Art Intimates Scripture: In the Winter of ‘The American Four Seasons’

24:36 “Now, concerning that day and hour, no one knows—not even the angels of heaven, and not even the Son—except the Father alone. 37 For as the days of Noah, so will be the Parousia of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the Flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark 39 —and they did not realize until the Flood came and carried them all away. So will be the Parousia of the Son of Man. 40 At that time, two men will be in the field: one is received and one is disregarded. 41 Two women will be grinding in the mill: one is received and one is disregarded.”1

What follows below is strictly my own interpretation and application of Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 2, aka The American Four Seasons. But the composer explicitly welcomes such individual interpretation:

[Robert McDuffie’s] interpretation, though similar to my own, proved to be also somewhat different. This struck me as an opportunity, then, for the listener to make his/her own interpretation. Therefore, there will be no instructions for the audience, no clues as to where Spring, Summer, Winter, and Fall might appear in the new concerto—an interesting, though not worrisome, problem for the listener. After all, if Bobby and I are not in complete agreement, an independent interpretation can be tolerated and even welcomed.2

A bit of background information is necessary to explain my interpretation/application. The concerto is composed in eight parts, with a prologue preceding the first movement, and each succeeding movement preceded by a song:

Prologue
Movement I
Song No. 1
Movement II
Song No. 2
Movement III
Song No. 3
Movement IV

The Prologue and songs are short solo violin pieces. In contrast, the movements incorporate the ensemble. The Prologue, then, serves as a prelude to Movement I, while the songs function as interludes bridging each Movement.

In view of its overall structure, each Movement correlates to one of the four seasons. It seems best to conceive these seasons as proceeding in order beginning with spring, then summer, fall, and winter. Thus far, this is fairly straightforward.

Digressing just a bit while providing additional context, I must say I really like this piece. I think it is fairly accessible, even to the Classical music hesitant (or Classical music “purist” put off by ‘minimalism’). Movement I may be the most ear-pleasing. The slower and more melancholic Movement II features some achingly beautiful moments, after which it segues into its waltz section—my favorite part of the concerto. The up-tempo Movement III lifts the mood of II, and its quasi-harpsichord accompaniment and occasional flourishes—played on a synthesizer—merges the past with the contemporary. Movement IV is the fastest and musically the ‘busiest’ of them all:

I interpret these movements as indicating segments of time in chronology—as opposed to literal seasons of a calendar year. As such, Movement I correlates to the birth of the USA and each successive Movement relates to subsequent time periods. Movement IV, then, represents the time period we are currently living within. The American Empire is in the winter of its existence.

The winter of America seems to be moving exponentially faster than previous seasons. Notice how Movement IV’s tempo quickens sharply, almost chaotically, just before it abruptly ends. I interpret that as analogous to the USA’s forthcoming demise.

Interestingly, Movement IV is seven minutes long. Just before its halfway mark it slows a bit, briefly pausing altogether before beginning anew. It returns to the original tempo, yet as it begins to decrease instrumentation, it appears to slow a bit. Following that, the full ensemble reenters. The violin plays faster arpeggios (the overall tempo remaining the same), until the tempo rapidly increases and the violinist speeds his bowing to match. Then the end.

Though the concerto was written specifically for Robert McDuffie (and it was premiered with this violinist featured), the above was performed by violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica ensemble. In the liner notes for this release, new seasons, Kremer remarks:

The subject of seasons in music has always interested me and has become the focus of a number of my recordings and concert programs . . . Why the seasons? Why “new seasons”? As an artist I’ve always tried to keep in step with the times. Time and seasons are virtually synonymous.3

In the Greek of the New Testament, “time” is chronos, while “season” (or “appointed/proper time”) is kairos. The latter term, kairos (as opposed to chronos), is used when referring to Jesus’ Parousia—His return to usher in the end of all things. [See Not One Parousia, But Two.] For example, kairos is found twice in the Parable of the Tenants (21:34 and 21:41). And the term is found just after the section of Scripture beginning this post:

24:42 “Therefore, be alert, because you do not know on what day our Lord is coming. 43 But be certain of this: If the owner of the house had known which segment of nighttime the thief was coming, he would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Considering this, you must also be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his master has put in charge of his household—the one giving them nourishment in season [kairos]? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master finds so doing when he comes! 47 Amen I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant should say in his heart, ‘My lord delays’ . . .”

How long till the closing of this American winter season I will not venture or dare to predict.  Yet I do suspect the end of the empire will come near the end of it all, though, again, I will not hazard a guess as to timing (concerning that day and hour, no one knows . . . except the Father alone). But I want to be ready, no matter the case.

Only time will tell in this season. Sadly, most will continue “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage”, oblivious to the coming wrath.

Let’s endeavor to keep each other alert.

_____________________________

1 After exegeting this passage, I consulted a few commentaries, especially regarding vv. 40 and 41. Some attempt to read too much into the context, construing 39’s ēren (“carried away” [some translate “taken away”, neglecting other nuances in the term]) as parallel to paralambanetai (“is received” [“is taken”, by many]) in 40 and 41, thereby concluding both refer to judgment. But this is clearly incorrect. 24:31 illustrates that the Son of Man sends His angels to “gather His elect” at His Parousia. This ‘gathering’ is what is referred to in paralambanetai in both 40 and 41. This is why I contrast “received” with “disregarded” in 40 and 41. One is “received” as part of the elect, the other is “disregarded” and s/he will be among those who will mourn (24:30). One is received as a child of God, the other is disregarded just as s/he disregarded the Son of Man. Donald A. Hagner (Matthew 14–28, WBC [Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1995]) is a fount of clarity here (24:40–41): “Presumably, those who are “taken” [ED: or “received”] are among the elect whom the angels of the Son of Man are to gather at his coming (v 31), while those who are left await the prospect of judgment. The application of these verses is made clear in the exhortation that follows” (p 720).

2 Taken from “NOTES” tab here: Philip Glass recordings: Violin Concerto No. 2 – The American Four Seasons 2010.

3 Liner notes to Gidon Kremer | Kremerata Baltica, new seasons (Glass, Pärt, Kancheli, Umebayashi), 00289 479 4817, © 2015 Deutsche Grammophon, GmbH, Berlin.

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Vengeance Is Not for Us, Rejoicing Is.

As the times grow ever more, uh, ‘challenging’, take time to reflect. Like medicine for the soul, reading and reflecting upon the Psalms can have a calming effect. It can be cathartic. I’m sure it was for David as he was writing at least some of his.

The Psalm for today is 58, one of David’s.1 Bear in mind “Sons of Men” here refers to kings, rulers, etc.

58:1 So you truly speak righteousness?

You judge properly, ‘Sons of Men’?

2 For even in your heart you practice lawlessness on the earth;

with your hands you weave unrighteousness.

3 Estranged are sinners from the womb,

astray from birth, they utter falsehoods,

4 their venom as that of a snake,

like a deaf cobra also plugging up its ears,

5 which hears not the sound of the charmer

or enticements invoked with skill.

6 God shall crush their teeth in their mouth;

The teeth of the ‘lions’, the Lord shall shatter.

7 They shall dissipate as water passing through.

He shall stretch His bow until they grow faint.

8 Like wax melted, they shall be taken away:

Fire rains upon them, and they cannot see the sun.

9 Before you fathom your thorns, the thorny bush as living,

as in wrath, it shall swallow you up.

10 The righteous shall rejoice upon seeing vengeance on the ungodly.

He shall wash his hands in the bloodshed of the sinful.

11 Then a man shall say, “Truly there is fruit for the righteous!

Truly there is a God judging them on the earth!”

____________________________________

1 Translated from the Septuagint/LXX 57. The main differences from the Masoretic Text (MT) are in verses 7b–9.

“By Your Pharmakeia Were All the Nations Misled”, Part II

[See Part I]

In the first part of this investigation we looked at the uses of pharmakeia, pharmakon, and pharmakos in the NT. The intent was and is to try to determine a more precise meaning for pharmakeia in our subject verse, Revelation 18:23:

18:21 Then a mighty angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “In similar fashion, with violence shall Babylon the megalopolis be thrown, and she shall never be found again! 22 The sound of singing harpists and of musicians, flautists, trumpeters shall never be heard in you again. And never shall any kind of craftsman of any trade be found in you again. Noise from a mill shall never be heard in you again. 23 Lamplight shall never shine in you again. And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the distinguished persons of the earth, because by your pharmakeia were all the nations/peoples misled. 24 And in her, blood of prophets and holy ones/saints was found, and all those who had been slain upon the earth.”

Below is a more expansive look at the use of pharmakeia. We will survey literature contemporaneous with the NT era. Later we will view material in the Greek Old Testament (OT), known as the Septuagint, aka LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, ca. 200 BC). And we will also look at synonyms of the pharma– nouns for comparison.

What It Does Not Mean

Sometimes determining what a word does not mean can aid in determining what it does mean. Immense help in this sort of investigation comes from Louw & Nida’s (L&N) Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains (2nd ed.).8 Rather than sorting alphabetically, this lexicon categorizes terms by definitions, synonyms grouped together. Under the broad category Religious Activities (category 53) is the subdomain Magic (53.96–53.101), which includes the pharma- nouns. Within these definitions is the following crucial note:

Pharmakeia and the variant pharmakon (as in Re 9:21) differ from the preceding terms (53.96–53.99) in that the focus is upon the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells.9

In other words, 53.100 (both pharmakeia and pharmakon), as well as 53.101 (pharmakos) include ‘focus upon certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells’. Conversely, the words correlating to 53.96, 97, 98, and 99 do not focus upon potions, drugs and casting spells.

The L&N lexicon appears to differ from Danker’s in this comment about potions and drugs. Or does it? Following is the L&N definition for pharmakeia and pharmakon (53.100): the use of magic, often involving drugs and the casting of spells upon people—‘to practice magic, to cast spells upon, to engage in sorcery, magic, sorcery.’10 If we take the “often” in the definition here and reconcile it with “the focus is upon” in the above note, we might understand this to mean that the pharma– nouns often, though not exclusively, refer to “the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells”. Therefore, many times they do, but sometimes they don’t. This, then, would not contradict Danker’s definition: ‘manipulation through incantations, spells, substances, or combinations thereof’, sorcery, magic.11

Now we shall investigate the synonyms to the pharma– nouns—those that do not focus upon using potions or drugs and casting spells (53.96–53.99).

The first synonym is the verb mageuō and its noun form mageia (53.96): to practice magic, presumably by invoking supernatural powers—‘to practice magic, to employ witchcraft, magic.’12 Both forms are found introducing the account of Simon, known as Simon Magus, in Acts 8:

Acts 8:9 A particular man named Simon was formerly in the city practicing mageuō and amazing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. 10 All, from the least to the greatest, began paying attention to him, exclaiming, “This one is the power of God called ‘Great’!”  11 And they continued paying attention to him, because of the long time he had amazed them with mageia.

Next is the noun form for the practitioner of the above, magos: (53.97): one who practices magic and witchcraft—‘magician.’13 The account of Elymas Bar-Jesus contains two occurrences in reference to him:

Acts 13:6 After traveling through the whole island up to Paphos, they found a certain man, a magos, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. He [Paulus] summoned Barnabas and Paul, wanting to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas, the magos—for this interprets his name14—began opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul from the faith.

(Read the rest of the account to see how Paul handles Elymas’ attempt at deception!)

The next synonym is baskainō (53.98): to bewitch a person, frequently by the use of the evil eye with evil intent—‘to bewitch, to practice magic on’ . . . Baskainō differs from mageuō ‘to practice magic’ (53.96) in that the former [baskainō] involves the use of so-called ‘black magic’.15 The sole NT occurrence of this word is used by the Apostle Paul in response to the Galatian ekklēsia upon learning they began Mosaic Law observance. It seems possible, if not probable, Paul is being a bit sarcastic and hyperbolic here, not literalistic:

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who baskainō you!

The final synonym for analysis here is periergos (53.99): the use of magic based on superstition—‘magic, witchcraft’.16 The only usage in the NT is in reference to those who burned their occult works after accepting Christ:

Acts 19:19 Many of those who practiced periergos gathered their books and burned them in front of everybody.

From this investigation we see that there are a number of synonyms to the pharma– nouns in the NT that do not encode ‘potions or drugs and the casting of spells’ as part of their definitions. And baskainō encodes ‘black magic’ as part of its definition, while mageuō/mageia/magos does not. And since the definitions of the pharma– nouns do not include ‘black magic’ in either Danker or L&N, we might assume these do not encode it either.

Venturing Outside the NT

These distinctions will prove useful as we survey extra-Biblical works written by those commonly known as the Apostolic Fathers (AF). The writers of these works are believed to have had contact with the first century Biblical Apostles. The works span part of the first and into the second centuries AD, all roughly contemporaneous with the NT era.

Since we are now venturing outside the NT, it would be prudent to provide more suitable definitions. These are found in the BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. One must be judicious in using this resource, however, for, as the title indicates, it includes ‘other early Christian literature’. Moreover, besides including definitions for the AF, it also contains definitions for “Selected Apocrypha”, the OT (LXX), “Intertestamental/Pseudepigraphical Literature”, “Inscriptions”, “Papyri/Parchments and Ostraca”, and “Writers and Writings of Antiquity”.17 Therefore, one must be careful not to apply a definition that is appropriate for an earlier work/period to the NT era (this could be anachronistic18). With that clarified, here are the relevant definitions (transliterated):19

mageia, a rite or rites ordinarily using incantations designed to influence/control transcendent powers, magic20

This definition is much like L&N above. Though it includes “incantations”, these are not spells cast upon others; these are, like L&N states, ‘to invoke supernatural powers’.

pharmakeia, sorcery, magic21

pharmakeus, maker of potions, magician22

pharmakeu, to make potions, practice magic23

pharmakon, Primarily ‘a drug’, ordinarily contexts indicate whether salubrious or noxious. 1. a harmful drug, poison 2. a drug used as a controlling medium, magic potion, charm 3. a healing remedy, medicineremedy, drug24

pharmakos, 1. one skilled in arcane uses of herbs or drugs, probably poisoner 2. one who does extraordinary things through occult means, sorcerer, magician25

Most of the above aligns with Danker (see previous segment). However, note the increased focus on making potions/drugs (-keus/-keuō/-kon/-kos). Taken all together, it seems like “magic” here primarily involves making potions/drugs. Yet, there must be some distinction between “magic” in the pharma– words and “magic” in mageia. We must keep this in mind as we go along.

Four occurrences of mageia or mageuō are found in the AF, and three of these are in contexts which also include pharmakeia or its verb form pharmakeuō. The first one we will look at is the one excluding any of the pharma– words. This is found in Ignatius of Antioch’s epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 19:3 Consequently, all mageia and every kind of bondage began to loosen, the ignorance of evil began to disappear, the old kingdom began to be abolished—being destroyed by the appearing of God in human form, Who brought newness of eternal life—only when what had been finished by God began to be received.

Next we will look at two selections from Didachē (Greek: Δίδαχή, literally “teaching”), typically dated to the first century (or early second).26 Both include forms of pharmakeia and mageia side-by-side in a list of prohibitions/vices. This fact of occurring side-by-side, of course, implies a clear distinction between the two.

Did. 2:1 The second commandment of this teaching is: 2 You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery [moicheuō], you shall not molest children [paidophthoreō], you shall not commit sexual immorality [porneuō], you shall not steal, you shall not mageuō, you shall not pharmakeuō, you shall not murder a child by miscarriage [i.e., abortion] or kill the born [i.e. infanticide], you shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions.

Take careful note as to how the above is grouped. Three sexual sins are listed in a row (one against children), abortion and infanticide are listed one after the other, and in between these two groupings are mageuō and pharmakeuō one next to the other. Each of the three groupings contains similarly-themed terms, but each term within each grouping is individually distinct, different in nuance.

Did. 5:1 But the path of death is this: First of all, it is evil and entirely cursed—murders, adulteries, inordinate lusts, sexual immoralities, thefts, idolatries, mageia, pharmakeia, extortions, false testimonies, hypocrisies . . .

The above is not grouped quite as well as the other selection from Didachē. However, once again, mageia is right next to pharmakeia. Below is the final occurrence of the two terms together, side-by-side. This is from the Epistle of Barnabas, and it is quite similar to the immediately preceding selection:

Barn. 20:1 But the path of the black one is crooked and entirely cursed, for it is a path of eternal death with punishment, in which is the destroying of all the souls—idolatry, audacity, exaltation of power, hypocrisy, duplicity, adultery, murder, extortion, arrogance, transgression, deceit, malice, stubbornness, pharmakeia, mageia, greed, lack of the fear of God.

There are two passages containing pharmakon, which also, helpfully, include adjectives to assist in defining them. This eliminates the necessity of providing any further context. The first is from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians (6:2): thanasimos pharmakon, “deadly poison/potion”, or “deadly drug”. The next one is from Papias of Hierapolis (3:9): dēlētērios pharmakon, “destructive poison/potion”, “harmful drug”.

Two more passages contain pharmakon. The first one we shall investigate is again from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 20:2 . . . that you come together in one faith and one Jesus Christ—Who according to the flesh is from the lineage of David, Who is son of man and Son of God—in order that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the pharmakon of immortality [athanasia], the antidote against dying, but rather to live everlastingly in Jesus Christ.27

Clearly, the term means “medicine” in the above. The word for “immortality” (athanasia) is the same word Paul uses in 1Cor 15:53–54 to refer to our spiritual (non-flesh and blood) bodies we receive at “the last trumpet” (1Cor 15:52).28

The final pharmakon appears in The Shepherd of Hermas, in which the term occurs twice and in context with two occurrences of pharmakos, as well:

Shep. 17:6 (3.9.6) Look, therefore, you who exult in your riches, lest those in need groan, and their groaning rise up to the Lord, and you be excluded, with your goods outside the gate of the tower. 7 (3.9.7) Now, therefore, I say to you, those leading the ekklēsia and in the exalted chairs, do not be like the pharmakos[pl]. For the pharmakos[pl] indeed take up their pharmakon[pl] in wooden boxes, but you [take up] your pharmakon and its poison [ios] into your heart.

The context defines the terms. The pharmakos (plural pharmakoi) make substances, pharmakon (plural), and we can infer that these are poisonous. The leaders, those in the exalted seats, are like the pharmakos in that they also carry poison (not in literal ‘wooden boxes’, but, figuratively, in their exalted chairs) but they take it into their own hearts. The Shepherd is using plays on words here (“to exult”, “rise up”, “exalted”, “take up”).

Tentative Findings

From our investigation of synonyms in the NT and in Christian-themed works contemporary (or nearly contemporary) with the NT, in conjunction with our more expansive survey of pharma- words in these extra-Biblical works, we can arrive at some tentative findings. Comparing the pharma- terms with these synonyms has helped to better define both the pharma- terms and the mag- terms. Though it would be intellectually dishonest to completely take these findings and impose them onto our subject verse (Rev 18:23), it seems we have enough data to come a tentative conclusion: pharmakeia is more likely than not to include “potions” or “drugs” in its definition—understood as carrying negative connotations, of course (not “remedies” or “medicines”).

The next part, the conclusion will survey the LXX, which will include both the Greek OT and works known as the apocrypha (or deuterocanon [literally, “second canon”] in some traditions).

_______________________

8 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988, 1989) Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.4.

9 This is under 53.100 pharmakeia, p 545. Greek transliterated.

10 L&N, p 545, bold added.

11 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 370.

12 L&N, p 545.

13 L&N, p 545. Note that this same term is used for the Three Wise Men in Matthew 2. L&N categorizes this usage under Understanding: Capacity for Understanding, with the following definition: a person noted for unusual capacity of understanding based upon astrology (such persons were regarded as combining both secular and religious aspects of knowledge and understanding) . . . (p 385).

14 From the ISBE (S. F. Hunter, “Bar-Jesus”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st ed. [1915] prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.5): “Elymas is said to be the interpretation of his name (Acts 13:8). It is the Greek transliteration of an Aramaic or Arabic word equivalent to Greek μάγος [magos]. From Arabic ‘alama, ‘to know’ is derived ʾalı̄m, ‘a wise’ or ‘learned man’” (paragraph 7611).

15 L&N, p 545, bold added. Since there is some uncertainty as to its nuance and application here, the editors also place this word under Moral and Ethical Qualities and Related Behaviors: Mislead, Lead Astray, Deceive (88.159): to deceive a person by devious or crafty means, with the possibility of a religious connotation in view of the literal meaning ‘to bewitch’ . . . It is also possible that baskainō in Ga 3:1 is to be understood in the sense of bewitching by means of black magic . . . (L&N, p 760). Nonetheless, I take Paul’s words as hyperbole, sarcasm, not literal.

16 L&N, p 545.

17 BDAG, pp xxxi–li. Many thanks once again to the late Rodney Decker for providing a learning shortcut: BDAG (scroll down to second post “BDAG” dated October 10, 2012, then scroll further down to hyperlink “A Basic Introduction to BDAG” to open a PowerPoint.

18 Words may change over time, with nuances added or subtracted.

19 Of the other synonyms in the NT, none proved to help in our analysis here. Periergos occurs only one time, but there the connotation is “meddling” or “curious”. As to baskainō, it appears more often and in two other (noun and adjective) forms, but none of these appeared to mean “bewitched” in some black magic sense; the terms connote “begrudge” or “envy”.

20 BDAG, p 608.

21 BDAG, p 1049.

22 BDAG, p 1050.

23 BDAG, p 1050.

24 BDAG, p 1050.

25 BDAG, p 1050.

26 The work as we have it today appears to be a composite, seemingly redacted over the course of time. The ISBE (J. R. Michaels, “Apostolic Fathers”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, G. W. Bromiley Gen. Ed., Rev. Ed., [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979]) states: “Total agreement is seldom possible as to which forms are primitive and which are later adaptations. Therefore, it is difficult to speak about dates, but the compilation of purportedly apostolic material under the name of the apostles as a group [ED: complete title is The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations] indicates the apostles are already figures of the past. This together with the apparent use of Matthew’s Gospel tends to suggest a date of composition in the 2nd cent., though many specific elements . . . may well go back to the apostolic age and even perhaps to the early days of the Jerusalem church” (p 207).

27 This text is used to support the “real presence” doctrine, but one must understand Ignatius through his strong use of metaphorical expression. See the White Horse blog for explanation of how Ignatius is not teaching the “real presence” (much less Transubstantiation): Eating Ignatius.

28 Note also that athanasia (noun) is the opposite (the prefix a negating it) of thanasimos (adjective) in the selection from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians just above.

“By Your Pharmakeia Were All the Nations Misled”

[See Part II]

In Scripture, as in all literature, a word takes on meaning only in its specific context. But sometimes the immediate context (sentence, paragraph) does not shed enough light to provide precise meaning. In such instances, broadening the scope by viewing the entire Biblical book, or the New Testament (NT) as a whole, may further illuminate. However, there are cases which require a more panoramic lens. The untranslated pharmakeia in the title to this article provides such an example.1

As the reader can readily perceive, the modern words pharmacy, pharmacist, pharmaceutical, and pharmacology are derived from this Greek word. But it would be wrong to automatically (and anachronistically) impose modern definitions upon the NT era.

This article’s title is taken from the final clause in Revelation 18:23. The noun pharmakeia and its related noun forms occur only five times in the entire NT. Four are in Revelation (Apocalypse of Jesus Christ).2 The remaining instance finds itself in Paul’s description of living by the flesh (as opposed to the Spirit) in Galatians:

5:19 Now the works [ergon] of the flesh are obvious, which are: sexual immorality, moral impurity, lewdness, 20 idolatry, pharmakeia, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, rivalries, dissensions, discriminations, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousals, and such things similar to these. All these I tell you to forewarn you as before: All those who engage in such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

In this context, pharmakeia clearly carries a negative connotation.  English versions translate it either “sorcery” (ESV, NASB, NET, HCSB, ERV) or “witchcraft” (KJV, NIV, ISV, YLT). But what do these English words mean exactly?

F. W. Danker’s The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament will assist here.3 As its title suggests, Danker’s concise lexicon focuses strictly on the NT. Following are the relevant words (transliterated), with corresponding Scripture references:4

pharmakeia: [{from} pharmakeus ‘specialist in mixing drugs/potions’] ‘manipulation through incantations, spells, substances, or combinations thereof’, sorcery, magic Gal 5:20; Rv 9:21 [variant]; 18:23.

pharmakon: ‘a mixture of various items designed to manipulate’, magic potion, charm Rv 9:21.

pharmakos: [= pharmakeus see pharmakeia] ‘an expert in manipulation through occult means’, sorcerer, magician Rv 21:8; 22:15.

So, from the above definitions we see what these nouns pertain to: pharmakos is the person who manipulates, pharmakon is the method or mixture of methods used for manipulation, and pharmakeia is the word used for this type of manipulation. Thus, the practice of pharmakeia (manipulation) is performed by a pharmakos (manipulator), who uses a pharmakon (manipulating method or mixture) for such manipulative purposes. This manipulation is occultic, as in sorcery or magic (witchcraft), and may or may not involve substances (drugs or potions).

The contexts in Revelation follow, in chronological order.

9:20 And the rest of humankind—those who were not been killed by these plagues—did not repent of the works [ergon] of their hands, so that they would not worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see, hear, or walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders, their pharmakon[pl], their sexual immorality, or their thefts.

The subscripted “pl” indicates plural (pharmakōn) instead of singular. The “they” in 9:21 refers to “the rest of humankind—those who were not killed by these plagues” (9:20). Observe in Danker’s definitions above there is the note in brackets “variant”. Some manuscripts have pharmakeia instead of pharmakon here in 9:21. In the case of the text as it stands (pharmakon), this refers to the methods or mixtures; the variant (pharmakeia), the practices of it. Whatever the case, the context does not assist in determining specific meaning.

Moving on to the next context, which contains our subject verse:

18:21 Then a mighty angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “In similar fashion, with violence shall Babylon the megalopolis5 be thrown, and she shall never be found again! 22 The sound of singing harpists and of musicians, flautists, trumpeters shall never be heard in you again. And never shall any kind of craftsman of any trade be found in you again. Noise from a mill shall never be heard in you again. 23 Lamplight shall never shine in you again. And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the distinguished persons of the earth, because by your pharmakeia were all the nations/peoples misled. 24 And in her, blood of prophets and holy ones/saints was found, and all those who had been slain upon the earth.”

So Babylon misled—or will mislead—all the nations/peoples by her pharmakeia. There appears to be a causal relationship between Babylon’s pharmakeia misleading the nations and Babylon’s merchants being “the distinguished persons of the earth”. In other words, Babylon’s merchants were “distinguished persons” seemingly as a result of her pharmakeia misleading “all the nations”. The NET Bible explicitly interprets it that way: For your merchants were the tycoons of the world, because all the nations were deceived by your [pharmakeia]! Stated another way, by Babylon’s manipulative deception (pharmakeia) her merchants were “the distinguished persons of the earth” (became wealthy?).

The next occurrence is in Revelation 21:8. The larger context describes the forthcoming new heaven and new earth, the Holy City and the New Jerusalem (21:1–2). A “voice from the Throne” relates how God’s dwelling place will then be with His people (21:3–4):

21:5 Then the One sitting on the Throne said, “Take note! I make all things new.” Adding, He said, “Write, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And then He said to me, “These things6 have come to fruition! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. To the thirsty I will freely give from the spring of the water of life. 7 The one who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son7 (or daughter). 8 But to those who are cowardly and unbelieving, to the abominable, to murderers, the sexually immoral, pharmakos[pl], idolaters, and all falsifiers, their portion shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

In the above, the term (in its plural pharmakoi) occurs in a list (like 9:21), making it impossible to determine precise meaning. The final instance is also in a list and is thematically similar. As an aside, note that the immediately preceding section has “the One sitting on the Throne” as speaker, while below it is the glorified Jesus:

22:12 Behold! I am coming soon. And with Me is My rewards, to repay each one according to his own work [ergon]. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have their right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the ‘dogs’, the pharmakos[pl], the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone loving and practicing falsehood.

So, once again, the context of this term here (again in its plural form pharmakoi) is insufficient to help us determine anything more than a general idea as to its meaning.

Summarizing all the above, the context of Rev 18:23 does not provide enough illumination to resolve the question of the precise definition of pharmakeia. Disappointingly, the other occurrences of pharmakeia/kon/kos in the NT, though thematically similar (carrying negative connotations within lists), fail to shed any additional light on our subject verse.

Part II will widen the scope. This additional survey will certainly prove beneficial, illuminating. But will it be enough to solidify the meaning of pharmakeia in Revelation 18:23? More pointedly, will we be able to determine with any confidence whether or not the term implies that drugs or potions are included in its meaning here?

_______________________________________________

1 A synchronic study would be strictly NT, though could include some extra-biblical works of the NT era. A broader approach, to include pre- and/or post-NT literature, would be a diachronic study. By necessity, we will venture a bit into diachrony here.

2 The Inscriptio, the “title” of Revelation, is Apokalypsis Iōannou, “Apocalypse of John” (with manuscript variations), but it is doubtful this was present originally. It was probably added by later copyists. The first three words of the book begin with Apokalypsis Iēsou Christou, Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. This is more likely the ‘title’ of the Book—or, better, the beginning of its longer title. According to, e.g., David Aune (Revelation 1–5, Word Biblical Commentary, 52A [Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997]): “[W]hether the author gave his work a title originally is uncertain; titles were often regarded as superfluous for works intended for oral recitation (such as Revelation [ED: see 1:3: Blessed is the one who reads and those who hear . . .]), for their ‘titles’ were inherent in the opening lines. It is therefore relatively certain that the first sentence of the book in 1:1–2 was intended by the author to function as a title” (pp 3–4). Nevertheless, for our purposes here we will retain the more common “Revelation” as the title.

3 F. W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago UP, 2009). Danker is the “D” in “BDAG” (The letters correlate to the first letter in each of the last names of those involved in the project: Walter Bauer, Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich), considered the standard lexicon for NT Greek studies, namely, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago UP, 2000). The late Rodney Decker wrote: “. . . [Danker’s] Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [is] a 400 page lexicon published in 2009. (A 400 page lexicon can only be called “concise” by comparison with the 1,100 pages of BDAG!) This was not an abridgment of BDAG, but a new work (though obviously dependent in many ways on the larger lexicon).”

4 All definitions are taken from Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 370.

5 English versions typically render hē megalē polis as “the great city”, but I prefer “the megalopolis”, for this leaves room to mean either ‘one large city’ or ‘an urban region consisting of several adjoining cities and suburbs’. I think the latter makes better sense.

6 I interpret the implied subject in the 3rd person plural gegonan here to be either hoitoi hoi logoi (“these words”) or panta kaina (“all things new”).

7 This is a paraphrase of the Davidic covenant in 2Samuel 7:14: I will be his Father, and he will be My son.

Escorting the King of Kings?

In the previous article (Rapture Ready?) on the pre-tribulation ‘Rapture’ (PTR) we looked at, among other things, the primary passage used to support the doctrine, namely 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17. Parallel and similarly-themed passages to these Thessalonian verses—ones mentioning a “trumpet” in the context of the gathering of believers (both dead and alive)—were shown not to support the PTR. In fact, these parallel passages suggest a completely different understanding, which in turn suggests a non-PTR interpretation in the Thessalonian passage.

In this post we will more closely analyze this same passage. Understanding Paul’s primary and secondary purposes in preparing this passage will further support our non-PTR position. At the same time, this may provoke other intriguing lines of inquiry.

Additional Revelation

Before proceeding further, however, I shall provide two additional passages relating to Jesus’ Parousia. These were left off the preceding article due to length. They are presented here as further evidence for the previous article’s stance as well as background for the current one. Both are from Revelation. The first is the seventh of seven trumpets (cf. Rev 10:7), which is the last trumpet of all:

11:15 Then the seventh angel trumpeted, and [then] there were loud voices in heaven, saying: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. 16 Then the twenty-four elders, who sit upon their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God 17 saying: We give you thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and reign. 18 The nations/people were enraged, but then came your wrath and the time for the dead to be judged—and to reward your bond-servants: the prophets, the saints, and those who fear your name, the small and the great—and to destroy those who destroy the earth.

The above passage has its own focal points, yet this last of seven trumpets is certainly the same as the “last trumpet” of 1Corinthians 15:52—and, as pointed out in the previous article, the Corinthian passage is a parallel to 1Thess 4:15–17. Though the Parousia and the gathering of the saints are not explicitly mentioned, both are implied, given the other similarly-themed passages which do mention them. That is, the Parousia and gathering are assumed to be nearly coincident with the trumpet sound yet prior to he shall reign forever and ever (compare And so we shall be forever with the Lord in 1Thess 4:17). Judgment, in both its negative (“wrath”) and positive (“reward”) aspects, is one of the foci (cf. Matt 25:31–46, the sheep and goats). And judgment is the sole focus of the remaining Revelation passage we will explore:

14:14 Then I saw—behold!—a white cloud. And sitting upon this cloud was one like a son of man—upon his head a golden crown and in his hand a sharp sickle. 15 And then another angel/messenger came out of the temple crying out in a loud voice to the one sitting upon the cloud: Apply your sickle and reap! For the hour has come to reap, because ripe is the earth’s harvest. 16 And the one sitting upon the clouds thrust his sickle upon the earth and the earth was harvested.

The imagery of one like a son of man seated upon this cloud evokes both Daniel 7:13 (cf. Rev 1:7, 13–14) and Matt 24:30. One might initially mistake this passage as indicating negative judgment (cf. Joel 3:13)—perhaps especially considering the “sharp sickle” symbol—but that would misinterpret the ‘reaping of the harvest’ metaphor here and in its broader context. See Matt 3:11–12/Luke 3:16–17 and the parable of the weeds (Matt 13:24–30) for comparison. To keep in proper context, this Revelation passage (14:14–16) should be contrasted with the wrath of God expressly stated in the verses immediately following it (14:17–20;1 cf. 1Thess 5:3). Thus, Revelation 14:14–16 is the harvesting of believers—though no distinction is made between those still alive and the dead in Christ.

As Paul states in 1Thess 5:9: For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are saved from wrath, but not necessarily from tribulation (just ask the Thessalonians). We may suffer at the hands of our enemies (or not), but we will not suffer God’s wrath. Believers are whisked away just prior to God’s wrath pouring out upon the earth on the Day of the Lord.

A Closer Look

Now we will scrutinize the Thessalonians passage, adding verse 18 (1Thess 4:13–18):

4:13 Now brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping, so that you will not grieve as the rest—those who have no hope. 14 For since we believe Jesus died and rose again, in this way also God will bring those who have fallen asleep through Jesus along with Him [Jesus]. 15 For this we say to you, by word of the Lord: We who are alive, those remaining until the coming [Parousia] of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 Because He, the Lord, will descend from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; 17 then we who are alive, those remaining, shall be caught up [harpazō, ‘raptured’] together along with them, in the clouds, to meet [eis apantēsin] the Lord in the air. And so we shall be forever with the Lord. 18 So, encourage one another with these words.

Paul opens with a plea for the Thessalonians not to grieve about the dead in Christ (13–14) and closes with an exhortation to encourage each other (18). There seems to have been some mistaken notion about the ‘fate’ of the dead in Christ (13–14). The Thessalonian ekklēsia was primarily, if not exclusively, from a pagan background.2 Accordingly, they believed the dead had no positive future. Thus, Paul wanted to remind (or apprise) them of our future resurrection hope (14–17)—and the disposition of those surviving until Jesus’ Parousia. This future meeting of all believers dead and alive with Christ at the Parousia would provide the reason they could “encourage one another” (18) in the (then) present time.

So, Paul’s primary objective in this passage was to correct their misunderstanding—whatever this was exactly—regarding the dead in Christ (“those who have fallen asleep through Jesus”). And, toward this end, Paul quite likely went beyond what most English readers would perceive. That is, in his use of the verb harpazō (“caught up”) he may well have consciously repurposed this term (17) from pagan ideology, as Malherbe asserts:

Of special interest is the consolation tradition, which casts light on Paul’s use [of harpazō] and shows once more how he turns conventional expressions to a pastoral use. Epitaphs lament Fate’s snatching (harpazein) away the dead from their loved ones to Hades . . . Letters of condolence then use harpazein and its cognates in addressing or speaking of the grief stricken . . .

 . . . [Paul’s] purpose is to console . . . The dead in Christ will rise, and their separation from those who were left is overcome as, ironically, they are snatched up together with them. In a neat twist, Paul uses the conventional language of grief to comfort. He does not say who snatches them up, but v 14 would seem to indicate that it is God who gathers them together by snatching them up.3

In other words, Paul took a term (harpazō) with a negative connotation and inverted it. Instead of “Fate” ‘snatching’ all the dead to Hades forever, God will ‘snatch’ the dead in Christ together with those believers still alive at Jesus’ Parousia. We will all then meet Him “in the air”. The Apostle linguistically ties this idea together in his use of “along with Him [Jesus]” (syn autō̹) in verse 14 and “together along with them” (hama syn autois) in 17. In verse 14 God will bring/lead the dead in Christ along with Jesus, i.e., once the dead arise as Jesus had done God will snatch them (together with those yet alive) to meet Jesus in the air (17).4 As Paul states in his first Corinthian epistle, For the [last] trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (15:52).

In service of his primary objective, Paul necessarily had to explain some end time events. However, importantly, this was subsidiary. Similarly, in the immediately following section (5:1–11), Paul’s primary purpose is again pastoral, with a brief explanation of eschatology toward that goal. As Green helpfully explains in his overview of 1Thessalonians 5:1–11,

The purpose of the whole discussion of this theme is pastoral and not speculative (v. 11; cf. 4:13, 18). Paul demonstrates no interest in fueling an apocalyptic perspective in order to hypothesize about the end or to foster escapism. The teaching about final events is meant to inform and encourage them in their daily life and conduct. Clear thinking about the end is designed to help them live as true Christians in the present.5

The Day of the Lord comes as “a thief in the night” (5:2) solely with respect to unbelievers (5:3), not to believers, who will not be caught by surprise (5:4; cf. Luke 21:29–31). Importantly, note that Paul linguistically ties this section together with the previous section (1Thess 4:13–18): “Jesus died for us, so whether awake [alive] or sleeping [dead] we will live together along with Him (hama syn autō̹)” (5:10). Following this affirmation, Paul provides his concluding exhortation (5:11).

Where Do We Go From There?

An unanswered question in the Thessalonians passage—and not explicitly answered elsewhere in Scripture—is this: Where do we go after meeting Jesus “in the air”? Clearly, at the Parousia Jesus will descend from heaven (16), while believers will be caught up with Him “in the clouds” (17). One comes down, the others up. But once we meet “in the air”, where do we believers go? Do believers and Jesus go together, or do believers continue on to one destination, while Jesus proceeds to another?

In the PTR view, Jesus reverses course and believers continue on, escorting Him to heaven.6 But the analyses in this and the preceding article related to it have shown the PTR view to be insupportable when placed in the broader context of Scripture as a whole. Taking the similarly-themed passages as a group, the most logical movement for Jesus is to continue earthward, or, alternatively, to remain in the clouds to pour out His wrath upon the earth from there. Where, then, would believers go (or remain)? Scripture elsewhere records judgment/rewards at the end of the age (e.g., Daniel 12:1–3; John 5:28–29).

The remainder of this article will be necessarily speculative in probing for answers to this question of movement and/or destination. To be clear at the outset, I do not wish to make any firm conclusions from any of the data presented below. I am merely providing the following as intriguing [to me anyway] food for thought. That said, let’s dive into the data!

In 1Thess 4:16 the first command could be understood as a battle cry (see various English versions: “shout of command”, “cry of command”, etc.). And the “trumpet of God” could be similarly understood. Adding the “voice of the archangel”, Witherington observes, “The images are martial, as if Jesus were summoning His army.”7 These images accord well with the battle imagery of the Rider on the White Horse (Rev 19:11–16). Note that His army here includes those “wearing fine linen, pure white” (19:14; cf. 19:7–8; 7:9, 13–14). And Paul states something intriguing in 1Cor 6:2–3, almost in passing: “Do you not know that the saints/holy ones (hoi agioi) will judge the world? . . . Do you not know we will judge angels?” When are we to judge the world and the angels? Whatever the timing, this idea must be harmonized with God’s clear words, “Vengeance is mine” (Deut 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).

In another article on CrossWise it was noted that the term Parousia had been used in antiquity for the fanfare surrounding the arrival of a king, ruler, or dignitary (see definition A2 here). The ISBE records how parousia was found in various inscriptions, noting specifically its application to the Greek god of medicine:

In Hellenistic Greek it was used for the arrival of a ruler at a place, as is evidenced by inscriptions in Egypt, Asia Minor, etc. Indeed, in an Epidaurus inscription of the 3rd century BC…‘Parousia’ is applied to a manifestation of Aesculapius [Aσκληπιός Asklēpiós]. Consequently, the adoption of Greek-speaking Christians of a word that already contained full regal and even Divine concepts was perfectly natural.8

Considering their pagan background, surely the Thessalonians understood Paul’s intention behind his use of Parousia. Such a regal backdrop can add substance to the battle imagery noted earlier. But there is even more to consider here.

The words translated “to meet” in 1Thess 4:17 are from the Greek eis apantēsin. This is an accusative (direct object) phrase, and the infinitive “to meet” in translation is somewhat of a compromise. The Greek is actually a preposition (eis, “into”, “in”, “for”) and noun (apantēsin, “meeting”). We might think of it more along the lines of eis martyrian in John 1:7: “This man came for testimony, to witness about the Light.” As such it would be more like: “for a meeting with the Lord in the air”.9

With that background, we can proceed further. Two different Christian sources claim this noun apantēsis (in its accusative form apantēsin) carried particular significance in Hellenistic culture:

According to 1 Th. 4:17 . . . there will be a rapture eis apantēsin tou kyriou eis aera [“to meet the Lord in the air”]. The word apantēsis (also hupantēsis . . .) is to be understood as a technical term for a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors. Similarly, when Christians leave the gates of the world, they will welcome Christ in the aēr [“air”], acclaiming Him as kyrios [“Lord”].10

The word seems to have been a kind of technical term for the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary—a usage which accords excellently with its New Testament usage.11

Before exploring the New Testament (NT) examples, a selection from historian Polybius (Histories, V 26:8–9) will illustrate its usage in Hellenistic culture near-contemporaneous with Scripture. Note that Polybius also uses a verb form (apantaō) of this noun to restate the initial meeting, and he uses a separate verb (gignomai, “came”) to record the escort back to Corinth:

So, with Apelles nearing Corinth, Leontius, Ptolemy and Megaleas—commanders of the foot soldiers and the other army divisions—with great urgency, spurred the young men to go for the meeting [eis tēn apantēsin] with him [Apelles]. Consequently, Apelles came [to Corinth] with great fanfare, due to the multitude of soldiers and officers who had come to meet [apantēsantōn] him, and marched directly to the royal court.12

Note that the welcoming party would first go out with the purpose of meeting the dignitary en route, and then turn back toward their own locale to accompany him for the remainder of his journey.

Backing up for a moment, it might prove beneficial to further define both apantēsis and hupantēsis. Each is a compound of a preposition + noun. The first is from the verb apantaō: apo (“from”) + antaō (from anti, meaning “against”, “opposite”, “instead of”). Danker defines the term ‘come opposite to’, hence ‘meet face to face’.13 The second is from the verb hupantaō: hupo (“under”, “below”) + antaō, defined as draw up close for encounter.14 The two are synonyms but may well have different nuances, depending on context.

The first NT passage we will explore is, appropriately, in the long discourse on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:1–25:46), which contains Jesus’ teaching on the end times. The passage in question is known as The Parable of the Ten Virgins:

25:1 “At that time the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins taking their lamps to meet [eis hupantēsin] the Bridegroom. 2 Now five of them were foolish, yet five wise. 3 For the foolish taking their lamps had not taken any oil with them, 4 but the wise had taken flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 Because of the Bridegroom’s long delay, they all became tired and fell asleep. 6 But in the middle of the night came a shout, ‘Look, the Bridegroom! Come out to meet [eis apantēsin] Him!’ 7 So all those virgins arose, and they trimmed their lamps. 8 Then the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil because our lamps are burning low.’ 9 But the wise replied, saying, ‘No, there may not be enough for both us and you. Go instead to the sellers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 But as they were leaving to buy, the Bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready entered the wedding with Him. Then the door closed. 11 Later the remaining virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us!’ 12 Replying, He said, ‘Amen, I say to you: I do not know you.’ 13 So, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The substance of this parable does not quite fit the pattern of going out to meet the dignitary, and then accompanying him back to the originating locale. However, it does match a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors. And the five wise did accompany Him to the wedding. Moreover, the content is thematically related to both 1Thess 4:13–18 and 1Thess 5:1–11. So it is useful for analysis.

As with any parable, it can be perilous to attempt to make concrete parallels to the figurative language. But it would be safe here to understand the oil as indicating degree of readiness. In this sense, the oil could signify the amount of Holy Spirit infilling (Eph 5:15–21). If so, this idea of purchasing oil could be understood as akin to Simon Magus, aka Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9–24)—except maybe for the fact that the five wise suggested the idea to the foolish. Whatever the case, it is clear that Jesus (the Bridegroom) ‘does not know’ the foolish (cf. Matt 7:21–23). All ten desired to meet Jesus, but half were not ready, thereby missing the wedding (Rev 19:6–9; cf. 19:17–18).

The next NT selection for consideration is in Acts 28, which follows the pattern of the Polybius’ passage. While on his journey to Rome, Paul is welcomed by some brothers from Rome, and the brothers accompany him for the rest of his trip:15

28:15 After hearing the things concerning us, the brothers from there [Rome] came up to Appias’ Forum and Three Taverns to greet (eis apantēsin) us. Upon seeing them, Paul, thanking God, was encouraged. 16 So when we entered [eiserchomai] into Rome, Paul was permitted to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

The next passage, like the first, is from Matthew’s Gospel. But it is very different in that it is regarding Jesus’ encounter with the two demon-possessed men from the land of the Gadarenes, whom he exorcises by sending the demons into nearby swine:

8:28 Upon His arrival to the other side, to the land of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs—exceedingly violent, such that no one is able to pass through that way—confronted [hupantaō] Him. 29 Excitedly they cried out, “What is it between us and you, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” 30 Off in the distance from them was a herd of many swine feeding. 31 So the demons begged Him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And He said to them, “Go!” So, after they came out, they went into the swine. Immediately, the entire herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and died in the waters! 33 Those who were tending the pigs fled; and then, going into town, they reported all, especially concerning the two demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town left to confront [eis hupantēsin] Jesus. Upon seeing Him, they urged that he should turn away [metabainō] from their borders.

Given the context, I decided to translate to the stronger “confronted”/“to confront” instead of simply “meeting”. The recurrence of the two words (verb in 28, noun in 34) may have been intended as a linguistic framing device to tie the story together. The final verse (34) is the primary one to analyze here, for it begins with the accusative eis hupantēsin and ends with the verb “turn away” (metabainō). I perceive the townspeople’s message here as one of ‘go away and don’t come back!’ Accordingly, I interpret this passage: After Jesus drove the demons out of the two men and into the herd of pigs, the townspeople drove Jesus from their town to any other!

In any case, verse 34 at least partly follows the pattern— it does not specify whether or not they escorted Jesus back to the shoreline—though in a negative way. That is, Jesus is not considered a dignitary by the townspeople. However, this could be a case of irony. That is, though the townspeople saw Jesus as villainous, the fact that they intercepted Him and essentially drove Him out of town, follows this pattern as if He were the dignitary He really is!

Tangentially, though still relatedly, observe the demons’ question to Jesus regarding “the appointed time”. Is this the time believers will “judge angels”?

The final passage to consider is The Triumphal Entry in John’s Gospel (John 12:12–15):

12:12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast, after hearing Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took palm branches and came to welcome [eis hupantēsin] Him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD: the King of Israel!” 14 Then Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat upon it, as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter of Zion. Behold! Your King is coming, sitting upon a donkey’s colt!”

 . . . 17 Now the crowd—those who were with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead—continued bearing testimony. 18 Because of this also, the crowd greeted [hupantaō] Him—for they heard He had performed that miracle.

Though not explicit, it is strongly implied that those who went out with palm branches to welcome Jesus also escorted Him into Jerusalem. This, then, fits the Polybius pattern.

Verses 17–18 may not be directly related to The Triumphal Entry, but they do exhibit a similar pattern to the Polybius passage. The difference is that a verbal form is used instead of the accusative phrase.

What Can Be Concluded?

Having provided the applicable Hellenistic background and all the NT examples corresponding to or approximating this background, what, if anything, can we make of the data? Can any of this be used in attempting to determine where believers go immediately after our meeting in the air with Jesus?

What do you think?

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1 Note that these clusters of grapes are from the vine of the earth, that is, they get their sustenance from the earth as opposed to from the Lord (cf. John 15:1–17).

2 See 1Thess 1:9 how you turned from idols to serve the living and true God.

3 Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Anchor Yale Bible; Accordance electronic ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 276. Emphasis added.

4 “Those who have fallen asleep through Jesus” will rise from the dead first, then both the newly-arisen/formerly-‘sleeping’ in Christ and believers yet still alive will be ‘snatched’ up together. This sequence is the most faithful to the text. It is probably only a nanosecond after the dead arise that both these newly-arisen and the remaining believers are ‘snatched’ up together by God to meet Jesus in the air. In this way, all believers will be ‘snatched’ up together simultaneously in order to have one single meeting “in the clouds” with Jesus. This concurs with Paul’s statement that those remaining (those alive) when Jesus comes “will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep”—the living will not precede the dead in Christ, but the dead in Christ will not precede those yet alive either, with respect to the meeting in the clouds. Put simply, we are all ‘snatched’ together (hama) “to meet the Lord in the air”.  Accordingly, the ‘Rapture’ is a ‘snatching’ of both the newly-raised-formerly-‘sleeping’and those still alive in Christ at His Parousia. This, then, conforms to the one gathering of believers in Matthew 24:31 and the one harvesting of believers in Rev 14:14–16. This also concurs with 1Cor 15:51–52: Take note! I tell you a mystery: Not all will sleep, but all will be changed—in an instant, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we [those yet living] will be changed. Paul then refers to the living as “the mortal”, which will be changed to “immortality” (15:53). In other words, Paul makes a distinction between the two groups and always places the dead before the living in the texts. Thus, all these passages easily harmonize by judiciously employing Occam’s razor.

5 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC); Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), p 230. Emphasis added.

6 Very likely due to a committed PTR stance, Robert L. Thomas (“1 Thessalonians”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians – Philemon, rev. ed., Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, gen. eds. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006]) states: Since God the Father is in heaven, the verb ά̓ξεί (axei, “will bring” . . .) indicates that the destination of the movement of Jesus and those with him in this verse is upward, not downward. At this moment of Jesus’ return in the air, the company named will not move back to the earth but toward the Father’s presence in heaven . . . (p 418). But this does not necessarily follow.

7 Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), p 138.

8 Burton Scott Easton, “Parousia”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st Ed. (1915), prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.4, para 43388

9 I retained “to meet” in my translation above because no other English version translated it “for a meeting” and I did not wish to cause any initial confusion. It was decided to leave the explanation of “for a meeting” for later—here—when explaining this speculative portion.

10 Erik Peterson, “ἀπάντησις”, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), G. Kittel & G. Friedrich, eds.; transl. G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–76), p 1:380; Greek transliterated, bold added.

11 J.H. Moulton & G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), p 53.

12 Polybius, Histories, V.26.8–9 [Book 5, Chapter 26, section 8–9] (my transl.); Greek text [transliterated above] Theodorus Büttner-Wobst after L. Dindorf, 1893, courtesy Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, specifically  here.

13 Frederick W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p 40. Danker is the “D” in BDAG and the older BAGD.

14 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 361.

15 Without a firm grasp of ancient geography—and Luke’s rather confusing narration in this part—it is difficult to follow Paul’s journey and that of the brothers who wish to welcome him; so, I’ll rely on the almost always reliable F. F. Bruce (1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary [Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982]): Cf. . . . Acts 28:15, where the Christians from Rome walk south along the Appian Way to meet Paul and his company (eis apantēsin hēmin) and escort them on the remainder of their journey to Rome (pp 102–103).

Jesus’ Kingly Appearance

What did Jesus look like? We have no portrait of his likeness. We have no bust showing his facial features.1

What we know is that Jesus was born in a manger—that it was as a baby he came into our world. Though we don’t know much about his childhood, we can read about him as a twelve-year-old in the Temple (Luke   2:41-52), providing amazement to the teachers there (Luke 2:47). But, again, we don’t know what he looked like: his facial features, build, etc.

Yet we can state with some confidence what Jesus didn’t look like. Almost certainly, he resembled nothing like some images of Him, portrayed as a fair-skinned, fair-featured European. On the contrary, Jesus had Middle Eastern Jewish ancestry. Accordingly, he was likely olive-skinned with dark or brown hair, in keeping with others hailing from the Judean area. But as regards any specific physical characteristics, the New Testament (NT) is silent.

We might be able to infer that Jesus was an average looking man by analyzing some NT scenes. For example, Judas Iscariot pointed Jesus out to the soldiers marshalled to arrest him (Matt 26:47-49; Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-49).2 This might suggest Jesus had no special physical qualities to make him stand out amongst the others. But, then again, it was dark, and the light from the torches may have distorted the faces of Jesus and the disciples such that an insider like Judas could more easily identify him. Or, it could be that at least some in the group were in the dark as to what Jesus looked like in the first place.

This Jesus a King?

Perhaps more compelling, Pilate showed apparent surprise upon meeting Jesus. Was he expecting someone more kingly, more ‘regal’ looking? All four Gospels are unanimous in how they record Pilate’s question, which can be phrased either “You are the king of the Jews?” or “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matt 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33). By the phraseology (syntax) of the Greek, emphasis seems to be on “you” here.3 But there is no specific wording in the context with which to find a substantive answer as to what exactly provoked Pilate’s response.

However, viewing the description of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 may provide a glimpse. Of Isaiah 53:2 J. Alec Motyer observes and opines:

[H]e looked unimpressive (no beauty . . . to attract). To such an extent was he but a man among men that the ordinary tests of beauty (‘looks’), majesty (‘unimpressiveness’) and appearance could be applied—with negative results.4

From this we might conclude that the earthly Jesus was an average looking man. No striking features. But it is possible the physical description here strictly relates to Jesus’ battered body hanging on the cross.5 Yet, even if Isaiah 53 is specifically about the Atonement, the description in verse 2 cannot be ruled out as simultaneously providing a description of the earthly Jesus in a general sense.  Whichever the case, this passage, on its face, cannot be used to definitively determine Jesus’ physical features.

Motyer’s statement above may prompt another possible avenue for inquiry. If we consider the example of Saul’s selection as king, we may find a more solid basis upon which to accept Isaiah 53:2 as providing a description of the earthly Jesus. This, in turn, may provide some substantiation for understanding Pilate’s surprise as pertaining to Jesus’ physical characteristics.

To be more specific, recall that one of the apparent reasons Saul was selected king was because he was tall and handsome (1 Sam 9:2; 10:1,23-24). In other words, the Jews seemed to have selected Saul, at least partly, because he ‘looked like’ a king, in their eyes. In comparison, using the same criteria, the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah did not ‘look like’ a king. Thus, if Isaiah 53:2 describes Jesus, Pilate may have been bewildered upon seeing him, for he may have been expecting someone more ‘regal’ in appearance.

A basis for such thought finds itself in the pseudo-science of physiognomy, as detailed in the work of Mikeal C. Parsons.6 This term reflects the idea in the idiom ‘judging a book by its cover’. To some even the converse is true: judging a cover by its book. In this latter view, by knowing a person’s character, one can determine corresponding physical characteristics even before first sight.

Returning again to Motyer’s statement, observe his final words, “with negative results.”  It appears the author here understands some sort of physiognomic connection.

Parsons notes the presence—and the possible presence7—of the practice of physiognomy in the Old Testament (OT), using the selection of King Saul as but one example. 8 Extra-biblical Jewish texts from this time period evidence this same outward/inward connection.9 All this could point to the lack of physical descriptions of Jesus in the NT—if indeed he was an average man in terms of earthly physical characteristics, such as the description in Isaiah 53:2.

In other words, the Gospel writers’ silence on this issue may be quite purposeful. Knowing the contemporary tendency towards judging outward characteristics as the bases for determining inner qualities, the writers may have been dissuaded from describing Jesus’ physical form in any way. They may have been concerned that readers might make a caricature of him.

A stronger connection of this practice of physiognomy rears its ugly head in contemporary Hellenistic (Greek) culture.10 It “permeated the Greco-Roman thought world.”11 This thought may have emanated from the prominent anthropological and philosophical notions centering on a separate soul and body:

[S]oul and body react on each other; when the character of the soul changes, it changes also the body, and conversely, when the form of the body changes, it changes the character of the soul.12

The Hellenistic version of physiognomy encompassed a wide range of criteria, differing a bit according to the eye of the beholder. These include color of hair, eyes and skin; shape and size of forehead, nose, ears, cheeks, hands, etc.; size of head; sizes of features relative to others; asymmetry/symmetry; size of physique generally; as well as gait and other movements.13

An example of a negative imagining of Jesus’ physical features based on this pseudo-science is found in Cook’s The Interpretation of the New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism.14 In this work Celsus described Jesus as “small and ugly and ignoble”.15 Celsus apparently arrives at his conclusions on Jesus’ physical features based on distorted understandings of Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection, which thereby informed Celsus’ view of Jesus’ morality.16 Since the crucifixion was reserved for criminals, Jesus’ death ‘confirmed’ his supposed “base origins and unworthy character”.17 In other words, a person of such ‘lowly’ character—according to Celsus’ misconstruals—surely was correspondingly “small and ugly”.18

Celsus sarcastically critiques Jesus in his mock-questioning of an imagined Jesus: Upon learning of the child king Jesus, Herod slaughtered innocent children (Matthew 2:3-16),

“lest you should reign instead of him after you were grown. Why then, when you were grown did you not reign? But you, ‘child of God’, ignobly beg in this manner [cf. Matt 10:9-11], poking about in fear and wandering up and down in ruin.”19

Celsus’ apparent awareness of the Gospel accounts of Jesus carrying neither food nor money20 likely contributed to his scathing judgment as “ignoble”.21 In accordance with such a view,

‘Evangelical poverty’ was unimpressive to Celsus. The title ‘king’ for such an impoverished individual is ridiculous to Celsus. Jesus never became a ‘king’ in the sense of the word that Celsus takes for granted.22

Considering all the above, isn’t it possible, perhaps even probable, the silence in the NT regarding Jesus’ earthly physical form is, in fact, by design? And could this account for why there are no direct NT quotations of the physical features portion of Isaiah 53:2?

Appropriating Jesus’ words in John 8:15, “You judge according to the flesh” (cf. 7:24).

Yes, Jesus is King!

Some use Psalm 45:2 to support the idea of a handsome Jesus. But this is probably best understood—if applicable to Jesus at all—as reflective of the post-earthly Jesus, his glorified form.23 And while the NT is silent regarding Jesus’ physical features during his earthly ministry, a few NT texts feature descriptions of a post-glorified Jesus.

We catch a glimpse of Jesus’ glory in the Transfiguration scene (Matt 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). But John the Revelator describes Jesus in his post-earthly glory. In the first chapter of Revelation, John witnesses:

13 someone like a son of man, dressed in a foot-length robe and girded with a golden wrap around his chest, 14 his head and hair white like wool—white as snow—and his eyes like flames of fire, 15 his feet similar to fine bronze polished in a furnace, and his voice as vibrant as voluminous waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth a sharp double-edged sword proceeds. His face shines like the sun in its full force.

What a description!

With the words “like a son of man” (homoios huios anthrōpou), John evokes the human-like figure in Daniel 7:13 (hōs huios anthrōpou).24 To explain, “son of man” is a rendering of the Hebrew idiom ben Adam, which translates as son of Adam, and is understood to mean human.25 Thus, “son of man” also means human. Comparatively, the particularized the Son of Man, used by Jesus in self-reference throughout the Gospels, refers solely to him. Accordingly, without the attached to “son of man” in both Rev 1:13 and Daniel 7:13,26 this conveys that the figure coming on the clouds (Dan 7:13; Rev 1:7) is human-like in appearance—though, of course this figure is King Jesus at the Second Coming, the parousia. In other words, in Rev 1:13 John is not using the Son of Man, because this term represents Jesus in his earthly ministry. Therefore, the context here (and Dan 7:13) is best understood as referring to King Jesus in his suprahuman, glorified form—like a human.

John provides another magnificent description of King Jesus in Revelation 19:

11 Then I saw heaven standing open, and behold! A white horse! The one riding it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like flames of fire, and on his head are many diadems. A name has been written upon him, which no one knows except him. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and he has named himself THE WORD OF GOD. 14 The armies in heaven follow him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. 15 Out of his mouth proceeds a sharp sword with which he may strike the nations/people. He will shepherd them with an iron staff. And he tramples the winepress of the furious wrath of Almighty God. 16 And upon this robe, where it rests on his thigh, a name is inscribed: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

To use a term that has been diluted in popular culture due to persistent misuse, but here meant in all its original splendor: AWESOME! The verbiage appears to be figurative to some degree, yet we can see points of contact with 2Thessalonians 2:8:

And then the lawless one will be revealed—whom the Lord Jesus will cast away with the breath of His mouth and extinguish by the radiance of his coming/arrival (parousia).

The “breath of his mouth” seems to be a rephrasing of both Rev 1:16 and Rev 19:15 (cf. Isaiah 11:4). The “radiance of his coming” is similar to the final portion of 1:16, though it is implied in the whole context of 19:11-16.27

Come soon King Jesus!

_________________________

1 For possible reasons why, see the section titled Use of ΙΧΘΥΣ in early Christianity in Fishers of Persons article.
2 John’s Gospel portrays this scene a bit differently (John 18:3-5).
3 The Gospels are uniform here, to include word order: Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων, Su ei ho basileus tōn Ioudaiōn, You are the king of the Jews? This would be the word-for-word rendering, and the one I prefer here. Since Greek finite verbs encode person and number, a pronoun is not necessary unless the subject is unclear in the context. In this case the referent is obvious: the 2nd person singular encoded in the present tense-form “are” (εἰ̑, ei) can only refer to Jesus. Thus, the presence of the Greek pronoun “you” (σὺ, su) here is unnecessary, for the question can just as easily stand without it: Εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων (You are the king of the Jews?). The reading of the text per all four Gospels could even possibly be rendered: You? You are king of the Jews? (see Bernard and Evans just below). This would be in keeping with the context. For these reasons, I deem the use here emphatic.

Though not the consensus, this view of su as emphatic is far from rare. Cf. Charles L. Quarles, Matthew, EGGNT, Andreas J. Köstenberger & Robert W. Yarbrough, gen. eds. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2017), p 333: Σύ is emphatic and may imply a mocking tone . . .; Joel Marcus, Mark 8—16, The Yale Anchor Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2009), p 1033: . . . the sarcastic tone of Pilate’s initial question . . . [is] because the Jewish authorities have reported his royal pretensions and/or reputation…however, such pretensions seem outlandish, since . . . Jesus’ bound condition is the opposite of the unfettered power associated with kingship; Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27—16:20, Word Biblical Commentary [WBC] (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), p 478: The emphatic pronoun carries with it a touch of mockery, perhaps suggesting Pilate had anticipated meeting someone more impressive (i.e., “You? You must be kidding!”); 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. version 2.8 (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), para 5147: The form of the sentence . . . suggests a feeling of surprise in the questioner: “Art thou, poor, and bound, and wearied, the King of whom men have spoken?”; J.H. Bernard, The Gospel According to St. John, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary; ed. Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles A. Briggs; Accordance electronic ed. version 2.8 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928), para 15345: “Thou! (σύ is emphatic) art Thou the King of the Jews?” Evidently Pilate did not believe that Jesus was a revolutionary leader . . . There was nothing in His appearance or His demeanor to make such a charge plausible.; Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale UP, 1974), p 2.851: In the question Pilate asks, it is possible the ‘you’ is emphatic . . . expressing incredulity. Pilate . . . may have been amazed at the mien of Jesus who has been accused of claiming the title.; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), p 768: “Thou” is emphatic. “Art thou the King of the Jews?”; Murray J. Harris, John, EGGNT (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015), p 305:If Pilate’s question is formal, σύ will be without emphasis…but if he is being sarcastic, σύ will have the sense, “Are you, of all people, the king of the Jews?”

Some commentators supporting no emphasis tend to see a direct parallel between Pilate’s question (Su ei . . . ) and Jesus’ response (Su legeis . . . ), therefore construing that if emphasis (“You!”) is understood with Pilate, then Jesus was similarly snarky in return, which is then deemed untenable; however, as Lidija Novakovic remarks (John 11—21: A Handbook on the Greek Text, BHGNT [Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2020]) regarding Jesus’ response: σὺ [su] is contrastive, distinguishing Pilate from others . . . (p 239).  (Novakovic is non-committal regarding su in John 18:33 [p 238], though.) In all those supporting emphasis there are slight variations as to the reasoning, but most agree Pilate’s surprise relates to fathoming Jesus as king. There is the possibility that Pilate was expecting—at least in part—an individual with more striking physical features, such as being taller in height, handsomer, etc., which then elicited his surprise. See below.
4 J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p 377.
5 That is, the description here could provide a graphic description of the ‘slain Lamb’ of Revelation 5:6 (cf. John 1:29) instead of the earthly Jesus in his usual appearance. See, e.g., G. K. Beale & Sean M. McDonough, “Revelation” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007): The Isa. 53 background especially highlights the atoning aspect of the lamb’s sacrificial death and also applies the metaphor’s “root” (cf. Rev. 5:5) and “lamb” to the sacrificial victim. In fact, “root” also occurs in Isa. 11:1, 10 (alluded to in Rev. 5:5), which may have inspired attraction to the same metaphor in 53:2 (p 1101). Cf. Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew” in Beale & Carson, who describes, the servant’s disfigured appearance (p 31).
6 Mikeal C. Parsons, Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006 / Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2011). The Baylor appears to be a straight reissue of the Baker. All references below will refer to the original Baker issue. (See my review of this work here.) Parsons’ main thesis is that Luke/Acts illustrates the reversal of physiognomic thought as “Luke presumes physiognomic principles only to overturn them by story’s end” (p 15).
7 Here Parsons references Lev 21 and its requirements for both sacrifice and priest (p 40), noting how some construe the lack of corresponding moral requirements to go with the physical in Lev 21:16-18 as implying “a connection between the outward and the inward” (p 41).
8 Parsons, pp 39-40. The author also uses King David (1 Sam 16:12) and Absalom (2 Sam 14:25) as examples (p 40).
9 Parsons, pp 42-45.
10 Parsons, pp 17-37.
11 Parsons, p 17.
12 Parsons, p 14. I note that this is not foreign to modern culture, as evidenced, e.g., in the band Talking Heads’ track “Seen and Not Seen” (from the 1980 Remain in Light), in which the narrator wishes to change his facial features by consciously adapting his thoughts, assuming others shared this same ability.
13 Parsons, 18-37.
14 John Granger Cook, The Interpretation of the New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002).
15 Cook, p 35.
16 I draw these inferences from the way Cook frames some of his statements (p 35, 48), but particularly his quote of Celsus—which follows in the main text above—as viewed through the lens of the pervasive influence of physiognomy.
17 Eugene V. Gallagher, Divine Man or Magician: Celsus and Origen on Jesus (Chico, CA: Publishers Press, 1982), p 122, as cited in Cook, p 48.
18 See the corresponding verbiage in the main text of note 15, and see note 16 and its corresponding text.
19 Cook, p 35. Though Cook does not place child of God in quotes, I understand Celsus’ use here as sarcasm, since it is obvious he deemed Jesus unworthy to be a son of god or a king; and, therefore, my quotes are to indicate this cynicism. See also the comments relating to Origen’s Against Celsus in Claudio Moreschini and Enrico Norelli’s Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature: A Literary History: Volume One (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005): Celsus . . . criticized the idea of a descent (future for Jews, past for Christians) of a Son of God to earth, for this contradicts the very nature of God by attributing a change to him (p 291). Given such an a priori view (mistaken as it is), Celsus clearly does not grant ‘Son of God’ status to Jesus.
20 Cook, p 35.
21 This is my extrapolation of Cook (p 35) here given his earlier quote of Celsus’ “ . . . and ignoble” (see content referenced at note 15 above).
22 Cook, p 35.
23 Psalm 45:2 is variously translated in the English versions; however, the first part of the verse, which includes “handsome” in some versions, is not quoted or alluded to in the NT—as far as I’ve determined. The latter part of the verse (with “grace” or “gracious”) may be alluded to in Luke 4:22, though. Thus, I infer the possibility of this pertaining to Jesus only insofar as the citing/allusion to other verses in Psalm 45 (6-7) in the context of Hebrews 1:8-9 (See George H. Guthrie, “Hebrews” in Beale & Carson, pp 937, 939). And even if it does apply to Jesus, then it must be post-resurrection, as per the Hebrews context (1:3ff).
24 The words homoios and hōs are synonymous; in fact John uses the latter quite a bit in vv 13-16. John also uses homoios huios anthrōpou in Rev 14:14.
25 For more explanation on this, see ‘Son of Man’ in the LXX here.
26 In other words, these lack both Greek articles—one before huios (“son”) and one before anthrōpou (“man”), in comparison with the other occurrences in the NT where Jesus self-references as the Son of [the] Man during his earthly ministry. Relatedly, I have argued extensively that this same non-particularized huios anthrōpou in John 5:27 is meant to indicate “son of man”, aka “human” in that context in order to tie it to Daniel 7:13 and Rev 1:13; 14:14: see The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 4 and pt 5.
27 And the latter part of 19:16 is parallel to 14:14, and 19:11-16 has other points of contact with 14:14-20.

Passing the Examination

In a bygone era, far removed from today, I served a brief stint in the US military. No regrets, but with the time to reenlist approaching, I had already made up my mind to separate from service rather than continue. It simply wasn’t the life and career for me.

With a few months remaining in my service commitment, I was also approaching the time to take a test for promotion to the next grade. This exam was scheduled before my upcoming separation. Passing the exam would provide a salary increase along with the promotion. A wage increase would be great; however, should I pass, the grade would not be awarded until after my intended separation from service. Thus, to my mind, it made little sense to take the test. So, I asked to be excused.

Yet I was told I must take the examination. “What if you pass?” I was asked. That would make no difference to me, for I was firm in my decision. I was definitely going to separate, no matter the outcome.

So, on the morning it was scheduled, I took the test. In record time. I simply took the Scantron and penciled in a next to the first question, b for the second, and so forth, till I got to the fifth question in which I penciled e. I repeated this pattern until I was finished. Then I handed it to the surprised facilitator and walked out of the room.

I had to sit for the test. But I didn’t have to test well. I didn’t have to pass the exam, but I couldn’t pass on sitting for the exam.

I have no idea how I scored. Given my methodology, it would have been pure luck had I actually qualified for the promotion.

Qualifying for a Higher Grade

Much later, after accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, I discovered that, as Christians, there’s an exam we must take. Similar to my earlier test, it is not optional. Yet the stakes are much higher. This is one we must pass. Continually:

2Corinthians 13:5—6:

5 Examine yourselves if you be in the faith. Approve yourselves! Or do you not discover for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in youunless you be unapproved? 6 Yet I trust that you will realize that we are not unapproved.1

For background, the Apostle Paul is frustrated with the ekklēsia (“church”) in Corinth. The words above should be seen as the culmination of what Paul stated in 2Corinthians 10:7. Paul implies that the congregation(s) had been seduced by other “super-apostles” (11:5) who had been preaching “another Jesus”, as received by “a different spirit”, and that they accepted this “different gospel” (11:4). Paul goes on to describe these seducers as “false apostles…disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (11:13), suggesting they are servants of Satan himself (11:14—15). Apparently, these “super-apostles” spoke disparagingly about Paul (12:11), contributing to the Corinthians’ doubt about Paul’s Apostleship (13:3—4). And even doubting Paul’s own faith.2

In response, Paul instructed them to examine themselves to determine if they were really in the faith. In the first two sentences of verse 5 “yourselves” is italicized to match the emphasis implied in the Greek text. Paul truly is concerned that some had apostatized, that they had fallen away from the faith. So, his words are a call to repentance for those needing it. But he provides encouragement: surely they will find out they are true Christ-followers—or they will be convicted of their fallen state and repent. Yet at the same time they will realize that Paul really is in the faith and truly is an Apostle.

Paul’s concluding sentence (v 6) magnificently puts all his thoughts together. In it, he uses three different pronouns to great effect. The “I” speaks of his authority, yet the verb associated with it shows his empathy, his desire (“I trust”). The “you”, of course, is the Corinthians, who, after their individual self-investigations (v 5), should either: (a) be further encouraged in their faith, or (b) be persuaded to repent. His final “we” indicates both: (a) his desire for their further encouragement or their repentance (accordingly), and (b) his implied assertion of his own status in the faith, along with the newly-repentants’ realization of Paul’s true faith—“we” (the Corinthians and Paul) are “not unqualified”.

All this provides an object-lesson for subsequent readers, for us. Are we really in the faith? Continual self-assessment is not optional (Matthew 24:13).

Elsewhere Paul provides means for self-testing, using the example of Timothy:

2Timothy 2:15:

Strive to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed laborer correctly applying the word of truth.

The verb for “approved” here is the same as the one used in 2Corinthians 13:5. The only way you can know for certain you are in the faith is to have a good knowledge of the truths of the faith (John 8:31—32)! And this requires obedience, which is made evident by your fruit. A great self-check for fruit-bearing is found in Paul’s words to the Galatian ekklēsia. The passage compares living by the Spirit to living according to the flesh:

Galatians 5:16—25:

16 I say then, walk by the Spirit, so you shall not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires contrary to the Spirit, the Spirit contrary to the flesh. For these oppose one another, so that you may not do as you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: sexual immorality, moral impurity, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, rivalries, dissensions, discriminations, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousals, and such things similar to these. All these I tell you to forewarn you as before: All those who engage in such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things, there is no law. 24 And those belonging to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, to the Spirit we should also conform.

We cannot just pass on this. Each must habitually ask himself or herself, “Am I really in the faith?”

Do I meet the qualifications? Am I approved?

____________________

1 In my translation here, I aimed for functional equivalency to the extent possible (nouns for nouns, similar verb types for similar verb types, etc.), leaving out as many English helping words as possible (e.g. “to see if you be in the faith”). With this goal in mind, I sought to retain Paul’s words as I think he intended to his original audience, thereby showing his exceptional rhetorical skills. All negatives are translated as per the Greek text, including words negated by an a– prefix. In this way, the reader can see his dichotomies, his juxtapositions, as well as his plays on words (“approve” > “unapproved” > “not unapproved”). Otherwise, in my opinion, his tone is smoothed over. This includes the italicizing of “unless” since εἰ μήτι is stronger than εἰ μή.  In similar fashion, “yourselves” is twice italicized, since it has emphatic placement in the Greek (first in the sentences). The overall intent is to make the parallels and contrasts a bit easier for the English reader to perceive.

2 Most of this entire paragraph sounds eerily similar to the leaders and individuals within the so-called New Apostolic Reformation.

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 minuscule 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.

—————————

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.

The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 6, Conclusion

[This is part 6 of a multi-part article. See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.]

Comparison with John 1:1c and 1:14a

Comparing 5:27b with other theologically similar anarthrous PN-CV constructions in John’s Gospel, specifically 1:1c and 1:14a, may reinforce the stance adopted here.

In the verse which begins John’s Gospel the author describes the same subject – ὁ λόγος (ho logos), the Word – using the same verb in the same tense-form (ἦν, ēn; was, existed) in three separate clauses with three different nuances: existence, association, and essence, respectively.123  This threefold repetition of subject-verb exemplifies merely one portrayal of John’s predilection for poetic expression.  While it’s the third clause with the same syntactical construction as 5:27b, it will prove helpful to briefly investigate the first two as well.

The first clause (1:1a), Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, translates In the beginning was the Word or, better, In the beginning the Word existed.  In its immediate context, taking into consideration verses 2-3, this declares the Word’s pre-existence with respect to creation, i.e., the Word’s eternality.  The second clause (1:1b), καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, is best rendered and the Word was with God.  This second clause, when taken in conjunction with the first, describes the eternal relationship between the Word and (the) God, logically indicating that (the) God is other than, and in distinction from, the Word.  While the direct object τὸν θεόν, (the) God, could be understood as the Trinitarian Godhead, for our purposes here we assume the referent is God the Father.124

This brings us to the third clause, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, which is an anarthrous PN-CV-SN construction.  Most English translations render it and the Word was God.  While the PN could be deemed either definite or qualitative, an indefinite rendering (a god) is rejected from the outset for rather obvious exegetical and theological reasons.125

Colwell deems the usage in 1:1c definite by asserting the converse of his own rule; i.e., he presupposes definiteness unless “the context demands” indefiniteness or qualitativeness:

The absence of the article does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb, it is indefinite in this position only when the context demands it.  The context makes no such demand in the Gospel of John, for this statement cannot be regarded as strange in the prologue of the gospel which reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas (20:28).126

Moreover, Colwell wishes to impose definiteness on 1:1c because of the definite, articular use of theos in another context (20:28)127 – precisely the same reasoning he used in 5:27b.  But, as we noted earlier, definite usage in one context does not necessitate definiteness in another.  In fact, if definiteness is pressed too hard, taking 1:1b in conjunction with 1:1c, modalism may obtain; i.e., the Word was God the Father.128

A better solution is to view the PN in 1:1c as (primarily) qualitative.129  Westcott understands 1:1c as qualitative, describing the divine nature of the Word, with 5:27b its converse, depicting the Word’s human nature:

The predicate (θεός) stands emphatically first . . . It is necessarily without the article (θεός, not ὁ θεός), inasmuch as it describes the nature of the Word and does not identify His Person . . . No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the Word.  Compare for the converse statement of the true humanity of Christ 5:27.130

Harner, Dixon and Wallace view 1:1c as qualitative, as well.131  In addition, Barrett understands theos in 1c as describing the nature of the Word, hence, qualitativeness.132  Beasley-Murray seems to imply qualitative-definiteness in this context.133  Bruce also seems to imply qualitative-definiteness in 1c.134

The predominant English rendering and the Word was God seems fine, as long as the reader understands that it describes the essence of the Word.  Harner thinks it could be translated and the Word has the same nature as God.135  We prefer And the Word was by nature God.

Next we’ll discuss John 1:14a: Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο.  Here we have the subject nominative (ὁ λόγος) preceding the anarthrous PN-CV construction (σὰρξ ἐγένετο, sarx egeneto; “flesh became”).  This is probably best rendered [And] the Word became flesh.

The analysis of the anarthrous PN-CV construction in 1:14a is more straightforward than either 1:1c or 5:27b.  It is clearly not indefinite, as we wouldn’t say the Word became a flesh.136  In a similar way, it would be difficult to state that the Word became the flesh, as this would mean that the Word took on a particular flesh, in which case a form of adoptionism would be implied: the divine Word ‘adopted’ a particular person, Jesus.137  No; the Word assumed another nature (human) when He became flesh, not another person, and this assumption of human nature resulted in the divine-human Person of Christ Jesus.  Hence, a qualitative understanding is the only possibility: [And] the Word became flesh – flesh consistent with that of every other human.

Wallace states that many commentaries prior to Colwell’s ‘rule’ noted a parallel between 1:1c and 1:14a because of the common anarthrous PN-CV constructions, with both clauses construed as qualitative.138  Westcott is but one example.139  In addition, as noted above, Westcott sees 5:27b as the converse of 1:1c.  Hence, these three qualitative PN-CV constructions can be viewed as forming a triad.  The Word was by nature God (1:1c).  Then, the divine Word became flesh, assuming flesh common to all humanity (1:14a), thus becoming the divine-human Person of Jesus.  This Jesus, the divine Son of God the Father (5:19-26), declared that the reason He was given authority to judge is because He is (also) human (5:27b).  In other words, though maintaining all the attributes of Deity (1:1c), the enfleshed Word is also human (1:14a), concurrently possessing all the qualities and characteristics consistent with being human, and it is the fact that the Word possesses human nature, in conjunction with His intrinsic divine nature, that enables Him to be Judge of all humankind (5:27b).

His incarnational humanity would remain a part of His Person – even after His “glorification,” which commenced at His death on the cross – as He, the divine yet human God-man, will be the future eschatological Judge of all humankind (5:28-30).  So, to reiterate, since the eternal Word is by nature God (1:1c), He possesses the divine capacity to judge humanity; however, it is only because He became flesh (1:14c) and is, hence, human that He cannot be seen as anything but a fair judge of humanity (5:27b) both during His earthly ministry (5:24-25) and at the eschaton (5:28-30).  For, like humankind, He suffered in His temptations (Heb 2:17-18; cf. Heb 5:2) and was tempted in all ways (Heb 4:15a-b); yet, unlike humanity, He remained unblemished, without sin (Heb 4:15c).

A contrarian may argue that John the Gospel writer could simply have used the adjectival forms (θεῖος, theios = divine; ἀνθρώπινος, anthrōpinos = human) instead of the nominal to make his intention clear in 1:1c and 5:27b.  However, using adjectives would have lessened the explanatory force, making these passages a bit ambiguous.  Was the Word simply another god, i.e. possessing the quality of divinity (1:1c), alongside God the Father?  Was Jesus merely human (5:27b)?  Moreover, these forms are infrequently used in the NT generally and, more importantly, completely absent in the Johannine corpus.140  Furthermore, it seems that the anarthrous PN-CV construction lends itself well to accentuating a particular quality of the subject nominative.  First, this is via the non-use of the article in the predicate nominative, which allows for a qualitative understanding, yet with an underlying definiteness.  Secondly, by placing the PN ahead of the CV – a linguistic device called fronting – the PN is necessarily emphasized.141  And the Gospel writer seems to have specifically intended this dual function in these contexts, just as he does predominately in the rest of his Gospel.

Conclusion

We have argued that John the Gospel writer, in making son of man anarthrous in 5:27b, wished to provide a distinction between this context and all other occurrences of the arthrous the Son of Man, while yet alluding to the latter.

It was shown that in the LXX the son of man idiom is always anarthrous, with the intended meaning mankind/humanity, or, human.  In the NT, the arthrous form is apparently a term specifically coined by Jesus, though it is used predominantly as a third person reference by Him.  Following Hurtado, we find that the articular ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου does not characterize or define “the Son of Man;” instead the individual contexts refer to the Person of Jesus Christ.  Moreover, “the Son of Man” does not refer solely to Jesus’ human nature, and, therefore, the term cannot be said to denote His humanity as opposed to His divinity.

A point of connection was found in the context of the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in John 5:27b, specifically in regards to judgment, with both Rev 1:13 and 14:14, each of these verses in the Apocalypse alluding to the figure like a son of man in Daniel 7:13.  It was argued that in John 5:27b the Gospel writer also intended an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14, by both the use of the anarthrous huios anthrōpou and the larger context (which also points to Daniel 12:1-2).  This point of contact is argued as specifically evocative of the eschatological human-like figure in Daniel, making it clear that Jesus is the one spoken of by the Prophet.

Colwell’s ‘rule’ was found to be largely unhelpful in exegeting 5:27b.  However, the specific syntactical construction Colwell investigated, with the anarthrous predicate nominative preceding its copulative verb – which Wallace helpfully terms “Colwell’s Construction” – was shown to be primarily qualitative in the Gospel According to John.  John 5:27b was argued as having a qualitative force and an underlying definiteness.

This same construction is found in 1:1c and 1:14a, and along with 5:27b, these verses form a sort of triad.  In 1:1c the eternal Word was (ἦν, en) {by nature} God. In 1:14a the divine Word became (ἐγένετο, egeneto) flesh, taking on human nature; in 5:27b the Son of God is (ἐστίν) human, the abiding result of the former: the preexistent, eternal divine Son dwells in human form among humankind.  Jesus fully participates in humanity because He is fully human; however, He is not merely human, as He’s the Son of God.  His incarnational humanity remains into the eschaton where He will be eschatological judge (5:28-30).  For it is because the eternal Word is by nature God (1:1c) that He possesses the divine capacity to judge mankind; however, it is only because He became flesh (1:14c) and is, hence, human (5:27b) that he cannot be seen as anything but a fair judge of humanity.

It is the Word’s pre-incarnational, eternal intrinsic divinity (1:1c) coupled with his incarnational humanity (1:14a) that makes Him the perfect Judge (5:27b) for humankind (5:24-25; 5:28-30):

And he (the Father) has given Him (Jesus, the Son of God) authority to judge because He is (also) human.

In this view, the reason that the Son of God is given authority to judge is because He is also human.  This provides the basis for which He can be a fair judge of all, saved and unsaved, at the eschaton.

 

123 See Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, V1, p 2; cf. Brown, John I-XXI, p 4.

124 Thompson, God of Gospel of John, p 57, observes that there are 108 occurrences of θεός (God) in the fourth Gospel, as compared to “Father” which appears 120 times. God is first explicitly referenced as the Father of the μονογενὴς (monogenēs) Son in 1:14 (μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός), when considered in its full context to include 1:18 (μονογενὴς θεός/υἱός).  The large majority of times in John’s Gospel “Father” is in a context of relationship with Jesus as his Son, and what the Father does through the Son (pp 57-58, 69-72).  This leaves open the possibility that θεός in 1b refers to the entire Godhead rather than merely the Father.

David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek to Me, p 79, understands the Trinity as the referent, more clearly differentiating the Trinitarian Godhead from the Logos as God (1c) in its micro-context by paraphrasing the verse: In the beginning the Word existed, and the Word was with the Deity [τὸν θεόν], and the Word was Deity [θεός] (emphasis in original).  (Here Black seems to construe the PN of 1:1c as qualitative-definite (pp 77, 79).)  Carson, Gospel According to John, pp 116-118, also asserts 1b as a referent to the Trinitarian Godhead.

On the other hand, Brown, John I-XXI, notes that in contexts in which at least two members of the Trinity are expressed ho theos is “frequently used for God the Father” (p 5).  Moreover, in 57 of 58 appearances of ὁ θεός in John the referent is God the Father (See Dixon, p 36).  While Thompson, God of Gospel of John, observes that “God” is not used as a referent for the incarnate Word in the Gospel according to John, but that “God” is used for the preincarnate Word (1:1c) as well as the glorified Jesus (20:28), the author, though not explicit, strongly implies that τὸν θεόν in 1:1b denotes the Father (pp 233, 234).

Many modern commentaries assert the referent as the Father, e.g., Brown, John I-XXI, p 5, 24; Keener, Gospel of John: One, pp 369-374; Kostenberger, John, pp 27-29.  Ridderbos, Gospel of John, implies 1b as a referent to the Father, as he states that 1:1 “is explained, at the deepest level, by the absoluteness of the historic self-disclosure of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God” (p 35).  Martin Hengel, “The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth” (in Bauckham, Mosser, Gospel of John and Christian Theology) sees John 1:1 as corresponding with 10:30: “I and the Father are one” (pp 272-273); cf. Paul N. Anderson, “On Guessing Points and Naming Stars” (in Bauckham, Mosser, Gospel of John and Christian Theology) who, similarly, equates 1:1 with 10:30 (p 314).  In addition, one may infer that Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 156, understands 1b as a reference to God the Father; Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, pp 30-31, also appears to imply the Father as the referent for 1b.

Moreover, a sampling of Patristic literature indicates a strong belief that τὸν θεόν in 1b is in reference to the Father: Elowsky, Ancient Christian Commentary: John 1-10, pp 8, 9, 10, 11, 12-15.  This includes Hilary of Poitiers, Origen, Augustine, Tertullian, Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Methodius.

125 See Wallace, Grammar, pp 266-267.  Also, as noted earlier, an indefinite rendering of an anarthrous PN-CV is “the most poorly attested” of the three choices (Wallace, Grammar, p 267).

126 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 21.  Emphasis added.

127 In the lone use of ho theos as a reference to the Son (20:28), this is in conjunction with a possessive pronoun, which may well make the presence of the article insignificant (see Wallace, Grammar, p 239), though this does not negate the fact that the usage here is definite.

128 See Wallace, Grammar, p 268.

129 Wallace, Grammar, notes that commentators before Colwell viewed the usage here as qualitative (p 268 n30).

130 Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, V1, p 6; bold added for emphasis.  See quote at note 119 above for Westcott on 5:27b.

131 Harner, pp 84-87; Dixon, pp 35-40; Wallace, Grammar, p 269.

132 Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 156.

133 Beasley-Murray, John, pp 10-11.

134 Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, pp 30-31.

135 Harner, p 87.

136 See Wallace, Grammar, p 264.

137 See Oliver D. Crisp, Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp 34-71.

138 See Wallace, Grammar, p 264.

139 Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, V1, p 19.

140 Θεῖος is only used in Acts 17:29; 2 Pet 1:3, 1:4 (Titus 1:9 in a variant), ἀνθρώπινος in Acts 17:25; Rom 6:19; 1 Cor 2:13, 4:13, 10:13; James 3:7; 1 Pet 2:13.

141 In Koine Greek, most usually, the verb is placed first in a sentence, and by placing the PN in front of the verb the PN is emphasized.  For fronting see Martin M. Culy, I, II, III John: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor Handbook of the Greek New Testament series, Martin M. Culy, gen. ed. (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2004)), “Placing a constituent earlier in the sentence than its default order, most commonly in a pre-verbal position” (p 170).  Cf. Wallace, Grammar, p 269, nt 32.

The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 5

[This is part 5 of a multi-part article.  See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 6, conclusion.]

Grammatical-Syntactical Analysis of John 5:27b

We now turn specifically to the anarthrous PN-CV construction in 5:27b:

ὅτι υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν
ὅτι [PN:] υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου [CV:] ἐστίν
hoti [PN:] huios anthrōpou [CV:] estin
because huios anthrōpou He [the Son of God] is

It will be necessary to begin the discussion with a ‘rule’ put forth by E. C. Colwell, since it tends to be misapplied, even partly by Colwell himself in the establishment of his own rule.87 Knowing Colwell’s methodology will prove helpful in determining how to properly implement his findings.

Colwell surveyed NT syntactical constructions in which the predicate nominative is without the article and precedes its copulative verb (anarthrous PN-CV constructions) in which the PN was, by his estimation, “indubitably definite.”88 Importantly, Colwell did not consider either indefinite or qualitative PNs as part of his final analysis. In his study, he barely mentions indefinite PN-CVs at all; however, he specifically excludes all qualitative PNs because they are “not definite” and declares that the total amount in the NT is “small” anyway.89 Yet, as noted above, definite and indefinite nouns can sometimes be simultaneously qualitative.

Colwell also considered anarthrous CV-PN constructions. Of the 123 total “indubitably definite” anarthrous PNs he counted in the NT,90 97 were PN-CV (79%), while 26 were CV-PN (21%).91 What we do not know via Colwell is: (a) how many total anarthrous PN-CV constructions there are in the NT;92 (b) of this total how many were determined to be (primarily) qualitative or indefinite as opposed to definite; and, (c) the relative distribution of the three compared to each other.

Colwell also noted that there are incidences of arthrous PN-CV constructions. Recall that all arthrous nouns are definite, no matter the context. Colwell added these 15 arthrous PN-CV constructions to his 97 “indubitably definite” anarthrous PN-CVs, concluding that 87% of the time a definite PN does not have the article when it precedes the CV,93 thus resulting in his general rule: A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb, it does not have the article when it precedes the verb.94 Of course, this percentage is only valid to the extent of Colwell’s accuracy in predetermining definite anarthrous PN-CV constructions. He concedes this point, though he explains that he endeavored “to exclude all nouns as to whose definiteness there could be any doubt.”95 From his analysis Colwell claims that, with respect to translation and interpretation, he has

show[n] that a predicate nominative which precedes the verb cannot be translated as an indefinite or a “qualitative” noun solely because of the absence of the article if the context suggests that the predicate is definite, it should be translated as a definite noun in spite of the absence of the article.96

This statement is not untrue considering his important conditional clause “if the context suggests that the predicate is definite.” Yet, in building his case for the incidences of definite anarthrous PN-CV constructions, he compared the arthrous – and hence, definite – the Son of Man (ho huios tou anthrōpou) in the CV-PN construction of Matthew 13:37 to the anarthrous PN-CV huios anthrōpou of John 5:27b, ‘proving’ that John 5:27b is definite.97 This exemplifies at least one methodological error. Colwell assumed that the definite usage of a PN in one context necessarily renders that same PN definite in another, in this case partially upon his presumption that the expression in both texts is a “title.”98 Moreover, it may be that he presupposed definiteness because of the anarthrous PN-CV construction (and perhaps because of the myriad instances of the Son of Man in the Gospels). That is, he may not have adequately assessed the context, merely imposing his hypothesis upon the text, for, on the surface, it does not appear he could declare John 5:27b “indubitably definite.” If true, he would have been assuming the converse of his own rule in determining definiteness, a practice found elsewhere in his work.99 Many others have done this very thing, citing Colwell and erroneously presuming that ‘an anarthrous PN is definite when it precedes the CV’100 – even though Colwell did not examine all such NT constructions. But, as Dixon points out, this is demonstrably false:

[T]he converse of Colwell’s rule . . . is not a valid inference . . . From the statement “Articular nouns are definite,” it is not valid to infer “Definite nouns are articular.” Likewise, from the statement “Definite predicate nominatives preceding the verb are anarthrous,” it is not valid to infer “Anarthrous predicate nominatives preceding the verb are definite.”101

To rephrase, as we noted above, sometimes definite nouns lack the article, so it would be fallacious to state ‘definite nouns are arthrous.’ Similarly, sometimes when a PN precedes its CV the noun is other than definite. The point here is that Colwell’s findings merely allow the possibility that an anarthrous PN-CV construction be definite. ‘Colwell’s rule’ states “nothing about the probability of definiteness.”102 Hence, context must be the first consideration. If the context suggests definiteness, then it is grammatically permissible to render it definite, per a proper interpretation of Colwell’s work.

Yet, according to the analysis of Harner and Dixon, in the Gospel according to John, an anarthrous PN is most times qualitative when it precedes its CV.103 Specifically, Harner interprets these constructions as primarily qualitative, and this qualitativeness “may be more important than the question whether the predicate noun itself should be regarded as definite or indefinite.”104 In his article he concludes:

. . . [A]narthrous predicate nouns preceding the verb may be primarily qualitative in force yet may also have some connotation of definiteness. The categories of qualitativeness and definiteness, that is, are not mutually exclusive, and frequently it is a delicate exegetical issue for the interpreter to decide which emphasis a Greek writer had in mind.105

In fact, of the 53 occurrences of anarthrous PN-CV constructions in John’s Gospel, Harner found 40 primarily qualitative in force.106 Dixon, on the other hand, deemed 45 of the 53 to be with a qualitative emphasis,107 with another five “probably qualitative.”108 While Harner does not count John 5:27b as qualitative,109 this clause is specifically identified by Dixon as “probably qualitative, but could be definite.”110 Assessing the work of Harner and Dixon along with his own analysis, Wallace states a general rule, thus revising Colwell: “An anarthrous pre-verbal PN is normally qualitative, sometimes definite, and only rarely indefinite.”111

Given the exegetical findings of the previous section in conjunction with syntactical probabilities, the position taken here is that υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in John 5:27b is primarily qualitative and secondarily definite, revealing the μονογενὴς (monogenēs, unique, one-of-a-kind; 1:14, 18) Son of God’s incarnational status. Rather than making a one-to-one correspondence (because He [the Son of God] is the Son of Man), the focus in this verse is upon His incarnational humanity over against His deity.112 Thus, it should be interpreted: because the Son of God is son of man, i.e. because the Son of God is human. In other words, this clause should be understood: ‘because the Son of God (also) possesses all the qualities and characteristics consistent with being human.’ This seems the best way to understand John 5:27b in view of its immediate context, its contrast with yet connection to ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου throughout John’s Gospel as illustrated in the previous sections above, its agreement with parts of the larger Johannine corpus (Revelation 1:13 and 14:14), and its allusions and references to the OT (especially in relation to Daniel 7:13-14, 7:26, 12:1c-2, but also to include general usage of υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in the LXX113).

Some commentators perceive the qualitative force in John 5:27b. Barrett, e.g., recognizes the qualitative emphasis here, with an underlying definiteness,114 quoting Schlatter in agreement in this regard:

It is unnecessary here to use the articles because ‘in this context his uniqueness is perfectly clear. It arises out of the uniqueness of his status as Son of God . . . But here the emphasis lies upon the fact that he belongs to humanity as he who took the measure of life appointed to men.’115

Hare, also, seems to affirm a qualitative-definite force noting, importantly, that while the anarthrous form is “not identical” to the arthrous, he sees the expression in 5:27 as combining both:

[H]uios anthrōpou does not serve as a name but expresses a quality or status, yet its connotative force appears to be the same as that of the fuller appellative. Both forms of the phrase can refer to the humanity of the Word that became flesh for our salvation.116

Aune, following Hare, also asserts that the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in 5:27 “expresses a quality or status, i.e., the incarnate status of the Son.”117 Additionally, Augustine affirms the view adopted here, as “[h]e is the one who will come and it is in the form [of man] that he will come [to judge].”118 As well, Westcott construes a qualitative-definite rendering, with the understanding that this is due to Christ’s role as Judge:

The prerogative of judgement is connected with the true humanity of Christ (Son of man), and not with the fact that He is the representative of humanity (the Son of man). The Judge, even as the Advocate (Heb. 2:18), must share the nature of those who are brought before Him. The omission of the article concentrates attention upon the nature and not upon the personality of Christ.119

Similarly, Godet recognizes that it’s necessarily from Christ’s humanity that He judges mankind, asserting a qualitative priority in John 5:27b:

It emphasizes the relation between the character of judge and that of Son of man. What is this relation? . . . The term, Son of man, without the article sets forth simply the quality of man which He shares with all other men . . . The quality of man is made prominent here for the purpose of explaining, not the dignity of Saviour, but that of judge. The judgment of humanity is a homage rendered to the holiness of God; but this homage, in order really to make reparation for the outrage committed, must proceed from the [human] race itself which has committed the offense. Judgment, in this view, is exactly on the same line with expiation, of which it serves as the complement. Expiation is the reparation freely offered believing humanity; judgment is the satisfaction which God takes from humanity which has refused Him this reparation. In the one, as in the other, of these acts, a man must preside.120

As evidenced by the foregoing, our position that John 5:27b should be understood as qualitative-definite finds theological and contextual validity, syntactical grounding, and support from some commentators. Strict definiteness, while viable, seems outweighed by contextual and theological considerations. Moreover, if the Gospel writer wished to make it clear that his intention in 5:27b was to indicate definiteness he could simply have utilized both articles and/or placed an arthrous PN after the CV – the latter construction used 66 times in his Gospel.121 Indefiniteness, though grammatically possible, is “the most poorly attested” of the three options involving a PN-CV construction,122 and seems unlikely in this context, for it could imply that a mere man is qualified to be eschatological judge.

Go to part 6, conclusion.

 

87 E. C. Colwell, “A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 52 (1933): 12-21. See Wallace, Grammar, on how Colwell himself erroneously applied his own ‘rule’ (pp 258-259; cf. 259-262).

88 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17. As Dixon, “Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John,” observes: “Thus, what is to be asserted is not definiteness, but articularity” (p 13). Cf. Wallace, Grammar, p 262.

89 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17.

90 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17. Colwell also specifically excludes relative clauses (pp 16-17). He states that this 123 total is not necessarily 100% accurate – he may have missed a few – and this fact does not necessarily materially affect his results (“Definite Rule,” p 16 nt 10). I’ll agree that if the total were actually, say, 125 as opposed to his 123 that this would not detract from his analysis on this particular point. It’s what he concludes with this data that is problematic, as we will see.

91 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17.

92 Philip B. Harner, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1” (Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973): 75-87) counts 53 such constructions in John’s Gospel alone, with another eight in Mark (p 82). However, Harner construed most of these as emphasizing a qualitative force. More on this below.

93 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17.

94 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 13. Emphasis added.

95 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17.

96 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 20. Emphasis added

97 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 14.

98 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 14. Dixon, “Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John,” identifies this sort of error (pp 19-22). Moreover, as Hare, Son of Man, illustrates, Matthew 13:37 is the only CV-PN construction of the expression in the entire NT, and the context is within a parable, which, given its allegorical nature, necessitates this form, in his opinion; cf. Gal 4:24f (p 151).

99 See Colwell’s (“Definite Rule”) exegesis of John 1:1c (p 21), which is discussed specifically below (see note 126 and corresponding text). Wallace (Grammar) recounts how he learned that Colwell considered the converse of his rule as valid as the rule itself (p 259, esp. ftnt 11).

100 As but one example, in an effort to refute the Arianism inherent in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation rendering of John 1:1c (“and the Word was a god”), Walter Martin [The Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work on the Subject, Revised, Updated, and Expanded Edition, gen. ed. R. Zacharias (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2003)] misapplied Colwell’s Rule, which, ironically, resulted in his implied support of Sabellianism (modalism) – a heresy he had staunchly opposed. Citing Colwell, Martin dogmatically declared: “the Greek grammatical construction leaves no doubt whatsoever that this [and the Word was God] is the only possible rendering . . . Colwell formulated a rule that clearly states that a definite predicate nominative (in this case theos – God) never takes an article when it precedes the verb (was), as we find in John 1:1[c] . . . [T]herefore . . . no article is needed . . . and to translate it ‘a god’ is both incorrect grammar and poor Greek” (p 108). The reason this can support Sabellianism is that in John 1:1b (and the Word was with [the] God {ho theos}) God (ho theos) can be understood contextually as the Father, and by claiming that the PN is definite in which “no article is needed” Martin affirmed – whether intentional or not – a fully convertible A = B / B = A proposition: the Word = God (the Father) and God (the Father) = the Word. See A. T. Robertson, [A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 4th ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1934 (1914)), pp 767-768] who references this very clause, adding: “[W]hen the article occurs with the subject . . . and predicate, both are definite, treated as identical, one and the same, and interchangeable” (p 768). Cf. Wallace, Grammar, pp 258, 268. [More on John 1:1c in the next section.]

Martin went further astray in his statement that a definite noun in a PN-CV construction “never takes an article,” for, per Colwell, 15 out of 112 are arthrous (Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 17). Hence, not only did Martin erroneously affirm the converse of Colwell’s rule, he mistakenly asserted that there can never be an articular PN-CV construction.

101 Dixon, “Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John,” (hereafter simply “Dixon”) pp 11-12.

102 Dixon, p 18.

103 Harner, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns,” pp 75-87 (hereafter simply “Harner”); Dixon, pp 1-61.

104 Harner, p 75.

105 Harner, p 87. Emphasis added.

106 Harner, pp 82-83.

107 Dixon, p 32.

108 Dixon, p 34. These are identified as 1:49, 5:27, 9:5, 17:17, and 19:21.

109 This verse is not enumerated in his list of 40 in which “the qualitative force of the predicate is more prominent than its definiteness or indefiniteness” (Harner, pp 83, 83 nt 20). While Harner specifically engages some anarthrous PN-CV constructions in John, 5:27b is not one of them, and no specific reason was given for the non-inclusion of this verse in his list of 40. However, he does state: “Some degree of subjectivity is unavoidable . . . and the interpretation of some examples is uncertain” (p 83). Perhaps this means John 5:27b is, in his opinion, one of those that are “uncertain.”

110 Dixon, p 33; cf. 56.

111 Wallace, Grammar, p 262. Italics in original, bold added.

112 It is the surrounding context that is expressing Jesus’ deity via His divine functioning, not the Son of God idiom itself, as discussed above.

113 To include especially Psalm 8:4, 80:17, and 144:3 in their larger contexts. Leung, Kingship-Cross Interplay, states that “Son of Man” in Psalms 8:4, 80:17, and 144:3 are referenced in the post-NT Targums as “evidently messianic” (p 70). Yet the author includes John 5:27 among these “son of man” references, assuming it is definite along with all 12 other particularized usages of the term in John’s Gospel. This illustrates (a) the very point we’ve been making here that the understanding of a messianic the Son of Man only came after the NT had been written; and, (b) that this author, like many others, imposes particularity and definiteness upon 5:27b.

114 Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 262. The commentator also states: “Everywhere else in John both articles are used . . . because the phrase is here anarthrous it has been suggested that its meaning is not ‘the Son of man’; Jesus is qualified and authorized to judge because he has shared the experiences of men as one of themselves” (p 262).

115 Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 262 (emphasis added), who cites Adolf Schlatter, Der Evangelist Johannes, wie er spricht denkt und glaubt: Ein Kommentar zum vierten Evangelium (Stuttgart: Calwer, (1930) 1958), p 152. [Translation: John the Evangelist, As He Speaks, Thinks, and Believes: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel.]

116 Hare, Son of Man, p 96; cf. pp 90-96.

117 Aune, Revelation 1-5, p 90.

118 Augustine of Hippo, “Sermon 127.10,” in Joel C. Elowsky, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, IVa: John 1-10, Thomas Oden, gen. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), p 199. Brackets in original.

119 Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, 1, p 194; parentheses in original.

120 Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Vol. 1, pp 477-478; italics in original.

121 For this quantity, see Harner (p 82) and Dixon (p 24). Delbert R. Burkett [The Son of the Man in the Gospel of John, (JSNTSup, 56; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991)], who claims the usage here is indefinite (p 43), asserts that there are two other syntactical choices the Gospel writer could have used to mark the appellative as definite – though he also calls it a title – structures the biblical author utilized elsewhere in the Gospel, as “[t]he second article in [PN-CV] constructions is regularly retained . . .” (p 42). These two options are: (a) employing an anarthrous υἱός before the CV and τοῦ ἀνθρώπου after; (b) placing υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου before the CV (p 42). For (a) he appeals to 1:49, 9:5, 10:2, 12:31, and 19:21; for (b) he compares to 8:39 and 10:36. Regarding Burkett’s supporting texts for (b), both Dixon (p 56) and Harner (p 83 ftnt 20), in contrast to Burkett, find the two to be primarily qualitative. I’m inclined to agree.

As to the supporting verses for (a), Harner explicitly agrees with the position taken by Burkett regarding 1:49 and 9:5 (pp 83-84) and implicitly agrees regarding 19:21 (p 83); however, Dixon finds these three verses “probably qualitative, but, possibly definite” (pp 19-22, cf. 41-44). 10:2 is determined to be qualitative by both Dixon (p 56) and Harner (p 83 ftnt 20). 12:31 does not appear to fit the pattern and is not assessed by either Harner or Dixon. Regarding 10:2, we concur with Harner and Dixon. On the other three verses we remain ambivalent: we can see the argument of Harner, and we can sympathize with the position of Dixon.

While it may be true that the Gospel writer would retain the second article in such constructions, given the evidence, to include sample size, I’m not so sure we can make any definitive conclusions as to the biblical author’s intentions regarding in/definiteness or qualitativeness, contra Burkett. In fact, it seems likely that Burkett deems these constructions definite on their face merely because he presupposes they are all titles.

122 Wallace, Grammar, p 267.

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