfected.” Thus under different aspects of this word [teleioō and teleō] and of that which it implies, prophecy, the earthly work of Christ, and Christ Himself were “made perfect.”19

Stated another way, Westcott sees a deliberate connection between John’s usage of teleioō in 19:28 and his use of teleō in 19:30, believing the Gospel writer chose teleioō over plēroō for an express theological purpose.20 It may be significant that plēroō is employed in 19:24 (as plērōthȩ̄, an aorist passive subjunctive—the same verbal form in 19:28), just a few verses prior to the use of teleioō (teleiōthȩ̄) in 19:28.

Bultmann opposes this view: “This [use of teleiōthȩ̄ instead of plērōthȩ̄] is repeatedly understood . . . as if it were intended to signify the conclusive fulfillment of the entire Scriptures. Nevertheless it seems, as in 13:18, that the fulfillment of a particular passage is meant.”21 So, who’s correct? Does the use of this verb (teleiōthȩ̄) over the other (plērōthȩ̄) indicate a fulfillment of all Scripture, or does it simply express the fulfillment of one specific passage?

An investigation finds John using teleioō a scant four times in his Gospel—three in reference to the Father’s work (4:34; 5:36; 17:4) and one in relation to the “perfecting” of believers into one (17:23).22 Comparatively, John’s Gospel employs plēroō fifteen times, five of which refer to the fulfillment of a particular passage (12:38; 13:18; 15:25; 19:24; 19:36),23 another three the fulfillment of words of Jesus in John’s Gospel (17:12; 18:9; 18:32), with the others in reference to either joy (3:29; 15:11; 16:24; 17:13), time (7:8), fragrance of perfume (12:3), or grief (16:6).24 Thus, as we can see, plēroō has a range of uses, but, when used of Scripture, it references either a specific OT verse or a particular prophecy of Jesus; whereas, teleioō is utilized much more sparingly, with the majority in reference to the Father’s work that Jesus was to “perfect.”

The evidence supports Westcott. Adopting this view, so that Scripture might be perfected prefigures the events following up to and including Jesus’ climactic words and handing over of His spirit, resulting in the  “perfecting” of all Scriptures related to the ‘work’ of the Father.25

As mentioned earlier, given that the singular graphē in John 20:9 most likely refers to more than one Scripture, the same may well prevail in 19:28. Accepting this is the case, we’ll assume that 19:28 fulfills both Psa. 69:21 and Psa. 22:15. In this way,  the former’s oxos (wine vinegar) and dipsaō (noun form of the verb here for “I’m thirsty”) are fulfilled, while the latter’s extreme thirst and death are fulfilled as well. However, more broadly, when a portion of Scripture is quoted, those Jews in the audience would mentally fill in the remainder of the book from which the quote was taken (though this does not mean they necessarily understood the significance). For example, in both Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 the very first verse of Psa. 22 is quoted (“why have you forsaken me!”), yet the entire psalm should be understood as in mind. In light of this, Blomberg observes, “The view that Jesus’ quotation of Psa. 22 anticipates the vindication found in the larger context of the psalm stresses what does not appear in the text at the expense of what does.”26 In other words, Jesus’ quotation of Psa. 22:1 is intended to refer to the entire psalm, thus prefiguring His resurrection (Psa. 22:22-24).

More on teleioō will be forthcoming.

Wine Vinegar, a Sponge, and Hyssop

The physical elements of 19:29 and their interrelationships are variously understood. The wine vinegar, oxos, is not to be confused with the wine mixed with myrrh (oinos) offered but refused by Jesus in Mark 15:23.  It was most likely a common drink of the Roman soldiers to quench thirst, called posca, which would have been readily available at the scene.27 This would mean “they” here refers to members of the Roman army.

There is some question as to whether hyssop, hyssōpos, was the actual implement that the wine vinegar-soaked sponge was affixed to. A branch of hyssop would be too flimsy to support the weight of the sponge, and so various theories have been proffered.28 F. F. Bruce opines:

A sprig of hyssop seems an unsuitable instrument for the purpose, but John’s wording may be influenced by the symbolic use of hyssop in the Old Testament (Num. 19:6; Ps. 51:7). The death of Jesus is the true Passover and the effective means of inward cleansing. Another possibility is that the sponge soaked in sour vinegar, with some hyssop thrust into it, was stretched to Jesus’ mouth on the end of a reed or the like, in order that the cooling effect of the hyssop leaves might enhance the refreshing property of the sour wine.29

The latter possibility could explain the passage, harmonizing it with Mark 15:36. However it seems that the connection between the use of hyssop for ritual cleansing, and King David’s use of it as a metonymy for the cleansing of sin, as compared to its use here seems a bit tenuous, though Comfort opines that the “hyssop in the crucifixion scene reminds readers of their need for spiritual cleansing.”30 But Brown, after mentioning that hyssop was used to sprinkle the paschal lamb’s blood on the doorposts at the original Passover (Ex. 12.22), helpfully, offers additional insight:

Of course, there is a difference between using hyssop to sprinkle blood and using hyssop to support a sponge full of wine, but John shows considerable imagination in the adaptation of symbols. (In a way it is just as imaginative to see a reference to the paschal lamb in the fact that Jesus’ bones were not broken, but John 19:36 does not hesitate to make the connection.) It is difficult to apply rigorous logic to symbolism.31

Keener adds, “The very implausibility of the literal portrait reinforces the probability that John intended his audience to envision the symbolic allusion to Passover”32 (cf. John 1:29; Heb. 9:19ff). If this explains the significance of the hyssop in the Passion narrative—and it well may—this would be akin to the remez (deep meaning), or the sod (hidden meaning) in the Jewish midrashic approach to Scripture interpretation. Of course, in Paul’s writings especially, the Apostle describes Christ as the mystery, mystērion, now revealed (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:9; Col. 1:26).

part II
__________________________

1 My own translation in which I try to strike a balance between formal equivalency (“literal”, or ‘wooden’) and functional (dynamic) equivalency.  As a self-studying layman, I’ve relied on Accordance / OakTree Software (Version 11.2.4.0) using the NA28 text, various grammars, lexicons—including the BDAG (W. Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd. ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2000) and F. W. Danker’s The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2009)—and, as a final check, English translations. As an example of my methodology, for dipsō a formal equivalency would be I thirst, but of course this is not idiomatic English, which would instead be I am thirsty; however, considering the context, it would be improbable that Jesus would be even that ‘formal’, as He’d be more likely to speak colloquially, therefore, I’m thirsty is a more realistic functional equivalent. After arriving at this tentative conclusion, I checked some English versions finding a few with this rendering (ISV, Holman, GOD’s WORD).

2 Greek finite verbs encode person and number, and in this case it’s in the 3rd person singular, “it”, forming the complete sentence “It is finished.”

3 Craig Keener, The Gospel of John (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), p 1144.

4 See Keener, John, pp 1144-1145; cf. Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), p 252.

5 Blomberg, Historical Reliability, p 252.

6 See George R. Beasley-Murray, John, WBC (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), p 349; Keener, John, p 1144.

7 Keener, John, p 1145. The phraseology used by Jesus in 19:26-27 is reminiscent of adoption language: See Beasley-Murray, John, p 349; cf. Craig Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1995), pp 214-216.

8 Koester, Symbolism, p 254; cf. pp 215-216.

9 See B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, Westcott’s Commentaries on the Gospel of John, Ephesians, Hebrews, and the Epistles of John; Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), paragraph 5364-5 (John 19:28); cf. 4080 (13:1): Compare verse 28’s εἰδὼς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι with 13:1. Westcott’s commentary was originally written ca. late 1800s.

10 See Roger L. Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 2006), p 209.

11 While not enumerated as a plausible understanding within his work, this possibility came to me while reading D. A. Carson’s The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), p 619.

12 Given perceived theological importance concerning so that Scripture might be perfected, the translation here employs em dashes before and after the clause, in order to draw more attention to it, as compared to using parentheses, which tend to make parenthetical content more subdued.

13 Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015) states that the oxos here is “probably the drink known in Latin as posca . . . a common drink of the Roman army”, which “served to slake thirst, not exacerbate it” (p 401). Cf. Keener, John, p 1147.

14 Carson, According to John, p 619 (brackets in original, except “Ps. 69:21”).

15 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1978) asserts: “There can be little doubt that [Ps. 69.21 (LXX 68:22)] is the γραφή [graphē] in mind” (p 553).

16 See, e.g., Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), pp 987-988.

17 E.g., Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John, transl. G. R. Beasley-Murray, Gen Ed., R. W. N. Hoare & J. K. Riches (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1971), p 674.

18 E.g., Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, transl. J. Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), p 616.

19 Westcott, According to St. John, paragraph 5369; bracketed statements added. An editorial decision was made here in the last sentence of this quote. In its original form it reads: Thus under different aspects of this word and of that which it implies, prophecy, and the earthly work of Christ, and Christ Himself, were “made perfect.” The “and” preceding the earthly work of Christ was stricken, and the comma following Christ Himself was deleted for the sake of readability. This is not to slight Westcott, his editor(s), or the publisher—with modern word processors, it is much easier to edit today.

20 In the Westcott quote just above, the author notes that some manuscripts substitute plērōthȩ̄. While there are more than just a few ( Ds Θ ƒ1.13 (565) it), the evidence is decisively against its originality.

21 Bultmann, John, p 674; cf. Beasley-Murray, John, p 351.

22 John also uses the term four times in his first epistle, each time related to God’s love “perfecting” the believer (2:5, 4:12, 4:17; 4:18).

23 Respectively, Isa. 53:1; Ps. 41:9; Ps. 69:4 (cf. 35:19; 109.3); Ps. 22:18; Ps. 34:20.

24 There is also a reference to joy in John’s first epistle (1:4), another in 2 John (12); and, there are two additional references in Revelation: deeds (3:2) and number killed (6:11).

25 Not Bultmann’s “conclusive fulfillment of the entire Scriptures”, though the author may have meant to limit his statement to those referencing the cross. Relatedly, Luke (3:32) records Jesus’ words, “On the third day I will be ‘perfected’.”

26 Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary 22; Gen. Ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1992), p 419.

27 See note 13 above. Cf. Brown, According to John XIII-XXI, p 909.

28 See Brown, According to John XIII-XXI, pp 909-910; F. F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), p 373; Carson, John, pp 620-621.

29 Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, p 373.

30 Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2008), p 319

31 Brown, According to John XIII-XXI, p 930.

32 Keener, John, p 1147.

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7 Responses to It is Perfectly Finished, part I

  1. Angela says:

    Looking forward to Part 2.
    Very interesting, I will need to read this a few more times since you pack a lot of information.
    Thank you,
    Angela

  2. Craig says:

    Thanks for your comment. It was a very fruitful study.

  3. Pingback: It is Perfectly Finished, part I | A disciple's study

  4. anne says:

    I will have to spend weeks on this….very good…truth~

  5. Craig says:

    It took me weeks to put it together!

  6. Pingback: It is Perfectly Finished, part II | CrossWise

  7. Pingback: Corrections and Amendments on “It is Perfectly Finished” | CrossWise

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