Hymn to God and Jesus

This song has long been somewhat of an enigma for me. It clearly lays out the Gospel message and has appropriate accompanying music, which builds as it goes. Yet it contains some lyrics that strike me as a bit odd, out of place. Despite my own reservations, it may function well enough as a nice praise/worship song. Those familiar with the song may find my critique here a bit too—well—critical.

The song is “Hymn” by the progressive rock band Barclay James Harvest, the first track from their 1977 album Gone to Earth. See/hear video below the lyrics:

“HYMN”
(John Lees)

Valleys deep and the mountains so high
If you want to see God you’ve got to move on the other side
You stand up there with your head in the clouds
Don’t try to fly you know you might not come down
Don’t try to fly, dear God, you might not come down

Jesus came down from Heaven to earth
The people said it was a virgin birth
Jesus came down from Heaven to earth
The People said it was a virgin birth
The People said it was a virgin birth

He told great stories of the Lord
And said He was the Saviour of us all
He told great stories of the Lord
And said He was the Saviour of us all
And said He was the Saviour of us all

For this we killed Him, nailed Him up high
He rose again as if to ask us why
Then He ascended into the sky
As if to say in God alone you soar
As if to say in God alone we fly

Valleys deep and the mountains so high
If you want to see God you’ve got to move on the other side
You stand up there with your head in the clouds
Don’t try to fly you know you might not come down
Don’t try to fly, dear God, you might not come down

The first two lines together declare God as Creator. And though the second line affirms that no one can see God and live (Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 6:5–7; John 1:18, 6:46; 1John 4:12), it yet also seems a bit out of character with the rest of the verse. And the song. More on this further below.1

The next verse lays out the Virgin Birth. I could quibble, but it adequately functions as part of a simple worship song.  The third verse calls Jesus “Saviour of us all” (British spelling). It works well enough in the context of the song (though, again, I could quibble).

But the theological rubber hits the road in the fourth verse. After verses two and three proclaim Jesus’ coming to earth—and recall the album’s title Gone to Earth—being born of a virgin, and being “Saviour”, verse four declares His death by crucifixion (“For this we killed Him, nailed Him up high”) and His resurrection from the dead. The words “as if to ask us why” can be chalked up to poetic license to rhyme. The final two lines can be interpreted as Jesus being the first-fruits of many. That’s the Gospel!

The final verse is identical to the first. As such, they provide bookends to the Gospel message in between. So how does the song cohere?

According to one (secondary) source, the song is—presumably first quoting John Lees, the writer here—“’primarily about the dangers of drug abuse’ comparing it with the spiritual high of religion.”2 So now we have the interpretive key!

The first line has a double meaning. Besides the one described above, it refers to being high and, conversely, low in an illicit drug sense. This, then, makes sense of the rest of the lines. Some abusers have remarked how drug highs have a spiritual/religious feeling—a sense of ‘God’s’ presence or even seeing ‘God’. But Lees explains that this cannot be done in this life, but “on the other side”.

I think the reader can understand the rest.

So what do you think? Could this song be used in a Christian setting?

P.S. (Pre-Script)

I don’t know that I ever would have heard “Hymn” had it not been for a radio station I listened to when I was a teenager. My introduction to Barclay James Harvest was the track “May Day”, from their 1976 album Octoberon, when the station played the selection upon the album’s release. Though I was intrigued by the music and lyrics, it was the completely unexpected choral/orchestral (the latter likely using keyboards) ending that captivated me (beginning at around 4:53 in the video/vlog further below). I’d never heard such an unusual juxtaposition before. I bought the LP shortly after my initial hearing of this song. From there I explored some of the band’s other output, eventually acquiring the album Gone To Earth, but this was well-before my Christian conversion.

At the time I picked up Octoberon I was not yet aware of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, so I didn’t have a point of reference for the lyrics.3 Oh, but now I certainly do:

“MAY DAY”
(John Lees)

The rock on which I stand is slowly sinking in the sand
The sheer realities of life are rushing by
I am looking out at life and I don’t know what’s wrong or right
And I can’t even see the bright side of the moon

I stopped a man in the street today
And I asked him, “Sir, is it night or day?”
He just stared in disbelief
I asked again but he walked away
He said, “Don’t you know?”
I said, “Can’t you say? Is there something in between?
Is it something I’ve not seen?
Did it change so fast or was it just a dream?”

Time and time again I’ve tried to recreate the past few days
Evaluate the constants from the haze
But every time I think I’m right, they say I’m wrong
“This day is night and night is day –
It’s there in black and white”

Night is light and dark is day
If I disagree they say I’m insane
And the treatment will begin
If I say that the day is light
They just point my eyes to the blinding night, saying,
“We can’t set you free if you always disagree,
So the State is going to pay your doctor’s fee”

They put me out in the pouring rain
To enjoy the sun or to feel the pain
Of the nightmare life’s become
I asked a man in the street today
Or was it yesterday or the day before?
“Is there something I’ve not seen?
Is there something in between?
Did it change so fast or was it just a dream?”

The rock on which I stand is now beneath the ever-flowing sand
The sheer realities are here to stay
I’m looking out at life and now I know what’s wrong and right
It’s what you hear and what you read and what they say

I saw a man in the street today
Asked another man, “Is it night or day?”
He just stared in disbelief
He said, “Friend, it’s your lucky day
I’m a party man, won’t you step this way?
I’ve got something you’ve not seen.”
Now I know it’s not a dream
It just came so fast, that something in between

1 I also wince at the fifth line’s “dear God”, for, to me, it breaches the 3rd Commandment.  Lyrically, I understand why Lees wrote it in, but it comes off a bit frivolous. It doesn’t appear reverential but as a parallel to “you know” in the fourth line; but, “oh no” would have been much better. In fact, I propose that substitution for anyone wishing to cover the song.
2 See Songfacts.
3 The lyrics may have been influenced by David Bowie’s 1974 LP Diamond Dogs, with its dystopian landscape, as based on Orwell’s book. Bowie uses hyperbole to get the dystopian message across, then exaggerates the extent to which one will go to numb its inevitable emotional toll: They’ll split your pretty cranium, and fill it full of air / And tell you that you’re eighty, but brother, you won’t care / You’ll be shooting up on anything, tomorrow’s never there / Beware the savage jaw of 1984 (“1984”). But after the requisite preconditioning, the apocalyptic vision is accepted, welcomed: Someone to claim us, someone to follow / Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo / Someone to fool us, someone like you / We want you Big Brother (“Big Brother”). For his part, John Lees describes the workings and outworkings of the ‘Ministry of Truth’.

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’s 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.

One Composer’s Conception of Time

“I saw a mighty angel descending from heaven, clad in a cloud, having a rainbow upon his head. His face was like the sun, his feet like pillars of fire. He placed his right foot on the sea, his left foot on the land; and, supporting himself on the sea and the land, he raised his hand heavenward and swore by the One Who lives forever and ever, saying: ‘There shall be no more time, but in the day of the trumpet of the seventh angel the mystery of God shall be consummated.’”

– Apocalypse of St. John, 10:1–2, 5–71

So begins Olivier Messiaen’s preface to his Quartet for the End of Time (Quatuor pour las Fin du Temps). We might call it the prologue or the prelude to his preface, for this excerpt from Revelation (aka Apocalypse of Jesus Christ) provides the sole inspiration for the entire piece.

The quartet here is unusual in that it is not the typical string quartet (two violins, viola, and cello), instead consisting of piano, violin, cello, and clarinet. Messiaen finished composing this chamber music work while imprisoned during World War II. A sympathetic guard provided the needed materials for the captive composer. Quartet for the End of Time premiered in Stalag VIII-A in Görlitz, Germany (modern day Zgorzelec, Poland).

In his preface he describes how the composition’s “musical language” evokes time, timelessness, and eternity:

Certain modes, realizing melodically and harmonically a kind of tonal ubiquity, draw the listener into a sense of the eternity of space or infinity. Particular rhythms existing outside the measure contribute importantly toward the banishment of temporalities. (All this remains mere striving and stammering if one ponders upon the overwhelming grandeur of the subject!)2

By “[p]articular rhythms existing outside the measure” the composer means irregular rhythms; in some sections the number of beats per bar (measure) varies. In the first movement, for example, one instrument is assigned notes/chords to be played at specific intervals, while another is given different notes to be played at different intervals.3 Such intermixing represents “the banishment of temporalities”.4 These musical effects express time nearing its end, after which it will segue into eternity.

The composition consists of eight movements, two of which center on Christ. The first of these, the much-lauded fifth movement, is titled “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus”. The composer explains:

Jesus is here considered as one with the Word [Logos]. A long phrase, infinitely slow, by the cello magnifies with love and reverence on the eternality of the powerful and gentle Word, “whose years will never cease.” Majestically, the melody unfolds at a sort of distance, both tender and supreme: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As I understand the composer, he appears to recognize that the earthly Jesus (the Word become flesh) preexisted as the Word. That is, there is continuity in the ‘Person’ of “the Word” and the Person of Jesus Christ. At the same time, then, he seems to correctly recognize that Jesus is coextensive with the Word only at the point of the Incarnation. Before that point in time the Word was not with flesh, and the Word was simply “the Word”.

Thus, while the Word eternally exists, Jesus has a beginning in time—at the instant of Incarnation, at the Conception of the Virginal Birth. In other words, though the Word exists eternally, the Word began a new mode of existence at the Incarnation—as Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ—which did not alter His eternality. Stated another way, the Word has unbounded eternality; comparatively, Jesus Christ has bounded eternality—bounded at the moment of the Virginal Conception, when the Word took human nature unto Himself (see An Eternal Christological Conundrum).

The second movement exalting Jesus Christ is the final (eighth) one: “Praise to the Immortality of Jesus.”

Expansive violin solo as counterpart to the cello solo of the fifth movement. Why this second eulogy? It addresses itself more specifically to the second aspect of Jesus—to Jesus the man, to the Word made flesh, resurrected immortal in order to share His life with us. It is total love. Its slow ascent towards the highest pitch is the ascension of man towards his God, of the child of God towards his Father, of the divinized creature towards paradise.

In keeping with his Roman Catholic faith, it seems likely the composer has in mind Athanasius, whose words were revised a bit to become the pithy aphorism “God became man so that man could become God”. That Messiaen understood this not as a full-on capital ‘D’ Deification seems evident in the last sentence above, especially the French créature divinisée. This retains the Creator-creature distinction, for a creature cannot truly become “Divinized”—capital ‘D’. The created cannot become just like the Creator. That would be oxymoronic. We are ‘partakers of the Divine nature’ (2Peter 1:4), not wholly Deity, God.5

Coming full circle, one last aspect of Messiaen’s preface commands our attention: his translation/interpretation of time in the prologue/prelude. A quick search of various English translations finds quite a variety in Revelation 10:6. Of this, the composer states:

“There are people who understand [the Biblical passage as] ‘there will be no more delay.’ That’s not it. [Instead it is] ‘there will be no more Time’ with a capital ‘T’; that is to say, there will be no more space, there will be no more time. One leaves the human dimension with cycles and destiny to rejoin eternity. So, I finally wrote this quartet dedicating it to this angel who declared the end of Time.”6

His is an interesting interpretation. As for the translation, Messiaen is technically correct. Let’s look at the Greek (transliterated):

Hoti chronos ouketi estai
That time no-longer will-be
That time will be no longer
That time will no longer be
That there will be time no longer
That there will be no more time

The first Greek word, hoti, can be understood as “that”, followed by a statement, in narrative form, of what someone had said. Or it can be construed as the beginning of a quotation, as Messiaen construes it, along with a few English translations. Messiaen goes a bit further, though, by prefacing this statement by the angel with “saying” (French: disant), which is not in the Greek. The composer also capitalizes “Time” (French: Temps).

Those versions that render this either as a quotation of the angel as “There will be no more delay” or the narrator’s reporting of what the angel had said as that there will be no more delay are making interpretive decisions based on the larger context. It is beyond the scope of this blog post to go into more detail, but the reader is free to make any comment on this.

The composer follows the words accompanying movement VIII—and thus concludes his preface—with the same words he had used parenthetically earlier in the preface, this time without the parentheses: All this remains mere striving and stammering if one ponders upon the overwhelming grandeur of the subject!

In sum, Messiaen offers an intriguing take on the Revelation 10 passage, which then functions as a basis for his unique conception of time musically, as realized in his chamber music piece Quatuor pour las Fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time). That this piece was conceived and completed while a WWII captive makes it perhaps all the more intriguing.

___________________________

1 As translated from Olivier Messiaen’s French, with the assistance of various online helps.

2 Again, as translated from Messiaen’s French, though comparing with the English translation in the CD  liner notes of RCA Victor Gold Seal (reissue of original 1976 RCA Red Seal), MESSIAEN Quatuor pour la Fin de Temps, Tashi (Peter Serkin, Ida Kavafian, Fred Sherry, Richard Stoltzman), 7835-2-RG, BMG Classics, © 1988 BMG Music. The translation in the above text above differs, e.g., in “the eternity of space or infinity” as compared to liner notes’ “the eternity of space or time” (the French is infini), and in “if one ponders upon” as compared to “if one compares it to” (French is songe à). The rest of the translations follow similar methodology.

3 See Lawrence University’s Gene Biringer’s “Analysis” tab here: I. Liturgie de cristal. Also, under the “Musical Elements” tab the author writes: [Heterophonic texture] can also describe certain polyphonic textures, like that of the first movement of Messiaen’s Quartet, in which there is no discernable relationship among some of the parts . . .  the violin and clarinet parts, which are meant to evoke birdsong, are so independent of the cello part and, especially, the homophonic piano part that they seem to occupy a wholly different sonic world . . . here four characters are speaking simultaneously, unresponsive and perhaps even oblivious to the others. Instead of a harmonious counterpoint between independent but related melodies, we hear a juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated ideas – a true heterophony.

4 For further—and better—explanation, see Peter Gutmann’s Classical Notes site, particularly here.

5 See Roman Catholic Catechism 460.

6 As quoted from the Lawrence University site (see Biblical Source tab) as found in Rebecca Rischin, For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet (New York, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), p 51.

Not Declining the Divine Name?

John writes some strange things in Revelation, aka The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. An angel fills a golden censer with fire from the heavenly altar, and throws it to the earth. And there’s an angel standing in the sun, crying with a loud voice to birds flying mid-heaven, “Come and gather together for the great supper of God.”

More mundane perhaps is the case below. It appears John does not decline the Divine Name. Now why would that be strange?

The One Who Is

Before proceeding directly, some necessary background must be provided. The applicable verbiage in Revelation 1:4, our subject verse, comes not from the Hebrew but the Greek of Exodus 3:14.1 This portion of the Greek ‘Old Testament’ was translated from the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) by Jews in the middle of the 3rd century BC.2 Exodus 3:13 is included, in order to provide necessary context:

3:13 Then Moses said to God, “Behold: I shall go to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of our fathers has sent me to you.’ They shall ask me, ‘What is His Name?’ What shall I tell them?” 14 God replied to Moses, “I AM THE ONE WHO IS [EGŌ EIMI HO ŌN].” Then He said, “So tell the sons of Israel, ‘THE ONE WHO IS [HO ŌN] has sent me to you.’”3

Moses is concerned that telling the Israelites “The God of our fathers has sent me to you” will be deficient. They may also want to know His Name. In response, God first provides what appears to be His Name:4I AM THE ONE WHO IS.” The pertinent portion is THE ONE WHO IS, for this forms part of God’s directive to Moses when He speaks again:  “So tell the sons of Israel, ‘THE ONE WHO IS [HO ŌN] has sent me to you.’”

It will prove beneficial to examine the (transliterated) Greek. We will begin with an overly literal word-for-word translation, and then proceed until we reach a more suitable rendering at the bottom. In the first part of verse 14 is God’s initial reply to Moses:

EGŌ EIMI HO ŌN
I I-am the being/existing5
I am the existing (one)
I am the-one existing
I am He-who exists/is
I am He Who Is
I am The One Who Is

EGŌ is simply the first person singular pronoun “I”. The second word, EIMI, is the first person singular finite verb “be” (“I-am”). Since person and number are encoded in all Greek finite verbs, each one has a built-in subject. In this instance, it is the first person singular “I”. Therefore, strictly speaking, the pronoun “I” (EGŌ) is not necessary and likely implies emphasis. So, the initial part of God’s response should be understood as the emphatic “I AM”.

The third word, HO, is the Greek article.6 It can be crudely translated simply “the”. In our context, the article functions to substantivize the participle following it. In other words, the Greek article + participle here form a noun, a nominative.

To further explain, a Greek participle is a non-finite verb, which means it can never be a complete sentence unto itself.7 Participles can function either as adverbs (modifying a verb) or adjectives (modifying a noun). When the article precedes it, as it does here (the article HO + participle ŌN), the participle is functioning as an adjective. And when the combination of article + participle stands alone,8 it is a substantival, taking the place of a noun. HO ŌN is in the nominative case, functioning here as the predicate nominative. ŌN is the masculine singular present participle of “be” (=“being”, “existing”, “is”), and taken together with the article yields: THE ONE WHO IS.

A Greek article also encodes grammatical gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter), matching that of its associated part of speech—in this case the participle. Hence, they are both masculine. Therefore, a valid translation is HE WHO IS. For our purposes, we will use THE ONE WHO IS.9

Thus, we translate the above I AM THE ONE WHO IS. The predicate nominative of this proclamation then becomes the subject nominative in God’s instructions to Moses to tell the sons of Israel: ‘THE ONE WHO IS has sent me to you.’

With this background provided, we shall proceed to the applicable portion of Revelation 1:4:

1:4 John to the seven ekklēsiais in Asia: Grace to you, and peace from [apo] THE ONE WHO IS [HO ŌN], THE ONE WHO WAS [HO ĒN], and THE ONE WHO IS COMING [HO ERCHOMENOS]…

John the Revelator is using poor Greek grammar! In the first instance [HO ŌN], it appears John does not decline the Divine Name. To be more specific, in the prepositional phrase (PP) beginning with apo (“from”), THE ONE WHO IS should be grammatically declined to the genitive case [TOU ONTOS], not remain in the nominative case [HO ŌN]. R. H. Charles explains John’s apparent rationale:

We have here a title of God conceived in the terms of time. The Seer [John] has deliberately violated the rules of grammar in order to preserve the divine name inviolate from the change which it would necessarily have undergone if declined. Hence the divine name is here in the nominative [case].10

Mathewson provides further comment:

This PP [prepositional phrase] is one of the first clear examples of John’s numerous solecisms. Here the preposition apo is followed by the nominative case (ho) rather than the expected genitive (tou). There is broad agreement that the grammatical incongruity is intentional . . . The most likely explanation is that by grammatical incongruity the author wishes to draw attention to the titular nature of this expression and the OT text from which it comes: Exod 3:14.11

Of the three elements, the first [HO ŌN] and third [HO ERCHOMENOS] follow the same pattern. Each uses the nominative case in the form of the substantival Greek article + participle after their common preposition apo (“from”). So, both seem to follow the same logic and purpose, if grammatically odd.

The second element, however, is grammatically worse than the other two! It is not ‘merely’ a nominative where it should be in the genitive case. It is in the incongruous form of Greek article + finite verb. Recall that a finite verb encodes person and number; so, each has a built-in subject, and each can form a complete sentence. Thus, if we were to translate the second element word-for-word, it would be the nonsensical THE ONE WHO HE WAS, HE WHO HE WAS, THE HE WAS, or THE WAS. In other words, even when standing on its own—outside the apo (“from”) PP—this construction (article + finite verb) is nonsensical.

Yet this can be explained somewhat. The verb “be” in Greek (EIMI) lacks a past participle, and so the finite verb ĒN (WAS) is substituted as the closest compromise. The purpose of the article preceding it—though absolutely wrong grammatically—is to retain parallelism with the other elements in this PP to the extent possible.12

But one might contend (this writer would) that THE ONE WHO IS [HO ŌN] by itself sufficiently connotes eternality; that is, if God simply IS, then this implies He has no beginning and no end.13 Swete observes that “the [Jewish] Targums read into the words [the Hebrew of Exodus 3:14] a reference to the infinite past and future of God’s eternal ‘now’”.14 

In his Prepositions and Theology, Murray J. Harris refers to this text of Rev 1:4.15 After providing various explanations for the grammatical anomalies, he concludes, “The easiest and most common explanation is that this threefold title of Yahweh is an indeclinable noun that by its very form effectively highlights the unchangeable and eternal character of God.”16

Divine Name or Title?

The careful reader may have observed that HO ŌN is sometimes referred to as the Divine Name and other times as a title or part of a longer title, depending on the source. The larger context of Exodus 3 may provide clarity on this. Following is the same selection above but with the next two verses included:

3: 13 Then Moses said to God, “Behold: I shall go to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of our fathers has sent me to you.’ They shall ask me, ‘What is His Name?’ What shall I tell them?” 14 God replied to Moses, “I AM THE ONE WHO IS.” Then He said, “So tell the sons of Israel, ‘THE ONE WHO IS has sent me to you.’” 15 Then God spoke again to Moses, “So, say this to the sons of Israel: ‘The LORD [Hebrew: YHWH], the God of your fathers—God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is My Name forever and how I am to be remembered from generation to generation.16 Now go and gather together the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD [YHWH], the God of your fathers, appeared to me—God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob…’ ”

Observe that God specifically states His Name as “The LORD [YHWH]” in verse 15. The Greek ‘OT’ consistently translates the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) as KYRIOS. English versions usually render this the all caps LORD. The portion following His Name, “the God of your fathers”, should probably be understood such that it further describes/defines “The LORD [YHWH]”.

So what do we make of THE ONE WHO IS? Is it to be understood as yet another Name? A Title?

Prior to the transcription of the Targums, a section of the Jewish pseudepigraphic work Sibylline Oracles dated ca. 2nd century BC–20 BC17 describes God as existing eternally, by using present participles of “be” [accusative forms]:

3:15 But He, Himself eternal, has revealed Himself 16 as One Who Is/Exists [ONTA], and so even heretofore exists [prin EONTA], and yet even still hereafter.18

The way this is phrased, it seems that the first part of the sentence (“But He, Himself eternal, has revealed Himself as One Who Is/Exists”) is intended to state God’s eternality, while the rest of the phrase further describes it. He exists, meaning He has existed at all times past up to and including the present, and will continue to exist into the future. And this selection provides a clue to further define John’s likely intention.

There are contemporaneous secular works describing ‘gods’ as existing eternally. But they use Greek finite verbs instead of participles. “Zeus was, Zeus is, Zeus shall be” (Pausanias, Greciae descriptio, 10.12.10).19 Also, “Aion, the god of time, ‘is and was and will be’”.20

Comparatively, Aune notes, “The title [HO ŌN] was known to Jews in Asia Minor as attested by an inscription on an altar from Pergamon that reads THEOS KYRIOS HO ŌN EIS AEI.21 This could be rendered: “God, the LORD, the One who exists/is forever.”

Taken altogether, it is the opinion of this writer that the phrase I AM THE ONE WHO IS in Exodus 3:14 is God’s declaration of His eternal existence—His proclamation of His Divine attribute of eternality. Assuming so, THE ONE WHO IS, then, was used as a Divine Title, not a Divine Name. It seems possible it reflects (part of) a self-description inherent in His Divine Name YHWH, the Tetragrammaton.

Therefore, assuming the above, in apparent reverence, John the Revelator kept this Divine Title HO ŌN intact, instead of subjecting it to the usual grammatical declining. But what about the rest of John’s phrase?

Note that John’s full expression does not follow the pattern in any of the others above. Perhaps the most obvious difference is the third element, which does not reflect ‘infinite future’ but rather God’s coming (HO ERCHOMENOS) at the culmination of salvation-history—the eschaton, the end of all things from our earthly perspective.22 This fact more foundationally supports the position that HO ŌN by itself sufficiently expresses eternality.

Less clear is the time referent, temporal or eternal, for the grammatically incongruous second element (HO ĒN) in the three part phrase. It could be a corollary to “the beginning/originator of God’s creation” (HĒ ARCHĒ TĒ KTISEŌS TOU THEOU) in Revelation 3:14.23 If so, the second and third elements would reflect the entirety of salvation-history, from beginning to end.

If all this holds, John’s expression would reflect God’s intrinsic Self-existence in the Divine Title in the first element, while the second and third elements together would represent the termination points of salvation-history.

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1 The Hebrew of the first words of God in Exodus 3:14 is usually rendered I AM THAT I AM.

2 The Greek ‘OT’ is part of the larger Septuagint (LXX), which includes a body of works known as the Apocrypha, aka Deuterocanon (“second canon”) in some traditions.

3 We must also take note that in the next verse God continues the same line of thought, this time by explicitly explaining and stating His Name; however,  John the Revelator does not reference this portion directly. More on this below.

4 Or perhaps this is God’s way of proclaiming an ontological attribute, one exclusive to Him: His eternality. The LORD God simply IS. See note 13.

5 “I am THE BEING” is Brenton’s translation.

6 While English has both a definite article (the) and an indefinite article (a), Greek has only one article. 

7 This is in distinction from finite verbs (see EIMI above), which can and do sometimes form complete sentences unto themselves, since both person and number are appended morphologically. A great example is Jesus’ final word on the Cross in John 19:30: Tetelestai. It is a 3rd person singular perfect tense-form verb, in the middle voice, and in the indicative mood. It is best translated “It is finished”, or, perhaps better, “It has been finished.”

8 A Greek article + participle can also function as an attributive adjective, if it is modifying a noun, thus further describing that noun.

9 Masculine gender here is to correlate with THEOS, GOD, which is also masculine in grammatical gender. While HE WHO IS works, it is subject to possible misinterpretation in English—that God is male in a biological sense.

10 R.H. Charles, Revelation of John, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary; ed. Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles A. Briggs; Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), para 41640. Charles adds: “It could have been preserved in classical Greek, i.e. apo tou ho ōn. But our author shows no knowledge of this construction” (para 41640; Greek transliterated, bold added for emphasis). Yet the Textus Receptus (the Greek text underlying the KJV) inserts tou here (see this site, e.g.); but, take notice of Charles’ comment that John “shows no knowledge of this construction”. The language/dialect of Classical Greek, from which tou would emanate in this instance, ended about 400 years before the Koine Greek of the NT era. As far as I can determine, the Textus Receptus sources only one manuscript for Revelation here, specifically GA 2814 (12th century), and this tou appears to be a singular reading. That is, it appears to be the only extant manuscript with this reading. Yet, quite a few manuscripts (including 𝔐 [Majority Text]) insert the genitive for “God” (theou) between apo and the nominative HO ŌN, in an attempt to smooth out the grammar.

11 David L. Mathewson, Revelation: A Handbook on the Greek Text, Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), p 4 (Greek transliterated).

12 Cf. Charles, Revelation, para 41641.

13 Craig R. Koester (Revelation, The Anchor Yale Bible [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014]) comments that the neuter form of article + EIMI present participle [TO ON] had been used to imply eternality: “Greco-Roman sources sometimes used the form to on for God as “the existent one” or as “being” (Seneca the Younger, Ep. 58.7, 17; Plutarch, Mor. 393B–C)” (p 215).  See notes 4 and 5.

14 Henry B. Swete, The Apocalypse of John: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes and Indices, 3rd ed. (London: MacMillan, 1917), p 5. This is in the public domain and available online here. And here the Targums understand the Hebrew of Exodus 3:14 as I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE [Gr. ESOMAI HOS ESOMAI].

15 Murray J. Harris, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), pp 66–67

16 Harris, Prepositions and Theology, p 67. Cf. Swete, Apocalypse: This construction “must be explained by regarding the whole phrase as an indeclinable noun” (p 5).

17 See J. J. Collins, “Sibylline Oracles” in James H. Charlesworth, Ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1983): “[Verses 1–45] could have been composed at any time in the late Hellenistic period or early Roman periods. If we assume that they originally formed a unit with any part of 46–92, we can fix their date more precisely . . . Verses 46–62 must be dated shortly after the battle of Actium” (p 360).

18 The Greek (transliterated): all’ autos avedeixev aiōnios autos eauton onta te kai prin eonta, atar pali kai metepeita. Charles renders it: “But he, himself Eternal, hath revealed himself as One who is and was before, yea and shall be hereafter.”

19 The Greek here is Zeus ēn, Zeus estin, Zeus essetai (Ζεὺς ἦν, Ζεὺς ἔστιν, Ζεὺς ἔσσεται).

20 Koester, Revelation, p 215.

21 David Aune, Revelation: Revelation 1–5, Word Biblical Commentary 52A (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997) p 30, (Greek transliterated).

22 Charles, Revelation, opines that the present participle of erchomai [“is coming”] is used here instead of the future form, “with a definite reference to the contents of the Book and especially to the coming of Christ, 1:7; 2:5, 16; 3:2; 22:7, 12, etc., in whose coming God Himself comes also [ED: in 1:8, e.g.]” (para 41641).

23 Note the first words of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning (ARCHĒ) was (ĒN) the Word”.

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Similarly themed posts:

An Eternal Christological Conundrum

Looking Past the Future

Jesus’ Kingly Appearance

Being Blessed

Da Pacem, Domine (Give Peace, O Lord)

[This is a slight revision of a post from 3 years ago.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Did Pilate State in John 19:22?: Conclusion (repost)

[This is the second of a two-part repost in recognition of Holy Week. See part I.]

In the conclusion here I shall more closely explore the three verses leading up to Pontius Pilate’s pithy phrase in John 19:22. Due to the rather technical nature of the explanation below, I shall provide a summary as preface.

A ‘mismatch’ in Greek grammatical gender in Jesus’ response to Pilate in John 19:11 may well indicate that Pilate’s God-given authority had a more specific application for his role in the Passion (18:28–19:22). His final phrase (19:22) provides the climax to this circumscribed role. Clues to such an elevated role are found in the narrator’s use of specific verbiage in 19:19 and again in 19:20. These include John’s borrowing of the Latin titulus and yet another ‘mismatch’ in grammatical gender. The Latin titulus becomes the Greek titlos, an apparent neologism, and the ‘mismatch’ occurs in this new word and what is translated “it had been inscribed/written”. The latter phrase (and slight variations) is frequently used before Scripture quotations.

Before proceeding to the analysis, some necessary background in John’s Gospel will be provided first.

Events Leading Up to Jesus’ Arrest

In reaction to Jesus’ increasing popularity following the miracle of Lazarus’ revivification (11:38-45; 12:9-11), some of ‘the Jews’9 conferred with the chief priests and the Pharisees who then summoned the Sanhedrin (11:46-47). They were concerned they would eventually lose their “place and nation” (11:48). While “place” in its Scriptural context may refer to the Temple, it may well (also) mean the leaders’ privileged positions, which were granted by, yet subject to, Roman authority.

At this meeting Caiaphas, the High Priest (11:49) said, “…it is better that one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish” (11:50; cf. 18:14). The narrator of the Gospel adds:

51 He did not say this of himself but, as High Priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not only the nation, but also that He would unite into one the children of God who are dispersed.10

The Greek words for “children of God” above are found only here and in 1:12 in John’s Gospel. Thus, ironically, the fulfillment of his words would have different consequences than he likely assumed (cf. 7:35), and would result in the inclusion of Gentile believers as children of God on equal footing (12:32; cf. 4:42; Rom 2:28-29).

They then plotted Christ’s death (11:53), apparently conspiring to arrest Him at the next available opportunity toward that end (11:55-57).

In the meantime, the Devil cast into the heart of Judas Iscariot the desire to betray Jesus (13:2; cf. 13:18, 21). Shortly thereafter, at the Last Supper, “Satan entered into him” (13:27), and then Judas left to carry out his betrayal (13:30). Soon after that he went to an olive grove where he knew Jesus often met with his disciples, bringing with him “a detachment of soldiers and some officers of the chief priests and the Pharisees” (18:1-3).

Jesus’ Arrest and Trials

Jesus was subsequently arrested and brought before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas (18:12-14), who questioned Him (18:19-23) before sending him on to Caiaphas (18:24). Then Christ was led to Governor Pilate’s palace (18:28).

Pilate enquired about the charges levied against Jesus (18:29), and with no direct answer given (18:30) he instructed them to “judge him by your own law” (18:31).11 ‘The Jews’ replied, “We are not authorized to execute anyone” (18:31). This was to fulfill the kind of death Jesus would suffer (18:32; cf. 12:33), as He indicated earlier—being “lifted up”, i.e., crucified (12:32).

Yet the fact that Roman soldiers (18:3) were employed in Jesus’ capture indicates Pilate may well have been apprised of the charges before Christ was presented to him. This would account for his first question to Jesus: “Are you ‘the king of the Jews’?” (18:33). Pilate’s words here could be intended, alternatively, as showing incredulity (cf. Isa 53:2): “You are ‘the king of the Jews’?”12 After Jesus informed him that His kingdom is not of this world (18:36, 37), Pilate found him without guilt, then asked the Jews if they would agree to release Him as per the annual tradition of freeing one prisoner at Passover (18:38-39). The Jews chose Barabbas instead (18:40).

With that Pilate had Jesus flogged (19:1). The soldiers, mocking Jesus’ ‘purported’ kingship, put a crown of thorns on His head and clad Him in a purple robe (19:2-3).

After this, still unconvinced of Christ’s guilt, Pilate tried once more to persuade them to reconsider (19:4). When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said (19:5), “Behold, the man!” This is probably Pilate’s way of challenging their charge of His [Jesus’] alleged claim of political kingship.

In response the chief priests and their officials shouted out (19:6): “Crucify! Crucify!” In return Pilate told them to crucify Him—knowing they couldn’t of course—again stating he found the charges to be without foundation (19:6). ‘The Jews’ countered using a different tact, “We have a law, and according to this law He must die, for He made Himself God’s Son” (19:7; cf. 5:18; 10:33). They were likely appealing to Leviticus 24:16, accusing Jesus of blasphemy.

Upon hearing their new allegation Pilate grew more afraid (19:8). Having been immersed in Greco-Roman polytheism, Pilate may have thought Jesus a ‘divine man’. Whatever the case, this new claim prompted him to ask Jesus, “Where are you from?” (19:9). When Christ remained silent Pilate apparently grew agitated, adding, “Don’t you know I have the authority to release you and I have the authority to crucify you?” (19:10). Jesus responded, “You would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you from above; therefore, the one who has delivered me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” (19:11; cf. 10:17-18).

From this point forward Pilate kept seeking to release Him. But, in persistence, ‘the Jews’ shouted, “If you release this fellow, you are no friend of Caesar’s—anyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (19:12). Note the verbal connection between “makes himself a king” and “made Himself God’s Son” (cf. 5:18, 10:33) above.

It was around the “sixth hour” (noon) on the Day of Preparation of Passover week (19:14; cf. 13:1). With this time marker we know that Jesus’ impending death, only a short time away, would be around the same time when priests would begin slaughtering paschal lambs (Exo 12).13 Now the “Lamb of God” (1:29; cf. 1 Cor 5:7; Heb 9:11-15; 1 Pet 1:19; Rev 5:6) is about to meet a similar fate at about the same hour (cf. Exo 12:46; John 19:33, 36).

In response to their last statement (19:12), Pilate brought Jesus out and said (19:13-14), “Here is your king!” To that they shouted: “Take that man away! Take away! Crucify him!”14

Pilate answered (19:15), “Shall I crucify your king?”

The chief priests, in feigned allegiance to Caesar for the sake of expediency, answered (19:15), “We have no king but Caesar!” Their claim could be understood as a denial of their own God, their King (Jdg 8:23; 1 Sam 8:7; Psa 136:3)—at Passover, no less.

Their response was intended to dissuade Pilate from releasing Jesus, as doing so would make it appear he recognized Him as a rival to Caesar’s kingship. And thus Pilate failed in his efforts to free Jesus. ‘The Jews’ and the chief priests forced his hand, and so he handed Jesus over to them for crucifixion. Obviously unhappy with this turn of events, Pilate would exact revenge against them.

The Crucifixion and Pilate’s Enduring Statement

With Jesus formally sentenced, the soldiers took charge (19:16). After carrying His cross, He was ‘lifted up’, placed between two others (19:17-18).

Below is the brief section leading up to and including Pilate’s final statement in John’s Gospel. Each occurrence of the Greek verb root “write” (graphō) is bolded. In addition, titlos is left untranslated, for it is difficult to provide a suitable one-word substitute. An exploration of these terms will commence further below.

19 Yet Pilate also wrote a titlos and fastened it to the cross. It had been inscribed: JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 Many of the Jews thus read this titlos, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it had been written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews therefore said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘THE KING OF THE JEWS’, but that man, ‘SAID, I AM KING OF THE JEWS.’”15

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

Pilate’s inscription was intended as an insult to the Jews. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword here—in more than one way.

Since first century Greek texts lacked punctuation (and spacing between words!), there is some ambiguity as to the exact request of “the chief priests of the Jews” and how they wished to amend Pilate’s original words. I interpret their intention was to replace ‘…THE KING OF THE JEWS’ in the inscription with ‘…SAID, I AM KING OF THE JEWS’, resulting in their proposed verbiage JESUS THE NAZARENE SAID, I AM KING OF THE JEWS. They wanted the words to reflect a claim of Jesus, not a claim of the Jewish nation. From their perspective, the inscription as it stood may “appear to be a formal declaration of Jesus’ identity rather than a charge against Him.”16

Pilate was well aware their charges had been trumped up, so he was undoubtedly taking much pleasure in making a mockery of them in response to their mocked allegiance to Caesar at Jesus’ expense. They may have forced his hand, but he showed them who ultimately had the upper hand.

But Pilate’s vindication would have other ramifications. While we understand the theological implication in Pilate’s inscription—as it stands it makes a true statement of Jesus’ Kingship—taking a closer look at the context while investigating related historical background provides a stronger foundation upon which to construe it this way.

Other Signs

It was not uncommon in first century Rome for a criminal on his way to execution to be accompanied by a sign stating both his name and the offense for which He was condemned. It was either (a) carried by an official walking in front of him17 or (b) hung around his own neck.18 But there is not much historical evidence for placing this same sign on the criminal’s cross, and what is available is ambiguous.19 We must note that none of the Gospels mention anyone carrying a sign of this sort during the Via Dolorosa. This is not to definitively claim someone had not, however. We merely have no explicit evidence. What we know for certain is that a sign was placed onto Jesus’ cross indicating His supposed crime.20

The word used in both instances above referring to the sign accompanying condemned criminals is the Latin titulus. John’s titlos—found only here in 19:19 and 19:20 in all Scripture (and seems to be first used by John)—is a ‘loanword’ from this Latin term. Titulus had rather broad applications in first century Latin texts. In addition to the two examples previously cited, the word was used by Pliny the Younger (ca. AD 61—113) for a notice to rent21 and by Roman poet Ovid (BC 43—AD 17/18) for a notice of public sale.22 It was also used to signify a grave marker.23 As can be deduced, the term applied to both the object inscribed and its inscription in these instances. However, for our purposes, more important is the fact that at times titulus was used solely for the inscription itself in distinction from the object on which it was inscribed.24

The term can refer to epitaphs (i.e., the inscriptions) as distinct from grave markers.25 Roman historian Titus Livius Patavinus (ca. BC 64/59—AD 12/17) applied it to Hannibal’s self-inscription on an altar in which he glowingly described his own achievements.26 Columella (ca. AD 4—70), a writer on agricultural concerns, used the word to reference titles of books.27 Ovid, in the very same work referred to in the previous paragraph, used titulus to signify the title of a pamphlet.28 And most pertinent here, in a work written around the time Christ was born, Ovid employed the term in reference to honorific titles—as applied to Augustus Caesar, for example.29 In similar fashion, in one context Ovid used it as a title acquired by assuming it from those conquered or from some heroic event, yet also in synonymity with “name” (Latin: nomen).30 Yet, given that Pilate’s purpose with the inscription was to antagonize ‘the Jews’, can we rightly apply any of these meanings (epitaph, title, name) to John 19:19?

The text in 19:19 states that Pilate wrote the titlos (titulus) and affixed it to the cross. The task of placing the titlos onto the beam, however, was almost certainly delegated. Yet given the preceding historical investigation—illustrating titulus could refer to either the inscribed object and its inscription or the inscription only—there are a number of possible scenarios with regard to the writing of the words. Perhaps Pilate dictated the desired text to a scribe for inscribing.31 Or maybe he himself penned the words on a papyrus (titlos) and then gave this document to a scribe for inscribing onto the (presumed) board of the titlos.32 It could be that he inscribed the titlos in Latin and then gave it to a secretary to translate and write the Aramaic and the Greek. Whatever the case, in some manner, Pilate wrote the titlos.

Textual Clues and Syntactical Pointers

There’s a grammatical issue in the latter part of v. 19 that may well have a bearing here. The words preceding the inscription—“It had been inscribed” in the translation above (akin to the English past perfect)—are translated from a participle reflecting a neuter subject, yet titlos is masculine. In other words, it does not refer to titlos. (Greek grammar usually requires grammatical gender match.) This exact syntax is found again in 19:20. So, to what or whom does it refer?

This is typically translated impersonally: “There was written” (“It [the inscription] read”).33 However, as Keener notes, each and every time this syntactical structure with this verb is used up to this point in John it references Scripture (it is written; it had been written).34 Keener concludes, “Thus John may ironically suggest that Pilate, as God’s unwitting agent (19:11), may carry out God’s will in the Scriptures.”35 Could God’s Spirit have superintended the writing of the inscription, despite Pilate’s vindictive purpose?

The words it is written in the verses prefacing Scripture references (2:17; 6:31, 45; 10:34; 12:14; 15:25; cf. 5:46; 8:17) are in the Greek perfect tense-form, while 12:16 contains a pluperfect—the same form as 19:19 and 19:20. Though all these are important to my argument here, key is the usage of 12:16, best rendered these things had been written.36 In that context, the narrator notes that the disciples recalled earlier events but only fully understood how they fulfilled Scripture from the vantage point of their post-glorification perspective (after Jesus’ resurrection).37 Before considering this line of inquiry further, how might 19:11 (which Keener referenced above) impact the interpretation in 19:19?

While the authority Pilate possessed in a general sense was certainly “from above” (anōthen), as it is for all rulers and authorities, this was not Jesus’ point here. Similar to v. 19, there is a mismatch in gender in v. 11. Just as the participle in 19:19 is neuter, so it had [not] been given is neuter in 19:11. The Greek word for authority, however, is feminine.38 Thus, if it had not been given to you from above does not refer to Pilate’s general conferred authority but instead is circumscribed to his specific role in the events unfolding at the time: “the fact that Jesus has been given into his hands has been determined by God”.39 More specifically, my contention here is that this specific authority was conferred to Pilate for his entire role in the Passion sequence.

Below is the pertinent portion of the verse:

19:11 ouk eiches exousian kat’ emou oudemian ei mē ēn dedomenon soi anōthen
not you have authority over me nothing if not was it having given you from-above
“You would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you from above.”

Going out a bit further, interestingly, this same syntactical format (‘not _____’ if it has/had not been given from God) is first found in John the Baptizer’s response to those who mentioned Jesus’ baptizing and the increasing numbers going to Him (3:26):

3:27 ou dynatai anthrōpos lambanein oude hen ean mē ȩ̄ dedomenon autō̧ ek tou ouranou40
not s/he be able person to receive and-not one if not may-be it having given him from heaven
A person is not able to receive not one thing if not it may be given to him/her from heaven
“A person is not able to receive anything if it has not been given to them from heaven.”

Though the Baptizer’s statement serves a particular purpose in its context, it should also be seen as a maxim, a general statement.41 These words of the Baptizer are the first with this syntactical structure in John’s Gospel, while Jesus’ words to Pilate are the last. Thus, in my opinion these form bookends, one opening and the other closing an inclusio. The Baptizer’s maxim then relates to some intervening uses of “give” (didōmi), such as parts of the Bread of Life discourse (e.g. 6:37, 39), Jesus’ Prayer (17:7, 11, 12, 22), and Jesus’ cup (18:11).42 Of course, it also relates to Jesus’ statement in 19:11 (ei mē ēn dedomenon, “if it had not been given”). The remaining verse fitting this grammatical structure (6:65) is thematically relevant:

6:65 oudeis dynatai elthein pros me ean mē ȩ̄ dedomenon autō̧ ek tou patros
no one is able to come to me if not may-be it having given him/her of the Father
“No one is able to come to Me if it has not been given to them by the Father.”

The point here is that while God places individuals in certain positions he also orchestrates specific events, using certain individuals to accomplish specific tasks in these events. Thus, understanding Pilate’s unique role in the Passion per Jesus’ phraseology in 19:11, we might be able to assume that this circumscribed, God-given authority extends to the inscription, especially when we consider the syntax in 19:19 and 19:20 (it had been inscribed) and how that relates to other uses of this same structure. Even still, can we make the leap that his words on the inscription are tantamount to writing Scripture? If so, what Scripture is referenced?

Crucial to understanding the Gospel of John is to grasp that the author is writing from a perspective post-Jesus’ resurrection. After Pentecost, the Spirit had been given. And from this perspective the Spirit brings to remembrance past events, further illuminating them to the disciples (14:26; 16:12-15). At various points the narrator implies this by calling attention to some of Jesus’ previous statements (12:32 via 12:33 and 18:32|6:39 via 17:12 and 18:9). In 2:22 the narrator remarks that after “He [Jesus] was raised” the disciples ‘remembered’ His words and “they believed the Scripture (graphē, noun form of graphō) and the word that Jesus spoke” (in 2:19).  But what “Scripture” is ‘remembered’ here? It cannot be the one referenced in 2:16, for 2:17 specifically explains that particular one. By the context the intended Scripture referent appears to be the OT (Tanakh) in a general sense, as it relates to the resurrection.43

Somewhat similar to 2:22 is 12:16—the Triumphal Entry. Here the narrator states that the disciples fully realized that these things had been written about Him only “after Jesus was glorified”. “These things”—which is neuter in the Greek—refers to the Scripture referenced in 12:13 and 12:15. Yet in this same context the narrator relates it was not only the things that had been written but also these things done to Him. We can construe that this refers to the events acted out in fulfillment of those two Scriptures. However, oddly, if at the time of Jesus’ ministry the disciples didn’t understand that He was being proclaimed king, why did the crowd say these things? The seeming contradiction is reconciled if we understand it more broadly (similar to 2:22 above) to mean Jesus’ Kingship in the post-glorification sense.44 In other words, their initial interpretation of “king” was in a political sense, and then after they ‘remembered’ “these things”, God’s Spirit provided further illumination, as in 2:22.

Tying It All Together

Considering the immediately preceding regarding 2:22 and 12:16, and adding in the syntactical connection between 12:16 and 19:19-20, we have a point of contact. One may argue that the grammatical relationship (these things had been written > it had been written/inscribed) is a bit tenuous, but the thematic one certainly applies. Yet the strength of the thematic link should bolster the grammatical. If the narrator relates how the disciples’ remembrance was further illuminated (implying by virtue of the Spirit: 14:26; 16:12-15), then how much more would the narrator/writer himself be likewise illumined?45 When we factor in the syntactical relationship between 19:19-20 and all other uses of it is written / it had been written (as pertaining to Scripture) in conjunction with Pilate’s unique authority in the Passion as revealed in Jesus’ words in 19:11 (and this grammatical and thematic link to 3:27), we have a stronger case for tying all this together.

Therefore, my contention is that John wrote this with the understanding of a dual purpose for the inscription: one for Pilate’s vengeance, and one for the Spirit to make a true identity statement. In other words, John himself recognized that the words Pilate wrote had influence from the Spirit, so he chose (under influence of the Spirit) it had been inscribed/written as a way to make this connection. I further contend this is why John borrowed the Latin titulus in his use of titlos.

Assuming my argument here, one can see it is certainly no leap to enlarge the definition of John’s titlos to include “title” (THE KING OF THE JEWS) and/or “name” (JESUS THE NAZARENE) or both/and (JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS). Thus, rather than merely considering the wording on the inscription as an implication, we have grammatical and contextual reasons to assert with confidence that JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS is indeed written as a Messianic title, and/or a name, a proclamation in a literal sense—in addition to Pilate’s vindication. And the prefatory it had been inscribed designates that the words following, similar to the meaning in 12:16, refer to the OT (Tanakh) generally, rather than one specific verse or section. In other words, the Scripture that Pilate references on his titlos—under the superintending of the Spirit—is the OT (Tanakh) in a general sense, as it relates to Jesus’ Kingship.

Given all this, Pilate’s inscription, with the assistance of God’s Spirit, could be perceived as the climactic contravening of two statements by ‘the Jews’: Jesus “made Himself God’s Son” in 19:7 (cf. 5:18; 10:33) and “makes Himself King” in 19:12 (cf. 1:49; 12:13; 18:38), both encapsulated in Nathaniel’s proclamation in 1:49 “you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (cf. 12:13).

If all this prevails, then the chief priests of the Jews’ plea to Pilate to amend the title may be interpreted ironically as an indirect attempt at usurping God’s authority by unknowingly trying to change Scripture. Interestingly, the narrator does not record that they ‘wanted to change’ (using allassō, e.g.) or something to that effect; instead they say to Pilate “do not write” (using graphō). This is yet another linguistic/grammatical and thematic link further cohering the four verses (19:19-22).

Yet Pilate refused to alter the altar: What I have written, I have written. What I have written, I stand by. The irony then is that Pilate, a pagan and acting as God’s unwitting agent, stood by God’s words, while the opposing Jews who had just executed their Messiah wanted to amend them.

So, what did Pilate “state”? His final words “What I have written, I have written” affirm his inscription, and by doing so, those words remain in Scripture in a state of having been written. And, if the analysis here is accepted, with God’s ‘hand’ on Pilate’s ‘pen’, Pilate ‘wrote’ New Testament Scripture, words that endure to this very day.46

___________________________________

9 I place ‘the Jews’ in single quotes when the text uses οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι (hoi Ioudaioi), since this is the manner in which the Gospel of John chooses to identify this sub-group. Note, however, that while John’s characterization is mostly negative in the text here, there are quite a few times in the Gospel when the term is used in positive (2:6; 4:22; 8:31; 11:19, 31, 33, 36, 45; 12:9, 11; 19:31) or neutral (1:19; 2:13; 3:1, 22; 5:1, 15; 6:4; 7:2; 11:55; 13:33; 18:20; 19:20, 40, 42) settings (such as in describing a certain festival “of the Jews”), or times in which the group is perhaps understandably perplexed (2:20; 6:41, 52; 7:15; 7:35; 8:57; 10:19). The term’s meaning in John is a bit ambiguous and remains an enigma. Even the designation the Pharisees is sometimes used positively or neutrally (e.g. 9:16). However in this section of John’s Gospel ‘the Jews’ are Jesus’ adversaries.

10 My translation, as are all Scripture quotations in this article. The Latin is also my translation, assisted by online sources and, at times, by others’ English translations. My goal is to adhere closer to a formal equivalence than a dynamic or functional one. To that end, I endeavor to translate nouns for nouns, verbs for verbs, etc.

11 The words of Pilate here may well be an example of artistic license on the part of John the Evangelist. These may have been meant to be ironical in that, according to Mosaic Law—and in truth, of course—Jesus was not guilty of any crime.

12 Since Greek finite verbs encode person and number, a pronoun is not necessary unless the subject is ambiguous; thus, the presence of the pronoun “you” (συ) here is not necessary, and may be used for emphasis.

13 Here I’m following John’s intent in his presentation of events without trying to reconcile them with the Synoptic accounts. See Thompson, John: A Commentary, pp 388-390. Thompson presents a synopsis of (1) the difference between the Synoptic Gospel’s accounts regarding the timing of Jesus’ death as compared to John’s, (2) the problem of associating Jesus’ death with the “sixth hour” (noon) and how this does not seem to correlate with the timing of the slaughtering of Passover lambs.  However, John’s chronology indicates Jesus will be crucified later than noon (he had to first take up his own cross and then walk to the crucifixion site), and so her observations regarding the typical time range for sacrificing Paschal lambs (beginning a bit after 1:30 in the afternoon at the earliest) do not necessarily contradict this. Those attempting to reconcile John with the Synoptics employ various measures. See, e.g. Andreas J. Köstenberger’s contribution in G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), p 500.

14 The twice-used verb for “take away” (αἴρω, airō) has a somewhat broad semantic range that can mean take up as in to raise up to a higher position, move to another place, carry away. It seems likely a double meaning is intended here. That is, ‘lift that man up’ may be understood as the additional meaning, in irony.

15 The word translated “Aramaic” is Hebraisti, which some English versions render “Hebrew”. Following Harris (Murray J. Harris, John, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, Andreas J. Köstenberger & Robert W. Yarbrough, gen. eds. [Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015], p 314), I construe the periphrastic ἦν + γεγραμμένον in v. 19 and v. 20 as akin to the pluperfect of γράφω (cf. 12:16), though I prefer to translate as an English past perfect rather than a simple past.

16 Thompson, John: A Commentary, p 398.

17 In Roman historian Suetonius’ (c. AD 69—122) Caligula—Emperor from AD 37 to 41—an account of a slave sentenced to execution by the Emperor for stealing silver (32.2) was “preceded by a sign indicating the cause for his punishment” (Latin: praecedente titulo qui causam poenae indicaret). Cf. for a similar account in the 2nd century (AD 177) Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 5.1.44, in which someone carried a board (πίναξ, pinax) in front of Attalus with the inscription THIS IS ATTALUS THE CHRISTIAN.

18 In Suetonius’ Domitianus (10.2-3)—Domitian was Roman Emperor from AD 81 to 96—the sign describing the charge was placed upon the accused gladiator himself (cum hoc titulo: Impie locutus parmularius; “with this sign [upon him]: ‘A Parmularian [gladiator] impiously spoke’”).

19 Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, two volumes (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003) p 2.1137. “The posting of the accusation on the cross is not well attested, either because those describing the crucifixion had already mentioned it being carried out . . . or because the practice was not in fact standard although, given the variations among executions, in no way improbable . . . (p 2.1137, n 608).

20 Although only Matthew (27:37) and Mark (15:26) specifically refer to a sign stating the cause (aitia) for which Jesus was crucified, this does not mean we cannot infer this from the other Gospels (cf. John 19:6).

21 Letters, 7.27 (“To Sura”): Athenodorus legit titulum: “Athenodorus read the notice (to rent the haunted mansion)”.

22 In Remedia Amoris (Cures for Love), for the notice of sale (Latin: sub titulum, “‘under’ the notice”, i.e., “using the notice”) for the household items the unscrupulous girl had plundered (302). Cf. the oft-neglected Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009), p II.283. Cf. Tibellus (c. BC 55-BC 19), Elegiae, 2.4.54: ite sub imperium sub titulumque; “you go under her command and under the notice.”

23 Pliny the Younger: Letters, 6.10.3: post decimum mortis annum reliquias neglectumque cinerem sine titulo sine nomine iacere: “ten years postmortem his remains have been cast down and neglected, without a grave marker and without a name.” That titulus in this context does not mean “epitaph” (the inscription itself as distinct from the marker) is evident by the next line of the epistle, in which the author specifies the words the deceased wanted inscribed (inscriberetur) as his epitaph. Also see Ovid, Fasti, Book IV.23, 44, in which titulus refers to a scroll and the writing upon it (longum scriberet annum vidit  . . . proximus est titulis Epytus: “to see what he might have engraved on the roll . . . next on the scroll is Egyptus”).

24 See F. R. Montgomery Hitchcock, “The Use of γράφειν,” Journal of Theological Studies old series 31 (1930), pp 272-273.

25 Martial (ca. AD 38/41—102/104), Epigrammata (published between AD 86 and 103), I.93.4: Plus tamen est, titulo quod breviore legis: ‘Iunctus uterque sacro laudatae foedere vitae, famaque quod raro novit, amicus erat’: “Yet more is what you glean from this brief epitaph: ‘Knit in the sacred bond of life with an honored reputation rarely known: they were friends’.” Cf. Ovid, Epistulae: Sappho Phaoni, 15.190-195; cf. Pliny the Younger, Letters, 9.19.3: . . . si immortalitatem quam meruere sectantur, victurique nominis famam supremis etiam titulis prorogare nituntur: “ . . . if they now seek immortalization, and the names they have so greatly earned in glory and fame to secure, and to perpetuate themselves by epitaphs.” By the context it seems possible that both the inscription and the grave marker are included in titulus here, but the primary meaning is certainly the epitaph/inscription itself.

26 Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita (The History of Rome), 28.46.16 aram condidit dedicavitque cum . . . titulo: “he erected and dedicated an altar with . . . an inscription.”

27 De De Rustica, Book IX, preface: tituli, quern prae-scripsimus huic disputationi: “the title, which we have prefixed to this discourse.” Cf. De De Rustica, Book VIII, preface; cf. Quintilian (ca. AD 35—100), Institutio Oratoria, Book 2.14.4: quos hac de re primum scripserat, titulis Graeco nomine utatur: “from earlier [works] which he had written, Greek name titles were used.” In other words, he used Greek names as titles in earlier works.

28 Remedia Amoris, in the very first line of the poem (1): titulum nomenque libelli, “name and title of this little book”. I interpret this as epexegetical such that “name” further defines titulus. In other words, “name” refers to the title (and ‘title’ refers to the name) on the book’s title page, in order to differentiate it from the other meaning of titulus as both inscription and inscribed object (title page). Alternatively, the terms titulus and nomen could be synonymous here. See note 30.

29 Fasti, Book III.419-420: Caesaris innumeris . . . accessit titulis pontificalis honor; “To Caesar’s innumerable . . .  titles the honor of Pontificate was added.” Cf. M. Tullius Cicero (BC 106—BC43), Against Piso, 9.19: posset sustinere tamen titulum consulatus: “might have the power to sustain the title of consulate.”

30 Fasti, Book I.599-604: si a victis, tot sumat nomina Caesar, quot numero gentes maximus orbis habet, ex uno quidam celebres aut torquis adempti aut corvi  titulos auxiliaris habent. Magne, tuum nomen rerum est mensura tuarum; sed qui te vicit, nomine maior erat: “If Caesar claims names from those conquered, let him take as many as the mighty globe has nations! From one event some celebrate—either from a neck-chain won or allied ravens—the titles they possess. O great one [Pompey the Great], your name is the measure of your deeds, but he who conquered you was greater in name.” Cf. Ovid, Fasti, Book IV.115, in which the goddess Venus is referred to as the titulus of a calendar month. See note 28 for another possibility.

31 See Hitchcock, “The Use of γράφειν,” pp 271-273.

32 Ibid.

33 E.g., Harris, John, p 314. See note 15 above.

34 Keener, Gospel of John, p 2.1138. All but one of the Scripture verses Keener cites here are perfects (as the periphrastic ἔστιν γεγραμμένον: 2:17; 5:46; 6:31, 45; 8:17; 10:34; 12:14; 15:25), the lone exception being 12:16, a pluperfect (the periphrastic ἦν + γεγραμμένα). While the perfects are important, it is this exception in the pluperfect that provides the primary link for the argument I shall put forth here.

35 Keener, Gospel of John, p 2.1138. The author understands Pilate’s conferred authority in 19:11 in a general sense (pp 2.1126-27) rather than in the more circumscribed view I shall pursue below. And Keener does not mention the grammar ‘mismatch’ issue at all.

36 It is actually a periphrastic, an equivalent to the pluperfect—see note 34.

37 See, e.g., the late Larry Hurtado’s pre-publication Remembering and Revelation: The Historic and Glorified Jesus in the Gospel of John.

38 More specifically, the participle δεδομένον is neuter. It would have to be the feminine δεδομένη to agree with the feminine ἐξουσίαν (authority) here. Cf. C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978) p 543. In addition, it may be that Jesus’ answer here includes a roundabout answer to the question Pilate posed in 19:9: “Where are you from?” Answer: ἄνωθεν, “from above”.

39 Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John, transl. G. R. Beasley-Murray, Gen Ed., R. W. N. Hoare & J. K. Riches (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1971), p 662. Cf. George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary, D. Hubbard, G. Barker, gen. eds. (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), pp 339-340. Yet neither mentions the grammatical gender mismatch as does D. A. Carson: The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary, D. A. Carson, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), pp 600-602. But, Carson appears to terminate the circumscribed authority at Pilate’s capitulation in 19:13 (p 603); however, my position here is that this does not terminate until Pilate’s final words in 19:22.

40 There is a difference here in that a neuter subject is found in ἕν, hen (one) from the apodosis.

41 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, p 222.

42 This does mean to imply, of course, that 3:27 (and 6:65 just below) is no longer applicable as a general maxim.

43 See C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, p 201.

44 See Carson, The Gospel According to John, pp 433-434.

45 See Jörg Frey, Theology and History in the Fourth Gospel (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2018), pp 151-154.

46 Alternatively, John the Gospel writer took certain liberties in fashioning his Gospel, and in so doing, re-formed some words to make his theological and christological points.

What Did Pilate State in John 19:22? (repost)

[This is a repost (revised a bit) in recognition of Holy Week. Of necessity, it is a bit technical.]

In reading any common English translation of John 19:22, one finds Pilate saying, “What I have written, I have written.”1 This is certainly not incorrect, yet I have a feeling some readers may not quite comprehend the significance of this statement, in part, because they are unaware of distinctions in English verb tenses. Some may erroneously think “What I wrote, I wrote” conveys the same meaning. In addition, there is a theologically important connotation in the larger context that readers of the English versions would most likely not perceive.

Below is the Greek of Pilates’s quote, under that is its transliteration (exchanging Greek letters for English equivalents), and below that is a corresponding working English translation:

ὃ γέγραφα γέγραφα
ho gegrapha gegrapha

What I have written I have written

The first word is the relative pronoun who/which/what, appropriately translated “what” in this context. Following that are two verbs, the second an exact duplicate of the first. We’ll reserve the final translation until after our investigation. All Greek finite verbs encode person and number (1st person singular, I; 2nd person singular, you; 3rd person singular, he/she/it; etc.), though not grammatical gender (male, female, or neuter). In the above, each verb is 1st person singular, and they obviously refer to Pilate. Because finite verbs encode person and number, they may form a subject-verb sentence, depending on context. For instance, Jesus’ final word on the cross is tetelestai (John 19:30), translated “It is finished.”

The verb gegrapha is in the perfect tense-form (of graphō), in the active voice and the indicative mood. The indicative is the most common mood—in Greek and English—expressing facts, false statements assumed to be true, false statements as if true, opinions, or questions. The active voice presents the subject performing the action (Jon ate lunch). Comparatively, the passive voice is used when the subject receives the action (Lunch was eaten by Jon).

The precise meaning indicated by the Greek perfect tense-form is in dispute, though there are a number of theories proposed in recent scholarly literature. Specific discussion of any of these theories is not necessary, however, as some of the older Greek grammars address the issues relative to Pilate’s statement, and we can apply them here. While the Greek perfect tense-form has a wide range of applications, for our purposes it is easiest to conceive it as similar to the English present perfect tense. This is what is reflected in all the English translations of John 19:22 at the above hyperlink (have written).

Some Tense Explanations in English

It may be helpful to briefly explain/review the English present perfect as well as a few other English tenses. If you feel like you are sufficiently proficient in the English, you may skip to the next section.

Verbs in the English present perfect tense express past verbal actions that retain some sort of connection to the present. If I were to state I have written over 100 blog posts, you would rightly infer that all 100+ posts are still available for reading on this blog. They are all in a state of having been written, in a state of ‘written-ness’, and available for viewing.

Alternatively, had I constructed the same sentence but in the English simple past tenseI wrote over 100 blog posts—you might infer that the posts were written at some point in the past yet are no longer available for viewing. More on this below.

The difference between these two English tenses can be found in their respective names. The simple past refers to verbal actions in the past with no further implication of present relevance. The “perfect” in present perfect means “complete”, denoting the past (completed, perfected) portion of the verbal action, while “present” in present perfect indicates the verb’s relevance in the present. The “present” portion of the present perfect tense is formed by using the appropriate auxiliary verb for the present tense, matched by person and number: I have (1st person singular), you have (2nd person singular), she/he/it has (3rd person singular). The “perfect” (“complete”, past) portion is formed by using the appropriate past participle of the main verb (I have written, you have written, she/he/it has written).

Though the simple past tense does not imply continuing relevance, this does not necessarily mean there is no connection to the present. The simple past is merely silent regarding current relevance. There may or may not be continuing relevance. Further context may (or may not) illuminate.

Comparatively, a verb in the English present perfect always implies something about the present. Thus, the context will determine which one is more suitable. Let’s make a comparison:

I lost my marbles yesterday.
I have lost my marbles! (and I am frantically trying to find them)

In the first instance, reflecting the simple past tense, this is a simple narrative statement, implying no continuing relevance. The second instance reflects the present perfect tense, of course. If it took ten minutes to find my marbles, then that would have been ten minutes I was in a state of having lost my marbles, frantically trying to find them. Upon finding the marbles I would be in a new, much happier (and more lucid) state of having found my marbles. At that point I could exclaim—again using the present perfect tense—“I have found my marbles!”, illustrating this new state.

I could recount the episode by using the past perfect tense: “I had lost my marbles yesterday”. The past perfect indicates a past action that had subsequent relevance in the past following that action (without commenting on present relevance). After finding my marbles yesterday I could have put the two sentences together, stating: “I had lost my marbles, but after a frantic search I have found them!”. Thus, had lost (past perfect) reflects the past action + its subsequent past relevance, while have found reflects the past action + present relevance.

Context will determine which verb tense is best to use:

Francois made dinner last Thursday. He might even make dinner again next month.
Mom has made dinner. (and dinner is now ready to eat)
Myrna has watched all the Die Hard movies three times, and she plans to watch them all again.
Jacob had washed the towels. He has now placed them into the dryer. (they are currently drying)
Johnny has listened to the train coming into the station every day for the past three years.

While the simple past tense of  Francois’ dinner in this context implies this was a one-time only or rare occurrence, the present perfect tense of Mom’s dinner implies that dinner is now ready to eat (and we better do so before it gets cold!). As for Myrna, the present relevance of the present perfect tense is the fact that this apparent Bruce Willis fan enjoys these movies so much she wishes to watch them all yet again. The past perfect tense had washed represents the necessary prerequisite for Jacob’s currently drying towels, the latter implied by the present perfect has placed and the adverb “now”. In the final example, it is reasonable to infer that Johnny will listen to the trains yet again tomorrow, given the daily recurring (“every day”) has listened, i.e., present perfect tense.

With this brief review of a few English verb tenses completed, we are ready to proceed to the Greek.

Some Tense Explanations in Koine  (New Testament) Greek

The idea of a past action with continuing relevance in the present in the English present perfect tense is the primary thrust of the Greek perfect tense-form. Smyth provides a basic definition: “a completed action the effects of which still continue in the present”.2 Dana and Mantey use a broader outline:

The significance of the [Ancient Greek] perfect tense in presenting action as having reached its termination and existing in its finished results lies at the basis of its uses. Emphasis, as indicated by context or the meaning of the verb root, may be on either the completion of the action or on its finished results. This possible difference in emphasis lies at the basis of the variation in the uses of the perfect tense.3

Going back to the aforementioned tetelestai, “it is finished” in John 19:30, this is in the perfect tense-form like the twinned verbs in 19:22. Yet here the verb is in the 3rd person singular and the passive voice. Note that, with the exception of Young’s Literal Translation, common English versions do not read it has been finished. This is because, though the larger context implies completed actions leading up to the culmination point, translators deem that it is the state of completion that is the emphasis in the immediate context: It is finished.4

Similarly, in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, He answers the Devil’s commands/temptations with gegraptai, “it is written” (Matthew 4:4,7,10, and parallels)—the “it” referring to Scripture. This verb has the same root (graphō) as our subject verse John 19:22, and it is in the same perfect tense-form. The only difference is that here it is a 3rd person singular in the passive voice. The common rendering “it is written” reflects the primary focus on its state of having been written, not on the fact that Scripture was written. As A. T. Robertson comments on its usage in these contexts, “It was written . . . and still is on record.”5 Just like my example of the blog, both the past action and the present results are encoded, but here it is the latter that is understood as the main point: It is written.

Now going back to English for a few moments, let’s say you have a report that needs to be written by 5 o’clock today. At 4:15 your nosy coworker asks if you will meet the deadline. Given that you typically set out to finish a task at least an hour before the deadline (you do, right?), if you express your answer with the verb finish or write, you could say:

I have written the report. (active voice, present perfect)
I have finished the report. (active voice, present perfect)
The report has been written. (passive voice, present perfect)
The report has been finished. (passive voice, present perfect)
The report is written. (passive voice, ___________?)
The report is finished. (passive voice, ___________?)

Though the last two are unquestioningly passive, there is cause to question whether these convey the same meaning as the middle two sentences. To better illustrate, below is a new sentence, stating it in the English present perfect, first in the active voice, then in the passive, followed by a sentence in the same format as the last two above.

Sally has written the book.
The book has been written by Sally.
The book is written by Sally. (?)

To alleviate any possible confusion, observe that the second sentence contains the same exact verb form (has been written) as the passive example further above regarding the report that was due at work. Note the difference between “has written the book” here and “have written the report” above. The different auxiliary verb (has vs. have) reflects the difference between the 3rd person (Sally has) and the 1st person (I have). With this clarified, we’ll resume.

Recall that the English present perfect reflects a completed (perfected) action with relevance in the present. The first two sentences certainly are present perfects. But the third one is an attempt at illustrating the state following the verbal action, in order to focus on the result over against the past action. But is this an accurate way to convey this? Let’s take the same basic sentence just above and put it into the English simple past tense, then the simple present tense, both in answer to the question “Who is the author of this book?”

Sally wrote this book. (active) >> This book was written by Sally. (passive)
Sally writes this book. (active) >> This book is written by Sally. (passive)

Notice how the bolded sentence above is identical to the third one in the previous set. Thus, that sentence, like this one, is in the simple present. Speaking on this specific issue, Smyth writes, “When the [Greek] perfect marks the enduring result rather than the completed act, it may often be translated by the [English] present.”6 Did you notice what I did in the previous sentence? I prefaced the Smyth quotation with writes, the English simple present, mirroring the first of the second pair of sentences just above (Sally writes this book.). My objective was to signify the enduring words in Smyth’s grammar book. This is typical English convention—that is, substituting the English simple present for the English present perfect when the verb’s enduring result is the emphasis in a given context, as opposed to the verb’s completed action.

Yet this convention does not work as well in the 1st and 2nd person for the English present perfect in the active voice. We can quickly deduce that each sentence on the right below cannot be understood to say the same thing as the one on its left:

I have written the document. >> I write the document. (?)
I think you have written this note! >> I think you write this note! (?)

We are now prepared (finally!) to get back to Pilate’s statement. The first instance of gegrapha is best rendered “I have written”, just like the typical English translation.7 This reflects the past action of inscribing JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS (19:19) as well as the present results reflected in those words as they appear on the sign. We could paraphrase this first part of Pilate’s statement (ho gegrapha):

“What I wrote and currently appears on the sign…”

The enduring relevance of this first verb began at the point at which the inscribing of the inscription had been completed (19:19) and continued until the time Pilate responded to the chief priests (19:21-22). In other words, the duration was relatively short.

But what does the second occurrence of gegrapha mean and how should it be translated? The Jews were unhappy with Pilate’s phrasing of the sign, strongly suggesting he amend it. But Pilate was resolute—he wasn’t going to change it. So, what is the best way to translate this second Greek perfect-tense verb? Strictly speaking, “I have written” is correct, and we may well leave it that way. Yet this second gegrapha focuses on the then-present enduring result of the sign’s ‘written-ness’. Since we cannot use the passive voice (“it is written”, “it stands written”) because this verb is in the active voice, and we have determined that the active voice in the English simple present (“I write”) does not adequately convey the results of a present perfect (“I write”), we may phrase (paraphrase) it something like:

“What I wrote and currently appears on the sign, I shall keep recorded.” (I shall not change)
“What I wrote and currently appears on the sign, I shall retain.” (I shall not change)
“What I wrote and currently appears on the sign, I stand by.” (I shall not change)

The last sentence above may be the best, since it does not use a future auxiliary verb (shall) as do the others. To be sure, the future enduring results are implied, but it’s the present enduring results that are specifically encoded by the Greek perfect tense-form here. Then again, the state of ‘written-ness’ should be understood as remaining unless and until some further action brings about a new state. With none specified in the larger context, it is safe to assume this state will continue on.8

Thus, to capture the overall meaning here—though it’s not as pithy as “What I have written, I have written”—I might render John 19:22:

Pilate replied, “What I have written, I stand by.”

Pilate’s inscription JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS remains written. What does this signify theologically in its context? The next part will elucidate.

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1 I am taking the words in the Greek text of John as the words of Pilate, whether or not these reflect his very utterance. The words may well be John’s own rendering in service of a larger theological motif. More on this later.

2 Herbert W. Smyth, Greek Grammar, Gordon M. Messing, rev. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956 [1920]), p 434, § 1945.

3 H. E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (NY: Macmillan, 1955), p 201 § 184.

4 Of course, one must concede that because of the verb root itself—complete, finish—the past necessarily recedes in favor of the state of completion. In other words, it cannot later become ‘unfinished’. Note Marianne Meye Thompson’s objection to this rendering (John: A Commentary, New Testament Library, C. Clifton Black, et al eds. [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015]), “…Jesus’ last words from the cross, tetelestai, ‘It is finished!’ (19:30) surely means ‘it has been accomplished’ or ‘it has been completed’ with reference to completing God’s mission and work” (p 395). I have to agree.

5 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1934), p 895.

6 Smyth, Grammar, p 434, § 1946.

7 Some grammars and commentaries claim this first γέγραφα is “aoristic”, functioning as if an aorist tense, akin to the English simple past wrote. Entailed in this position is that the second γέγραφα is construed as an English present perfect have written, with a focus on the enduring result. Robertson makes a strong case that the perfect never functions ‘aoristically’ in the NT, though it does post-NT era (A Grammar of the GNT, pp 898-902; cf. 895 [β]).

8 Yes, of course, the cross was eventually taken down; however, the point here is that the inscription was not altered.

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!”

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

David Alan Black’s NT Greek DVDs Now on YouTube

These DVDs consist of recorded lectures from 2005 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. And they are now available for free viewing! Read Dr. Black’s announcement in his blog post. The post contains a link to his beginning New Testament Greek grammar used in the course (and here’s a direct link to the YouTube videos).

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).

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