It is Perfectly Finished, part II

[On 05/08/17 an addendum was appended (9:25pm). See part I]

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)

He Handed Over His Spirit

Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh’s Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John has some relevant insights into Jesus’ final human act:

Simultaneous with these words [“It is finished”], Jesus bows his head and gives up his spirit . . . literally “he handed over the spirit” . . . Yet for those who believe in Jesus, something quite other happened. When human beings die, while struggling for life to the end, they stop breathing and then their head drops. But here Jesus first bows his head, and only then does he give up his spirit. As a king who was lifted up, he “gives the nod.” The act of sanctioning by a king was indicated by movement of the head; approbation is declared by a sign of the god’s head . . . “Zeus gave a sign with his head and ratified his wish” (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, 222).

After thus ratifying that his purpose has been fully accomplished, Jesus hands over his spirit to those around the cross—the community of those who believe in him their leader, the beloved disciple and the witnessing women.33

In order to fully analyze their words, a few points of grammar need to be addressed. First, it can be argued that “It is finished” precedes the bowing of His head. The Greek word in between the two—kai—is a conjunction, a connective, with a host of meanings such as and, also, but, and yet, then, even, among others. It seems more likely that Jesus would utter His final words using the remaining strength He possessed before He’d breathe no longer, bowing His head in death—though this is, admittedly, only one possible interpretation.

The verb for bowed, is a participle (aorist active), which is part of a dependent clause (bowed His head), the main clause on which it depends being He handed over His the spirit.34 In Greek, the participle is known as a ‘verbal adjective’, with characteristics of both a verb and an adjective. Like a finite verb, it encodes tense and voice (active, passive, or middle-passive). Like an adjective, it encodes gender, number, and case. Unlike the Greek finite verb, however, the participle does not denote mood or person—these are to be found in the main verb in the clause on which it relies. The Greek participle may function in a variety of ways; it is more diverse than the English participle.35

In the present instance, the participial phrase is acting adverbially.36 While the verbal action of the participial clause (bowed His head) could (a) antecede the final sentence (He handed over His the spirit), the action may well (b) coincide with it. The sense of the two options would be: (a) After bowing His head, He handed over His the spirit; or, (b) Bowing His head, He [simultaneously] handed over His the spirit. Statistically, when a participle precedes the main verb, as it does here, its relative time is more likely to antecede that of the main clause;37 however, “like any verb form in Greek, [time] must be determined by the larger context”.38 And since the context here provides no explicit cues, it may be one or the other.

Recent work in Discourse Analysis may be of assistance here, as, recognizing that all participles rely on the main verb with which they are associated, this subservient nature of the participle typically “has the effect of backgrounding the action of the participle, indicating that it is less important than the main verbal action”.39 In other words ‘handing over His spirit’ is more important than ‘bowing His head’. But this still does not provide a definitive answer; the translator must make an exegetical decision, or leave it sufficiently ambiguous for the interpreter (such as bowing His head, He handed over His the Spirit, or He bowed His head and handed over His the spirit).

In any case, if we accept the Malina-Rohrbaugh sequence—“It is finished” [at the same time as] He bowed His head [and after that] He handed over His the spirit—then their insight of a kingly/godly act depicted here is plausible. And it is certainly possible that the Gospel writer had contemporaneous Greco-Roman literature in mind as a background here—not to appeal to as authoritative literature, of course, but to provide yet another backdrop—assuming, perhaps, that the audience might understand this connection. This motif could also provide a point of connection with John 10:34-38.

While I agree with their translation ‘handed over his spirit’ “handed over the spirit” (the verb is in the active rather than passive voice),40 the question of who Jesus hands it over to must be addressed. However, before that can be adequately answered, “spirit”, pneuma, must be identified. In this context, is it Jesus’ human spirit, or is it the Holy Spirit, as the authors imply above?41

Brown finds it plausible that “Jesus handed over the (Holy) Spirit to those at the foot of the cross” as “a symbolic reference to the giving of the Spirit” understood proleptically, that is, prefiguring 20:22 and Pentecost (Acts 2).42 However, against Brown and Malina-Rohrbaugh, it may be best to simply understand the recipient of the pneuma as the Father (as in the Synoptic parallel in Luke 23:46), to whom the Son willingly obeyed, ‘laying down His life’ (10:17), and to whom the Son hands over His human spirit. But how does one decide which is correct?

Which Pneuma?

Comfort notes that an early Greek manuscript (P66, ca. late 2nd to 3rd  century) expresses pneuma in 19:30 as a nomen sacrum—a contraction of the word using its first, second, and last letters, with an overline atop all three (Π͞Ν͞Α)—usually a method to signify the Holy Spirit.43 Nomina sacra (plural of nomen sacrum) were also used for God, Son of God, Son of Man, Christ, Jesus, etc. in apparent reverence, this practice having begun in early antiquity.44 This indicates that the scribe either copied the nomen sacrum directly from his exemplar (the copy from which he was copying), or that he made a conscious exegetical choice to amend his document, “perhaps denoting that he considered Jesus to have been handing over the divine Spirit.”45 However, even if this particular scribe made an editorial decision to change the text, we cannot presuppose his theological motivation. Even still, this is merely one extant manuscript with this designation.

A Scriptural examination of the Gospel’s use of pneuma may be instructive.46 The term is used twenty-four times in John’s Gospel, with the overwhelming majority (17 times) in reference to the Holy Spirit (1:32, 1:33{x2}, 3:5, 3:6{contrasted with human spirit spirit in a general sense}, 3:8{x2—first occurrence a double entendre of wind/Spirit}, 3:34, 6:63{x2}, 7:39{x2}, 14:17, 14:26, 15:26, 16:13, 20:22). Excluding 19:30, the remainder represent: the human spirit in a general sense (3:6—contrasted with the Holy Spirit), Jesus’ human spirit (11:33, 13:21) being unsettled (tarassō), God’s identity/ontology (4:23—pneuma ho theos, “God is spirit”), and the manner in which God is to be worshiped (4:23, 4:24—“in spirit and truth”). It is possible, though, that the first instance in 3:6 could be “spirit” in a general sense, as in: ‘flesh gives birth to flesh, spirit gives birth to spirit’.

One may be inclined to align with the statistical evidence such that, since the referent is most often the Holy Spirit, the referent in 19:30 must be, or is most likely to be, the Holy Spirit—just as one might wish to choose (a) in the previous section in regard to the participle—but this would fall prey to a logical fallacy. In 19:30 the choice is between either the (Holy) Spirit or Jesus’ (human) spirit. Hence, the choice is one out of two, and this is irrespective of the number of other occurrences of one against the other. Essentially, the analysis of pneuma above serves to illustrate that there are two possibilities (the others clearly do not apply). This means we are back to the context—though we will find out below that this exercise was not in vain.

Intertextual clues may be of assistance. Parallel passages seem to suggest that pneuma could be construed as Jesus’ human spirit. Matthew 27:50 contains language similar to John here, using a synonymous verb, also in the active voice: “He gave up His pneuma.” However, note that the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah 53:12 (LXX) uses psychē (soul)—rather than pneuma—though with the same verb as John’s Gospel (paradidōmi, “handed over”) but in the passive voice: “His psychē was handed over to death.” Could this be harmonized such that when Jesus, of His own volition (10:18: “No one takes it [psychē] from Me”), handed over His pneuma this necessarily corresponded with His psychē being handed over to death?

A quick investigation of psychē in John’s Gospel seems to confirm this. Psychē is found ten times, with four in reference to Jesus laying down His life (10:11, 10:15, 10:17, 15:13), two referring to Peter’s claim that he’d lay down his life for Jesus (13:37, 13:38), two refer to life in a general sense (12:25{x2}), one for the Jews’ plea to Jesus to make His Messianic identity known (10:24), and the final one references Jesus’ psychē being unsettled (12:27). This last instance uses the same verb (tarassō) as employed in combination with pneuma in 11:33 and 13:21, thus providing a direct connection. In other words, John records Jesus’ use of psychē in 12:27 in perfect synonymous parallel with pneuma in 11:33 and 13:21. Stated yet another way, pneuma and psychē are interchangeable when referring to Jesus’ humanity, His spirit/soul (at least when used in combination with the verb tarassō), in John’s Gospel.

With this point of connection between pneuma and psychē established, compare 19:30 to Gen. 2:7 (LXX), in which God breathed the “pnoē of life”, “breath of life” (pnoē being a cognate of pneuma), into Adam, after which he became a “living psychē.” In other words, taking all this together, in 19:30 when Jesus volitionally handed over His pneuma (the pnoē of life) this coincided with His psychē being handed over to death, His psychē now devoid of the pnoē of life. This would be in harmony with Jesus’ words in 10:17: “I lay down my psychē”. In other words, handing over His pneuma is tantamount to laying down His psychē.

See also Mark 15:37 and Luke 23:46 in which the verb ekpneō (“breathe out”) is used in the active voice. Ekpneō is a compound word, with the verb pneō (breathe) prefixed by the preposition ek, (out of, from), the word meaning breathe one’s last, expire.47 Pneō is the verb form of the noun pnoē, both cognates of pneuma. Thus, in the Markan and Lukan parallels, if this analysis is correct, the authors depict Gen. 2:7 ‘in reverse’, so to speak, being more direct than John or Matthew. That is, Mark’s and Luke’s ekpneō more pointedly express that Jesus was now devoid of the pnoē of life, having “breathed out” God’s “breath of life” which had been bestowed at conception.48 This verb is only found three times in the entire NT, the remaining instance in the immediate context of Mark’s account (15:39).

Excursus on Psychē in John 10:24

A brief excursus is in order regarding the use of psychē in 10:24. Here John likely employs a play on words, in using a rather humorous idiomatic phrase, not found anywhere else in Scripture. The words rendered in most translations “How long will you keep us in suspense?” are more literally How long will you take up the psychē? (heōs pote tēn psychēn hēmōn aireis?).49 The verb here (airō) has a range of meanings, such as take away, lift up, carry away, remove, withdraw, depart.50 While the idiom is clearly not meant to be taken literally, Brown opines that the biblical author may intend a double meaning in that, though Jesus lays down His psychē for His followers, He brings judgment against His foes, ironically taking away the psychē of those rejecting Him.51 To clarify, the biblical author had just used this same verb in 10:18 in the context of Jesus’ statement that “no one takes (airō) it [psychē] from Me”, so the astute reader could make the connection.

My own opinion—a variation on the above—is that John is being quite purposeful here: though the Jews (hoi Ioudaioi) are using a metaphorical expression, at the same time their literal intent is to take away (airō) Jesus’ psychē, but Jesus himself ironically takes that goal away from them by ‘laying down His own psychē’ (10:17), because “no one takes (airō) it [psychē] from Me” (10:18). Furthermore (in agreement with Brown, though rephrasing a bit), subsequently, their own psychēs will be taken away from them in their eschatological judgment as a result of their unbelief in Jesus, in the aftermath of His death and resurrection.


In some philosophical circles of the time the Greek word nous, which means mind, thought, etc., is a part of the psychē, soul. In Scripture nous is used mostly by Paul, it is found once in Luke’s Gospel (24:45), while John the Revelator employs it twice (Rev. 13:18; 17:9). John’s Gospel does not utilize the term; however, nous could be conceived as subsumed under psychē in both 12:27 and in the idiom in 10:24. Would this change the analyses?

As regards 10:24, this would strengthen the word play, making it more overtly a pun. That is, the idiom would be understood “How long will you ‘take up’ the psychē [mind]?” which would then be juxtaposed with Jesus’ words “I lay down my psychē [life]…no one takes it from Me”. This would constitute an instance of paronomasia—a linguistic device the Gospel writer employs somewhat frequently—in which the quote by “the Jews” can be construed as either mind, or life, the latter in view of its meaning in 10:17-18. Not explicitly stated earlier, it is also possible that the verb airō in the idiomatic phrase intends something different than the meaning of the same verb in 10:17-18; if that is the case, it would further strengthen the paronomasia.

The understanding of psychē, as mind appears to have no effect on 12:27. For this understanding to go against the analysis above, one would have to argue that “mind” is not as all-encompassing as psychē, and from this contend that the context of 12:27 indicates a less intensive ‘troubling’ than the respective contexts of 11:33 and 13:21, the latter two verses referring to the Holy Spirit rather than Jesus’ human spirit. In assessing the contexts, that argument would be difficult to sustain, for 11:33 is most likely referring to Jesus’ human emotions, not the Holy Spirit, as He subsequently weeps. More damaging—though the analysis above did not explicate this—the contexts of 12:27 and 13:21 both refer to Jesus’ ‘troubling’ regarding His impending death. Could one relate to Jesus’ human seat of emotions with the other to the move of the Spirit? That is possible, though improbable, as it would appear difficult to explain why this would be so.


33 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), p 271. The bracketed editorial note “It is finished” is in place of the authors’ questionable translation “has been fully accomplished” (as seen in the second paragraph of the quotation). More on this below.

34 This is stated as somewhat of a concession to English, as the Greek participle should not be viewed as a dependent clause per se; see Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. ((Biblical Languages: Greek 2), Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1994), pp 190-191.

35 See Porter, Idioms, pp 181-193.

36 But it also functions adjectivally, as it modifies the subject encoded in the main verb paradidōmi and implied by the context (Jesus).

37 Stanley E. Porter, Jeffrey T. Reed, and Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), p 110. This generality only applies to adverbial participles, as in the present example.

38 Ibid. Decker recognizes this (Rodney J. Decker, Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014], p 397), though he stresses that one should “[t]ake all such claims [regarding word order] with caution”, for “context is a more reliable guide than any rule” (p 397).

39 Stephen E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, © 2010 Logos Bible Software), p 249; cf. pp 249-268.

40 The passive voice of this same verb (paradidōmi) is used in describing the death of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:12: “His soul [psychē] was handed over to death . . . .” See Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), p 551 nt 60.

41 Malina-Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary, p 271) do not capitalize “spirit”; however, the context makes it plain that the authors intend the Holy Spirit.

42 Brown, John XIII-XXI, p 931.

43 Comfort, New Testament Text, pp 319-320. Though most date this manuscript late 2nd to 3rd century, Brent Nongbri suggests a later date, based on his own findings (“The Limits of Palaeographic Dating of Literary Papyri: Some Observations on the Date and Provenance of P.Bodmer II [P66],” Museum Helveticum 71 [2014], p 1-35.)

44 This practice may be in imitation of the use of YHWH (the tetragrammaton) for the Divine Name in the OT, though there are notable differences between the Jewish and Christian traditions. See Larry W. Hurtado, Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2016), pp 138-141 (and related footnotes).

45 Comfort, New Testament Text, p 320.

46 The impetus to perform this particular investigation came from Jaime Clark-Soles’ essay “‘I Will Raise [Whom?] Up on the Last Day’: Anthropology as a Feature of Johannine Eschatology” in New Currents through John: A Global Perspective, eds. Francisco Lozada, Jr. & Tom Thatcher (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006), pp 29-53. However, I depart from some of the author’s conclusions. E.g., she asserts that pneuma is “[c]learly . . .  not a natural, normal part of a person’s constitution” (p 36) in John’s Gospel, but I’m not so sure can one make such a definitive claim. Moreover, the author doesn’t expand on the interrelationship of 11:33 and 13:21 and their relationship with 12:27 (see below).

In 3:6 I see the two instances of pneuma as possibly distinct from one another: the first could be the Holy Spirit, while the second could be either the human spirit or spirit in a general sense. Of course, the Holy Spirit clearly does not beget Holy Spirit offspring! The Johannine Jesus employs word play here. The point of the statement in 3:6 is to define what it means to be born anōthen (3:3; 3:7), this latter term possessing the dual meaning of “from above” and/or “again”—in other words a spiritual rebirth for humans (3:5; 3:8). With this in mind, I understand 3:6 to possibly mean ‘the Spirit “gennaō” (“begets”) spirit’ in a figurative sense (cf. 1:13). But what does that entail? Other Scriptures indicate that the Holy Spirit will be (figuratively?) deposited (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13-14; cf. Ezek. 36:2627). Ezekiel 36:26-27 does not necessarily imply that the existing human spirit is to be supplanted. Applying this to John’s Gospel, does this potentially indicate a relationship between the Holy Spirit and one’s human spirit—if there is a literal human spirit separate from the body in John’s Gospel?  Assuming humans do possess a human spirit, this does not mean I would see a sharp dichotomy (a la Gnosticism) between flesh (sarx, this term used wholistically yet non-specifically in John at times—cf. 1:14; 3:6; 17:2) and spirit. It is plausible that John portrays Jesus’ spirit as an integral though ultimately ‘detachable’ ‘part’ of his flesh (though see analysis below). In this Gospel sōma only refers to Jesus, specifically to His dead body (19:31, 19:38, 19:40, 20:12) or to His body generally (2:21). Hence, if one interprets that Jesus has ‘detachable pneuma’, and that this spirit was ‘handed over’ in 19:30, one could state this mathematically (In John’s Gospel) as: sarxpneuma = sōma. Consequently, assuming this implicitly applies equally to all humans, then it could follow that the Holy Spirit ‘unites’ with the human spirit upon belief, i.e., being born anōthen.

Comfort, NT Text and Translation, notes that the P66 scribe differentiated between the two instances by use of the nomen sacrum in the first instance (in English translation) but not the second (p 263).

47 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 119.

48 One must be cautious not to read too much into this in one’s philosophical musings.

49 Barrett (According to St. John), notes a similarity to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex 914 and Euripedes’ Hecuba 69f. (p 380).

50 BDAG, p 29.

51 Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 403.

The Kingdom of God is at Hand, part I

[see part II here.]

Jesus Himself stated, “The kingdom of God is at hand” in Mark 1:15 [NIV]; however, it is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew that He also said “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [Matthew 4:17, 10:7 NIV] A quick examination of Scripture leads to the conclusion that the phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are synonymous. So, is the kingdom of God NOW?

Most first century Jews, according to their understanding of Scripture, were looking for a Messiah who would provide theocratic rule thus delivering them from Roman oppression and immediately establishing the Kingdom of God – the Age to Come. The then-current age – “Satan’s Time” – was one of sin, sickness, demonic possession, and evil in which evil men were triumphant.[1]

Consequently, even though Jesus Christ healed the sick, drove out demons and even claimed to have forgiven sins, the majority of religious leaders did not recognize Him as the Messiah in part because He did not try to overthrow Rome. Since many of the Pharisees – one of the religious parties of the day – did not believe Jesus’ claim as the “I Am” [John 8:58] they wanted to stone Him for blasphemy!

Historical background

Writings of the Intertestamental Era

400 years had already elapsed between the writing of Malachi, the last Old Testament book to be recorded, and the era of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In the intertestamental period (the time between the Old and New Testaments), the Jews were not a free people most of the time instead subjected to the rulership of various empires. There were no prophets providing correction or guidance; and, consequently, it was a rather unhappy time. As a result, it was a period marked by a surge in the production of literary works, the most important of which were the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Tanakh – what Christians know as the Old Testament (abbreviated LXX)[2], the Apocryphal & Pseudepigraphic writings (some of the Apocrypha were translated from the Hebrew and Aramaic and included as part of the LXX)[3], and the Dead Sea Scrolls.[4]

The word Apocrypha, from Greek derivation, means “hidden” which has a view of the works being either esoteric and only to be understood by the initiated or, “hidden” in that the nature of the writings are questionable or heretical[5]. The term Pseudepigrapha is usually applied to Jewish (and Jewish-Christian) writings from 200BC to AD200 and comes also from Greek etymology meaning the writings were attributed to fictitious authors[6] although some have authorship ascribed[7]. From both groups of works the subject of eschatology has a significant role. Taken all together, this literature appeared to have a profound effect on the pre-Christian and the immediate post-Resurrection era[8] up through the destruction of the Second Temple in AD70[9]. [Note: for the purposes of this article the “New Testament Apocrypha” including the so-called “Lost Gospels, ” Acts of Andrews, Epistles of the Apostles, etc. are not considered.]

…These and other writings emerged during the long silence that fell between the death of the last OT prophet, Malachi (about 400 B.C.), and the appearance of John the Baptist. To some extent these writings attempted to discern what God was saying to a nation that, though it had repudiated idolatry, still suffered under the dominion of a succession of pagan powers… [10]

At the Council of Jamnia in AD90 Jewish rabbis rejected the Apocrypha (of which parts were included in the Septuagint) as canonical[11]. Yet, some of the Apocrypha are included in the Catholic New American Bible as Deuterocanonical (meaning later added to the canon) books[12]. Some of the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine such as purgatory, masses for the dead, and obtaining the merit of God through good works come from these Apocryphal works[13].

The OT canon accepted by Protestants today was “very likely established by the dawn of the second century,” some time after the destruction of Herod’s Temple in AD70. However, the Apocrypha was still in common use by most Christians until the Protestant Reformation[14].

Societal Developments of the Period

Even though the Second Temple was in operation from 516 BC[15] until AD70[16,17] geographical constraints and oppressive regimes prevented easy travel for the typical Jew. Thus the synagogue was born. Synagogues can be likened to our modern day church buildings as they provided a convenient way to gather socially and to worship. Jesus Himself visited local synagogues [Luke 4:14-21; Matthew 12:9; Mark 1:21]; and, the Apostles [Acts 9:20, 13:5-43] and early Christian missionaries preached in them as well[18].

The Sanhedrin was a committee of Jews with recognized executive, legislative, and judicial power over Jewish faith and lifestyle during the Seleucid Empire (196 – 167BC), the Maccabean revolt (168 – 143BC) and within the limits imposed by Julius Caesar, Herod the Great, and Roman procurators during the Roman Empire (44BC – AD66).[19,20] Subordinate to the Sanhedrin were the religious parties or sects known as the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and the Qumran community[21]. Since the Sanhedrin had authority over these sects and ultimate authority over capital cases (yet subordinate to Rome during Roman occupation), Jesus’ trial is seen as being conducted illegally[22].

Beliefs of the Sects

Not much is known about the separative and isolationistic Essene group except that they were very legalistic living both frugally and communally while limiting contact outside their sect. While they did not condemn marriage in principle it was avoided and celibacy was celebrated. Their sect was continued on by the adoption of children. There was an expectation of an impending apocalyptic battle between good and evil. Evidence of a soon to emerge Messiah is in their writings also[23].

Even less was known of the Qumran community until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) which were first unearthed in 1947. The Qumranians are likely a sect that broke from the Essenes. This extremely sectarian group rejected the Jewish leadership referring to them as “sons of darkness” and “men of the pit” while referring to themselves as “sons of light” and “sons of truth.” They firmly believed they were living in the end times[24].

From the DSS it is evident that the Qumranians were highly legalistic with a commitment to study the Torah. The Qumran group believed they were living in the end times and accepted the guidance of a certain teacher of righteousness [ed: probably based at least in part on Malachi 4:5] who was presumably preparing them for the Messiah. Their own writings about this “righteous teacher” are too sketchy to determine the exact role of this figure; however, it is apparent that the community accepted his interpretations of the prophetic OT books regarding eschatology. Since the Qumran believed in a resurrection of the dead, it may be assumed in studying portions of the DSS that they expected the “teacher of righteousness to be martyred and eventually raised up[25]. Their Messiah figure, on the other hand, was more of a human son of David concept rather than a divine apocalyptic Son of man[26]. Some scholars construe that the Qumran belief system supports two or three Messianic figures[27,28].

As supernaturalists, the Pharisees believed in angels, demons, bodily resurrection [Acts 23:8], and immortality with reward for the righteous dead[29] in contrast with retribution for the unrighteous[30]. They were legalistic to the point of going beyond the Scriptures in attempting to adhere to the Torah; and, to this end added their own oral tradition to keep various points of the law. A good example of this is their view of the Sabbath [Mark 2:23-28]. The Pharisees “neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness” [Matthew 23:23 NIV] creating a more works-based religion than one with a personal God.

The Pharisees believed both in man’s free will and the sovereignty of God yet thought neither would cancel out the other. Ethics such as human equality were emphasized in their teachings but not necessarily from a theological standpoint[31]. They expected the Messiah to restore Jewish freedom[32].

One credible source stated outright that the Pharisees believed in reincarnation[33]; yet, the general consensus among Christian scholars is that Pharisaical belief regarding immortality adhered to orthodoxy instead. However, in the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic literature there are references to reincarnation[34]. In some camps, the Kabbalah was thought to be in use as early as the time of Moses as part of an oral tradition and reincarnation is one of the tenets of Kabbalistic doctrine[35]. While there are certainly some Jewish sects who currently espouse reincarnation[36], it is not clear when this doctrine first came about. The Apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, or Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach[37], contains a warning against such esotericism [Sirach 3:20-22].[38]

The common people were predominantly middle class and identified mostly with the Pharisees in part because this party was of the same class[39]. It should be noted that not all Pharisees were of the same ilk as those represented in the NT. Some contemporaries within their own party recognized their hypocrisy and rebuked them for it[40]. Gamaliel appeared to try to honor a personal God with his words [Acts 5:33-41]. Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, would, of course, become the Apostle Paul.

The Sadducees, more than any of these groups, had an interest in Temple ceremonies and sought a literal interpretation of the Torah. They appeared to reject extra-canonical sources for doctrine. As the most affluent of the religious groups, the Sadducees wielded political clout disproportionate to their relative size[41]. It is assumed that they held a large percentage of seats on the Sanhedrin.

The Sadducean view of eschatology was quite simplistic and widely divergent from the other sects as they did not believe in a resurrection [Matthew 22:23, Mark 12:18, Luke 20:27] or an afterlife and even denied the existence of a spiritual world altogether [Acts 23:8] attributing everything to free will[42].

Eschatological Views of the Pre-Christian and Immediate Post-Resurrection Era

With the exception of the Sadducean view, the predominant Jewish belief of the pre-Christian era included the imminent arrival of a Messianic figure (or figures assuming one of the viewpoints regarding the Qumran group) to deliver them from their Roman oppressors and immediately establish the Kingdom of God. Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart, in their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, describe the Jewish eschaton (view of the end of time) as the belief that the Messiah’s coming would usher in the “Age to Come” to be “characterized by the presence of the Spirit, righteousness, health, and peace.”[43]

Since Jesus Christ’s disciples/followers came directly from Jewish heritage or were familiar with Jewish eschatological beliefs, they were also expecting Him to soon usher in the Kingdom and overthrow Rome[44] while He was still on the earth. Consequently, Jesus’ arrest and subsequent death on the Cross was met with immense disillusionment among His disciples in part because of this assumption [Luke 22:61-62; 23:27, 48-49; 24:17-21]. However, their sorrow turned to joy with His Resurrection and Ascension!

Yet it was apparent that the end of the age had not come in full:

“Very early, beginning with Peter’s sermon in Acts 3, the early Christians came to realize that Jesus had not come to usher in the ‘final’ end, but the ‘beginning’ of the end, as it were. Thus they came to see that with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and with the coming of the Spirit, the blessings and benefits of the future had already come. In a sense, therefore, the end had already come. But, in another sense the end had not yet fully come. Thus it was already but not yet. [45] [emphasis in original]

First century Christians had to adjust their eschatological thinking to fit the events of the Resurrection and Ascension. However, apparently some were expecting the imminent return of Jesus Christ prompting the Apostle Paul to write the two Thessalonian letters to provide markers of what first must take place before His return. They still had a “kingdom now” mindset. This expectation of imminency with regard to Christ’s return continues in the mindset of most Christians today.

This “tension” between the already but not yet is an important hermeneutical tool in interpreting the New Testament[46]. Passages such as Colossians 3:1-2 illustrate this quite well:

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [NIV]

We are already raised up with Christ, yet we are still physically here on earth. However, since we have the future expectation of being raised with Christ, we are to already set our hearts and minds on heavenly things. Similarly, when Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand” He was using this same principle. The Kingdom era has already begun; but, the consummation is yet to be fulfilled.

There are those today who are attempting to hasten Jesus Christ’s return by taking the not yet into their own hands. It is the doctrines of some of these which will be compared to the doctrines of the groups above in the second part of this article.

See Part II here.


[1] Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stewart “The Gospels: One Story, Many Dimensions.” How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. second edition, 1993; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; p 131

[2] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1. 1979; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 164-174. This section features Bruce M. Metzger as contributor.

[3] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. “Between the Testaments.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1. 1979; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 179-192. This section features Harold W. Hoehner as contributor.

[4] Barker, Kenneth; Burdick, Stek, et. al. “The Time between the Testaments” NIV Study Bible. copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 1424-1425

[5] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 161 Metzger

[6] ibid. pp 162, 170

[7] Marshall, I. Howard; Millard, Packer “Pseudepigrapha” New Bible Dictionary. third edition, 1996; Intervarsity, Downers Grove, IL; p 985

[8] Gaebelein, Op.cit. pp 173-174 Hoehner

[9] Richards, Lawrence O. “Apocrypha” Richards Complete Bible Dictionary. 2002; World Bible Publishers, Iowa Falls, IO; p 76

[10] ibid.

[11] Marshall, Op.cit.

[12] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 162

[13] Richards, Op.cit.

[14] Barker, Op.cit. p 1425

[15] Richards, Lawrence O. “Ezra” Richards’ Complete Bible Handbook. 1987; Word, Inc., Dallas, TX; pp 233-234

[16] Wikipedia The Second Temple <> para 1; as accessed 10/17/10

[17] Richards, Op.cit. “The Second Temple” Bible Dictionary p 967

[18] ibid. “synagogue” pp 957-958

[19] ibid. “Sanhedrin” pp 894-895

[20] Gaebelein, Op.cit. pp 184, 189-191 Hoehner

[21] ibid. pp 192-193

[22] Richards, Op.cit. p 895

[23] ibid. “Essenes” pp 346-347

[24] Gaebelein, Frank E., Gen. Ed. “Dead Sea Scrolls.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1. 1979; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI; pp 395-398. This section features William Sanford LaSor as contributor.

[25] ibid. pp 399-401

[26] ibid. pp 400-403 [The bulk of this information on the Qumran is from the work of William S. LaSor titled The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972]

[27] Barker, Op.cit. p 1427

[28] Hanson, Kenneth “The Wicked Priest” Dead Sea Scrolls: the Untold Story. 1997; Council Oaks Books, Tulsa, OK; p 82

[29] Richards, Op.cit. “Pharisees” p 782

[30] Barker, Op.cit. “Jewish Sects” p 1473

[31] ibid.

[32] Richards, Op.cit.

[33] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 192 Hoehner

[34] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 165 Metzger

[35] Wikipedia “Primary Texts” Kabbalah. <> para 2, also “History: Origin of Terms” para 1; as accessed 10/17/10

[36] Rich, Tracey R. “Resurrection and Reincarnation” Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife. <>  Copyright 5759-5760 (1999); Tracey R. Rich; para 4; as accessed 10/17/10

[37] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 166

[38] Confraternity of Christian Doctrine “Sirach” New American Bible. <> 2002; Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC; Sirach 3:20-22; as accessed 10/17/10

[39] Richards, Op.cit. “The Common People” Bible Handbook p 443

[40] ibid. “The Pharisees” p 442

[41] Gaebelein, Op.cit. p 192 Hoehner

[42] Richards, Op.cit. “Sadducees” p 885

[43] Fee, Op.cit. p 132

[44] ibid.

[45] ibid. pp 132-133

[46] ibid. p 133