An Unfriendly Bodyguard

All four Gospels report Peter’s adamant affirmation of fidelity Jesus, no matter what may come (Matt 26:33–35; Mark 14:29–31; Luke 22:31–34; John 13:36–38). A key feature in the Synoptics’ presentation is Peter’s persistence about remaining with Jesus (Matt 26:35; Mark 14:31; Luke 22:33). In so presenting his declaration, Matthew and Mark focus exclusively on Peter’s commitment to die with Jesus (Matt 26:35; Mark 14:31). Beyond this affirmation, Luke also explicitly mentions Peter’s readiness to accept the lesser affliction of imprisonment with Jesus (Luke 22:33).

For John, Peter’s affirmation of fidelity still draws in Peter’s continuing presence with Jesus (John 13:37a). Here, however, Peter goes a step farther: Not only will he be present with Jesus, whatever may come, but he will die in Jesus’ behalf (John 13:37b; τὴν ψυχήν μου ὑπὲρ σοῦ θήσω; underlining added). The extent to which ὑπέρ indicates substitution (so: ὑπὲρ σοῦ ≈ in your place) is sometimes debatable.1 Particularly given the Synoptics’ preference for accompaniment language, John’s ὑπὲρ σοῦ could have a more general sense and indicate Peter’s profession of a willingness to die in keeping with how highly he values Jesus (so: ὑπὲρ σοῦ ≈ for your sake).2

Yet, in John’s Gospel, Jesus has already affirmed that the good shepherd will die in behalf of his sheep (John 10:11, 15, 17), and Jesus will shortly suggest that the one who has the greatest love will die in behalf of his friends (John 15:13). In both these analogous cases, the one who dies seems to do so at least in hopes that those may be spared in whose behalf he dies. Thus too in John 13:37b, Peter seems to be offering to serve as a kind of bodyguard for Jesus.3 Tied up as this offer is in John’s narrative with the rest of the Farewell Discourse (John 13:31–17:26), when Jesus says in this discourse “no one has greater love than this: that someone should lay down his life in his friends’ behalf” (John 15:13; μείζονα ταύτης ἀγάπην οὐδεὶς ἔχει, ἵνα τις τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ θῇ ὑπὲρ τῶν φίλων αὐτοῦ), Peter can hardly miss hearing this statement at least partly as a comment on his own offer that he has just made to die in Jesus’ behalf.

Although it would have been expressed differently in different contexts, “friendship” involves some kind of reciprocity, so that the one who lays down his life in his friends’ behalf is himself part of that friendship’s circle of influence.4 Within this circle of friendship, Jesus himself is preeminently the one who dies for his friends (John 15:13–15). Peter has promised to do the same for Jesus (John 13:37b), but Peter does not sufficiently comprehend the agenda on which Jesus is operating (John 18:10–11). So, when the time for Jesus’ death actually approaches, Peter rather distances himself from than interposes himself in behalf of Jesus (John 13:38; 18:15–18, 25–27).

Despite these failures, after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter is ready enough to confess his friendship with Jesus (φιλεῖν ≈ to love, to be a friend of) and to hear Jesus’ summons to shepherd his sheep (John 21:15–16). Jesus’ meaning has, however, not completely come home. Only when Jesus asks whether Peter is his friend does it seem that the reality his inquiry becomes clear (John 21:17).5 Semantically, ἀγαπᾶν (≈ to love) and φιλεῖν are closely related terms (John 21:15–17),6 but it is in the latter verbiage that Jesus has interpretively tied his own sacrifice to Peter’s unfilfilled promise of the same (John 13:37–38; 15:13–15).7 Although Peter has failed to make good on his friendly promise to die in Jesus’ behalf, he still affirms his friendship with Jesus (John 21:15–17). As the Chief and Good Shepherd, Jesus has died in behalf of his sheep and his friends, and this vocation he freshly commends to his friend Peter:

Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you would dress yourself and walk where you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and will bring you where you do not want to go. (John 21:17d–18; βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου. ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ὅτε ἦς νεώτερος, ἐζώννυες σεαυτὸν καὶ περιεπάτεις ὅπου ἤθελες· ὅταν δὲ γηράσῃς, ἐκτενεῖς τὰς χεῖράς σου, καὶ ἄλλος σε ζώσει καὶ οἴσει ὅπου οὐ θέλεις.)

“And he said this to show by what kind of death he would glorify God” (John 21:19a; τοῦτο δὲ εἶπεν σημαίνων ποίῳ θανάτῳ δοξάσει τὸν θεόν). Peter had shrunk back from his previous espousals, but it was still his vocation to follow the Good Shepherd and to do so faithfully to the end.8

1. See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 383–89, for a discussion.

2. See BDAG, s.v., ὑπέρ, §A.1.a.ε.

3. Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 1004–5.

4. Ibid., 1004–15; cf. Augustine, Doctr. chr., 1.30.31 (NPNF1, 2:531); Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo., 43.2 (NPNF1, 7:240).

5. Cf. BDAG, s.v., φιλέω, §1.

6. See D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996); Keener, John, 1235–36; Moisés Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 96–97, for a discussion.

7. Cf. Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 596–98.

8. Andreas J. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God (Biblical Theology of the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 495–96n151.

Timing Blindness

Healing of the Man Born Blind
Healing of the Man Born Blind (illumination, Codex Egberti, fol. 50; 980–993; Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The account of the man who had been born blind (John 9:110:21) shares some significant features with the story of the woman at the well (John 4:4–42). In both cases, the individuals’ births place them at or outside societal margins (John 4:9, 27; 9:2). Yet, in the end, it is such marginal individuals whom the narrative situates as most in step with Jesus’ mission and, therefore, most in step with Yahweh’s purposes for his people (John 4:23–24, 39–42; 9:35–38), when a different situation would typically have been expected (John 4:20, 22; 9:13–34, 40–41; 10:19–21).

Still, in the later narrative, the reversal is even stronger because of the lengthy opposition that the staunchest part of the “in group” develops to Jesus’ timing in healing the man who had been born blind (i.e., on the Sabbath; John 9:14, 16). In Jesus’ initial response to his disciples’ question about how the man came to have been born blind, Jesus affirms that the end was “that the works of God might be manifest in him” (John 9:3; ἵνα φανερωθῇ τὰ ἔργα τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ). Without specifically mentioning the Sabbath, Jesus immediately continues with three temporal assertions: “it is necessary for us to work the works of the one who has sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one is able to work. When I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4–5; ἡμᾶς δεῖ ἐργάζεσθαι τὰ ἔργα τοῦ πέμψαντός με ἕως ἡμέρα ἐστίν· ἔρχεται νὺξ ὅτε οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐργάζεσθαι. ὅταν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ὦ, φῶς εἰμι τοῦ κόσμου). These statements likely have referents beyond the scope of the immediate pericope (e.g., John 13:30), but they set up an important link with Jesus’ forthcoming criticism of the Pharisees for their “blindness” (John 9:39–41).1

At issue here are competing versions of Yahweh’s agenda for his people. The Pharisee’s admission of blindness would have been tantamount to repentance.2 Having been sent by the Father, Jesus claims for himself the right to pronounce and act according to the Father’s agenda (John 9:4, 39).3 To their own detriment, however, the Pharisees remain skeptical of this claim (John 9:16, 28–29, 39; cf. John 7:27).4 Instead, they prefer discipleship to Moses while not recognizing even Moses’ support for Jesus (John 5:39; 9:28–29; cf. John 10:1–21).5 Therefore, because they have stood their ground in asserting insight that they did not actually possess, what remains in the light of their encounter with Jesus is only a blindness for which such opponents are fully culpable (John 9:39–41).6

1. Chrysostom, Hom. Jo., 56.3 (NPNF1, 14:200–1); F. F. Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John (combined ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 1:209, 220–21; Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 795.

2. Cf. Origen, Cels., 7.39 (ANF, 4:627–28).

3. Cf. Origen, Comm. Jo., 1.24 (ANF, 9:311).

4. Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John, 1:220; cf. Augustine, Grat., 44 (NPNF1, 5:464).

5. Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo., 33.1 (NPNF1, 7:197).

6. Cf. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 81.7, 97.4, 135.12 (NPNF1, 8:392, 475, 626); Augustine, Faust., 21.2 (NPNF1, 4:265); Chrysostom, The Power of Demons, 2.4 (NPNF1, 9:189); Irenaeus, Haer., 3.24.2 (ANF, 1:458–59). See also Augustine, Serm., 86 (NPNF1, 6:514–17); Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (ed. and trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall; 2nd ed.; New York: Continuum, 2006), 354.

Finding Faith in Samaria

Christ and the Samaritan woman at the well
Angelika Kauffmann, “Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well” (1796; Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John 4:4–42 records Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Although the woman had come to the well for water (John 4:7, 15), after her conversation with Jesus, she leaves her water jar, returns to the town, and tells the people there to “come see a person who told me all the things that I have done. This one is not the Messiah, is he?” (John 4:29; δεῦτε ἴδετε ἄνθρωπον ὃς εἶπέν μοι πάντα ὅσα ἐποίησα, μήτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ χριστός;).1 Others from the town then come, presumably following the woman, to see Jesus (John 4:30, 39–40). Even before the group reaches Jesus, however, many in it have believed in him based on the woman’s report (John 4:39–40a). At the group’s request, Jesus stays with them two additional days, and upon hearing his own teaching, the group believes all the more (John 4:41–42a).2

Earlier, the woman had expressed the expectation that, when he arrived, the Messiah would teach the Samaritans (John 4:25).3 Although the woman expresses uncertainty about how far Jesus’ messiahship will seem viable to the other townsfolk, her perception of his behavior at least seems to make this claim not unreasonable for her (John 4:26, 28–29).4 Still more striking is the townsfolk’s reaction when Jesus teaches them directly: “we ourselves have heard, and we believe that this one is truly the Savior of the world” (John 4:42b; αὐτοὶ . . . ἀκηκόαμεν καὶ οἴδαμεν ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ἀληθῶς ὁ σωτὴρ τοῦ κόσμου).5 In so doing, these Samaritans recognize the particular shape in which the salvation that originates with the Jews has come,6 even when notable figures among the Jewish leadership themselves have difficulty with Jesus in this respect (cf. John 3:1–21; 4:21–24; 9:110:19).7

1. Cf. Chrysostom, Hom. Jo., 34.1 (NPNF1, 14:117).

2. See also Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 627.

3. Cf. John 4:17b–18, 29a; Augustine, Serm., 51.2 (NPNF1, 6:422–23); Chrysostom, Hom. Jo., 33.2 (NPNF1, 14:115); Origen, Comm. Jo., 1.6 (ANF, 9:300).

4. Cf. BDF, §427.2; cf. NASB95 and NET, sub. loc.; Chrysostom, Hom. Jo., 33.2, 34.1 (NPNF1, 14:116, 118).

5. Cf. Ephraim Syrus, Hymns on the Nativity, 3 (NPNF2, 13:230).

6. Keener, John, 627.

7. The phrase “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24; ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ) may include a hendiadys (Keener, John, 615–18). Or, the two objects of the preposition “in” (ἐν) may be “separate . . . but epexegetically related” (Andreas J. Köstenberger, John [Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004], 156n50). In either case, because of the close connection that John 4:23–24 proposes between “spirit” and “truth,” “truly” (John 4:42; ἀληθῶς) in the mouths of the Samaritans may well situate them as or among the “true worshipers” (John 4:23; ἀληθινοὶ προσκυνηταί) of the Father in that “hour [that] is coming and now is” (John 4:23; ἔρχεται ὥρα καὶ νῦν ἐστιν).

Origin, Identity, and Mission

Jesus and Nicodemus, Crijn Hendricksz, 1616–1645.
Crijn Hendricksz, “Jesus and Nicodemus” (1616–1645; Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John 1:13 describes a group of individuals “who were not born from blood nor from a fleshly will nor from a husband’s will but from God” (οἳ οὐκ ἐξ αἱμάτων οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς ἀλλʼ ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν). For John, being born “from blood” (ἐξ αἱμάτων), “from a fleshly will” (ἐκ θελήματος σαρκός), and “from a husband’s will” (ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρός) would all have been perfectly reasonable ways of describing ordinary, human generation.1 Yet, the individuals John describes as not having been born in these ways but as having been born “from God” (ἐκ θεοῦ) are still very much human beings (John 1:9–12). John’s point, then, is not to negate the reality of the ordinary, human, physical generation of the individuals he describes but to negate the significance of this origin for determining the identity of the “children of God” (John 1:12; τέκνα θεοῦ).

Not surprisingly, then, fairly soon, the Gospel’s narrative finds Jesus discussing with Nicodemus how those who have been born by ordinary, human generation must be born ἄνωθεν (e.g., John 3:3, 7). That it would make no sense for Jesus to affirm that someone, especially an older person, would need “to go into his mother’s womb and be born a second time” (John 3:4; εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ δεύτερον εἰσελθεῖν καὶ γεννηθῆναι) Nicodemus already well knows.2 What Nicodemus fails to grasp is that, for Jesus, birth ἄνωθεν is not so much about a difference of time as it is difference of location (i.e., not so much about birth “again” as birth “from above”; cf. John 3:31), along with the precise definition Jesus gives to the latter.3 Thus, to be born “from above” (ἄνωθεν) is to have a share in the same parentage as “the one who has descended from heaven” (John 3:13; ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς; cf. John 3:31). Such parentage is that of the Father who sends the Son to do his will (John 6:38) so that the Son also gives this same commission to his disciples and his siblings (John 18:36; 20:17, 21).4

1. William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel according to John (New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953), 1:82; Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 404–5; Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 39–40.

2. Nicodemus seems not quite sure what to make of Jesus’ initial response or his further clarification (John 3:3–10; cf. Chrysostom, Hom. Jo., 24.2–3 [NPNF1, 14:85–86]; Keener, John, 544–45; Andreas J. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God [Biblical Theology of the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009], 474–76). Yet, the syntax of Nicodemus’s question in John 3:4b indicates that he expects Jesus to reject the possibility he there raises for interpreting what Jesus has said about birth ἄνωθεν (BDF, §427.2; cf. NASB95 and NET, sub. loc.).

3. Keener, John, 537; Köstenberger, Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, 474–76. Of course, assuming that it would temporally follow birth according to ordinary, human generation, a birth “from above” would also be a kind of “second” birth (cf. Augustine, Faust., 24.1 [NPNF1, 4:317]; Chrysostom, Hom. Rom., 10.17 [NPNF1, 11:403]). Yet, for Jesus in John 3, this temporal sequence seems not to be nearly so significant as is the spatial distance between heaven and earth and the ideological significance that distance bears.

4. Köstenberger, Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, 259.

On Neighborliness

Domenico Fetti - Parable of the Good Samaritan...
Domenico Fetti, "Parable of the Good Samaritan" (c. 1610–1623; photo credit: Wikipedia)

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–35) is unique to Luke and contributes to the third Gospel’s general emphasis on socially marginalized characters and groups.1 Introducing the parable proper is an exchange between Jesus and a νομικός (lawyer), which the lawyer begins by inquiring τί ποιήσας ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσω; (Luke 10:25b; what shall I do to inherit eternal life?). Both this question and the exchange that follows resemble some later rabbinic texts, not least in the lawyer’s concern to define proper Torah obedience.2

Following on their mutual agreement that loving יהוה with all one’s being and one’s neighbor as oneself (Luke 10:27–28) is key to gaining eternal life,3 the lawyer’s next inquiry is τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον; (Luke 10:29; who is my neighbor?). Although asked to vindicate the lawyer’s own thoughts about the matter (Luke 10:29a), this question follows naturally enough on the preceding discussion: it seeks Jesus’ opinion on the definition of the category of other people toward whom the key command(s) demands love to be exercised.4

Jesus’ answer to this inquiry is to tell a parable in which the main characters include two Jews, one Samaritan, and one ἄνθρωπός τις [ὃς] κατέβαινεν ἀπὸ Ἰερουσαλὴμ εἰς Ἰεριχὼ καὶ λῃσταῖς περιέπεσεν (Luke 10:30; certain person [who] was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among bandits). Provocatively, Jesus proceeds to make out the Samaritan to be the hero of the story and inquires: τίς τούτων τῶν τριῶν πλησίον δοκεῖ σοι γεγονέναι τοῦ ἐμπεσόντος εἰς τοὺς λῃστάς; (Luke 10:36; who of these three [passers by] seems to you to have become the neighbor of the one who had fallen among the bandits?; cf. John 4:9b).5 Within Jesus’ narrative, the answer is clear: ὁ ποιήσας τὸ ἔλεος μετʼ αὐτοῦ (Luke 10:37; the one who acted compassionately with him)—that is, the Samaritan.6

There is, then, likely a bit of a double sense to Jesus’ πορεύου καὶ σὺ ποίει ὁμοίως (Luke 10:37; go and do likewise).7 In the first place, the lawyer should imitate the Samaritan in Jesus’ story and act compassionately.8 To say only this much, however, leaves the discussion quite at the place where the lawyer originally inquired τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον; (Luke 10:29; who is my neighbor?). So, in the second place, the lawyer should consider as neighbors even those who stand beyond traditional boundary lines of neighborliness (Luke 10:36), even to the extent of removing such boundary lines altogether.9

1. R. T. France, “Matthew, Mark, and Luke,” in A Theology of the New Testament (ed. Donald A. Hagner; rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 237, 242–43.

2. Joachim Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables (New York: Scribner and Sons, 1966), 159; E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1977), 76–81, 112–14, 129; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 2; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 306.

3. On the joining of these two commandments, see Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 305n234.

4. Ibid., 306.

5. Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1990), 231; Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 160.

6. Cf. Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 160–61.

7. Blomberg, Parables, 231–32; Chrysostom, Hom. Heb., 10.8 (NPNF1, 14:417); cf. Augustine, Doctr. chr. , 1.30.31 (NPNF1, 2:530–31); Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo., 43.2 (NPNF1, 7:240); Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 161.

8. Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Combined ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 2:55; cf. Ambrose, Paen., 1.11.52 (NPNF2, 10:338).

9. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 306–7.

This Year’s IBR Giveaway

At the Friday night meeting of the Institute for Biblical Research, there is traditionally a book giveaway of some kind. At my first IBR last year, attendees received M. Daniel Carroll R.’s Christians at the Border and either Theological Interpretation of the New Testament (ed. Kevin Vanhoozer, Daniel Treier, and N. T. Wright) or Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament (ed. Kevin Vanhoozer, Craig Bartholomew, and Daniel Treier).

The Theology of John's Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God At this year’s meeting, Zondervan kindly provided copies of Andreas Köstenberger’s recently released Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God. According to the publisher’s description,

A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters introduces the first volume in the BTNT series. Building on many years of research and study in Johannine literature, Andreas Köstenberger not only furnishes an exhaustive theology of John’s Gospel and letters, but also provides a detailed study of major themes and relates them to the Synoptic Gospels and other New Testament books. Readers will gain an in-depth and holistic grasp of Johannine theology in the larger context of the Bible.

As a whole, the forthcoming volumes of the Biblical Theology of the New Testament series will also

provide[] upper college and seminary-level textbooks for students of New Testament theology, interpretation, and exegesis. Pastors and discerning theology readers alike will also benefit from this series. Written at the highest level of academic excellence by recognized experts in the field, the BTNT series not only offers a comprehensive exploration of the theology of every book of the New Testament, including introductory issues and major themes, but also shows how each book relates to the broad picture of New Testament theology.

The authors for the forthcoming volumes on the other New Testament documents and corpora besides the Johannine Gospel and letters are as follows:

  • Michael Wilkins (Matthew)
  • David Garland (Mark)
  • Darrell Bock (Luke-Acts)
  • Douglas Moo (Paul)
  • George Guthrie (Hebrews)
  • Thomas Schreiner (Peter, James, and Jude)
  • Andreas Köstenberger and Alan Bandy (Revelation)

So, the series appears poised to provide several, helpful resources for students and teachers of the New Testament from a biblical-theological angle, and it will be interesting to see precisely how the future volumes come together.