A Proper Understanding of the New Testament Text

What the authors of Myths and Mistakes insist on is that it is neither necessary nor even possible to demonstrate that we can recover the exact wording of the New Testament. But what we have is good enough.

The above words by Daniel B. Wallace are the final sentences in his Foreword to the new multi-author volume Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism (Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry, eds. [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019], pp xix-xx). I received a copy a few days ago, and I may provide a more comprehensive review of it at some point (beyond what I’ve written here), once I’ve read through all its contents.

I think all Christians, most especially those involved in any sort of apologetics, should at least be somewhat acquainted with the topic of New Testament (NT) textual criticism—the discipline of attempting to determine the original Greek text (aka the autographs) of the NT, from which we translate to English and other languages. And it’s important that claims regarding the authenticity of the NT text are not exaggerated, for this will only serve to damage the cause of Christian apologetics and Christianity at large. Some who are openly hostile to the Christian faith well-know there are extant Greek NT texts that do not agree with each other, and attempts to quell this fact will only lead to charges of a lack of integrity and/or intelligence among Christians.

The cult-like fervor of King James Version-onlyists (KJVO) is particularly damaging to the Christian faith. These KJVOs stubbornly cling to either a claim of the supremacy of the Greek text underlying the KJV (the so-called Textus Receptus [TR]) and/or the supposed superiority of the King James English contained in the KJV over against all modern English (and other language) versions.1 Adherents appear to be sincere in their desire to believe that God has preserved His words in a particular manner, but in their zeal and shortsightedness they take things too far.

Such an extreme view can be misconstrued as not unlike what we would find in the ‘automatic’ writings of occult works, such as those by Alice A. Bailey, in which she openly states she was the conduit by which an entity identifying himself as Djwal Khul (aka Djwhal Khul, The Tibetan, Master D. K.) channeled his words. Hopefully, no one in Christianity/Christendom believes God provided His words in such a manner. According to the Apostle Paul, “all Scripture is God-breathed (theopneustos: from theos = God; pneustos = breath, breathe)” (2 Tim 3:16);2 moreover, according to Simon Peter, “men, borne by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21), and even Paul’s epistles are identified as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). That is, Scripture is understood to be written by men under inspiration from God, as opposed to God dictating His words to these men verbatim. In other words, these men were active participants in the writing of the Christian Holy Scriptures, as opposed to passive recipients, mere conduits. Thus, it is not imperative that we have the exact words of the NT in order to understand what God had conveyed via His messengers.

In Hixson and Gurry’s Introduction is a salient point regarding the reliability of the Greek text we do have:

…Simply put, we believe the textual evidence we have is sufficient to reconstruct, in most cases, what the authors of the New Testament wrote. We cannot do this with equal certainty, of course, and the following chapters will discuss places where doubt remains significant…Nevertheless, we do think that even the most textually corrupted of our manuscripts and editions still convey the central truths of the Christian faith with clarity and power. In every age, God has given his people a text that is more than reliable enough to know the saving work he has accomplished through Jesus Christ.3

To that I can only add, “Amen!”

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1 The Achilles’ heel of the KJVO stance is the Johannine Comma (Latin Comma Johanneum)—interpolated verbiage found in the TR of 1 John 5:7-8 and in the corresponding English of the KJV/NKJV. See Daniel B. Wallace’s refutation of this as inspired Scripture here and here.

2 For an in-depth analysis on this one-time occurrence of this word (hapax legomenon), see George W. Knight III’s Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), pp 444-450.

3 Hixson & Gurry, Myths and Mistakes, p 20. The accompanying footnote to this passage is worth presenting here (in part): In this we agree with influential English reformer William Whitaker, who could readily concede to his Roman Catholic opponents that “the fundamental points of the faith are preserved intact in this Latin edition, if not everywhere, yet in very many places.” This despite his opponents’ claims that the Latin text had final authority, a claim Whitaker vigorously opposed.

Palindromes and Chiastic Structures

I’m sure many readers know the term palindrome—a sequence of letters, words, or numbers that read the same backwards as forwards (from Greek palin again + dromos road, route, course). This is what we find in the photos below and in the word madam, for example.

chiasmus1

chiasmus2

chiasmus3

And I’m sure some readers are familiar with chiasmus (derived from chi, χ, the 22nd letter in the Greek alphabet, resembling the English X)  or chiastic structures. For those who don’t know, these are patterns used in literature, each one forming its own inclusio. The photos above provide a window to conceptualize this linguistic device. This is because any series of six numbers reading the same forwards as backwards must always have the last number the same as the first, the second the same as the second to last, and the middle two identical. In similar fashion, chiastic structures are formed with the last line of the prose repeating the same motif as the first (sometimes verbatim), and alternating lines in between containing their own related matter.

Here is one example of a chiasmus from the New Testament—the “love” chapter, specifically 1 Corinthians 13:8-13:

A …but have not love
– B …whether propheciestonguesknowledge
— C …for we know in part…prophesy in part…but when that which is perfect has come…
—– D …when I was a child…but when I became a man I gave up childish things
— C’ …now we see…imperfectly…but then face to faceknow in part…then know fully…
– B’ …but remains these three: faith, hope, and love.
A’ …but the greatest of these is love.

Both A and A’ have the same subject, but the first line (A) is the antithesis, the last (A’) the thesis. In B we find three charismatic gifts that will pass away, while in B’ are three that will endure. C describes a “now” and a “then”, C’ is a variation of the same. D juxtaposes things done as a child with the actions of a grown man who discards childish ways. This entire chiasmus uses the classic Hebraic argumentation (kal va-chomer) of the lesser to the greater (a minori ad majus), though broken up into sections.

Chiastic structures are found throughout both the Old and the New Testaments. Once discovered, they can serve as mnemonic devices to assist in memorizing these sections.

What Did Pilate State in John 19:22?: Conclusion

[See part I]

In the conclusion here I shall more closely explore the three verses leading up to Pontius Pilate’s pithy phrase in 19:22. 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’8 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.9

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 Caiaphas’ 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).10 ‘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’?”11 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 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). As 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).12 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!”13

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.’”14

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.”15

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 him16 or (b) hung around his own neck.17 But there is not much historical evidence for placing this same sign on the criminal’s cross, and what is available is ambiguous.18 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.19

In the previous paragraph, the word used referring to the sign accompanying condemned criminals in both instances 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 rent20 and by Roman poet Ovid (BC 43—AD 17/18) for a notice of public sale.21 It was also used to signify a grave marker.22 As can be deduced, the term applied to both the inscription and the object on which it was inscribed in these instances. However, more importantly, at times titulus was used solely for the writing itself.23

The term can refer to epitaphs (i.e., the inscriptions) as distinct from grave markers.24 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.25 Columella (ca. AD 4—70), a writer on agricultural concerns, used the word to reference titles of books.26 Ovid, in the very same work referred to in the previous paragraph, used titulus to signify the title of a pamphlet.27 And most pertinent for our purposes 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.28 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).29 Yet, given that Pilate’s purpose with the inscription was to antagonize ‘the Jews’, can we rightly apply any of the latter two meanings (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.30 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.31 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, while titlos is masculine. In other words, it does not refer to titlos. This exact syntax is found again in 19:20. So, to what or who does it refer? This is typically translated impersonally: “There was written” (~ “It [the inscription] read”).32 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).33 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.”34 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 (2:17; 6:31, 45; 10:34; 12:14; 15:25; cf. 5:46; 8:17) are in the 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.35 In that context, the narrator notes that the disciples recalled earlier events but only fully understood how they fulfilled Scripture from their post-glorification perspective (after Jesus’ resurrection). Before considering this line of inquiry further, how might 19:11 (which Keener references 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 in 19:11. The Greek word for authority, however, is feminine.36 Thus, if it had not been given to you from above does not refer to Pilate’s general conferred authority but 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”.37

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 been given you from-above
“You would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you from above.”

This same syntactical format (‘not this’ 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 ouranou38
not s/he be able person to receive and-not one if not may-be it having been 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.39 These words of the Baptizer are the first with this syntactical structure, while Jesus’ words to Pilate are the last. 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).40 Of course, it also relates to Jesus’ statement in 19:11. 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 been 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 post-resurrection perspective, with the Spirit bringing to remembrance past events, further illuminating them (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 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 states they remembered it. By the context the intended referent appears to be the OT (Tanakh) in a general sense, as it relates to the resurrection.41

Somewhat similar to 2:22 is 12:16. Here the narrator states that the disciples fully realized that these things had been written about Him only “after Jesus was glorified”. “These things” 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.42 In other words, their initial interpretation of “king” was in a political sense, 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?43 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.

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 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 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.44

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8 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.

9 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.

10 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.

11 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.

12 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.

13 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.

14 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.

15 Thompson, John: A Commentary, p 398.

16 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.

17 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’”).

18 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).

19 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).

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

21 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.”

22 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”).

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

24 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.

25 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.”

26 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.

27 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 29.

28 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.”

29 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 27 for another possibility.

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

31 Ibid.

32 E.g., Harris, John, p 314. See note 14 above.

33 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; 6:31, 45; 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.

34 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.

35 It is actually a periphrastic, an equivalent to the pluperfect—see note 33.

36 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”.

37 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; D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary, D. A. Carson, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), pp 601-602

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

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

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

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

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

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

44 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.

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

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

delamarter

Essential Complement to Charlesworth’s OTP

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is Perfectly Finished, part I

[See part II]

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

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

Jesus’ Last Testament

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

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

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

Which Scripture “Perfected”?

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

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

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

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

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

More investigation is needed.

The Fullness of Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on teleioō will be forthcoming.

Wine Vinegar, a Sponge, and Hyssop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Blomberg, Historical Reliability, p 252.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

32 Keener, John, p 1147.

Biblical Inerrancy

Is the Bible, the Christian Holy Scriptures, infallible?  That is, is the Bible we take to church, read, and study free from all error?  Some claim it isn’t.

From my perspective, I believe that all Scripture is “God-breathed” [2 Tim 3:16] and is, hence, inerrant.  My Statement of Faith expounds on this:

The Holy Bible, in its original form, is the Holy Spirit-inspired [2 Tim 3:16], inerrant, and infallible Word of God [Prov 30:5; 2 Peter 1:20-21], complete unto itself. The Bible will never be superseded or supplemented by any other teaching [Prov 30:6] and nothing should be subtracted from it [Deut 4:2; Matt 5:17; Rev 22:18-19]. Its full counsel provides the way to live a complete Christian life [2 Tim 3:16-17]. [Emphasis added.]

However, I submit the following for consideration. Craig A. Evans’ book Fabricating Jesus [2006, InterVarsity, Downers Grove, IL] is an apologetic against those who would claim the Gnostic “Gospels” (so-called) are a (or THE) form of authentic Christianity. Evans notes that Bart Ehrman, a ‘former Christian’, became an agnostic and somewhat amenable to the Gnostic position, thinking Christianity merely won out over Gnosticism by political wrangling, in part because Ehrman lost faith in the inerrancy of Scripture by studying the text of Mark 2:25-26 (among others).

Here’s the passage in the NASB:

25 And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; 26 how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?”

While each translation/version of the Bible differs a bit (naturally, as some are more literal, such as the NASB and ESV, while others are more dynamic, such as the NIV), each one contains the essence of the above.  Evans comments:

Jesus has alluded to the story of David’s receiving consecrated bread…from Ahimelech the priest (1 Sam 21:1-10). David was fleeing from Saul, and when Saul learned that Ahimelech had assisted David and his men, he murdered Ahimelech and most of his family. Abiathar escaped and eventually succeeded his father as priest (1 Sam 22:1-10). Because Ahimelech – not his son Abiathar – was the priest when David and his men ate the consecrated bread, we have a mistake, technically speaking, either made by Jesus himself or by Mark (or perhaps by someone who passed on the story). [p 31]

Now let me state quite clearly that I don’t think for a nanosecond that Jesus made a mistake! And, I don’t think Evans does either. Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe [Making Sense of Bible Difficulties 2009 (1992), Baker, Grand Rapids, MI] explain how to understand this passage in the following:

First Samuel is correct in stating that the high priest was Ahimelech. On the other hand, neither was Jesus wrong. When we take a close look at Christ’s words, we notice that He used the phrase “in the days of Abiathar” (v. 26), which does not necessarily imply that Abiathar was high priest at the time David ate the bread. After David met Ahimelech and at the bread, King Saul had Ahimelech killed…Abiathar escaped and went to David (v. 20) and later took the place of high priest. So even though Abiathar was made high priest after David ate the bread, it is still correct to speak in this manner. After all, Abiathar was alive when David did this, and soon following he became the high priest after his father’s death. Thus, it was during the time of Abiathar, but not during his tenure in office. [Pp 175-176.  All emphasis in original.]

I don’t know about you dear reader, but this explanation does not seem satisfactory to me. This would be akin to saying “in the days of Herod Antipas” while referring to a particular time, say 10BC, which was actually during the reign of his father Herod the Great. Sure Antipas was alive, but he was not yet Herod.

In any case, this does not destroy my faith in Holy Writ as my faith is in Jesus Christ and His Atoning death, burial and Resurrection, which are verifiable historical facts (just ask former skeptic Lee Strobel). I can only guess why the Markan account is written as such. Perhaps it is a scribal error which was replicated in both the Textus Receptus (Latin for “received text”, the Greek text undergirding the KJV and the NKJV) and the Critical Text (the Greek text from which most, if not all, other modern Bible versions are largely based), which has been carried forth to this day?

We do not have any of the original NT documents.  We do not have any of Paul’s original letters from his pen (or the pen of any of those who acted as a scribe for Paul from his dictation) or any of the original Gospels from the Gospel writer’s own hand.  Consequently, we have copies – hand-scribed copies – of these precious documents.  We have copies of copies, thus increasing the likelihood of changes from the original texts due to copyist error or even by a scribe’s misguided attempts at “correcting” the original.  It is for all these reasons that my Statement of Faith has the qualifying phrase “…in its original form…” in the selected portion used above, referring to the inerrancy of Scripture.

However, rest assured; we have more copies and fragments of the New Testament than any other literary work from this period.  In fact, many more.  This is where the importance of the ongoing research known as NT Textual Criticism1 – an art as much as a science – comes into play.  These multitudes of NT documents enable the textual critic to arrive at what is most likely the original text in the large majority of cases.  However, there are differences of opinions as to just what is the original text among textual critics on some Biblical passages.  A basic overview of the process of textual criticism and its ramifications will be discussed in future articles here on CrossWise.

1 J. Harold Greenlee [Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Revised Edition). 2010, sixth prtng (© 1964 Eerdmans; © 1995 Hendrickson), Hendrickson Publishing, Peabody, MA] defines textual criticism as, “the study of copies of any written work of which the autograph (the original) is unknown, with the purpose of ascertaining the original text” [p 1].  An easier read as an introduction to NT Textual Criticism is Greenlee’s The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition [2008, Hendrickson Publishing, Peabody, MA].

Greater Works Shall You Do

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.

-The Gospel of John 14:12, NKJV

What are these “greater works” which those who believe in Jesus Christ will do?  What can be greater than calming the wind and the waves of a raging storm by rebuking [Mark 4:35-41; Matt 8:18, 23-27; Luke 8:22-25]?  Halting a hurricane perhaps?  Or, how does one do greater than raising Lazarus from the dead after four days [John 11:38-44]?  Raising the dead after five days? Six days?  Thirty days?  A year?

Craig Blomberg notes Jesus’ emphatic “double-‘Amen’” [“Verily, Verily” in the KJV or “Truly, truly” in the NASB, rendered “Most assuredly” above, which literally translates as “Amen, amen”] yet, “it is not likely that the later church would invent a saying ascribed to Jesus susceptible to the interpretation that the disciples were greater than their master.”1  So, what does this verse mean?  What are these “greater works” we will do?

Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, teaches that Jesus is referring to greater signs and wonders.  This is based, in part, on Johnson’s claim that Jesus Christ performed the miraculous merely as “a man in right relationship to God…not as God”2 who was “completely dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit working through Him”3 because He had “laid his divinity aside”4 in His “self-imposed restriction to live as a man”5 therefore possessing “NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever”.6  In Johnson’s theology, if Jesus Christ could do all He did as a Spirit-moved man, then Holy Spirit indwelt Christians should be able to exceed the greatness, the quality, of Jesus’ miracle workings:

Jesus’ prophecy of us doing greater works than He did has stirred the Church to look for some abstract meaning to this very simple statement.  Many theologians seek to honor the works of Jesus as unattainable, which is religion, fathered by unbelief.  It does not impress God to ignore what He promised under the guise of honoring the work of Jesus on the earth.  Jesus’ statement is not that hard to understand.  Greater means ‘greater.’  And, the works He referred to are signs and wonders.  It will not be a disservice to Him to have a generation obey Him, and go beyond His own high-water mark.  He showed us what one person could do who has the Spirit without measure.  What could millions do?  That was His point, and it became His prophecy.

This verse is often explained away by saying it refers to quantity of works, not quality.  As you can see, millions of people should be able to surpass the sheer number of works that Jesus did simply because we are so many.  But that waters down the intent of His statement.  The word greater is mizon [sic] in the Greek.  It is found 45 times in the New Testament.  It is always used to describe ‘quality,’ not quantity.7

Johnson is correct in that the Greek word meizon (not mizon)8 refers to greater in quality rather than quantity.  But are the ‘greater works’ referring to “signs and wonders” as in calming storms and raising the dead?  Gary Burge asserts, “The promise can hardly mean that the efforts of disciples will exceed those of Jesus who, for instance, provided the stupendous miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead.”9  Andreas Kostenberger reflects:

Do greater things than Jesus did?  This claim seems daring.  The difficulty evaporates when one realizes that these ‘greater works’ are still works of Jesus, now carried out from his exalted position with the Father through his commissioned, faithful followers.   Because Jesus is now with the Father, we can expect to do greater works than even Jesus did: on the basis of his once-for-all death on the cross, and in answer to believing prayer for all that is necessary to accomplish the mission Jesus never relinquished.10

And what was Jesus’ mission?

“Because I Go to My Father”

J. Louis Martyn refers to the “highly paradoxical”11 nature of this verse.  However, the key to interpreting and understanding this verse, as in any Scripture, is to keep it in its proper context as “he clearly says in the promise that all this will take place because he is going to the Father.”12  What occurs after His Ascension?  Two things: 1) Jesus is now at the right hand of the Father providing intercession for us as our Mediator through prayers in His name; and, 2) after Pentecost, all true Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  For more complete context, here are verses 12 through 17a in the NIV (1984):

12I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father. 13And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.

15If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — 17the Spirit of truth. [NIV 1984]

Kostenberger: “For once Jesus is exalted in his Father’s presence, believers will be able to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, and Jesus himself will answer these prayers.”13  Burge states, “What is ‘greater’ is that these works will be done by regular people in whom the power of Christ has taken up residence following his glorification.”14  However, Kostenberger adds, “understanding the impact of Jesus’ words to his original audience requires historical imagination.  For what was a novel vision for Jesus’ first followers has become an everyday reality for us today: to be indwelt by the Spirit and to pray – in Jesus’ name”.15  (Kostenberger also clarifies, “Praying in Jesus’ name does not involve magical incantation but rather expresses alignment of one’s desires and purposes with God [1 John 5:14-15]”,16 i.e. obedience to the written Word [v 15].) While both of these should remain awe-inspiring to the child of God, these privileges are, shamefully, very easy to take for granted.

Partnering with God Rather Than Exceeding His Greatness

Martyn sees in John 14:12 a continuation of partnering with Jesus which Jesus Himself had told His disciples back in John 9:4 (and first mentioned in 3:11): “We must work the works of him who sent me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” [NASB].17  This will progress until the culmination of all things:

The work of Jesus appears not to be terminated in the time of his earthly life.  On the contrary, his going to the Father inaugurates a time in which his followers do his works.  Indeed, 9:4a leads us to see this continuation of Jesus’ works as an activity of the Risen Lord in the deeds of Christian witnesses.18

After Jesus’ glorification, the Father sent “another Counselor” [Helper, Advocate, Comforter], another parakletos (Paraclete) [v 15], the “Spirit of truth” [v 17; 15:26; 16:13].  This other Paraclete is invisible to the world as the world does not know Him [14:17].  Yet, He will teach believers all things [14:26].  He will bear witness of Jesus [15:26]; He will glorify Jesus [16:14] not speaking of His own authority, only what He hears [16:13].  He will judge the world and convict of sin [16:8-11].19

Observing some obvious parallels between Jesus and the Paraclete (parakletos), Martyn illustrates how the Gospel writer compares these to believers.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world [17:18 (NIV) compared to Jesus in 8:42 and the Holy Spirit in 15:26/14:26, also 12:49/14:24 and 16:13].  The reason that the world does not know us [believers] is that it did not know him [1 John 3:1 (NIV), also John 17:25, compared to 8:19/17:25 and 14:17].  And you [believers] will bear witness also… [15:27 (NASB) compared to 8:14 and 15:26].  Noting the current application of the narrative of John 9, Martyn states of 9:39, “Jesus [in the person of the Christian Witness] said, ‘For judgment I came into the world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind’” [compared to 3:18-19 and 16:13].  And, lastly, Martyn sees Jesus’ work extending into the present through believers specifically in the “greater works” verse: Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to the Father [14:12 (NASB) compared to 14:25 and 14:26/16:13].20

So, while Jesus literally healed the blind man by giving him the eyesight he never had [9:1-11], there is also a figurative/spiritual application in this teaching narrative/discourse as spiritual sight in contrast to spiritual blindness [9:35-41].  Jesus tells the unbelieving Pharisees [‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath’ – 9:16 NIV], “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” [9:41 NIV].  These Pharisees were now guilty because they remained in their sins despite seeing the Son of God:

39And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and those who see may become blind.’ [John 9:39 NASB]

Yet the man formerly blind from birth passed from eternal death to eternal life as he gained his spiritual sight [9:38-39] – something much more important than merely receiving physical sight!

As J. Louis Martyn rephrases, “this [miraculous works to include healing] is not terminated in Jesus’ earthly lifetime…but rather…the Risen Lord continues his earthly ministry in the work of his servant, the Christian preacher…”21  This is the privilege of all children of God as we preach the true Gospel – that we are hopeless sinners in need of a Savior who has already paid the price for our sin debt – the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth [14:17; 15:26; 16:13] works through us, His children, convicting of sin [16:8-11] leading to repentance.  While there will be those in the world who wish to hold on to their sin and thus hate God and His disciples [15:18-25], it is still our distinct privilege to preach the Gospel to the lost.

To reiterate, the Holy Spirit does not speak on His own, only what He hears [16:13], which means He does not glorify Himself or even bring any attention to Himself whatsoever as He will bear witness to and glorify Jesus Christ [15:26; 16:14] instead.  And by extension, we, as Holy Spirit indwelt Christians, do the same: we do not glorify or magnify ourselves but rather we bear witness [15:27] to and glorify Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior by the power of the Spirit working through us.

Eternal Life – The Greatest of Miracles

F. F. Bruce finds precedence of the “greater works” motif of John 14:12 in 5:20:

When, after the healing at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus affirmed that the works he did were those which the Father showed him, he added, ‘he will show him greater works than these, to give you cause for marvel’ (John 5:20).  Now [in 14:12] he tells his disciples that they in turn would do the works that he did.  That must have been surprising enough.  But what were they to think when he went on to say that, because he was going to the Father, they would do even greater works than they had seen him do?22

Likewise, so does D. A. Carson see 5:20’s “greater works” in 14:12.  As per Kostenberger’s BECNT commentary, “[Carson] correctly locates the clues to a proper understanding of 14:12 in the parallel in 5:20 and in the final clause ‘because I am going to the Father,’ and points to the disciples’ greater understanding after the resurrection in the ‘new eschatological age that will have dawned.’”23  For a better understanding of how 5:20 relates to 14:12 we need to take a closer look into the pool of Bethesda.

The pool of Bethesda is the place where individuals of various afflictions would congregate waiting for someone to stir the pool assuming this stirring would provide curative powers in its waters [5:7].  Jesus met the paralytic man waiting beside the pool, told him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” [5:8], and the man was cured, then he picked up his mat and walked away [5:9].  Since this miracle was performed on the Sabbath [5:9], the Jews informed the now healed man that it was unlawful to work (carry his mat) on the Sabbath [5:10] according to their extra-biblical oral tradition. Jesus later found the former paralytic and said, “See, you are well again.  Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” [5:14].  This prefigures the healing of the blind man [9:1-7] who subsequently received his spiritual sight [9:39] by believing Jesus to be the Son of Man [9:35; cf. Daniel 7:13], the Messiah (Anointed One) [Daniel 9:26], then believing in and worshiping Him.

The Jews were angry that Jesus not only healed on the Sabbath, but that He instructed the man to ‘sin’ by ‘working’ on the Sabbath [5:16].   Once Jesus equated Himself with God as God’s Son working on the Sabbath along with His Father [5:17], the Jews desired all the more to kill him [5:18].  Jesus responds by reiterating His relationship with the Father as both His Son [5:19] and His equal [5:20-21], and, further, by claiming that Jesus Himself will judge rather than the Father [5:22; cf. 14:6 – “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”].  Blomberg expounds, “Verses 21-22 refer to two major ‘works’ that Jews recognized God continued to perform on the Sabbath – giving life (as children were born) and exercising judgment (as people died).”24

20 For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and greater works than these will He show Him, that you may marvel.
21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.
22 For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son,
23 in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
25 Truly, Truly I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live.
26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself;
27 and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. [John 5:20-27, NASB; emphasis added]

The “greater works” [5:20] referred to in this passage – greater than healing a paralytic on the Sabbath – is the fact that Jesus “gives life to whom He wishes” [5:21], which means providing “eternal life” [5:24] in the then present [5:25] continuing till the eschaton (end of all things).  In addition, Jesus has been given authority to judge all [5:22] in the then present [5:24] and at the eschaton [5:27-29].  He provides eternal life to those who honor Him [5:23a] while judging those who refuse [5:23b].  The thief on the Cross is an example of how Jesus ‘gave life to whom He wished’ [Luke 23:43] during His earthly ministry.  Conversely, after witnessing the blind man who could subsequently see, the Pharisees met Jesus’ judgment [9:39-41] for their unbelief in Jesus as the Christ/Messiah.

Craig Keener also recognizes the “parallel language” of 14:12 and 5:20 [and 1:50].25   He comments, “The claim that God delegates the judgment to Jesus would have unnerved his opponents.”26  Keener adds

Like the Father, Jesus could give life (5:21; cf. 17:2); this made him act in a divine mannerThe resurrection of the dead was a divine work, specifically attributed to God…God was widely viewed as the giver of life, hence the only one who life was not contingent  on a giver of life…In the context, the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda prefigures in a small way the resurrection; Jesus will raise the dead, just as he told the lame man to ‘rise’…That he gives life to ‘whomever he wills’ (5:21) reinforces the image of divinity in this Gospel; God made alive (cf. 6:57, 63) and drew to life those whom he willed (6:37, 44, 65; cf. 3:8).

The discourse reports a number of divine activities the Father has ‘given’ the Son: judgment (5:22, 27), life in himself (5:26), and divine works (5:36; cf. 5:20)…27

For those who insist, like Bill Johnson, that Jesus performed all His miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit, the above Scripture [5:20-27 and the others Keener cites] irrefutably proves otherwise.  To assert the Holy Spirit was the vehicle used in Jesus’ ‘giving life to whom He wishes’ and ‘executing judgment’ is to defy logic.  How could Jesus ‘give life to whom He wishes’ (and its converse – execute judgment) if He was dependent upon the Holy Spirit instead?  Or, did Jesus command the Holy Spirit to give life to whom He willed?  Of course not; if Jesus was functioning strictly as a man dependent on God, as Johnson asserts, then He certainly could not command God the Holy Spirit to obey Him.

Furthermore, if we were to assume (incorrectly, of course) that Jesus relied on the Holy Spirit both to “give life” [5:21, 24-25] and “execute judgment” [5:22, 24, 27], then Holy Spirit indwelt Christians should be able to ‘give life to whom we choose’ and judge those whom we wish to judge.  Of course we can neither grant eternal life/judgment to anyone in and of ourselves nor can we command the Holy Spirit to do so [however, Christians do have a role in judgment after the eschaton, cf. Matthew 19:28; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3].  Instead, we play an integral role in effecting eternal life (or judgment) as the privileged vehicle through which the Holy Spirit works in and through as we preach the true Gospel and as we humbly pray for others in Jesus’ name.

The greatest miracle of all is the changed hearts of individuals as they transition from eternal death to eternal life by the acceptance of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ: by believing and confessing that Christ died on the Cross in propitiation for the collective sins of mankind, was raised from the dead, and by acknowledging individual inherent sinfulness and subsequently repenting, one is spared God’s eternal wrath, passing from death to everlasting life.

Nineteenth century expositor J. C. Ryle puts it succinctly:

In short, ‘greater works’ mean more conversions.  There is no greater work possible than the conversion of a soul.28

Keener, commenting on 14:12, asserts “The promise of ‘greater works’ calls John’s audience to look not only backward but also to the present, where Christ continues to remain active through his presence by the Paraclete and his proclaimed word.”29  The “greater works” then refers to Christians, mere mortals, whom the Holy Spirit works in and through to effect salvation to those who believe in the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and are saved, in contrast to exacting judgment on those who refuse Him and His sacrifice.  This is “greater” than Jesus who did these things as God – not a Spirit-moved man – during His earthly ministry.

see also:
Kenosis, Christology and Bill Johnson, part I
Kenosis, Christology and Bill Johnson, part II
Kris Vallotton and the Mantle of Jesus Christ/Bill Johnson on Corporate Anointing

Endnotes:

1 Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel. 2001, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL; p 199
2 Johnson, Bill. When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles. 2003, Treasure House/Destiny Image, Shippensburg, PA; p 29.  Ellipse in original.
3 Johnson; p 29
4 Johnson; p 79.  In original text a footnote follows this phrase referring to Philippians 2:5-7, a proof-text used for those propounding the unorthodox/heterodox kenosis doctrine.
5 Johnson; p 29
6 Johnson; p 29
7 Johnson; p 185.  Underscore from emphasis (italics) in original; bolding added for emphasis.
8 Strong, James; J. R. Kohlenberger, III and J. A. Swanson, eds. The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 2001, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 440, 1514.  Meizon is Strong’s # 3187.
9 Burge, Gary M. “John’s Gospel” in Evans, Craig A., ed. The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: John, Hebrews – Revelation.  2005, Victor/Cook Communications Ministries, Colorado Springs, CO; p 127
10 Kostenberger, Andreas J. “John” in Arnold, Clinton E., gen. ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Volume 2: John, Acts. 2002, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; p 139.  Emphasis added.
11 Martyn, J. Louis History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel. 2003 (3rd ed. rev. (1968)), Westminster John Knox, Louisville, KY; p 135
12 Martyn; p 136.  Italics in original.
13 Kostenberger, Andreas J. Encountering John (Encountering Biblical Series). July 2009 (8th prtg (paperback), (1999)), Baker, Grand Rapids, MI; p 156.  Italics in original.
14 Burge; p 127
15 Kostenberger, Encountering John; p 156
16 Kostenberger, Andreas J. John: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. July 2009 (4th prtg (2004)), Baker, Grand Rapids, MI; p 433-434
17 Martyn; p 38 including important footnote 20.  Pronoun emphasis in original: We (Jesus and His disciples and, by extension, all subsequent believers) are to partner with the Father (the one “who sent me”).  This was begun in 3:11: “I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.” [NIV 1984]
18 Martyn; pp 38-39.  Emphasis added.
19 This section somewhat roughly follows the outline of Martyn; pp 137-138
20 This is adapted from a chart in and quoted from Martyn; pp 141-142.
21 Martyn; pp 39-40
22 Bruce, F. F. The Gospel & Epistles of John. 1983, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI; p 300.  Bruce notes in the Preface, “The biblical text which is printed at the head of each section of the exposition is my translation from the Greek of the Nestle-Aland edition of 1979.”  This explains why the translation of 5:20 is not exactly like any other.
23 Kostenberger, John: Baker Exegetical Commentary; p 433 (footnote) citing Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John: Pillar New Testament Commentary. 1999, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 495-496
24 Blomberg; p 114
25 Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume Two. 2010 (1st softcover ed, (2003)), Hendrickson, Peabody, MA; p 947
26 Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume One. 2010 (1st softcover ed, (2003)), Hendrickson, Peabody, MA; p 651
27 Keener, Gospel of John: Vol. One; pp 650-651.  Emphasis added.
28 Ryle, J. C. “Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John 13:1-21:25Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Volume Four (John 10:31-21:35). 2007 (1878), Baker, Grand Rapids, MI; p 67.  Originally part of a seven volume series with one each of Matthew and Mark, two of Luke (1-10 & 11-24), and three of John (1-6:70; 7-12:50; 13:1-21:35) beginning in 1856 and completed in 1878.
29 Keener, Gospel of John: Vol. Two; p 947. In the larger context of Keener’s thoughts here, it seems he is promoting the idea of ‘greater works’ as signs and wonders. However, he also notes that the various contexts of ‘works’ in John’s Gospel “indicates that these may include miraculous signs (5:20, 36; 7:3; 9:3-4; 10:25, 32-33, 37-38; 15:24) but also his mission as a whole”; and “…’works’ in this Gospel includes doing God’s will” (p 946; emphasis mine). Yet, Keener also contends that ‘greater’ would “imply “greater magnitude” (p 947), with no further comment indicating what that could be. Jesus’ “mission as a whole” was salvific, and that seems to be the main point of the Upper Room discourse. Miracles, in the sense of signs and wonders, may or may not attend the proclamation of the Gospel, but it’s the conversion that it is the ‘greater work’.