Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the category “Biblical Studies”

Thomas and I

Sometimes I feel sorry for Thomas.

He’s gone down in history as “Doubting Thomas,” when, upon hearing from the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, he says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 

I get that. I, too, would be hesitant to immediately believe that someone I saw die was once again living.

But what I find fascinating about this passage is Jesus’ response to Thomas’ skepticism:

“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

More to the point, what’s fascinating is what Jesus didn’t say.

Elsewhere, Jesus was pretty short with his disciples, quick to rebuke and not exactly prone to holding any punches (such as Matt. 16.23). He got exasperated and exhausted and desperately hoped the disciples would stop being so darn   s   l   o   w   . His divine patience was regularly tried.

Yet here, there is no rebuke, but rather a simple extending of his hands for Thomas’ doubts to be squelched. And then Thomas’ declaration is astounding: “My Lord and my God!” An undeniable recognition of Jesus’ divinity. In fact, this is the only explicit statement of Jesus’ divinity made by any disciple…and he goes down in history as “Doubting Thomas.”

There is nothing wrong with questioning, and seeking reason and proof. There is nothing wrong with applying a rational way of thinking to matters of faith. If we didn’t, we would believe anything and everything that came our way, and we would be guilty of one of the most dangerous attitudes possible to humanity: blind faith.

We need not see to believe, but that does not mean there aren’t other ways of knowing and finding truth.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” But I refuse to believe that Jesus is advocating blind faith, as elsewhere we are told to “always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you,” (1 Pet. 3.15). Nor was Jesus claiming that Thomas’ faith was inferior – for Thomas’ declaration of Jesus as Lord and God functions as a climax for the Johannine narrative.

Jesus’ statement in verse 29 has more to say to the present reader than to the figure of Thomas. He is speaking directly to us today. Blessed are those, he says, who will be recipients of the Holy Spirit, through whom faith in the church’s proclamation shall become truth.

There is nothing wrong with questioning, testing and seeking proof, but we must be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and direct us toward the truth of Christ – the Risen Lord.

What Part of “Free Will” is Free?

The contemporary concept of freedom pertains to the capacity to objectively decide on a single, particular course of action, out of a numerous array of possible actions. Freedom is the ability to do whatever one pleases without limitation, having recognized and understood all possible actions and inevitable consequences. To an extent, however, this freedom does not exist. All human action is influenced by feeling and emotion, subjective experience and influence, particular worldviews and value systems, and all human action is held in tension with laws, societal customs and norms, common etiquette, etc. We cannot simply do whatever we please if it is forbidden by law, or previous experience tells us it results in negative consequences. Of course, we can do this, but reason compels us to do otherwise.

But if feelings and experience influence our reasoning capacity – a wholistic view of the human, as opposed to Hellenistic division between psyche and soma – doctrines of sin and anthropology, and inevitably soteriology, are affected. It’s clearly biblical that at our core, humans are sinful and in fact hostile toward God (Rom. 5; Eph. 2). James tells us that what is at our core will come out in our actions and speech (James 2). In other words, our innermost emotions influence our cognitive processes. What we think to be reasonable is determined by what we have learned. What we think is reasonable, therefore, is determined by sin; we are all slaves to sin (Rom. 6; John 8). Hence, humanity cannot be anything other than hostile toward God, thus we do not – we cannot – have the freedom of will to turn toward God.[1]

The debate between Erasmus and Luther reflect similar perspectives, but I have difficulty with both. Luther’s perspective leads inexorably, despite Forde’s objections otherwise, to a deterministic perspective of God’s divine will.[2] Luther makes a distinction between the will over those things that are below us, such as time and money, etc. and that which is above us, such as God and the life he offers. The former is under our free control, the latter is not. For Luther, we, as humans, literally do not have the strength to break our bondage, for we are prisoners of sin and of Satan. We are justified, not by our own merit, for we have none, but through God’s gift of righteousness. Furthermore, we are justified, not on our ability to trust God, for we cannot, but on God’s calling and creating within us the capacity to respond.[3]

It is that last little part of Luther’s argument that bothers me tremendously. He argues that we are slaves either to Satan or to God, and it is entirely up to God to decide which, for even Satan is under God’s control. You cannot deny it: Luther’s God elects some for salvation, and elects others for damnation. This I believe is a serious problem. John 3.16 says God loves the world and 1 John 2.2 says Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Luther’s absolute rejection of free will leads him to an abhorrent God. And he defends this position as an attribute of God’s love by essentially arguing we should ignorantly put our heads in the sand; God’s hidden purposes are not to be questioned, and we cannot know these purposes until the end of time. This to me seems to be a copout.[4] Barth argued vehemently against this dualistic nature of God; there is no hidden purpose to God, for God is revealed fully in Christ. The picture we have of Christ is one of love, whose teachings underscore the universal scope of his activity (not a limited atonement theory).

Either none of us are elect, or all of us are elect. Either we are all permanently bound to reject God, or we all have an opportunity to respond to God’s gift of righteousness. Our will, clouded by darkness, will always shrink away from the light. Like gazing into the sun, our eyes adjusting to the brightness, we can uncomfortably allow the light of the Son to overcome us until it is no longer uncomfortable, or we can turn away, retreating back into the darkness that we for so long have found so comfortable.



Forde, G. O., The Capitvation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 47-59.

Packer, James I., “Luther Against Erasmus” Concordia Theological Monthly, Vol. 37 no. 4 (1966), 207-221.

Rupp, E. G., “The Erasmian Enigma” in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation (Library of Christian Classics Vol. XVII; London: SCM, 1969), 1-28.

[1] Forde recounts part of Luther’s argument, arguing that we cannot accept God’s predestination and election, for as humans our inability prevents us – we are bound to say no to God, (Gerhard O. Forde, The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005). 50).

[2] Forde, The Captivation of the Will. 47-59.

[3] James I. Packer, “Luther Against Erasmus” Concordia Theological Monthly, Vol. 37 no. 4 (1966), 207-221.

[4] NB: I use that term cautiously, for Luther was an incredible man and an excellent theologian.

Once saved, are you saved forever?

The purpose of this paper is to present a biblical and theological discussion of the highly debated and controversial topic of eternal security. Eternal security is the doctrine that once a person has become a Christian, they are Christian permanently and cannot slip out of salvation. There are varying theological positions, such as the Calvinist ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ (though many argue for the ‘Preservation of the Saints’), or ‘Once Saved, Always Saved,’ largely held by Reformed and Presbyterian traditions to varying degrees; or the belief that a Christian can, in fact, lose their salvation, held largely by Arminian, Wesleyan and Methodist traditions.

However, this paper is not a debate over tradition. When approaching any biblical interpretation, a presupposed theological bias will inevitably result in distorted exegesis and hermeneutics. Any systematic theology must be formed as a result of biblical interpretation, not vice versa. It is vital to avoid eisegesis. This does not disqualify the importance of systematic theology, but rather stresses the importance of correct order and methodology. Hence, this paper begins with a survey (albeit brief and certainly not exhaustive) of the relevant biblical material.[1]

Old Testament

A central theological theme in the Old Testament is that of covenant. The covenantal connotations pertinent to this discussion lie in, firstly, the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12-17) wherein Yahweh promised to build a nation out of Abraham’s descendants, and secondly, the Mosaic covenant wherein this nation would be blessed if she is obedient to the Torah or cursed if she is disobedient (Exod. 19-24). But above all is the promise that Yahweh would never leave, nor forsake Israel (Deu. 31).

Isaiah 54

This is like the days of Noah to me: just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (9-10)

vv. 1-17 of this chapter begin with a discussion on abandonment and loss, then leads to the sorrowful recognition that Yahweh had turned his face from them (v. 7), before recounting his oath made to Noah. God is shown as agent and source of transformation, whose covenant is more reliable than creation itself.

Jeremiah 14

Although our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake; our apostasies indeed are many, and we have sinned against you. O hope of Israel, its saviour in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveller turning aside for night? Why should you be like someone confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot give help? Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not forsake us! Thus says the Lord concerning the people: Truly they have loved to wander, they have not restrained their feet; therefore the Lord does not accept them, now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.

In the previous chapter Yahweh was threatening to ruin Judah and in this case it seems he is doing so through drought. And so they cry out to him, but their request – “act…for your name’s sake” – was a challenge against his character. They had it wrong, however, for this was a covenantal curse and thus it was the responsibility of Judah who needed to act. And so no assurance of salvation was offered. In fact, Yahweh then warned Jeremiah to not even pray for the people.[2] Not only had Israel wandered, but they enjoyed wandering, and so Yahweh would destroy them.[3]


These two passages are a snap shot of the Old Testament promises to the prophets of Israel regarding the fulfilment of the covenant. The former reveals that Yahweh did turn his face from the people in their time of sin, but then reassures them that it will never happen again; the latter reveals Yahweh’s justice, for the people sinned and, as was promised, punishment was given.

Many times these passages are used to argue either for or against the doctrine of eternal security, depending on how one interprets them. However, Old Testament texts such as these are irrelevant in the discussion. The covenants prior to Christ were entirely different to the Christocentric, New Testament covenant, as discussed above. Obedience led to blessing whereas disobedience led to cursing. Furthermore, Hebrew tradition focused predominately on a corporate context, rather than individuals. The covenant regarded ethnic Israel as object of Yahweh’s love, whom he would never forsake, rather than the individual Israelite.

Hence, texts commonly used in support of eternal security that are taken from the Old Testament are quite often taken out of context purely for the reason that the context is generally in relation to the Mosaic covenant of blessing/curses. From a New Testament perspective, Jesus has promised never to forsake his Church. He has promised to be with his Body and protect it from the gates of hell. But this cannot be immediately related to the individual Christian, just as the Mosaic covenant cannot be immediately related to the individual Israelite. In other words, the Old Testament covenants should not be used to support eternal security arguments, for they refer primarily to the corporate, whereas the issue at hand relates primarily to the individual.

Christ came to spread salvation beyond the property of Israel; the Gentiles were now a part of the family. As the Gospel spread it became evident that it was now about far more than just an ethnic group, for other people groups were now grafted onto God’s people. Hence there was more concern surrounding the issue of individual salvation, as opposed to corporate salvation. It is to these texts we now turn.

Matthew Texts

There is very little reference to eternal security in the synoptic gospels. The Johannine literature has an abundance of predestinarian theology, including eternal security, but interestingly there isn’t such an abundance in the synoptics. However, Matthew’s gospel does contain several references to this issue, which we’ll now look at.

Matthew 7

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire…Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” (19, 21-23)

The people Jesus is talking about in this passage are clearly people who at least thought they were Christians. And why shouldn’t they think they are Christians? Their list of credentials are impressive! I would be very happy to be able to say Jesus, “Look, Lord, at what I have done: prophesying, exorcisms, demonstrating your power!” But still Jesus says, “I never knew you.”[4] However, Jesus is here is pointing to a more important theme than outward actions. He is saying that more important than anything we could possibly do, even actions as impressive as this list, is to know our Lord Jesus Christ, implying a deep, intimate relationship. If we do not have this intimacy with Christ it does not matter what we do in his name. For Christ cares more for relationship than showmanship. Hence I do not believe this passage should be used, as has been used, to argue against eternal security. The emphasis of this passage, as with its surrounding context (Sermon on the Mount), is less about individual actions and more about the state of the heart. The question still remains however: can non-Christians do impressive acts such for Christ, such as prophesying, driving out demons, etc.?

Matthew 18

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that any of these little ones should be lost.” (10-14)

This passage seems to make it very clear that God will not allow any to follow away. He is the Good Shepherd and will protect us. Should we stray, he will come after us and bring us back into the flock. Why? Because the Father would hate to see us be lost. However, I don’t think this passage should be used to argue for eternal security. The implication in this passage is the sheep was lost out of mere ignorance. It lost its step and fell away, because it didn’t know any better. We don’t know why the sheep was lost, perhaps it couldn’t hear the voice of the shepherd, perhaps it got distracted and went in a direction it wasn’t supposed to go, or perhaps it found a piece of particularly delicious grass and the flock moved on without it. Hence, the passage implies that God will not allow any of his sheep to fall away as a result of ignorance – this, then, doesn’t rule out the possibility of deliberately turning away from the shepherd.

Pauline Theology

A great deal of predestinarian theology comes from the Pauline corpus, which invariably is linked with the doctrine of eternal security. The great difficulty of Pauline theology of placing the particular epistle within its context, and placing the particular passage within its broader argument. One cannot simply read Galatians as though it were meant for the Colossians, nor the Corinthian correspondence as though it were meant for Timothy. The theology breadth, depth and variation of argument and themes within the Pauline corpus are vast and intimidating; it is only possible to understand the Pauline argument within their particular context.[5]

Romans 2, 10

For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. (2:6-8)

For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. (10:10)

These two passages essentially deal with the same issue: how one receives salvation. And they both a) place some responsibility on the individual, and b) imply an ongoing and continuous activity. Firstly, those whom God will justify and give eternal life must “by patiently doing good…seek for glory and honour and immortality,” and “believes with the heart and…confesses with the mouth.” Yet this does not imply a work-based salvation, rather it argues justification comes solely through believing, not works. Secondly, the implication is that salvation is a process. In 10.10 Paul makes a distinction between justification and salvation. Of course, this is more of a literary device than a precise dogmatic soteriological statement; to be justified is to be saved, and to be saved is justified.[6] Yet he seems to be making a distinction between a once of justification and an ongoing sanctification, similar to the idea of “patiently doing good.” Those who will be saved are those who patiently endure.[7]

Romans 8

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (38-39)

The central issue in this passage is the protective nature and vast love of God. God loves us so much he will protect us from anything that comes our away. Of course this protection pertains to our spiritual wellbeing, rather than to our physical bodies; there is nothing so powerful that can overcome God’s love for us. It has been argued that this passage reveals that we are protected even from our own will. Nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even us! This, I believe, is an unsatisfactory argument, for the passage says nothing about us and everything about God’s love.[8] Paul is emphasizing God’s great love for us, similar to Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Sons. To argue that this passage means we cannot wilfully leave the protective love of God is eisegesis, nor does it mean, however, that we can leave God’s protective love, for that is not the purpose of this passage.

1 Corinthians 15

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you – unless you have come to believe in vain. (1-2)

The function of this ­­­chapter is to correct those Christians who have gone astray. Some have argued against the physical resurrection of Jesus, and Paul, in this chapter, says that the resurrection is, in fact, vital for salvation. But here it implies that salvation is an ongoing action. He says the Corinthians are “being saved,” and then he uses the biggest theological word in the Christian language: “if.” Salvation comes, thus, if the Corinthians would hold firm to his teaching. Notice the ordering of this: Paul is not saying, “You are saved, so you will now stand,” rather he is saying, “Stand so that you will be saved.”

Ephesians 2

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (8-9)

This passage is fairly self-explanatory: Humans cannot possibly save themselves; it is only by the grace of God, his gift to us, that we can be saved. This is relevant to the discussion because a common argument against the Arminian/Wesleyan/Methodist position – that it is possible to lose salvation – is that this becomes a work-based soteriology. However, this is an incorrect assumption. The bible is extremely clear on the fact that humans cannot save themselves, and the Arminian position does not deny this. It is possible to reject the doctrine of eternal security and still place God and God alone as the source of salvation. Cf. James 2.24.

Philippians 1

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ…And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. (6, 9-11)

Throughout Philippians there is tension between human and divine activity. According to Silva,

A point often ignored by commentators yet fundamental to this epistle [is] the tension that exists between the believers’ accountability for their own spiritual conduct and their need to rely totally on God’s grace to meet that obligation.[9]

That God will finish what he started is quite a clear indication of God’s activity, particularly in regard to internal sanctification. However, later the Philippians are urged to work out their own salvation in Christ (2.12). The implication is that God is doing something, but it will efficacious only when the Philippians allow it to be. They must work out this salvation for themselves.

1 Timothy 4

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. (1-2)

This passage is fairly straightforward: some will renounce Christianity, turning to “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” This is a very scary thought, that there are some who follow the teachings of demons. However, this passage is neither an assertion for or against eternal security, for there is no mention of whether those who renounce the faith were previously Christians or not. For all we know, this passage is warning us against atheism, or any other religion for that matter.

2 Timothy 2

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: if we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself. (10-13)

The immediate thing that jumps out of this passage is the number of times “if” appears.

[1] Texts taken from the NRSV.

[2] Just as a sidenote, this a very interesting commandment. Why should Yahweh care if, and for what or whom, Jeremiah prays, if Yahweh had already made up his mind? The implication is that Jeremiah could indeed persuade Yahweh to change his mind.

[3] On a pastoral note, Yahweh then declared that the teachers were prophesying lies, leading the people astray. What struck me was the responsibility that is placed on those who preach the Word of God. Today, are we leading our people astray, or are we leading them toward righteousness? We are warned several times throughout the scriptures that leaders will need to give an account for what they have said and done, and will be responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of those we lead – tough words! Of course, God is a just and merciful God, but the bible places a lot of responsibility on church leaders!

[4] This is reminiscent of Jeremiah 9, where Yahweh is bringing justice upon Israel because “‘they refused to know me’ says the Lord,” (v. 6) which is probably one of the saddest things the bible records God of saying.

[5] This is, of course, required of any aspect of biblical interpretation. Accurate exegesis will never neglect context. The reason I stress this point is that far too many interpreters read Paul as though the epistles are 20 minutes old, written specifically to the Baptists in Western Australia, or the Evangelicals in the United States, in such a way that the epistles are amalgamated into one, rather than appreciating the texts as thousands of years old, written to specific groups of people that no longer exist with traditions that would seem alien to us, in a language not even spoken any more, paying close attention to the particular, specific and nuanced arguments of the individual epistles.

[6] I would probably argue that this a good example of how Paul argues for both a propitiatory and expiatory atonement.

[7] Scot McKnight’s book, The King Jesus Gospel, deals with this issue in great depth and well worth a read. His essential argument is that the mantra “justification by faith alone” has destroyed any need for an understanding of the broader narrative of Israel, which culminates only in the eschaton. God’s story has not finished, he argues, but will finish at the general resurrection. This is similar to Bonhoeffer’s ‘Costly Grace.’ I think I am inclined to agree.

[8] Of course, in saying that God loves us, Paul is indeed saying a huge amount about us. God loves us and so we are of infinite worth to him. However, the focus of the passage is entirely on God.

[9] Moisés Silva. Philippians (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005). 45.

Once Saved, Always Saved?

I preached a sermon recently where the bible passage seemed to imply that someone could lose their salvation. It made me think.

The passage was Colossians 1:21-23:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before – provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.

Some translations use the word “if” instead of “provided that” but either way the implication is that a person is saved only so long as they remain established in the faith. The text looks to be very clear on the fact that the human will must always, continuously, be involved.

When someone hands you a gift you have to reach out and take it, and then you must hold onto it. If you don’t stretch out and take it, do you truly receive the gift? Of course not. And if you decide to drop the gift and break it, give it back, forget about it, neglect it, allow it grow old and dusty sitting on a bookcase in your office, do you really appreciate the gift? Certainly doesn’t seem like it.

So it is with salvation; the human will must respond in faith and acceptance.

I have heard the argument, “Well the people who allow the gift of salvation to grow old, to grow weary, to not remain steadfast in the faith, never truly received the gift of salvation in the first place.” I think this argument is somewhat naive. There are far too many warnings in the bible against becoming complacent, giving up on the faith, etc.

I have also heard the argument that eternal life means it’s eternal, therefore if we have eternal life it’ll last forever and thus cannot be partial. But this begs the question: what is eternal life? Jesus tells us what eternal life is in John 17:3 and there is no mention of time at all. Rather he says that eternal life is to know God. In other words eternal life is about having an intimate relationship with God the Father.

Is the word ‘eternal’ even a good translation? Probably not. The word aionios means pertaining to an age, aion meaning age. Aionios does not, therefore, mean immortality, or forever, or eternal. This is also why I do not believe hell is a permanent place of torture and punishment.

Hence, eternal life has nothing to do with living forever, but everything to do with an intimate relationship with God that we can experience right here, right now. Therefore, the argument that the eternal life Jesus gives lasts forever and thus cannot end, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for it is an incorrect understanding of the relationship God offers.

Now let’s consider these two passages out of Hebrews:

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. (6:4-6)

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy “on the testimony of two or three testimonies.” How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? (10:26-29)

These passages make it pretty clear to me. “Those who have once been enlightened…tasted the heavenly gift…shared in the Holy Spirit,” etc. and have been sanctified,  can fall away and can profane “the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified.” You can experience the Holy Spirit, you can be sanctified, you can be given a new life and can still fall away.

Those who were once hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, are now reconciled by the blood of Christ – IF they continue steadfast in the faith. This passage certainly is Paul warning the Colossians not to become like those mentioned in the above two Hebrew passages. Paul is warning us not to become complacent so that we don’t slip away from the salvation given us.

The ideas of Perseverance of the Saints, and Once Saved, Always Saved, which aren’t technically the same thing, are both wrong. The myth that you cannot lose salvation has led to so many churches and so many Christians becoming bland, Spirit-less and devoid. We must – like Paul and the author of Hebrews…and Jesus himself (cf. Matt. 7.13-23) – warn our people, our churches, not to slip into complacency because the consequences are absolutely terrible.

Deuteronomy 7


Deuteronomy 7 is a difficult passage to understand. Its themes and exhortations seem initially shocking. The command to destroy the Canaanites totally, and the labels ‘detestable,’ and ‘abhorrent’ imply a terrible genocide. Contemporary readers would find difficulty in seeing God as a God of love in this passage. However, this essay seeks to argue for this very understanding. The essay argues that this passage does, in fact, teach God’s love. The allusions to war and genocide do not contradict this core message. The essay shall initially exegete the passage, dividing the passage into three sections: vv.1-5, 6-15, 16-26. The focus of these sections will be analysing such things as the understanding of the seven nations and their destruction, the removal of idols and religious paraphernalia and treaties. Following this exegesis will be a theological reflection, wherein the essay shall probe the difficult question pertaining the purported justification of a ‘holy war.’ The essay shall conclude with a discussion on how this passage should be discussed within a contemporary, post-modern culture.


On a brief reading of this chapter, it is easy to come to the conclusion that it is callous. However, with the surrounding chapters is an admonition to remember God’s love and to cherish his gracious election. Furthermore, as Brueggemann asserts, “The intention of the chapter is to take deliberate steps so that the coming generation will choose covenant with YHWH.”[1] God has chosen his people, who must give themselves totally to him. Thus, idolatry is prohibited.[2] The chapter must be read as one unit, due to literary and conceptual themes and is carefully structured, centred on vv. 11-12, reference to the commandments, and is bordered by reference to Israel’s distinctive nature.[3] The emphasis of this passage lies in relationship; YHWH’s love toward Israel, and Israel’s response to YHWH.[4]

An area of exegetical contention lies in the specifics of the nations. Brueggemann argues this text was written no later than the eighth or seventh century, hence these seven nations are long extinct, “Thus the list of seven nations is an archaic slogan that represents, in context, any alien culture with its religious temptations for Israel.”[5] This seems, in some way, a scapegoat. However, his thesis is supported by Rofé who, after a long analysis of the text, concluded a second stratum of Deuteronomy was added during Josiah’s time, which includes this passage.[6] Furthermore, Kline and Cairns argue for a metaphorical reading; “The seven specified here possibly is a figure for completeness.”[7] Hence, it is likely these were not literal nations, but simply an allusion to God’s requirement of total purging.

This purging, known as the ban, was intended to keep Israel safe from idolatry. However, these nations were not simply ‘cleared away,’ but “stayed and became integrated into Israel…In this theological retrospect, the Deuteronomic writer is tacitly acknowledging that fact and tracing Israel’s apostasy to these indigenous influences.”[8] In other words, this purported later author, perhaps around the Exile, has accredited Israel’s present apostasy with this earlier influence of Pagan nations. Vv. 2-3 include prohibitions of treaties and marriages, which casts doubt on the command to annihilate all the Canaanites. Furthermore, Exodus 23 and Leviticus 18 reveal a different portrait of the entrance into the land; the Canaanites ‘disappearing’ in the former, and being ‘vomited out’ by the land in the latter. Thus, Brueggemann’s argument for an allegorical reading of the nations seems most likely.[9]

Brueggemann further regards this text as “articulation of Israel’s distinctiveness,” which begins with destroying “seductive alternatives.”[10] The alters, sacred stones and Asherah poles in v. 5 refer to Baal worship. The pillar identified a locale where a deity could be contacted, and often had male associations, even portraying a phallic symbol. The Asherim was the corresponding female symbol representing the fertility goddess. Hence we can surmise these images represented a setting for fertility rites.[11] Thus, as Miller argues, “the ban is grounded in the insistence on no accommodation to the religious practices of the inhabitants of the land.”[12] This is further insisted by the prohibition on marriage or treaties. Craigie helpfully states,

The Israelites were bound primarily by the berîṯ (covenant, treaty) with the Lord, and though this was a religious bond, it was also a political bond, for it set aside Israel as a distinctive nation among other nations. To make a treaty with other nations would indicate a lack of faithfulness on the part of the Israelites to their suzerain God. Likewise, the Israelites were forbidden to undertake a marriage alliance them; although there may be a prohibition of mixed marriages between Israelites and non-Israelites implicit here, the specific prohibition probably has in mind the forging of political treaties by means of marriage. This course of action, as with the making of a treaty (v. 2), would be an indication of compromise and could lead to a disruption of the covenant faithfulness to the one God…Thus both prohibitions (vv. 2-3) have in mind the preservation of the covenant relationship with the Lord by forbidding any relationship that would bring that first and most important relationship into danger.[13]

Involved in marriages was commonly the acceptance of one another’s religion. Hence, the need for covenantal faithfulness to YHWH is paramount. Israel’s relationship with YHWH certainly is the “most important relationship,” and thus they must respond in absolute obedience; exterminating other religious options and cultic installations ensured chaos would not swallow up this relationship and other religions did not tempt them away.[14]

Verses 6-15 make up the core of this passage, the focus being the Holy God’s election of Israel for covenantal relationship. The people are called to be “holy to the Lord your God,” which “here means separated for and belonging to” YHWH.[15] In other words, as holy people, they are YHWH’s exclusive property. Furthermore, they are not called to be holy, but are holy.[16] This separated them from other peoples and practices, further reflected in the assertion that “God has chosen you out of all the peoples of on the face of the earth” (v. 6).[17] They are also called YHWH’s “treasured possession,” meaning they are more valuable than all the other nations. As Brown states,

Moses knew that the only true God had made a unique covenant with his Israel, his greatly valued people. It was not that God lacked compassion for other nations or cared nothing for them; his universal sovereignty and unlimited love are amply illustrated elsewhere in this book. He deliberately chose Israel, however, to be a special instrument of his purposes in the world.[18]

The phrase “set his affection (v. 7) comes from the verb implying a strong physical desire a man would have for an attractive woman. Thus, YHWH’s intimate love is evident.[19] This intimate love is, however, not based in any excellence on Israel’s part; there is nothing about the people that would cause YHWH to choose to love them. In fact, they were “the fewest of all peoples.” Why then does YHWH choose them of all people? Because he loves them. Cairns labels this a “wonderful tautology: God loves because God loves!”[20] They are holy people, not because of inherent merit, but because of divine election.[21] Hence, this passage is warning against pride.[22]

The passage then includes requirements of the people; God’s chosen nation is to be obedient in response to his gracious election. According to Brueggemann, “The relationship is grounded in free grace, but it operates according to symmetrical expectations in which there is no easy, assured forgiveness.”[23] Continual obedience, however, does not imply achieving merit, but rather maintains the proper covenant relationship. Their health and prosperity depended upon such obedience. YHWH would be their ‘fertility God’ over and above the Canaanite gods, and would provide no agricultural setbacks. The terms ‘grain,’ ‘wine,’ ‘offspring,’ and ‘young’ are also names of Canaanite deities, but, as Chritsensen argues, the people were likely unfamiliar with these terms.[24] The point is that there is no other god who the Israelites need; YHWH can and will provide everything. However, the people must reciprocate this covenantal faithfulness. The “horrible diseases you knew in Egypt” is likely a reference to diseases such as elephantiasis, skin boils, eye and bowel afflictions, among others, which were common in Egypt.[25]

Verses 16-26 then return to the command to destroy everything in Canaan, and to destroy the land’s inhabitants. Israel is threatened by these people and their religion, “because they will talk Israel out of the obedience that is the prerequisite to its prosperity in the land of promise.”[26] Yet the focus is not on Israel’s strength, but on YHWH’s. They cannot allow their enemy’s strength to cause them to forget their Lord’s power, who should be their focus. They were to remember the miraculous signs and wonders that YHWH performed in Egypt and expect a repetition of such marvellous events, so long as they trusted him. This same God who rescued them from Egypt is to war on their behalf.[27]

Furthermore, verse 20 implies that YHWH has many possible courses of action, thus emphasizing the totality of his might.[28] The exact meaning is unclear however, particularly in reference to the ‘hornet’ (Cf. Exodus 23:28). Craigie argues it should be understood to refer to the inability of the Canaanites to find a hiding place from God.[29] Kline, alluding to it being understood as a symbol for Pharaoh’s power, argues it should be read as a reference to “the terror of God which, descending on Israel’s foes, produced panic and rout.”[30] Cairns argues for a reference to nature itself fulfilling YHWH’s purposes.[31] Of the three it is difficult to discern which is correct. It is likely the phrase is deliberately ambiguous, simply referring to YHWH’s absolute faithfulness to and power to achieve his promises. Thus, it could be one of these three, or it could be none, something which only YHWH knows.

Verse 22 reveals a slow conquest, wherein gradual growth and control will occur, while the Canaanites become less and less numerous and powerful. This avoids the danger of the “land returning to a primitive state of natural anarchy.”[32] To destroy a name completely, furthermore, was a common ancient Near East curse, meaning total annihilation, even out of history annals. The reason for this is to avoid idolatrous worship and contamination. Israel was to stay away from and remove anything abhorrent that would eventually destroy Israel.[33]

Theological Reflection

This chapter has certainly been seen by many as an abhorrent affront to modern sensibilities. Today, especially in a post-modern society, tolerance and acceptance are a must and anyone demanding genocide is deemed inhuman. One needs only look at Hitler to see brutal nationalism. According to Christensen, “The command to ‘utterly destroy them’ (7:2), without showing any mercy, is simply more than most people today can accept. Such language suggests fanaticism and intolerance.”[34] Furthermore, Millar regards, “These chapters have been dismissed as indefensible, vicious nationalism, which can have no relevance in the modern world. This is a pity, because such sentiments do justice neither to the wider Deuteronomic context nor to the passages themselves.”[35]

It is important to note that this is not historical recounting, but theological preaching. The author is urging Israel to obedience. However, this obedience is not “brutal free-for-all” but carefully controlled and “a unique command of the God who owns not only the land, but the whole earth.”[36] The command to destroy nations is not primarily a reference to warfare, but rather a recognition of the temptations of the Canaanite lifestyle and culture will face the Israelites, temptations which the author clearly believes will lead the nation to absolute destruction – the exact opposite reason YHWH saved the people from slavery in Egypt. The influence of this pagan nation must be purged.[37] Earl furthers this argument,

Deut 7 is concerned with the preservation of Israel’s distinctive identity in a way that encourages the transparent manifestation of the relationship between YHWH and Israel that is characterized by love. The preservation of this identity is developed in terms of the separation from idols and of the avoidance of relationships with non-Israelites, relationships that are assumed to lead to idolatry, since relationships of this sort entail allegiances that compete with allegiance to YHWH, compromising Israel’s relationship with YHWH, leading to diminishment and death.[38]

Furthermore, as Christensen argues, the text is to be read poetically. It is an expression of YHWH’s holiness. YHWH’s holiness – then, as today – demands an absolute avoidance of evil.[39] Thus, the call is to Torah obedience and the author admonishes avoidance at all cost of any cultural accommodation.[40]

In today’s society, pluralism is often not merely accepted, but applauded, observes Mann.[41] The concept of a single religious authority, let alone one brought about through genocide, is obviously one that causes many to shudder. This is especially so in an age where secularism and atheism is growing rapidly. Firstly, as this essay has argued above, the passage does not command absolute genocide. Rather, it is exhortation that the nation avoids any temptation that will lead to apostasy and thus destruction. Secondly, pertaining to religious pluralism and tolerance, how a Christian relates to a post-modern world is particularly difficult. How should one convince others that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, when they may simply respond by saying their truth is their truth and entirely up to them. This is a digression, but the point is clear, should we take the avoidance of temptations as seriously as this text argued the Israelites should?

Cunliffe-Jones argues,

Apart from the question of humanity, the issue which it raises for us is the relation between principle and human relationships in daily life. Loyalty to God is of course of the greatest importance, and we cannot expect never to give offence in doing this. But it is possible to offend against the corporate life of mankind by insisting unnecessarily on religious principle, and by failing to recognize that Christ and non-Christian share a common life in which both must, within limits, work together.[42]

In other words, sole loyalty to God and preaching the need for loyalty to this one God will cause offence in today’s culture, but the offence should not be in the way we present the Gospel, but from the cross of Christ itself. When we focus on religious principle that we become judgmental and separated from the world, we fail to see that we are, in fact, in this world and thus must work with the world. Cairns, quoting Matthew 5:43-45 implores that what is required is not a total elimination, but a transformation, of the enemy.[43]


In conclusion, Deuteronomy 7 is a magnificent exhortation for the Israelites to recognize YHWH’s holiness and to obey by keeping his commands. Inherent in keeping these commands is the rejection of all other possibilities, hence these temptations must be destroyed. This chapter, bordered by the admonitions to destroy these temptations is centred on the loving and gracious election of Israel. Initially, this passage may seem callous and harsh, but is a poetic recounting of YHWH’s love, and the covenantal relationship between the two. God is mighty to save a nation that is not great by any standard. He faithfully keeps the promises he made to the Fathers. He demands faithfulness from his people; obedience will result in blessing, but disobedience will result in curse. To avoid this curse, the people must remove any temptation.

In today’s culture, it is vital to teach this passage of not justifying any form of war. Though the passage may have been used historically to justify such wars as the Crusades, but the focus should remain on the Lord. We must understand God’s faithfulness through a Christological lens to the cross. God still loves his people absolutely faithfully, enough that he would send his Son. This passage can so easily be misinterpreted. But it absolutely must be read in terms of God’s faithfulness and gracious love.


Brown, Raymond. The Message of Deuteronomy. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993.

Brueggemann, Walter. Deuteronomy. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.

Cairns, Ian. Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Christensen, Duane L. Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9. Nashvill: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001.

Craigie, Peter C. The Book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.

Cunliffe-Jones, H. Deuteronomy. London: SCM Press Ltd, 1971.

Earl, Douglas. “The Christian Significance of Deuteronomy 7.” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3, no. 1 (2009): 41-62.

Kline, Meredith G. Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy: Studies and Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963.

Mann, Thomas W. Deuteronomy. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.

McConville, J. G. Deuteronomy. Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002.

Millar, J. Gary. Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy. Leicester, England: Apollos, 1998.

Miller, Patrick D. Deuteronomy. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.

Miller, Patrick D. The Way of the Lord. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Rofe, Alexander. Deuteronomy. London: T&T Clark Ltd, 2002.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001). 93.

[2] Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990). 111; Thomas W. Mann, Deuteronomy (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995). 64. Evidently, this is an extension of the second commandment.

[3] J. G. McConville, Deuteronomy (Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002). Contra. Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9 (Nashvill: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001).

[4] Douglas Earl, “The Christian Significance of Deuteronomy 7,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3, no. 1 (2009). 43 – “Deut 7 gives content to Deut 6:4-5, understood in terms of the preservation of this relationship and thus of the identity of the “elect” community. This is expressed here primarily in terms of unswerving allegiance to YHWH as life is lived with reference to torah.”

[5] Brueggemann. 94.

[6] Alexander Rofe, Deuteronomy (London: T&T Clark Ltd, 2002). 6.

[7] Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy: Studies and Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963). 68. Cf. Ian Cairns, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992). 89.

[8] Cairns. 89. Cf. Rofé. 125.

[9] Cf. Earl. 44; Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976). 177.

[10] Brueggemann. 94. Cf. Craigie. 179; Christensen. 156 – “The paraphernalia of worship among the foreign peoples in the land was to be totally destroyed, so as to remove all temptations to follow pagan religious practices.”

[11] Cairns. 89.

[12] Patrick D. Miller, The Way of the Lord (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007). 85.

[13] Craigie. 178-179. Cf. Mann. 65; Raymond Brown, The Message of Deuteronomy (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993). 105.

[14] Brown. 106; Rofe. 13; Brueggemann. 95; Mann. 65; Kline. 68. Cairns. 90.

[15] Brueggemann. 95.

[16] Brown. 103-104 – “They must be what they are.”

[17] Cf. Craigie. 179.

[18] Brown. 107. Cf. H. Cunliffe-Jones, Deuteronomy (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1971). 64; Miller. Deuteronomy. 111 – “To be God’s special possession is to be holy to the Lord, set apart from others for the Lord’s service.”

[19] Miller, Deuteronomy. 112. Cf. Cairns. 90.

[20] Cairns. 91. Cf. Miller, Deuteronomy. 112.

[21] Craigie. 179. Cf. Cunliffe-Jones. 64.

[22] Cairns. 90. Cf. Brown. 104; Kline. 68-69; Christensen. 156 – “God chose them not because of any inherent superiority, but because he loved them. It was a matter of grace.”

[23] Brueggemann. 97.

[24] Christensen. 164. Cf. Brueggemann. 98; Cairns. 91-92; Craigie. 180.

[25] Craigie. 181; Christensen. 164. Furthermore, Rofe argues, “Deut 7.15 hints that God redeemed Israel from Egypt where they knew ‘all manners of illness and evil diseases’…But the text is a promise for the future, not a resume of benevolent acts of the past,” (p. 227).

[26] Brueggemann. 98.

[27] Kline. 69; Craigie. 181.

[28] Cf. Brueggemann. 98-99.

[29] Craigie. 182.

[30] Kline. 69.

[31] Cairns. 94.

[32] Craigie. 182. Cf. Christensen. 164-165.

[33] Christensen. 165; Cunliffe-Jones. 66. Cf. Brueggemann. 99.

[34] Christensen. 157.

[35] J. Gary Millar, Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy (Leicester, England: Apollos, 1998). 156.

[36] Ibid. 156.

[37] Ibid. 157.

[38] Earl. 46.

[39] Christensen. 157, 166 – “The strong language of the concluding verses (Deut 7:25-26) bears witness once again to the demands of holiness in our relation to God. We must shun the very appearance of evil.”

[40] Brueggemann. 100.

[41] Mann. 65.

[42] Cunliffe-Jones. 63-64.

[43] Cairns. 92.

Divine Disclosure in Exodus 3 and 4


Exodus chapter three marks a distinct turn in the narrative; the first two chapters make it clear that without divine intervention, the Israelites are doomed, but the third asserts that God is “not indifferent…does not sleep or slumber,”[1] but sees his people’s suffering and will, in fact, do something.[2] This chapter recounts God’s self-revelation to Moses, commanding Moses to confront Pharaoh. Moses responds with five concerns, but God uses the opportunity to encourage Moses and assure Moses of his authority. This essay analyzes this divine disclosure by seeking an understanding of the symbolism inherent in the burning bush, God’s speech and Moses’ response. Having provided brief exegesis and theological reflection on God’s revelation is this passage, the essay shall discuss this passage’s role in the broader narrative of Exodus and the Pentateuch, assessing its purpose and similarities with other passages involving divine revelation.

Theophanic Experience

The theophany begins with God appearing to Moses in the burning bush. ‘Horeb, the mountain of God’ is elsewhere called Sinai,[3] and the Hebrew word for bush, sĕneh, alludes to Sinai.[4] However, because the location of this mountain is not clear, nor is it preserved elsewhere, geography is less important than theology in this passage.[5] A burning bush would not have been peculiar in a dry desert, but Moses was intrigued that it did not burn into ashes; something else was providing fuel for the fire. With the fire was a messenger (MT), or angel (LXX); Beach-Verhey insists they are one and the same, the purpose simply being to get Moses’ attention.[6] The fire is a “powerful expression of divine holiness,”[7] and the emphasis on holiness in this section anticipates the Israelite’s arrival in chapter 19.[8] This first part asserts God’s very presence with Moses and his holiness.

The fire is followed by God’s voice, which further asserts his presence.[9] When God speaks the bush becomes insignificant. He calls out to Moses with a double summons, to which Moses responds with “Here I am,” a response indicating readiness to serve. Immediately, the right relationship is established: sovereign and servant. What follows is not a normal dialogue, because Yahweh is intent on speaking and commanding, though he allows Moses to make some objections.[10] God links himself to the God of the Patriarchs, implying the personal relationship he has with his people. He doesn’t say he was, but that he is their God, connoting the eternal covenant; this is a God Moses can trust.[11] Having reviewed Israel’s need and Yahweh’s intention, Moses is called to be Yahweh’s agent of deliverance.[12]

It is not surprising Moses had doubts and resistances, “For he has been summoned to do a remarkably dangerous deed,”[13] and he responds with five concerns, which God, in his patience, listens to but does not allow these concerns to change his initial command.[14] The first concern has to do with who Moses is – who is he to confront Pharaoh? This response implies humility, but God sidesteps this issue by asserting that he will be with Moses. The fulfillment of God’s promises depend not on Moses, but on God’s powerful presence. “I will be with you,” the promise of future presence, is an affirmation of hope and foreshadows God’s name Yahweh, which derives from the Hebrew verb ‘to be.’[15] God’s presence is thus assured.

Secondly, Moses asks for God’s name. It was a dangerous mission, for both Moses and the Israelites, so Moses would need unambiguous proof to provide the people with. The Hebrew ‘name’ connotes character, thus Moses is asking if God actually has the capability to follow through. God’s response provides no name, but an assurance of authority and is, thus, an appropriate response.[16] God’s response in 3:14 has evoked much controversy and many different translations, but several things are common amongst interpreters: a) the name doesn’t actually give Moses any information and Yahweh remains as mysterious as he did before the question;[17]  b) God’s self-determination is asserted;[18] c) it is an elaboration on the tetragrammaton (YHWH), implying continuity;[19] and d) coupled with YHWH (3:15), the past, present and future are all linked together, combining what was promised with assurance of future fulfillment.[20] The essential point is that “God is who is, and that’s all there is to it.”[21] God then repeats what he has already told Moses, further elaborating by telling Moses to assemble the elders. God is again reassuring Moses of his authority and presence and that his own hand will work.[22]

Thirdly, Moses fears rejection from his own people. Despite God’s assurance that they will listen, Moses doubts, and this third question (4:1) is a “startling denial of an assertion God himself has made.”[23] Brueggemann notes that the sense of the Hebrew is, “they will not trust me.”[24] Hence, what Moses’ concern has to do with his own credibility. God’s response clearly indicates that it will not be by Moses’ authority, but by God’s that the people will listen.[25] God seeks to show that they will listen, by demonstrating three signs. The serpent was worshipped in Egyptian religion, and entailed Pharaoh’s divine royalty. The Nile was treated similarly, as the source of life. Hence, they both symbolize God’s ultimate authority over all else.[26] The leprosy is more difficult to interpret, but the likely explanation is that it symbolizes the slavery that has plagued Israel and how God’s redemptive action will free them.[27] Magic was a common element in Egyptian religion, representing the magician’s ability to control even the gods. These miracles that Moses was to perform would assert God’s authority and power, and that Yahweh is superior to the Egyptian gods.[28]

The fourth is Moses’ concern for his own speaking ability, this time sounding more like he’s finding excuses.[29] This could be referring to an actual speech impediment or due to his absence from Egypt and thus cannot adequately express himself in the Egyptian language.[30] Moses’ complaint seems to imply a complaint that God had made him wrong, or, at least, had not healed him yet; if God wanted him to go, God would heal him immediately.[31] God’s response suggests irritation, and that Moses’ response is not just invalid and irrelevant, but is irreverent.[32] God graciously responds, but does not comment on Moses’ ability, pointing instead to the fact that he has equipped Moses with what he needs and that “it did not matter how articulate Moses was because God had already told him exactly what to say;”[33] when Moses speaks, it will be God speaking.[34]

Lastly, Moses’ inner doubts are revealed. Even though God has provided everything Moses needs and has assured that it will God’s hand that fulfills the promises, Moses simply doesn’t want to go. He implores God to send someone else.[35] This is a stark contrast to Moses’ initial willingness to serve. Yahweh responds with anger, but concedes much of Moses’ point. Moses will be provided with not just divine help, but human help. Yahweh sends Aaron, Moses’ brother, the Levite, and the two will complement one another.[36] That Aaron is called a Levite sets him apart to be a symbol of Yahweh’s presence. Yahweh declares that he will be with their mouths. However, Aaron is in relationship with Moses as Moses is with Yahweh. God tells Moses what to say and Moses tells Aaron what to say; Moses’ authority (as derived from Yahweh) is retained. Yet the credit is God’s, not their own. His presence is again affirmed, and this time Moses is convinced.[37]

Broader Narrative

This call is unique in the Bible, the largest and most detailed of its kind. Its purpose in the narrative is to confirm, firstly, Moses’ credibility as leader and, secondly, Yahweh’s authority and power.[38] It is less about the person of Moses and more to do with God’s character. God’s self-revelation is the central point in this text.[39] Throughout the entire encounter, God did not allow the topic to get off track, continually returning to issue of Moses’ commission.[40] Aspects of this theophany are very similar to other accounts of God’s revelation. The language is similar to Genesis 22:11 and 46:1-5, with the double summons, the response“Here I am,” the divine self-revelation, God’s identification with the God of their fathers, and a proclamation of his presence.[41] In these other cases of God’s self disclosure, a call is issued; God reveals himself when something must be done. A similar response to God is Abraham and Sarah’s response to the promise of a child. As Moses responds with doubt, Abraham and Sarah respond to the promise by having Ishmael by Hagar, and laughed at the prospect of having their own son. Yet God proved his faithfulness to them as he proved his faithfulness to Moses. Furthermore, Exodus 5-6 contains similarities. When Pharaoh makes it harder for the Israelites, they complain to Moses, who complains to God. Yet again, as in chapter 3, God responds to Moses’ doubt with reassurance of his presence and authority.

Other similarities include the image of fire. Abraham encounters God in fire (Gen. 15:17),[42] and later Yahweh will lead the Israelites by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. Fire is a visible indication of Yahweh’s presence, a theme prevalent in this text. Other visible symbols will eventually include the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle.[43] This theophany is further similar to the climax of Exodus (chapters 19-20, 24) and the use of Yahweh in these chapters and 33-34 again emphasize his presence.[44] Furthermore, “Lord” is used over 5000 times in the Old Testament.[45] God’s presence is again encouragingly asserted at the conclusion of Exodus.[46]


It should be clear that this passage in Exodus asserts God’s authority and power, marking a turning point in the narrative by commissioning and equipping Moses to confront Pharaoh; God is going to do something to heal the broken and suffering nation in slavery. The burning bush which grabs Moses’ attention leads Moses to an encounter with Yahweh, who asserts his sovereignty and authority. Moses has no say in this commissioning; the God who was and who is and who will be sends Moses, despite some objections, but ensures his presence and power. This passage, though the longest and most detailed call of the Bible, shares some similarities with other texts, and is a pivotal point in Yahweh’s relationship with Israel. God sends and equips, and by his power alone his plans will surely come to fruition.


Beach-Verhey, Kathy. “Exodus 3:1-12.” Interpretation 59, no. 2 (2005): 180-182.

Brueggemann, Walter. “The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible, edited by Leander E. Keck, 1. Nashville, Tennessee: Abindgon Press, 1994.

Carroll, Robert P. “Strange Fire: Abstract of Presence Absent in the Text: Meditations on Exodus 3.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 61, no. 1 (1994): 39-58.

Coats, George W. Exodus 1-18. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.

Dozeman, Thomas B. Exodus. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009.

Durham, John I. Exodus. Vol. 3 Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1987.

Gowan, Donald E. “Divine Presence.” In The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, edited by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, 2. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2007.

Janzen, J. Gerald. “What’s in a Name? “Yahweh” in Exodus 3 and the Wider Biblical Context.” Interpretation 33, no. 3 (1979): 227-239.

Larsson, Goran. Bound for Freedom: The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1999.

Pannell, Randall J. “I Would Be Who I Would Be! A Proposal for Reading Exodus 3:11-14.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 16, no. 2 (2006): 351-353.

Ryken, Philip Graham. Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2005.

Smith, Mark S. The Pilgrimage Pattern in Exodus. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Thompson, Thomas L. “How Yahweh Became God: Exodus 3 and 6 and the Heart of the Pentateuch.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 68, no. 1 (1995): 57-74.

[1] Goran Larsson, Bound for Freedom: The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1999). 29.

[2] Ibid. 26. Also, Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009). 129; Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2005). 84.

[3] Walter Brueggemann, “The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck(Nashville, Tennessee: Abindgon Press, 1994). 711. Also, Kathy Beach-Verhey, “Exodus 3:1-12,” Interpretation 59, no. 2 (2005). 181.

[4] Brueggemann. 711.

[5] John I. Durham, Exodus, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 3 (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1987). 30.

[6] Beach-Verhey. 181. As Durham. 31; Ryken. 81. Cf. Dozeman. 125. The NIV captures this interpretation well. Carroll further argues that this being (fire/messenger) is a being entirely separate to Yahweh; who Moses encountered was not Yahweh, though the dialogue was obviously with Yahweh, (Robert P. Carroll, “Strange Fire: Abstract of Presence Absent in the Text: Meditations on Exodus 3,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 61, no. 1 (1994). 41-42.

[7] Larsson. 28. Cf. Ryken. 81.

[8] Mark S. Smith, The Pilgrimage Pattern in Exodus (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997). 193. Cf. Larsson. 27. Furthermore, it is important to note that God did not meet Moses where he was, but that he called Moses over to where he was, (Cf. Ryken. 80).

[9] Brueggemann. 712. Cf. Ryken. 83-84.

[10] Brueggemann. 711; Carroll. 43. Cf. Ryken. 91.

[11] Ryken. 85; George W. Coats, Exodus 1-18 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999). 36-37. Cf. Durham. 31; J. Gerald Janzen, “What’s in a Name? “Yahweh” in Exodus 3 and the Wider Biblical Context,” Interpretation 33, no. 3 (1979). 233-234; Larsson. 36.

[12] Durham. 32. Cf. Ryken. 90.

[13] Brueggemann. 713.

[14] Carroll. 45; Coats. 36; Larsson. 39.

[15] Brueggemann. 713; Larsson. 33-34; Donald E. Gowan, “Divine Presence,” in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld(Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2007). 147; Carroll. 45; Durham. 33. Cf. Ryken. 92-93.

[16] Brueggemann. 714; Durham. 38. Cf. Carroll. 47; Ryken. 95; Coats. 36.

[17] Brueggemann. 714; Carroll. 47; Dozeman. 94; Ryken. 96-97. Cf. Randall J. Pannell, “I Would Be Who I Would Be! A Proposal for Reading Exodus 3:11-14,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 16, no. 2 (2006). 351.

[18] Pannell. 353; Ryken. 97.

[19] Smith. 194; Coats. 37; Durham. 41 – “This God who is present, this God who Is, this Yahweh, is one and the same as the God of the fathers.”

[20] Larsson. 31; Ryken. 97, 103; Brueggemann. 714; Janzen. 234; Thomas L. Thompson, “How Yahweh Became God: Exodus 3 and 6 and the Heart of the Pentateuch,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 68, no. 1 (1995). 72.

[21] Ryken. 97.

[22] Brueggemann. 714-715; Janzen. 234. Cf. Ryken. 102.

[23] Durham. 43. Cf. Brueggemann. 715-716.

[24] Brueggemann. 715.

[25] Durham. 44, 46; Dozeman. 95; Ryken. 109-110.

[26] Durham. 45-46; Larsson. 36. Furthermore, the sign of the Nile water turning to blood “is presented here as a sign upon which Moses can depend if the first two signs do not convince Moses’ audience in Egypt,” (Durham. 45).

[27] Larsson. 36.

[28] Durham. 46; Larsson. 35-36; Ryken. 110-111.

[29] Brueggemann. 716. Cf. Durham. 49; Ryken. 113-114.

[30] Larsson. 37.

[31] Ibid. 37; Ryken. 115.

[32] Brueggemann. 716; Durham. 49; Ryken. 115.

[33] Ryken. 114.

[34] Brueggemann. 716.

[35] Ibid. 716; Larsson. 38. Cf. Ryken. 113-114, 120.

[36] Larsson. 38; Ryken. 120; Brueggemann. 716;

[37] Durham. 49-51; Brueggemann. 717.

[38] Larsson. 38; Ryken. 101; Coats. 41; Beach-Verhey. 180.

[39] Beach-Verhey. 180.

[40] Ryken. 119. Cf. Brueggemann. 711-712.

[41] Dozeman. 121.

[42] Larsson. 28.

[43] Cf. Gowan. 147.

[44] Durham. 30, 39.

[45] Ryken. 96.

[46] Gowan. 147.

The Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15


Paul’s discussion on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 reveals an eschatological aspect to Paul’s Gospel, in which the resurrection is a fundamental aspect to the soteriological efforts of God. His argument is long and a logical progression is evident, evidencing his Pharisaic upbringing and rejection of many Hellenistic themes, particularly the immortal soul. His argument for a bodily, physical resurrection of the dead is not simply an exhaustive and impractical theology of the future, but impinges on ethical living; because we will resurrect bodily, we mustn’t be oblivious to the consequences of our actions before we die, as some Corinthians were. This essay analyses the resurrection in the Jewish tradition, to understand Paul’s approach and background; the resurrection in the Hellenic tradition, to understand what the major view of the Corinthians was; and unpacks the text in light of these analyses, attempting to accurately portray Paul’s understanding of the resurrection.

Part A: Jewish and Hellenistic Backgrounds

Resurrection in Jewish Tradition

The idea of a resurrection of the dead was a late theological development in Judaism.[1] Originally, there was no concept of heaven or hell; souls would simply sink into Sheol. Over time the concept of reward and punishment after death ebbed into Judaism, eventually forming the idea of resurrection, the event in which the righteous would be raised from the dead to live with God.[2] However, the oldest mention of the resurrection is unclear. Some suggest Isaiah 26:19, and others suggest Ezekiel 37. However, these two passages aren’t talking about a Messianic eschatology, and so Daniel 12:1-3 is recognized by the majority of scholars to be the first reference of the resurrection.[3] Second Temple Judaism generally recognized the resurrection as referring to the age to come, the idea of the soul referring to the body’s capacity of action.[4]

Apocryphal, pseudepigraphical and Qumran texts mention the resurrection also. 2 Macabees 7 mentions a man who professes that God will replace his body when he loses it; 1 Enoch 51 says “Sheol will return all the deposits which she had received and hell will give back all which it owes. And he shall choose the righteous and the holy ones from among the risen dead…and the faces of all the angels in heaven shall glow with joy, because on the day the Elect One has arisen.”[5] 2 Baruch 30:1 says “all who sleep in hope of him will rise,”[6] and the Dead Sea Scroll text 4Q521 says “He will heal the badly wounded and will make the dead live.”[7]

It is clear then, that by the first century, the concept of the resurrection was prevalent in Jewish thought, especially within the Pharisaic party, who believed that the righteous survive death.[8] And it was from this group of Jews that Paul inherited his understanding of the resurrection, and the Christian expectation of the future resurrection stems from this tradition.[9]

Resurrection in Greek and Roman Tradition

Where Judaism moved toward an understanding of the eschatological resurrection as a bodily resurrection, Greek tradition moved toward the concept of the immortal soul, after approximately 500BC.[10] However, it must be understood that there were many, often contradictory, views on the afterlife.[11] Homer believed that all, both good and evil, live eternally in Hades, though some divinely favored heroes would be granted access to the “Isles of the Beloved.” The immortal soul developed later, with the Orphism movement, and was championed by Plato. Plato provided a philosophical foundation,[12] arguing that the body is a prison for the soul.[13] His dualism emphasized a distinction between the body and the soul,[14] and idea was later taken up by Socrates, who said that death is a release.[15]

However, Epicureanism and Stoicism were both widespread. Epicureanism denied the afterlife, arguing that the body and soul are so intertwined that when the body dies, the soul inevitably dies also; the soul was entirely corporeal. Stoicism was something of a mediatory position between Epicureanism and Platonism, in that while it denied the incorporeality of the soul, it also denied its immortality. Stoicism likened the soul to a “warm breath” which would eventually return, after a temporary afterlife, to the soul of the world.[16]

The group Paul was addressing likely believed the idea of an immortal physical body to be absurd. The Greek understanding of a resurrection recognized the resurrected body as being the exact same substance and body as it was prior to death. [17] Hence, the concept that God will one day resurrect all believers, including those whose bodies have disintegrated would have conjured up images of reanimated corrupted corpses. This group also placed little stress on the afterlife, focusing on present blessings, seeing that only death was coming. They didn’t care about the future, only about the present.[18]

Part B: Paul’s Discussion on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15

Paul’s understanding of the resurrection was absolutely vital for the Corinthians’ salvation.[19] The resurrection is the climax of grace as God’s gift, because God doesn’t just leave us in the ground, he raises us to life with and in him.[20] Though Paul elsewhere places great emphasis on the cross, here it is impossible to separate the death and resurrection in the soteriological purposes of God in Christ. The Gospel can’t exist unless both are present.[21]

He begins in verses 1-11 by establishing some common ground.[22] He presupposes Christ’s resurrection, rather than apologetically arguing for it, approaching the discussion as one who recognizes that the Corinthians haven’t rejected the resurrection, but rather have their theology somewhat confused. He comes as a teacher, to correct.[23] The reference to Jesus’ death rejects Docetism – a movement arguing that Jesus only seemed to be human – emphasizing that he was human and that he died a real death.[24] He then cites eyewitnesses to affirm the resurrection.[25]

In verses 12-20 and 29-34, he unpacks the implications if there were no resurrection. He begins by asking why, if they believed in Jesus’ resurrection, they would reject their own.[26] The implication of the rejection of the resurrection is expounded in the following verse; if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ was not raised, and if he was not raised, everything Paul has been proclaiming about the Gospel is invalid, and their faith is futile. In verses 29-34 he reveals how such an implication would invariably mean all his effort was for nothing. [27] The most serious implication of the rejection of the resurrection, which he picks up in following verses, is that if there is no resurrection, then death is unconquered and, hence, there would be no salvation.[28]

The reason for their rejection was likely due to the Hellenistic culture. As argued above, the concept of a corporeal resurrection was entirely foreign. It was not the resurrection they were rejecting, rather the physical bodily resurrection.[29] It is also likely, as evidenced from previous passages, such as their desire for spiritual gifts, their belief that all things are lawful and beneficial to them, etc. that the Corinthians already saw themselves as spiritual and “above” the physical. Therefore, they only had to rid themselves of the humiliation of humanity. [30] Furthermore, the belief that they could eat, drink and be merry was due to their rejection of the resurrection; they didn’t care about the body or the consequences, since only death was in store for them.[31]

In verses 21-28 Paul discusses the positive implications of the resurrection of the dead, which ultimately points toward the glory of God. He argues that Christ has risen from the dead, thus there is no reason to reject their own resurrection.[32] By labeling Jesus as the “first fruits” he connects Jesus’ resurrection with the future, general resurrection, the beginning of the eschatological resurrection, which comes through Jesus and for Jesus’ glorification.[33] The passive perfect “has been raised” signifies God the Father’s activity and the on-going effects of this resurrection.[34] God, through Jesus’ resurrection, has set in motion the final victory over death.[35] If the resurrection is real then there is real purpose and meaning to be found in life.[36] In Jesus, we rise, unified in Jesus; in Adam, we die, unified in Adam. This completes God’s purpose in creating humanity.[37]

The remainder of the chapter discusses how the dead are raised and what form they will be raised in. Paul mocks the idea that the resurrected body will be of the same substance, arguing it will not be subject to death and decay.[38] Here he is evidently influenced by his Pharisaic background, with his image of the perfected flesh.[39] He argues from nature that there are different sorts of bodies; the human body is different to the fish or the birds, so why can’t the spiritual body be different to the material body? They are still a physical body, yet entirely different. He continues this train of thought and uses an analogy of a seed, something which goes into the ground one thing and comes out an entirely different thing, emphasizing the new nature of the resurrected body.[40]

Semantically, he distinguishes between the material body and the spiritual body by using the words sōma psychikon and sōma pneumatikon, respectively. The former refers to creatures of body and spirit, the latter to an inherited spiritual, heavenly body. This new body is animated by the Holy Spirit when a divine transformation at the parousia occurs, causing bodies to be made fit for heavenly existence.[41] He ends on an ethical and moral exhortation to stand firm and to live in light of the resurrection that has come in Jesus and is still yet to come for all his followers.[42]


Paul’s understanding of the resurrection, heavily influenced by his Jewish background, was of a physical, bodily resurrection. This body, however, will be transformed and animated by the Holy Spirit, adapted to the new heavenly conditions. He rejects the Platonic understanding of the immortal soul and implores the Corinthians to do similarly. If there is no immortal soul or a physical resurrection, death is still victorious. Paul, however, doxologically declares the glory of God the Father in this passage, naming God as victor over everything, even death. The resurrection of the dead is the pinnacle event of this victory, and of our salvation.


Blomberg, Craig. 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Boer, Martinus C. de. The Defeat of Death: Apocalyptic Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1988.

Croy, N Clayton. “Hellenistic Philosophies and the Preaching of the Resurrection (Acts 17:18, 32).” Novum Testamentum 39, no. 1 (1997): 21-39.

Dunn, James D. G. The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998.

Dunn, James D. G. “How Are the Dead Raised? With Body Do They Come? Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15.” Southwestern Journal of Theology 45, no. 1 (2002): 4-18.

Elledge, C. D. “Resurrection of the Dead: Exploring Our Earliest Evidence Today.” In Resurrection: The Origin and Future of a Biblical Doctrine, edited by James H. Charlesworth. New York: T & T Clark, 2006.

Endsjo, Dag Oistein. “Immortal Bodies, before Christ: Bodily Continuity in Ancient Greece and 1 Corinthians.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30, no. 4 (2008): 417-436.

Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.

Garland, David E. 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.

Holleman, Joost. Resurrection & Parousia: A Traditio-Historical Study of Paul’s Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996.

Isaac, E. “1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by James H. Charlesworth. London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 1983.

Klijn, A. F. J. “2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha edited by James H. Charlesworth. London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 1983.

Kreitzer, L. J. “Resurrection.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid, 805-812. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. “1 and 2 Corinthians.” In The Cambridge Companion to St Paul, edited by James D. G. Dunn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Nichols, Terence. Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010.

Novak, David. “Jewish Eschatology.” In The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, edited by Jerry L. Walls. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2008.

Prior, David. The Message of 1 Corinthians. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985.

Rowland, Christopher. “The Eschatology of the New Testament Church.” In The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, edited by Jerry L. Walls. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2008.

Segal, Alan F. “Paul’s Jewish Presuppositions.” In The Cambridge Companion to St Paul, edited by James D. G. Dunn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Sider, Ronald J. “St. Paul’s Understanding of the Nature and Significance of the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19.” Novum Testamentum 19, no. 2 (1977): 124-141.

Smith, Ben C., “Www.Textexcavation.Com/Qumran4q521″, Text Excavation  (accessed 15/05/2012).

Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000.

Witherington, Ben. Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

[1] L. J. Kreitzer, “Resurrection,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid(Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993). 806.

[2] Terence Nichols, Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010). 19-23.

[3] C. D. Elledge, “Resurrection of the Dead: Exploring Our Earliest Evidence Today,” in Resurrection: The Origin and Future of a Biblical Doctrine, ed. James H. Charlesworth(New York: T & T Clark, 2006). 24-26. Cf. Nichols. 24-25; Kreitzer. 806; David Novak, “Jewish Eschatology,” in The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, ed. Jerry L. Walls(New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2008). 123.

[4] Christopher Rowland, “The Eschatology of the New Testament Church,” in The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, ed. Jerry L. Walls(New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2008). 57. Cf. Novak. 123.

[5] E. Isaac, “1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth(London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 1983). 36-37.

[6] A. F. J. Klijn, “2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha ed. James H. Charlesworth(London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd, 1983). 631.

[7] Ben C. Smith, “Www.Textexcavation.Com/Qumran4q521”, Text Excavation  (accessed 15/05/2012).

[8] Alan F. Segal, “Paul’s Jewish Presuppositions,” in The Cambridge Companion to St Paul, ed. James D. G. Dunn(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).  165.

[9] Cf. Joost Holleman, Resurrection & Parousia: A Traditio-Historical Study of Paul’s Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996). 205.

[10] Nichols. 23.

[11] N Clayton Croy, “Hellenistic Philosophies and the Preaching of the Resurrection (Acts 17:18, 32),” Novum Testamentum 39, no. 1 (1997). 29.

[12] Ibid. 29.

[13] David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985). 256.

[14] Dag Oistein Endsjo, “Immortal Bodies, before Christ: Bodily Continuity in Ancient Greece and 1 Corinthians,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30, no. 4 (2008). 418.

[15] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003). 700.

[16] Croy. 29-34.

[17] Endsjo. 418-34. Cf. Ben Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995). 302.

[18] Witherington. 292-93.

[19] James D. G. Dunn, “How Are the Dead Raised? With Body Do They Come? Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 45, no. 1 (2002). 5.

[20] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000). 1169. Thiselton states, “It brings to a climax the theme of grace as God’s sovereign free gift through the cross to which “the dead” contribute no particular “knowledge” or “experience,” but do indeed undergo transformation of life and lifestyle through “God, who gives life to the dead” (Rom 4:17) on the basis of promise,” (p.1169).

[21] James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998). 235. Also, Prior. 256.

[22] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988). 714.

[23] Witherington. 291. Cf. Garland. 678.

[24] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994). 296. Also, Witherington. 299.

[25] Ronald J. Sider, “St. Paul’s Understanding of the Nature and Significance of the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19,” Novum Testamentum 19, no. 2 (1977). 140-41. Sider states, “When Paul learned that widespread opposition at Corinth to the notion of a bodily resurrection of believers had led to serious questioning or unacceptable reinterpretation of the nature of Jesus’ resurrection, he was very disturbed. In order to establish his fundamental belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection he cited the eyewitnesses of the appearances. Apparently Paul thought that the question of whether Jesus rose from the dead was a factual question which could be settled by citing the historical evidence,” (pp.140-41).

[26] Fee. 713.

[27] Witherington. 302-303. Also, Fee. 714; Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “1 and 2 Corinthians,” in The Cambridge Companion to St Paul, ed. James D. G. Dunn(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 82.

[28] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle. 488. Cf. Garland. 681. Cf. Boer, “Behind the human reality of dying and the promise of resurrection, there is an apocalyptic confrontation of cosmic proportions between God’s Messiah and the power of death which has subjugated and alienated all human beings from God,” (Martinus C. de Boer, The Defeat of Death: Apocalyptic Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1988). 139).

[29] Fee. 715. Also, Blomberg. 295; Endsjo. 417-418; Garland. 699-670.

[30] Fee. 715. On this, Fee contends, “In their view, by the reception of the Spirit, and especially the gift of tongues, they had already entered the true “spirituality” that is to be (4:8); already they had begun a form of angelic existence (13:1; cf. 4:9; 7:1-7) in which the body was unnecessary and unwanted, and would finally be destroyed. Thus for them life in the Spirit meant a final ridding oneself of the body, not because it was evil but because it was inferior and beneath them; the idea that the body would be raised would have been anathema,” (p.715).

[31] Witherington. 292.

[32] Holleman. 205. Also, Fee. 714; Garland. 678; Murphy-O’Connor. 82.

[33] Holleman. 203. Cf. Witherington. 304.

[34] Witherington. 300.

[35] Fee. 717.

[36] Prior. 277. Cf. Rowland. 57.

[37] Holleman. 206. According to Holleman, “Jesus represents all those who are faithful to him. The latter will therefore join the risen Lord in that they will be raised with him. Jesus represents all those who will be raised just as Adam represents all who die. Those who are ‘in Christ’ will be raised as a result of their unity with Christ, the ones ‘in Adam’ will die because of their unity with Adam,” (p. 206).

[38] Dunn, “How Are the Dead Raised? With Body Do They Come? Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15.” 17-18.

[39] Segal. 167.

[40] Witherington. 307-311. Cf. Garland. 725; Murphy-O’Connor. 83

[41] Dunn, “How Are the Dead Raised? With Body Do They Come? Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15.” 17; Fee. 714-715; Witherington. 308-309; Segal. 168-169; Garland. 739-740.

[42] Witherington. 306, 311; Garland. 715.

John 15:12-27


John 15:12-27 is a central passage in the Farewell Discourse, in which Jesus discusses three major themes: the necessity of love, the inevitable persecution of Christians, and the assurance God sends believers. It can be broken up into two major sections, vv.12-17 and 18-27, though some argue for the inclusion of surrounding verses. Jesus’ command to love in the first section is both uncompromising and entirely selfless. In order to call oneself a follower of Christ, one must be willing to love another in the same way Jesus has loved his disciples. In other words, Christians must be willing to give their lives for each other. Jesus then discusses the inevitable persecution that comes with being a Christian. A servant, he says, is no greater than the master and, thus, if Jesus received great persecution from the world, the disciples will also receive great persecution. However, Christians are not alone, for Jesus sends another who will help with this great task. This essay exegetes this passage, attempting to critically and etymologically analyze the more significant and controversial words and phrases, resulting in the three major implications upon the contemporary reader.


The “Farewell Discourse” (13:31-16:33) inhabits a large proportion of John’s “Book of Glory” (13:1-20:31), discussing Jesus’ preparation of the new community, in which “the focus is on preparing his new messianic community for their Spirit-guided mission to the unbelieving world.”[1] The Passion narrative is also included (18:1-19:42). The Farewell Discourse deals with the revelation of Jesus to the world, with a focus on mission by the power of the Holy Spirit.[2] Most commentators include 15:1-16:33 as a single unit within this discourse,[3] though some argue for 15:1-6:4.[4] It seems more likely, however, that dividing chapter 16 into parts is unnecessary, as the subject matter does not change dramatically.[5] This is further supported by 16:33 and 17:1; the former referring back to Jesus’ discussion of persecution and hatred (cf. 15:18) and the latter (“After Jesus had spoken these words…”) beginning a new section. However, chapter 15 can be further divided into 3 or 4 subsections: vv.1-11, vv.12-17 and vv.18-27.[6] The focus of this essay shall remain with the final 15 verses.

John 15:12-17

Bracketed by the love command, “love one another,” (vv.12, 17)[7] this section emphatically answers the question of what Jesus’ commandments are.[8] The plural of v.10 (entolas) becomes singular in v.12 (entolē), hence Jesus’ commandments collapse into the one command of loving one another, of which Kostenberger notes, “Jesus’ entire ministry…is ultimately grounded in God’s love.”[9] This commandment is different to that of ch.13, in that it invokes a new standard;[10] the disciples are called to be willing to die for their friends. It was not an uncommon thought in the ancient world to die for friends, “yet what distinguishes disciples’ self-sacrificial love for one another is that it is grounded in and reflects Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for them.”[11] The love which the disciples are called to (agapate) is present tense, implying continuous love. However, Jesus’ love (ēgapēsa) is aorist tense, implying a completed action, hence Jesus’ love is focused on the cross.[12]

The laying down of Jesus’ life for his disciples is the greatest evidence of his love for them,[13] and it is this same willingness to die for each other that Jesus calls his disciples to. Meier notes that “the Johannine command to love is explicitly and necessarily grounded in the person and action of Jesus as he goes to his death out of love,”[14] hence Jesus’ love is the model by which the disciples were to measure their love, as well as the cause of their love.[15] Hellenistic tradition highly regarded self-sacrifice for another person,[16] and was often considered the “supreme duty of friendship.”[17] Jewish tradition prohibited the sacrifice of others for one’s self, but one’s own life took precedence over another.[18] The focus in this verse is on love for friends, but John does not present Jesus as limiting this love solely to friends, for Jesus himself died for his enemies.[19]

Jesus’ labeling his disciples “friends” is reminiscent of Moses and Abraham being called “friends of God,” thus speaking of the highest possible relationship with God.[20] Both Hellenistic and Jewish tradition places much emphasis on loyalty in regards to friendship; “true friends were known in times of trouble, when they were most needed.”[21] However, this friendship did not give freedom to disobey,[22] but refers to common aims and outlook,[23] hence obedience characterizes – rather than causes – friendship.[24] It should also be noted that while the disciples are said to be Jesus’ friends, Jesus is not said to be theirs.[25] This could be due to John attempting to avoid distorting,[26] or “fraternizing”[27]  this relationship.

The comparison made between friends and servants[28] in v.15 implies absolute disclosure.[29] Kostenberger argues that because of this, obedience can be joyful, rather than burdensome.[30] Full disclosure was a common ideal in Greek tradition; Isocrates said one should test friends on their trustworthiness in keeping secrets, Aristotle said true friendship requires absolute confidence, and Philo said “virtue makes God a friend of the righteous.”[31] According to Gench, “in the Greco-Roman world, friendship was a much-discussed and highly-esteemed relationship.”[32] The truth shared by Jesus is therefore further demonstration of his love.[33]

The fact that Jesus himself chooses his disciples is noteworthy, for generally disciples would choose their teacher, not the teacher choose the disciples.[34] This election is entirely Jesus’ initiative,[35] giving the disciples security in their knowledge of his faithfulness[36] and providing them ultimate encouragement.[37] However, election always has a purpose and that purpose, in this instance, is to bear fruit.[38] Beasley-Murray notes, “The verb ethēka, “set aside,” is used in v.13 of Jesus “setting aside” his life for others. The terms appears in Num 8:10 for the ordination of Levites,”[39] and elsewhere in the New Testament, as in this verse, to refer to being “set apart” for a particular ministry.[40]

John then links v.17 back to v.12 by repeating the love command, forming an inclusio. Morris argues that “all the commandments in the discourse are for a single purpose, that the disciples may engage in mutual love.”[41] Whereas the Synoptics tend to focus on love for neighbors and enemies, John’s focus is on the community of disciples.[42] This communal and sacrificial love for one another is, for John, the ultimate witness to the world of Jesus’ love.[43] These 5 verses focus entirely on love. The next subsection is thus an obvious contrast, focusing on hatred.[44]

John 15:18-27

Verses 18 through 21 discuss hatred toward the disciples as a continuation of the hatred shown toward Jesus.[45] Milne argues that this inevitable hatred is, therefore, a sign that their mission is a continuation of Jesus’ mission.[46] The synoptics present a more thorough outward mission, with a focus beyond the church, than does John, who focuses largely on martyrdom.[47] In John’s Gospel, particularly this passage, the disciples are recognized by their sacrificial love, whereas the world by its hatred.[48] According to Harrison, kosmos was generally thought of in terms of order. However, particularly in Johannine texts, the world is portrayed as hostile to God. Harrison presents the argument that it is still considered ordered; Satan organizing with efficiency.[49]

Verses 18 and 19 flow on well from 12-17, for a common political theme of the day was that if one was a friend of an enemy, one would become an enemy also. Hence, if one was a friend of Jesus, who was an enemy of the world, one would also become an enemy of the world.[50] The present tense misei expresses the continuing hatred and kosmos mentioned five times in the one verse emphatically convey the world’s utter hatred.[51] Heinz argues the common translation, “I chose you out of the world” (eg. RSV, KJV, The New English Bible) is ambiguous and that “from the world” is a preferred translation, based on: 1) ek is usually used partitively in John, and should be in this passage also; 2) The disciples need to remain in the world.[52] As the disciples represent Jesus to the world, Jesus’ “spiritual presence in them stirs the world’s antagonism toward God and his purposes in Christ.”[53]

Jesus’ reference to servants in v.20 does not contradict his calling the disciples friends, but refers to their sharing of his unwelcome state,[54] for if the master must suffer then surely his disciples must too.[55] Morris notes that Jesus quotes himself exactly, thus this reference must be important.[56] Jesus is emphatically arguing “that the response to their mission will be no different from the response to that of their master.”[57]

Jesus then argues in v.21 that the world’s sin and the rejection of him and his disciples are due to their ignorance of God.[58] According to Kostenberger, “the three-step logic is as follows: when people oppose the disciples, it is because they oppose Jesus; if people oppose Jesus, it is because they do not know the Father (see 15:23); therefore, if people oppose the disciples, it is ultimately because they do not know God.”[59] The seriousness of this rejection is explicated in v.22, for, though the Jews would not be sinless had Christ not come, they rejected the ultimate revelation of God in Jesus, and are therefore without excuse.[60] This verse stresses the world’s culpability[61] and that the root cause of rejection is sin.[62]

The emphatic eme and patera mou in verse 23 are so tightly linked that the two are virtually indistinguishable; to reject one is to reject the other.[63] It is important to note, however, that the world does not always amount to hatred,[64] for there are instances in the Gospel where people respond kindly to Jesus.[65] Miseō carries connotations of rejection, hence those who reject Jesus are those who hate him.[66] Therefore, furthermore, this verse links neatly with the preceding verse. The emphatic eme and patera mou are again repeated in v.24, with the perfect memisēkasin further highlighting the world’s hatred.[67] According to Keener, “Jesus’ “signs” and other works revealed enough of his identity and sender that those who hated him could be said to have beheld both him and his Father.”[68] Despite this evidence, the world still rejects the truth and is thus condemned.[69]

Quoting “their law” “ironically points to even more revelation that judges their unwarranted anger,” says Burge,[70] as they stand condemned by the very law that bore witness to Christ.[71] This reference to law means more broadly “Scripture,” for Jesus quotes Psalm 69:4, a Psalm considered Messianic.[72] This implies that if David was hated, how much more will the people hate the Son of God?[73] However, this rejection does not hinder God’s plan, but in fact fulfils it.[74] A second implication is that this reference to Scripture has an apologetic function, “as it provides accusatory witness against the opposition.”[75]

There is much debate over the word paraklētos, some arguing it should be understood as a judicial title, aiding legal argument,[76] others saying it should not, but that it is revelatory in nature.[77] Prior to John the word generally meant “broker” or “mediator,”[78] and Burer and Miller argue for a mediatory understanding.[79] However, Mounce argues it refers to one who is sent or called to assistance.[80] The Greek Fathers originally interpreted it as “consoler” or “comforter,” but Morris argues that, while due respect should paid to the Fathers, it seems in this case they are incorrect, for there is neither Greek nor biblical use that would support them.[81] He argues it should be understood as carrying the implications of “‘called to the side of’ (i.e. for the purpose of helping).”[82] Jesus was the first Paraclete (14:16) and so understood the reference as a personality,[83] one who would help the disciples to endure.[84] The reference is usually voiced by Jesus, always in reference to the Spirit, except for two occasions of himself (14:16; 1 John 2:1) and usually in the context of the Spirit helping in difficult situations once he has gone. Because of the impossibly high standard set before the disciples, they need the paraklētos to help.[85] Therefore, as Morris argues, it should be understood as “the legal helper, the friend who does whatever is necessary to forward their best interests.”[86] Furthermore, the focus of the Spirit’s work is witness.[87]

Jesus’ command in v.27 allows no passive role for the disciples, humeis being emphatic.[88] The implication of this verse is that Christians carry a great deal of responsibility. Morris argues that disciples “cannot simply relax and leave it all to the Spirit. They have a particular function in bearing witness…There is a responsibility resting on all Christians to bear witness.”[89] The fact that the disciples have been with Jesus from the beginning further qualifies them as witnesses[90] to the message of love that must be spread, despite inevitable hostility and hatred.[91]

Contemporary Relevance

There are three main implications that this passage provides: the necessity for Christians to love, the inevitable persecution of being a loving Christian, and the assurance Christians receive from God.

Necessity of Love

The command to love in v.12 sums up Jesus’ ministry, being entirely grounded in love. Jesus’ love, in this verse, is focused on the completed action of the cross, yet we are called to a continuous love; we must always be ready and willing to die for a friend. Carson poignantly notes that despite the many problems the disciples had, Jesus still loved them, and so must we love all we encounter, no matter how pleasant they are.[92] This love demonstrates to others the love Christ has shown us, for we have been elected to bear the most important fruit: love (cf.15:16). According to Milne, “It is a mark of a worldly church…when we are content with short-lived ‘fruit,’” but “the fruit that honors God is the fruit that will last, and bring glory to the Father and the Son.”[93] Furthermore, v.27 explicates the responsibility that is placed on all Christian’s shoulders to love others, yet we are not alone for the Spirit helps us with this task. Gench states, “In our own day, the Johannine themes of mutual, self-giving love and the love of friendship are no less profound, with power to address our own deep hunger for community amidst the individualism, isolation, and transience that characterize much of modern, Western life.”[94]

Inevitable Persecution

Unfortunately the reality is that the world will respond negatively to Christian love. If one is to be a follower of Christ, one must inevitably receive the same response Christ received. Christ will be spiritually present in all those who represent him, thus if the world responded negatively toward Christ, the world will respond negatively, again, toward those who bear his name. This hatred is then confirmation of one’s continuation of Christ’s mission. As Jesus represented the Father, we represent Jesus, thus those who reject Christianity have no excuse, as the Jews had no excuse for rejecting Christ (cf. 15:22). In Romans 1 Paul argues that God has revealed himself through creation, hence further condemnation can be made against the world, just as the Jews were further condemned by not seeing Christ in the Scriptures (cf. 15:25). History has shown that Christianity has been subject to much persecution. The time between the ascension and consummation of Christ will be a time of great persecution for the church, as the Enemy resists and tries to neutralize the Church.[95] Two examples of such persecution are, firstly, the period of persecution in 303AD under Diocletian where many were forced to burn bibles,[96] and, secondly, the thousands of Chinese ministers who were arrested in the 1990s alone.[97] Burge comments, “If this is not our experience at present in the West, we need to support those suffer and ready ourselves for a day when we may…When this happens, 15:18-16:4 will be vital to us.”[98]

Assurance from God

Despite the seriousness of the necessity of sacrificial love and of persecution, this passage reminds us of the assurance God has given us. This assurance comes in two forms: our election, and the sending of the Paraclete. To be labelled as a friend of God implies the highest possible relationship with God, in which we receive absolute disclosure and joyful obedience. However, Jesus has chosen us to be friends and not the other way around. He elected us to bear fruit, hence we need not worry if we are good enough or not, and just remember that he chose us. Kostenberger notes, “This election…is what constitutes the basis for their inclusion in the new messianic community. This should keep the disciples humble as they go into the world as Jesus’ emissaries.”[99] The second comes in the sending of the Paraclete. Because of the difficult tasks of loving and evangelizing in great hostility, the Paraclete is sent to help us. With the Spirit comes fruit, such as that of love and Edward argued this fruit is absolute assurance for the believer and stated “let none rest in any supposed fruit of the spirit without witness.”[100] In other words, the fruit we receive when we have the Spirit helping in our lives is absolute assurance of Christ’s love in our lives.


Verses 12 through 17 significantly detail genuine love and the implications of such love. Jesus’ commandments can be entirely summed up in the commandment to love one another in such a selfless, sacrificial way. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the greatest example of love for his people, and he commands his people to emulate this same love. He calls us his friends, connoting the highest relationship possible, for we have received revelation from God and, thus, our obedience is both joyful and that which characterizes our friendship; the world will see Jesus’ love in the way Jesus’ people love one another. He chose us to bear fruit, to love one another.

The following ten verses reveal that such love will not come without opposition, for we, bearing Christ’s name, will inevitably bear the same persecution that Christ bore. We share the same unwelcome state in this world that Christ received; being his servants we are hated as he was hated. But we are hated due to the world’s ignorance of God. The world has seen God, thus has no excuse, but despite evidence, the world rejects the truth and so shall receive condemnation. However, not all who responded to Christ responded negatively. Therefore, we can expect some to respond to our testimony in a positive manner.

The Paraclete is sent to help, to guide and support us in times of trial and difficulty. The Spirit is our friend, advocate, counsellor and comforter. Above all else, however, the Spirit comes to help us in the difficult tasks of loving selflessly and of evangelising in a world hostile to the message we preach. The three implications of this passage are: 1) the necessity of love, that this incredible love is no less necessary in today’s world of individualism; 2) the inevitable persecution that Christians shall receive, and have received, because of the name we bear; and 3) the assurance we receive from God, as his chosen people, and as the bearers of fruit, given to us by the Spirit. We must love, we must endure, and we must constantly be attentive to the helping hand of the Paraclete. John’s message is vital for the modern Christian in a world where individualism and persecution is increasing and the recognition of God is decreasing.


Beasley-Murray, George R. John. Vol. 36 Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987.

Brown, Tricia Gates. Spirit in the Writings of John Journal for the Study of the New Testament. London: T & T Clark International, 2003.

Burge, Gary M. John The Niv Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.

Carson, D. A. Jesus and His Friends. Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster Press, 1995.

Caulley, T. S. “Holy Spirit.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Gench, Frances Taylor. “John 15:12-17.” Interpretation 58, no. 2 (2004): 181-84.

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.

Harrison, E. F. “World.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Heinz, Donald. “Brief Translation Note on John 15:19.” Concordia Theological Monthly 39, no. 11 (1968): 775.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 2. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003.

Kostenberger, Andreas J. John Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.

Kostenberger, Andreas J. A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters Biblical Theology of the New Testament, Edited by Andreas J. Kostenberger. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.

Lincoln, Andrew T. The Gospel According to Saint John Black’s New Testament Commentary. London: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005.

MacArthur, John. The Macarthur New Testament Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. 5th ed. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Meier, John P. “Love in Q and John: Love of Enemies, Love of One Another.” Mid-Stream 40, no. 1 (2001): 42-50.

Michael H. Burer, Jeffrey E. Miller. A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2008.

Milne, Bruce. The Message of John The Bible Speaks Today, Edited by John Stott. Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993.

Mitchell, Curtis C. “The Holy Spirit’s Intercessory Ministry.” Bibliotheca Sacra 139, no. 555 (1982): 230-242.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John (Revised) The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Mounce, William D. The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993.

Noll, Mark A. “John Wesley and the Doctrine of Assurance.” Bibliotheca Sacra 132, no. 526 (1975): 161-177.

Payne, J. B. “Servant of the Lord.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

[1] Andreas J. Kostenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004). 395.

[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, ed. Andreas J. Kostenberger, Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009). 238.

[3] John MacArthur, The Macarthur New Testament Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007). Also, Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters., Bruce Milne, The Message of John, ed. John Stott, The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993). George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 36 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987).

[4] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, vol. 2 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003). Also, Gary M. Burge, John, The Niv Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).

[5] Kostenberger, John.

[6] Many commentators divide the chapter similarly, most further including 15:18-16:4a or 15:26-16:4a as one subsection. Cf. Burge. and Keener. This essay shall simply analyze vv.26-27 without a discussion on ch.16, though the subject and topic of 16:1-4 may be similar enough to be included in the same division as 15:26-27.

[7] Cf. Burge. 416. Also, Keener. 1004.

[8] Kostenberger, John. 457. Cf. 15:10.

[9] Ibid. 457. Cf. Beasley-Murray. 274.

[10] D. A. Carson, Jesus and His Friends (Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster Press, 1995). 100.

[11] Andrew T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John, Black’s New Testament Commentary (London: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005). 406.

[12] Cf. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Revised), The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995). 598. This further implies a sacrificial love.

[13] MacArthur. 317.

[14] John P. Meier, “Love in Q and John: Love of Enemies, Love of One Another,” Mid-Stream 40, no. 1 (2001). 48.

[15] Ibid. 48.

[16] Keener. 1005.

[17] Kostenberger, John. 458.

[18] Keener. 1004. Hence, John has a focus on Greek tradition in this verse.

[19] Morris. 599. Cf. Romans 5:8.

[20] Burge. 416. Cf. Isaiah 41:8; Exodus 33:11. According to Keener, “early Jewish literature especially applies the title to Abraham. This is especially because of his intimate relationship with God, so that God could take Abraham into his confidence, not treating him as a servant.” (Keener. 1012-13.)

[21] Keener. 1009. This can clearly be seen in the Jewish writings, Sir. 6:7-10, 14-16, and 12:8.

[22] Ibid. 1015.

[23] Morris. 599.

[24] Kostenberger, John. 458.

[25] Carson. 104.

[26] Ibid. 104.

[27] Kostenberger, John. 458. The emphatic personal pronouns, humeis and egō, further mark this relationship to be distinct from the world.

[28] The NRSV translates doulous as servants, but a more accurate translation would be “slaves,” (William D. Mounce, The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993). 153). The difference may seem minimal, but each carries different connotations. However, “Servant of the Lord” (‘ebed yhwh) in the Old Testament could refer to devout worshippers (e.g. Abraham; cf. Ps. 105:6) or those God used to fulfill his plans (eg. Nebuchadnezzar; cf. Jer. 25:9), (J. B. Payne, “Servant of the Lord,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001). 1095). In this instance, however, it seems more likely Jesus is referring to the negative connotations of “slave,” particularly in contrast with “friend.”

[29] Burge. 420. Also, Keener. 1010, Lincoln. 406, Morris. 599, Carson. 105.

[30] Kostenberger, John. 459.

[31] Keener. 1011-12.

[32] Frances Taylor Gench, “John 15:12-17,” Interpretation 58, no. 2 (2004). 182.

[33] Milne. 223.

[34] Keener. 1015. Also, Morris. 600. Morris further argues, “ouk negates humeis, not exelexasthe; in other words, “it was not you that chose” rather than “you did not choose.”” The emphasis is on the disciples, not the verb.

[35] Lincoln. 407.

[36] Burge. 416.

[37] Milne. 223. Milne further notes, “Their standing and relationship with him is a matter of grace. Therein, however, lies the ultimate encouragement in mission. We go, not because we are worthy, or equipped, or attractive, or skilled, or experienced, or in any way suitable and appropriate. We go because we have been summoned and sent,” (p.223).

[38] MacArthur. 317. Also, Beasley-Murray. 275.

[39] Beasley-Murray. 275.

[40] Kostenberger, John. 460. Cf. Acts 13:47; 1 Tim. 1:12; 2:7. It can also refer to the pastor (Acts 20:28).

[41] Morris. 601.

[42] Gench. 181.

[43] Ibid. 182. Also, Milne. 223. Cf. 13:15; 17:20-26.

[44] According to Brown, “The shift from the theme of love between Jesus and his disciples to that of the hatred of the world for both is abrupt, yet the two sections are flip-sides of a broader theme. Both units express the integral unity between Jesus and believers,” (Tricia Gates Brown, Spirit in the Writings of John, Journal for the Study of the New Testament (London: T & T Clark International, 2003). 214.)

[45] Burge. 420. Lincoln argues that “when they experience the world’s ill will, Jesus’ followers are to recognize that this is a sign of their continuity with Jesus’ mission, since this is precisely the reaction Jesus himself experienced,” (Lincoln. 409).

[46] Milne. 224.

[47] Keener. 1018.

[48] Morris. 602.

[49] E. F. Harrison, “World,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001). 1297. Oikoumenē generally refers to the populated world (cf. Luke 4:5) and aiōn carries connotations of “age.” (ibid. 1297). Furthermore, cf. Eph. 6:12.

[50] Keener. 1019.

[51] Morris. 602.

[52] Donald Heinz, “Brief Translation Note on John 15:19,” Concordia Theological Monthly 39, no. 11 (1968). 775. Heinz further states, “The thought, then, of John 15:19 would seem to be this: If you were people who had the same basis of existence as the kosmos, then the kosmos would love you as its own kind of people. But because you now do not have your existence from (or belong to) the kosmos, although I chose and elected you from among those who were…drawing their existence from the kosmos, therefore the kosmos hates you,” (ibid. 775). Cf. 10:16, 26 (“sheep of this fold” – partitive, not “out of”).

[53] Kostenberger, John. 464. Kostenberger further notes that “this does not call believers to physically separate themselves from the world; to the contrary, they are sent into the world to bear spiritual fruit (15:16; 17:18; 20:21),” (ibid. 464).

[54] Burge. 420.

[55] Keener. 1019.

[56] Morris. 603.

[57] Lincoln. 410. Furthermore, Keener outlines Berg’s presentation of a chiastic structure:
A “If the world hates you, it hated me first.”

B “If you were of the world, they would have you (but you are not).”

C. “Because I chose you, the world hates you.”

D. “The servant is no greater than the master.”

A’ “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”

B’ “If they kept my word, they will keep yours.”

C’ “They will persecute you for Jesus’ and the Father’s sake.”

Keener notes that A and A’ could replace C and C’, but the emphasis still lies on D, (Keener. 1019).

[58] Lincoln. 410. Lincoln states, “for the Fourth Gospel the primary expression of sin is failure to believe in Jesus as the one sent by the Father,” (p.410). Cf. Kostenberger, John. 465.

[59] Kostenberger, John. 465.

[60] Morris. 604. Rejection of Christ, MacArthur argues, is the worst sin possible, for it is rejecting God’s truth, (MacArthur. 319).

[61] Kostenberger, John. 466.

[62] Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. 290.

[63] Morris. 604.

[64] Beasley-Murray. 276, Carson. 114. Carson states, “This passage does not deny that the world can show any love at all. Pagan parents may love their pagan infants; unbelieving men and women fall in love. But it is natural for the world to hate. The ‘world’ is made up of people who have never acknowledged the supremacy of Christ nor known the love of God…these people are absorbed either with themselves or with their self-created gods. It is impossible for them to love God or to love his people unless and until they set aside their false values, come to terms with the truth, and see their own position and role in the light of God’s sovereignty and grace,” (ibid. 114).

[65] E.g. the Samaritan woman (ch.4) and the man cured of blindness (ch.9).

[66] Kostenberger, John. 466.

[67] Ibid. 466.

[68] Keener. 1021.

[69] Kostenberger, John. 466.

[70] Burge. 421.

[71] Beasley-Murray. 276. Also, Morris. 605.

[72] Kostenberger, John. 467. There is some debate over which Psalm Jesus is actually quoting, but most commentators argue for Pslam 69:4, (ibid. 467.)

[73] MacArthur. 319.

[74] Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. 290.

[75] Lincoln. 411. It is likely this opposition is directly the Jewish religious authorities, due to the emphatic tō vomō autōn, (ibid. 411).

[76] Burge. 421. Burge argues that the Sprit, thus, “will become a witness, supporting their trial (either literally or figuratively),” (p. 421).

[77] Beasley-Murray. 276-77. Beasley-Murray argues that the Spirit’s task is to “bear witness concerning Jesus (peri emou). His witness therefore is not here conceived of as that of an advocate, speaking in defense of the disciples…not is it that of a prosecuting attorney, giving evidence against the world…The witness of the Spirit, conjoined with that of the disciples, is to bring to light the truth of the revelation of Jesus in his word and deed, and death and resurrection,” (p. 276-77).

[78] Brown. 180.

[79] Jeffrey E. Miller Michael H. Burer, A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2008). 196.

[80] Mounce. 353. There is no great distinction between these definitions, but each carry different connotations and implications; the former implying a forensic sense, the latter a relational sense.

[81] Morris. 588.

[82] Ibid. 587. Morris argues that “helper” may be a good definition, but does not deal enough with the passive nature of the word, (p. 589).

[83] T. S. Caulley, “Holy Spirit,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001). 569.

[84] Milne. 228. Brown further argues it is important to note that the Paraclete is not sent into the world, but is sent to the disciples. Hence, it should be understood as more of a helper than advocate, consoler, etc. (Brown. 216).

[85] Morris. 588-90. On the idea of the Paraclete as a helper, Mitchell argues that Paul clearly uses paraklēton in Romans 8:26-27 in reference to the Spirit helping Christians, (Curtis C. Mitchell, “The Holy Spirit’s Intercessory Ministry,” Bibliotheca Sacra 139, no. 555 (1982). 231).

[86] Morris. 591.

[87] Ibid. 605.

[88] Burge. 421.

[89] Morris. 607.

[90] Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. 244. Kostenberger further notes that “from the beginning” commonly denoted eye-witness testimony, e.g. Luke 1:3, (ibid. 244).

[91] Lincoln. 411.

[92] Carson. 103. V.14 reveals that obedient love characterizes the friendship we have with Jesus. Cf. 15:17.

[93] Milne. 224.

[94] Gench. 183-84.

[95] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994). 620.

[96] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed. (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 18.

[97] Burge.

[98] Ibid. 430.

[99] Kostenberger, John. 464.

[100] Mark A. Noll, “John Wesley and the Doctrine of Assurance,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132, no. 526 (1975). 170. Cf. 15:26.

The Trinity in Calvin’s Theology of the Lord’s Supper in Light of Contemporary Thought


John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion[1] has been an immensely influential collection of books in the last half millennia. The fourth book, in particular the 17th chapter, has influenced people’s understanding of the Supper, even to this day. Calvin’s “Spiritual Presence” of Christ diplomatically steered a course between the Lutheran ubiquity and consubstantiation and the Zwinglian memorial, and responded heavily against the Catholic transubstantiation. Emphasizing Christ and the Spirit’s roles in the Supper, Calvin’s doctrine does not explicitly detail the relationship between it and the Trinity, but Calvin’s doctrine is evidently influenced by his understanding of the triune God. However, contemporary Trinitarian thought has revealed a need for a deeper understanding and explication of the role of, and relationship between, all three persons in the Godhead in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This essay analyzes Calvin’s doctrine on the Supper, with particular focus on Calvin’s understanding of the Trinity in its celebration and administration. The essay will then analyze recent literature on the role of the Trinity in the Supper and attempt to present a revised adaption of Calvin’s doctrine on the Supper in light of this contemporary Trinitarian thought.

The Lord’s Supper in Calvin’s Theology

By the 16th century, three prominent approaches to the Lord’s Supper existed: the Roman Catholic transubstantiation, the Lutheran consubstantiation (that the bread and wine are both bread and wine and physically Jesus’ body)[2] and the Zwinglian memorialism (that Jesus did not refer to the bread and wine as literally his body and blood, and hence Christ is not really present).[3] The term ‘transubstantiation’ was coined to refer to the literal change in substance of the bread and wine into Christ’s physical body and blood.[4] Thomas Aquinas developed this theology and the “Fourth Lateran Council in 1215…had officially defined the doctrine of seven sacraments and the doctrine of transubstantiation as binding dogma for every Christian.”[5] Luther and Zwingli rejected this; Luther arguing that “Christ was in a sense physically present – in, with, and under the elements,” not purely the elements alone being Christ’s physical body[6] and Zwingli arguing the Supper was merely a memorial and nothing else. Calvin responded to all three, seeing the Lutheran ubiquity[7] as denying the ascension,[8] seeing the Zwinglian perspective as not prescribing enough power to the sacrament,[9] and that transubstantiation robbed God’s honour and is a damnable idolatry.[10]

In 1549, Calvin and Bullinger declared in the Zurich Consensus that the Lord’s Supper is more than a mere sign,[11] steering a course between Luther and Zwingli by arguing that because Christ ascended as human, and shall remain there until the eschaton, he cannot return physically in the bread and wine, but is actually present by the Holy Spirit,[12] and so his doctrine is often considered “christocentric-pneumatological.”[13] Hart states, “If we take Scripture seriously, we find that Christ’s humanity is ‘in heaven’ at the right hand of the Father, from where we are to await his return in glory and for judgement.”[14] Furthermore, according to Reymond, “it is a fact that Calvin does teach that by the Spirit’s empowering, Christ’s human nature, although in heaven and not endowed with ubiquity is nonetheless brought to us (or perhaps better, by faith we are lifted to it) and that we derive spiritual life from feeding specifically upon it by faith.”[15]

Regarding faith, Calvin argues, “It is certain, therefore, that the Lord offers us his mercy, and a pledge of his grace, both in his sacred word and in the sacraments; but it is not apprehended save by those who receive the word and sacraments with firm faith.”[16] If the partaker receives the bread and wine without faith in Christ, the bread and wine remain nothing more than bread and wine. It is only when one responds to the Spirit in faith that what is offered in the Supper can be received.[17] The Spirit makes the sacrament efficacious, uniting us to Christ by lifting us up to his physical being in heaven.[18]

Calvin asserts Christ’s divinity and humanity,[19] and so “what happens in the Supper…is no mere sociological phenomenon, but the gracious approach of a holy God to sinful creatures.”[20] Calvin places emphasis on the incarnation, to the point where his atoning work required Christ’s humanity and divinity. Hebrews 9:24-26 reveals that Christ’s ascension was part of his atoning work, thus he ascended in physicality.[21] Further, Calvin argues, due to his humanity in heaven, Christ is presented to us by the Spirit.[22] Calvin argues,

The body with which Christ rose is declared, not by Aristotle, but by the Holy Spirit, to be finite, and to be contained in heaven until the last day. I am not unaware how confidently our opponents evade the passages which are quoted to this effect. Whenever Christ says that he will leave the world and go away (John xiv. 2, 28), they reply, that that departure was nothing more than a change of mortal state. Were this so, Christ would not substitute the Holy Spirit, to supply, as they express it, the defect of his absence, since he does not succeed in place of him, nor, on the other hand, does Christ himself descend from the heavenly glory to assume the condition of a mortal life. Certainly the advent of the Spirit and the ascension of Christ are set against each other, and hence it necessarily follows that Christ dwells with us according to the flesh, in the same way as that in which he sends his Spirit.[23]

So the Spirit descends to lift us up to the physical Christ,[24] unifying us with Christ by dwelling within us,[25] and through doing so presents us to the Father.[26]

So what does Calvin say regarding what the Lord Supper accomplishes? According to Godfrey, “For Calvin, the simple way to understand the Lord’s Supper was as food that God gave to nourish his people…the sacrament assured that what Christ promised was surely theirs.”[27] Calvin states that “after God has once received us into his family, it is not that he may regard us in the light of servants, but of sons, performing the part of a kind and anxious parent, and providing for our maintenance,” thus, “he has given another sacrament to his Church by the hand of his only-begotten Son – viz. a spiritual feast…on which our souls feed.”[28] As our Father, he provides spiritual food to sustain us and “Christ is the only food of our soul, and, therefore, our heavenly Father invites us to him.”[29] Elsewhere Calvin states,

For seeing we are so foolish, that we cannot receive him with true confidence of heart, when he is presented by simple teaching and preaching, the Father, of his mercy, not at all disdaining to condescend in this matter to our infirmity, has desired to attach to his Word a visible sign, by which he represents the substance of his promises, to confirm and fortify us, and to deliver us from all doubt and uncertainty…Now our heavenly Father, to succour us from [death]; gives us the Supper as a mirror in which we contemplate our Lord Jesus Christ crucified to abolish our faults and offences, and raised to deliver us from corruption and death, and restoring us to a heavenly immortality.[30]

According to Calvin, Jesus is physically present, by the Spirit,[31] who lifts us up to him, before God the Father.[32] Where we have been received into the Church through baptism as children, the Father then feeds and sustains us; “Like a good father in the home he fulfills the obligation to feed us and to provide everything we need…for that reason he provides not only for our physical needs, but because the life unto which he has regenerated us is spiritual, the food with which he nourishes this life needs to be spiritual as well…God has blessed us with a spiritual meal in the Lord’s Supper, where Christ presents himself as the living bread that feeds our souls.”[33] This adds nothing to our salvation, but confirms our unity with Christ.[34]

Calvin does not explicitly outline the relationship between the trinity and the Lord’s Supper, and this relationship is somewhat obscure and unclear. However, as has been seen, the three persons of the Godhead each have their roles in his doctrine of the Supper, thus the trinity is, albeit inexplicitly, evident in Calvin’s doctrine. In the Supper, Calvin places emphasis on Jesus and the Spirit, with little reference to the Father, but as was noted above, the Father is the one from whom we receive grace, and the one to whom we are taken, hence the Father is not absent. Calvin argues that a) Jesus is absolutely present, not as in the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, or as the Lutheran consubstantiation, for he is physically present in heaven, and thus cannot be physically present on earth; b) Christ is present, then, only by the Holy Spirit, who makes efficacious the Supper, uniting us to Christ and to each other; and c) the Supper is instituted by the Father, who lovingly seeks to nurture us and feed our renewed spiritual bodies, and it is to the Father whom the Spirit and Son draws us toward.[35] According to Selderhuis, Calvin saw the trinity as a necessary doctrine in understanding the atonement,[36] and as Calvin saw Christ’s sacrifice and the Supper as intrinsically linked, the Supper is, then, inevitably linked to the Trinity. In sum, Calvin’s doctrine of the Supper is surely, and predominately, “Christocentric-pneumatological,” in that it remains centered on Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Role of the Trinity in the Lord’s Supper in Contemporary Thought

Smith argues that “the sacramental actions of the church…are given to us specifically so that the Trinitarian character of the living God might be formed in us,”[37] and that “through the sacraments, the mystery of the trinity of God becomes the mystery in which we live.”[38] Torrance and Kasper, furthermore, argue that the whole Trinity must be worshipped in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper.[39] According to Thiselton, while the phrases “Eucharist,” “Holy Communion,” and “Lord’s Supper” are often associated with a particular denomination, the three are each used in the New Testament in reference to the Lord’s Supper.[40] Eucharistō (meaning to give thanks) is found in Luke 22.19; kuriakon deipnon (meaning Lord’s Supper) in 1 Cor. 11.20; and koinōnia (meaning communion, fellowship, association) in 1 Cor. 10.16. It is thanksgiving to the Father, a memorial (anamnēsis; 1 Cor. 11:24) of Jesus and an invocation of the Spirit.[41]

Anamnēsis is not a simple remembering, but implies our very participation in this event. This remembrance is caused by the Holy Spirit,[42] and Torrance argues that as we remember Christ it is in fact not us who reminds ourselves, but Jesus himself through the Holy Spirit, “as our ever-living and ever-present Lord, who, in his own person, is our Memorial in the presence of the Father. In other words, our memorial is the earthly counterpart of the heavenly Memorial.”[43]

A basic pattern arises according to recent literature: give thanks to the Father, in remembrance of Christ, as we invoke the presence of the Spirit.[44] Blessing and thanksgiving are fundamental in the Lord’s Supper in Mark 14.22,[45] remembrance fundamental in Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 11:17-34,[46] and throughout Scripture, it is through the Spirit that God’s grace comes to us, and so the Lord’s Supper is an epiklēsis (meaning invocation), in that the Spirit – in similar fashion to Calvin’s theology – makes the Supper efficacious.[47] The same Spirit in 1 Cor. 12:13 is the same Spirit who unifies us at the Supper. At the Supper, our relationship with God is not initiated, but presupposed,[48] and is an act of humble worship[49] at which we confess we deserve death and recognize Jesus as the Lamb sent from God.[50]

There are evident links between the Supper and the Old Testament Passover feast. 1 Cor. 5.7 labels Christ as our Passover (pascha) on which Torrance comments the word derives from paschein, meaning to suffer. Hence, it was a celebration of Jesus’ sacrifice as Lamb of God.[51] According to Kasper, Jesus is the new covenant, as the Lord’s Supper replaces the Passover and, further, “it is precisely in his giving of himself to the Father that in the Lord’s Supper he makes himself the gift of salvation for men and women.”[52] In 1 Cor. 11.23-24, the bread can be seen as the equivalent to the Passover Seder, reminding Christians of their exodus from sin, as the Jews were reminded of their exodus from Egypt.[53]

The Lord’s Supper must also be seen as a communal event. As mentioned above, koinōnia is found in 1 Cor. 10.16, on which MacArthur comments, “Commemorating the Lord’s Supper was a regular and cherished practice in the early church, by which believers remembered their Saviour’s death and celebrated their common salvation and eternal life which reflected their perfect spiritual oneness.[54] It was this communion that Paul had to remind the Corinthians of in the following chapter.[55] Furthermore, 2 Cor. 13:13 directly links this communion with the Holy Spirit. Hence, when we talk of communion at the Supper, we must acknowledge the Spirit’s presence and activity. Thus contemporary thought has provided a more explicitly Trinitarian understanding of the Lord’s Supper as does Calvin, and reveals a need for this understanding to be made explicit.[56] We give thanks to the Father for sending his Son, the Lamb of God, and recognize the Father as the one to whom we are drawn and from whom we receive grace and blessing. We remember the Son, a remembering which is far more than a strictly cerebral memory but rather a remembrance which draws us into participation in that which we remember, namely Christ’s atonement and thus our unification in Christ. He is the new covenant equivalent of the lamb shed at Passover; we remember him as the Jews would remember their exodus from Egypt – a full participation, as though they were there themselves. This is done through the work of the Spirit, without whom the Supper is no more than a simple meal. As an epiklēsis, we invoke the presence of the Spirit, who draws us and unifies us to Christ, and we celebrate the koinōnia we have with each other and with God.

Toward a Revised Theology of the Lord’s Supper

Before developing a revised theology, some issues in Calvin’s doctrine must be noted. The first is of a somewhat confusing explanation given by Calvin regarding Christ’s real presence while remaining in heaven. Reymond notes this has been an issue for reformed theologians since Calvin.[57] The second is the confusing link between sacrifice and sacrament in Calvin’s doctrine. Tylenda notes that while Calvin rejects the Supper as a new propitiatory or expiatory sacrifice, he elsewhere talks about the Supper as being, in some way, a sacrifice.[58] Calvin does not make explicit what he is referring to, but Tylenda suggests he meant a sacrifice of praise.[59] The third is in regard to Reymond’s statement that “by urging that Christians feed by faith upon the literal flesh and blood of Christ at the Lord’s Supper and that by doing so they derive from his humanity the ‘life-giving’ virtues which flow into it from the Godhead, Calvin, by his language…comes perilously close to suggesting the Godhead’s apotheosizing of Christ’s humanity and to transferring, at least in the Lord’s Supper the saving benefits of Christ’s atoning death directly to his human nature now localized in heaven.”[60] In other words, Calvin’s understanding that in the Supper we feed upon his human nature to be redeemed nearly implies that his humanity is, instead, his divinity. A response to this objection could be that it is important to see Christ’s humanity in heaven as post-resurrection,[61] and thus redeemed humanity, hence a clear distinction between his divinity and humanity may not be necessary or helpful. A last note is that chapter 17 of book 4 of the Institutes is lacking in biblical reference. From the rest of the Institutes, it is clear that Calvin is working closely with biblical texts, but his discussion on the Supper has minimal biblical support. It is clear, however, that his doctrine presupposes theology developed earlier, which is strongly supported by biblical reference, and this essay has attempted to provide this biblical support to his argument where possible.

A revision of Calvin’s doctrine on the Supper, in light of contemporary Trinitarian thought is required, but only in subtle ways. The biblical account clearly emphasizes Christ in the Supper, and this is evident in both Calvin’s doctrine and contemporary thought, hence Calvin’s “christocentric-pneumatological” approach is helpful. However, also important is thanksgiving toward the Father. While, as has been seen, Calvin does not exclude the Father’s role from his doctrine, thanksgiving toward the Father is lacking. Thus, thanksgiving is an important aspect in a revised theology.[62] A second aspect that must be considered is that of anamnēsis, a remembrance of Christ’s suffering, in which one participates. As the paschal Lamb, remembrance of Christ is the new covenant equivalent of the Passover feast. This feast, Calvin argues, is a gift from God and sustains and nourishes us, but it is something we are literally partaking in. We are nourished by being reminded of our unification with Christ. The Spirit, as both Calvin and many contemporary theologians argue, makes the Supper efficacious, who lifts us up to Christ and presents us to the Father. Regarding Christ’s physical body in heaven, Christ’s body should be explicitly recognized as post-resurrection and, thus, by feeding spiritually on him we are receiving the blessings, now, of the eschatological Kingdom of God and of Christ, to whom we are unified.[63]


As can be seen by the proposed revision above, the major re-evaluation of Calvin’s doctrine involves the Trinity and the roles of the persons therein. In sum, this essay argues the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, heavily influenced by Calvin’s doctrine and recent Trinitarian thought, should be understood as a christocentric, pneumatological, eucharistic and celebratory remembrance of Christ as the paschal Lamb of God, in whom we are unified and in whose death and resurrection we participate. For the Supper to be lacking in any of these areas is to do it an injustice. In being christocentric, we recognize Christ’s centrality at the Supper and our unity with Christ; in being pneumatological, we recognize the efficacious work of the Spirit, who draws us to Christ; in being eucharistic and celebratory, we offer thanks and praise to the Father for his nourishing and sustaining grace, and for sending his Son. The Supper is fully Trinitarian in nature, a fact which Calvin does not make explicit but is implicitly presupposed in his doctrine of the Supper. Recent thought has revealed the necessity of the Trinitarian nature of the Supper to be made explicit for a more comprehensive understanding of it. As Torrance comments, “Just as the whole undivided Trinity was involved in redemption so the whole undivided Trinity is worshipped in our celebration of the Eucharist.”[64]


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Gerrish, B. A. Grace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.)

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Gunton, Colin E. Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Toward a Fully Trinitarian Theology. (London: T & T Clark Ltd., 2003.)

Haight, Roger. Ecclesial Existence: Christian Community in History. (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2008.)

Hart, Trevor. “Calvin and Barth on the Lord’s Supper.” In Calvin, Barth, and Reformed Theology, edited by Carl Trueman Neil B. MacDonald. (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008.)

Hesselink, I. John. “Calvin’s Theology.” In The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, edited by Donald K. McKim. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.)

Kasper, Walter. Theology and Church. (London: SCM Press, 1989.)

MacArthur, John. The Macarthur New Testament Commentary. (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.)

McClean, John. “Calvin on the Supper: Puzzling and Proactive.” In Engaging with Calvin: Aspects of the Reformer’s Legacy for Today, edited by Mark D. Thompson. (Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 2009.)

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. 5th Edition ed. (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.)

Ngien, Dennis. Gifted Response: The Triune God as the Causative Agency of Our Responsive Worship. (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008.)

Oulton, J. E. L. Holy Communion and Holy Spirit: A Study in Doctrinal Relationship. (London: S. P. C. K. , 1954.)

Ray E. Ciampa, Brian S. Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.)

Reymond, Robert L. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc. , 1998.)

Sampley, J. Paul. “The First Letter to the Corinthians.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians, edited by Leander E. Keck et al., 10. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002.)

Selderhuis, Herman J. The Calvin Handbook. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.)

Smith, Gordon T. “The Sacraments and the Embodiment of Our Trinitarian Faith.” In Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship, edited by David Lanber Daniel J. Treier. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.)

Thiselton, Anthony C. The Hermeneutics of Doctrine. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.)

Torrance, James B. Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1996.)

Torrance, Thomas F. The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Ltd., 1996.)

Tylenda, Joseph N. “A Eucharistic Sacrifice in Calvin’s Theology?” Theological Studies 37, no. 3 (1976): 456-466.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans., Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989).

[2] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th Edition ed. (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).419

[3] Ibid. 420.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994). 532. This is based on a very literal interpretation of Mark 14:22, 24; Matt. 26:26-28; Luke 22:19-20.

[5] W. Robert Godfrey, “Calvin, Worship, and the Sacraments,” in A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes, ed. Peter A. Lillback David W. Hall(New Jersey: P & R Publishing Company, 2008). 372.

[6] I. John Hesselink, “Calvin’s Theology,” in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, ed. Donald K. McKim(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004). 87.

[7] ‘Ubiquity’ is the Lutheran term to describe the way in which Christ, in his humanity, shares in the divine attribute of omnipresence, and thus, in his physicality, can be everywhere. (Godfrey. 382.)

[8] Ibid. 383. Calvin responds to consubstantiation: “They insist, then, that the body of Christ is invisible and immense, so that it may be hid under bread, because they think that there is no other way by which they can communicate with him than by his descending into the bread, though they do not comprehend the mode of descent by which he raises us up to himself,” and “they insist on the local presence of Christ. How so? Because they cannot conceive any other participation of flesh and blood that that which consists either in local conjunction and contact, or in some gross method of enclosing.” Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.16.

[9] Godfrey. 372.

[10] Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.36.

Furthermore, Calvin labels transubstantiation as superstition (4.17.12) and Hart notes that Calvin believed transubstantiation “robs the bread of its integrity as bread, confuses the two realities within the signifying relation with one another, and effectively denies the need for faith (since Christ is de facto present as the bread and wine which are physically consumed).” (Trevor Hart, “Calvin and Barth on the Lord’s Supper,” in Calvin, Barth, and Reformed Theology, ed. Carl Trueman Neil B. MacDonald(Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008). 41). Cf. Institutes 4.17.33.

[11] Ernest Bartels, Take Eat, Take Drink: The Lord’s Supper through the Centuries (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004). 166.

[12] Herman J. Selderhuis, The Calvin Handbook (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009). 351. Cf. Institutes 4.17.26-29, 33.

[13] Hesselink. 87.

[14] Hart. 43. Rom. 8:34 places Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension in the same category, and thus can be understood as a physical death, physical resurrection, and physical ascension. Also, 1 Cor. 15:20-28; John 3:13, 16:5-7; Hebrews 4:14, 8:1.

[15] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc. , 1998). 962. Cf. Institutes 4.17.9, 10. John 6:51-58 recounts Jesus declaring that in order to have eternal life, one must “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” (v.53). Furthermore, John 15:26 and 16:13 state that it is the Spirit who testifies on our behalf before the Father and who guides us into truth and, thus, to the Father. Therefore, seeing that it is the Father who gives eternal life through Christ (John 3:16) and it is the Spirit who unifies us to Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) and guides us to the Father, the source of eternal life, we must acknowledge – with Calvin – that it is by Spirit that the Supper becomes efficacious.

[16] Calvin. Institutes. 4.14.7.

[17] Hart. 40.

[18] Calvin. Institutes. 4.14.7; 4.17.2. Cf. Godfrey. 375-77.

[19] Calvin. Institutes. 2.12.1.

[20] Hart. 39.

[21] John McClean, “Calvin on the Supper: Puzzling and Proactive,” in Engaging with Calvin: Aspects of the Reformer’s Legacy for Today, ed. Mark D. Thompson(Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 2009). 210 – 211. He further states, “Christ’s physical absence from Earth is due to his physical presence in heaven,” (p. 212). Cf. Institutes, 2.16.14.

[22] B. A. Gerrish, Grace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993). 137-38. According to Gerrish, Calvin “held that the Holy Spirit is the bond of union between the worshipper and the true, life-giving flesh of Christ…the sacraments are strictly the Spirit’s means or instruments: where the Spirit is absent, the sacraments achieve no more than the sun shining on blind eyes,” (p. 138). Furthermore, Selderhuis states that “the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the elements effected by the Holy Spirit is an actual or true presence of his person.” (Selderhuis. 351).

[23] Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.26.

[24] Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.31. Furthermore, Ngien states, “The ‘perichoretic’ unity of the Son and Spirit in the same Godhead accentuates the central role of the Spirit as the efficacy of God’s action in Christ, rendering tangible and real the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper…By the Spirit, our faith recognizes that in the mystery of the Supper, Christ is truly present through the symbols by which our souls are fed elegantly, and that the power of his vicarious obedience in obtaining righteousness for us is truly felt by us,” (Dennis Ngien, Gifted Response: The Triune God as the Causative Agency of Our Responsive Worship (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008). 165-66.

[25] Calvin. Institutes. 3.1.2-4. McClean argues that “for Calvin, a union with the body of Christ comes about through the indwelling of the Spirit and the response of faith,” and “this union…is a union with the whole Christ, particularly with the ascended, incarnate Christ,” (p. 217-18).

[26] Gerrish. 60.

[27] Ibid. 377.

[28] Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.1. John 3:16 tells us that God the Father sent the Son to bring us eternal life, and John 6 tells us that only those who feed upon the Son’s body and blood can have access to eternal life. Hence, God the Father has given us this spiritual feast.

[29] Ibid. 4.17.1.

[30] John Calvin, “Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper,” in The Library of Christian Classics: Calvin: Theological Treatises, ed. et al. John Baillie(London: SCM Press Ltd., 1954). 144-45.

[31] While Calvin does not explicitly list biblical reference to his argument, this theology could be argued based on John 14:15-18 (with a focus on the word another, implying one who will act similarly to Christ, even one who represents Christ), and Romans 5:5.

[32] Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.19.

[33] Herman Bavinck, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper,” Mid-America Journal of Theology 19, no. (2008). 131. Cf. Calvin. Institutes. 4.17.19.

[34] Ibid. 132.

[35] Calvin. Institutes. Book 4. Also, Calvin. Short Treatise. 143-45.

[36] Selderhuis. 245-57.

[37] Gordon T. Smith, “The Sacraments and the Embodiment of Our Trinitarian Faith,” in Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship, ed. David Lanber Daniel J. Treier(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009). 185.

[38] Ibid. 186. He goes on to state of the sacraments, the Lord’s Supper particularly, “We need to affirm that God remains sovereign (as Karl Barth insisted) and so is not constrained by the sacraments, which are located within the church but not owned by the church. Hence, the church together responds in thanksgiving to God as the summit of our common life in Christ. But more, this act of response is not merely with an idea that we have; it is not purely cerebral – something we are remembering or recalling, or even a principle with which we are identifying (such as the cross) – but rather, it is a real-time encounter with the living Christ, crucified, risen and ascended, and therefore it is necessarily salvific. We can only speak this way, however, if we enter our celebration of these sacred acts with a consciousness of their Trinitarian character,” (p. 187).

[39] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Ltd., 1996). 256. Walter Kasper, Theology and Church (London: SCM Press, 1989). 194.

[40] Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007). 525.

[41] Roger Haight, Ecclesial Existence: Christian Community in History (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2008). 211.

[42] In all things, the Spirit is the one who initiates. In Luke 9:1-2, Christ gives the disciples the authority of the Holy Spirit to drive out demons, etc. Hence, it is only through the Spirit that these things can be done, and in Luke 24:49, Jesus commands the disciples to wait for the Spirit. Paul writes that the Spirit enables a true confession of Christ as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), is the seal of our salvation (Eph. 1:13-14) and assures us of our future glorification with Christ (Rom. 5:1-11). John 16:8-13 tells us that the Spirit convicts us of sin and shall lead us toward truth. Eph. 2:8 tells us that “it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” and God’s grace and love have been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).  Hence, our participation in Christ is initiated in our lives by the work of the Holy Spirit, and not ourselves.

[43] James B. Torrance, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1996). 75. Cf. Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10.

[44] Smith. 188.

[45] Kasper. 184.

[46] J. Paul Sampley, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians, ed. Leander E. Keck et al.(Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002). 935. Also, Brian S. Rosner Ray E. Ciampa, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010). 551. Sampley states, “What is involved in “remembering” in Israel’s traditions may be seen, for example, in Deut 26:5-11, where the narrative begins as a story told in the third person…and then shifts to the second-person plural “us”…The old story becomes the teller’s story; liturgy unites the old story with current worshipers’ story. What happened back then is retold to incorporate the new tellers and hearers as a part of the narrative, as participants in the old and ongoing story. So it is with Paul’s understanding of the Lord’s supper,” (p. 935).

[47] Kasper. 186.

[48] J. E. L. Oulton, Holy Communion and Holy Spirit: A Study in Doctrinal Relationship (London: S. P. C. K. , 1954). 19. Also, Edmund P. Clowney, The Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995). 276. Clowney notes that “the sacraments are a word of divine power, given in visible form…receiving does not create the blessing of Christ’s presence, but accepts it, all through the Holy Spirit,” (p. 276).

[49] Colin E. Gunton, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Toward a Fully Trinitarian Theology (London: T & T Clark Ltd., 2003). Gunton quotes Jenson of saying that “all life belongs intimately to God, so that the killing involved in eating – which we do not at all avoid by eating vegetables – is an intrusion into his domain…Sharing a meal is therefore always a communal act of worship.” (p. 222). This might well be eisegesis, limiting the distinction between the Lord’s Supper and any other supper, but the emphasis on the importance of recognition of worshipping the triune God – the Father who initiated, the Son who by, through and for, creation came about, and the Spirit who made creation efficacious – is well placed.

[50] Clowney. 286. 1 Cor. 11:26.

[51] Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons. 255. Cf. John 1:29.

[52] Kasper. 180.

[53] Ray E. Ciampa. 550. He further notes that “Jesus’ statement that we are to partake of the Lord’s Supper in his remembrance reflects the nature of the Passover as a “memorial” (Exod. 12:14) during which the Israelites were to remember the day of their exodus redemption (Deut. 16:3). Each Jewish father (including those who lived generations and centuries after the fact) was to explain to his son that he celebrated the Passover Seder the way he did “because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt” (m. Pesahim 10:5). This background suggests that the act of remembrance entailed profound meditation upon and proclamation of that which was remembered,” (p. 551).

[54] John MacArthur, The Macarthur New Testament Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007). 497. Emphasis mine.

[55] Cf. Sampley. 934.

[56] We should not stress, however, the role of the Father in order to make an entirely Trinitarian theology of the Supper. The Father is involved and must be recognized as having an important role in the Supper, but the biblical accounts, along with Calvin and contemporary theologians, place the emphasis on Christ.

[57] Reymond. Cf. Selderhuis. 351-52.

[58] Joseph N. Tylenda, “A Eucharistic Sacrifice in Calvin’s Theology?,” Theological Studies 37, no. 3 (1976). 457-58. Cf. Calvin. Institutes. 4. 18. Cf. Hebrews 10:12.

[59] Ibid. 458. Cf. Hebrews 13:15.

[60] Reymond. 963.

[61] John 20 reveals Jesus’ physical resurrected body to be different, in fact Mary barely recognized him at first. He could eat just as before but he could walk through walls and even disappear at any point (Luke 24). Jesus’ new, post-resurrection body is the same as that which Paul refers to in 1 Cor. 15. It is imperishable (vv.41-42), glorious (v.42), spiritual and from heaven (vv.44, 47), immortal (v.53) and victorious (v.57).

[62] As can be seen by the use of eucharistō in both Matthew and Luke’s discussion on the Supper.

[63] To continue this eschatological motif, Luke 22:16 tells us that the Lord’s Supper is a sign of the eschatological banquet to come, as mentioned in Isaiah 25:6, 1 Cor. 11:26 and Rev. 2:7, 19:9.

[64] Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons. 256.

John Translation

JOHN 3:1-10
1. And there was a person from the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2. This man came to him at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one is able to do these signs which you are doing, if God is not with him.” 3. Jesus replied and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone is not born from above, he is not able to see the Kingdom of God.” 4. Nicodemus said to him, “How is a person able to be born again, being an old man? Is he not able to enter the womb of his mother a second time and be born again?” 5. Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if someone is not born from water and spirit, he is not able to enter the Kingdom of God. 6. What has born from flesh is flesh, and what has born from spirit is spirit. 7. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘you must be born from above.’ 8. The wind blows where it wants and you hear its noise, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going. This is the same for the one who is born from spirit.” 9. Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can these things be?” 10. Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not know these things?”
1. And there was a man, a Pharisee and authority in the Sanhedrin, named Nicodemus. 2. This man came to Jesus by the cover of night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come directly from God, for no one can perform the miracles that you are performing, unless God is with him. 3. Jesus replied by saying to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you: no one who is not begotten from above and from God can see or participate in the Kingdom of God.” 4. Nicodemus asked him, “How could a grown man possibly be born again? How is it possible for him to enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born again?” 5. Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you: unless someone is begotten from water and Spirit, and is spiritually renewed, he will enter the Kingdom of God, 6. for what has been born from flesh remains merely flesh, but what has been born Spirit remains Spirit. 7. Do not be astonished when I tell you that you must be begotten from above. 8. As the wind blows wherever it wants and, despite not knowing where it comes from or where it is going, you hear it and see its effects, so you hear and see the effects of those who are begotten from Spirit.” 9. Nicodemus responded by asking, “How can this be possible?” 10. Jesus answered, “How is possible that despite you being the teacher of Israel you do not know these things?”

JOHN 6:60-71
60. Then, after many of his disciples heard this, they said, “This word is hard, who is able to understand?” 61. But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, “Does this offend you? 62. Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63. It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is not helpful at all. The words that I have said to you are spirit and life. 64. But there are some from you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who were the ones who did not believe and who was the one who would betray him. 65. And he said, “Therefore, I have told you this, that no one is able to come to me if they have not been given from the Father.” 66. Because of this, many from his disciples turned back and no longer went with him. 67. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you not also want to leave?” 68. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom will we follow? You have words of eternal life, 69. and we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70. Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet of you one is a devil.” 71. He was speaking about Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, for he was going to give him up, even though he was one of the twelve.
60. Then, after many of his disciples heard this, they asked, “Who could possibly be able to accept this difficult teaching?” 61. But Jesus, knowing within himself that his disciples were discontent and were complaining about this, he asked them, “Are you insulted by what I say and cannot understand it? 62. Therefore will you not be even more insulted when the Son of Man is ascending to where he was before? 63. For it is the Spirit that gives life, while weak humanity is not at all helpful. 64. Yet amongst you there are still some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the very beginning who did not believe, and who would be the one to betray him, 65. and said, “Therefore, I have told you this – that no one can come to me unless the Father has presented them to me.” 66. Because of what Jesus said, many of his disciples turned away, departing from him, no longer to follow him anymore. 67. Jesus then said to the twelve, “Do you not also want to leave me?” 68. But Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, where else could we go, and who else could we follow? You have words of eternal life, 69. and we have come to believe and know for sure that you are the Holy One of God.” 70. However, Jesus responded to them by saying, “Was it not I who chose you twelve to know such things? Yet one of you is a devil.” 71. He was speaking about Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, for Judas, despite being one of the chosen twelve, was going to give him up.

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