Category Archives: discipleship

Exploring the Gospel of John: 16


By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

Note:  This entry completes the series.  There are no notes for the remainder of the Gospel of John.

“Farewell . . . For Now” (IV)

John 16:4b-33

  1.  16:4b-15:

This section returns to two previous themes:  Jesus’ return to the Father (13:1) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26-27).  The phrase, “these things,” of 16:4b, seems to refer to the warning about persecution and about the role of the Spirit. “This hour” brings an imperative to instruct the disciples.  Jesus acknowledges the impact that “this hour” has had on the disciples; sorrow fills them  (16:6).  Yet, he also reminds them that it is to their advantage that he is going away:  His departure is not a tragic accident but is part of the plan of God.  Jesus has gone to prepare a place for the disciples and promises that they will be with him (14:1-4).  He tells them that his work of revealing the Father will continue in them (14:12-14) and that he and the Father will come to dwell with them (14:15-21).

Jesus now makes very explicit the fact that the coming of the Spirit will be another fruit of his “departure.” (Note 14:18.)   In the references to the Holy Spirit thus far, it is clear that the Spirit will enable the disciples to carry on Jesus’ witness.  As the Greek name for the Holy Spirit, paraklatos, suggests, however, the nature of this witness is both positive and negative.   Just as Jesus’ witness has had an accusatory dimension, so will that of the paraklatos.  Because of the Holy Spirit, the witness of the disciples will have a prosecuting dimension:  They will be pointing out what is wrong with the world.  The language here is juridical in nature.  The Spirit will secure convictions against the world on three counts:

First, the Spirit will convict the world sin — the sin of unbelief.

Second, the Spirit will convict the world for the wrong judgment it made about Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will make it clear that the world’s verdict on Jesus was wrong and that God has reversed the verdict.

Third, the Spirit will convict the world because He will convict the ruler of the world.  (Note 12:31 and 16:11.)  The witness of the Spirit results in a reversal of values and undermines the world’s basic assumptions.  But this witness of the Spirit, against the world, is ultimately for the world, as the Spirit-nourished witness of the disciples anticipates the final judgment.

16:12-15 returns to the theme of the Spirit’s work.   Because the disciples cannot receive all that Jesus wishes to impart to them, the Spirit will come to “guide you into all the truth” (16:13).  Here, the word “truth” is not an idea or a set of ideas but is Jesus himself (14:6).  Like Jesus, the Spirit will not speak on his own authority but on that of the Father and, just as Jesus has glorified the Father, so the Spirit will glorify Jesus.   Once again, it is clear that the Spirit does not impart random and independent revelations but gives to the disciples what Jesus has given to him (16:15).

(2) 16: 16-24:

This section continues the theme that emphasizes Jesus’ going away as a good thing but without reference to the Holy Spirit.   Jesus’ going to the Father (16:17) means that his disciples will not see him for a time but then, later, they will see him.  The disciples will see him after the resurrection and this will have a decisive effect upon them.  It is clear that the disciples themselves have not grasped this important point (16:17).  Having failed to grasp this point, they are also unable to understand the promise that Jesus leaves with them:  “your sorrow will turn into joy” (16:20).  The resurrection will bring about a great reversal.  The metaphor in 16:21 is important and Isaiah 26:16-21; 66:7-17 provides the metaphor:  It describes the travail of Israel which, when Israel passes through it, leads to salvation.  In contrast to the present moment, there will come a time, after the resurrection, in which the burden of the lack of understanding of the disciples will lift (16:23):  They will understand the reversal that God has brought about and what it means for Jesus to return to the Father.   And because of their intimate relationship with Jesus, the Father will grant to the disciples his assistance, in carrying on Jesus’ witness (16:23).

(3) 16:25-33:

16:25  probably refers back to texts like 14:25-26 and, thus, to the work of the Spirit.   After the passing of  “this hour,” the Spirit will interpret for the disciples what has happened and what these events mean.  A summary of this interpretation follows, in 16:26-28:  The clear implication is that this Gospel is the fruit of the interpretive work of the Spirit:  It was imperative  for the Spirit to undertake this work before the writing of this text.  (Note 20:31.)  The understanding to come stands in stark contrast with current incomprehension, as 16:29-30 expresses.  As Jesus’ question in 16:31 implies, the disciples do not yet really believe and will manifest this unbelief, when they scatter and  when they “will leave me alone.”  In fleeing from arrest, in abandoning Jesus, the disciples do not show that they have lost their faith — for they do not yet actually possess it:  This faith comes later.  Even in his state of abandonment, however, Jesus is not alone, “for the Father is with me” (16:32).  The final statement of this whole discourse in 16:33 summarizes the whole in that, ironically, Jesus’ departure will be the foundation of the disciples’ peace — a peace that is not merely a subjective feeling.  It is precisely Jesus’ victory, his return to the Father, which establishes the victory of God.  The disciples, through the Spirit, will know that Jesus has overcome the world and this reality will be the foundation of an eschatological peace — a peace that will be present, even in the midst of persecution.

Questions for Reflection

(1) In what ways does the Holy Spirit bear witness to Jesus today? How do we discern this witness?

(2) In what ways does Jesus’ victory over the world give us peace? What are some ways in which we can live more fully into this peace?

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Exploring the Gospel of John: 15


By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

Farewell . . . For Now (III)

John 15:1-27

(1) 15:1-17:

(a) 15:1-11:

Jesus identifies himself as the vine and the Father as the vinedresser.  This identification draws upon an important image from the Old Testament:  the image of Israel as God’s vineyard or God’s vine (Isaiah 5:1-7; 27:2-6; Psalm 80:8-19; Jeremiah 2:21; 6:9; 8:13; 12.10).  Identifying Israel as the vineyard or vine automatically identifies God as the vineyard owner or the one who cultivates the vines.  By so identifying himself, Jesus makes it clear that he is the true representative of Israel.  This identification also means that it is Jesus who establishes the connection between the vine’s branches (Jesus’ disciples) and the vinedresser (God).

15:2 introduces two important themes, with respect to God’s relation to his people:

The first theme is judgment upon the vine branches that bear no fruit: fruitfulness is clearly a criterion of God’s judgment, in that God expects his people to bear fruit.

The second follows on the first:  God not only removes the unfruitful branches but he also prunes the fruitful branches to make them even more fruitful; the importance of fruitfulness is again emphasized.  “Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (15:3).  The theme of being clean first appeared in 13:10, where Jesus pronounces that the disciples are clean (with the exception of Judas).  What Jesus seems to mean is that his teaching has cleansed the disciples and has placed them in a relationship with him, so as to enable them to bear fruit.  There is no question here of the disciples having some kind of “independence” from Jesus, as if their cleansing was a one-time event, which then enabled them to do things on their own.  The language of “abiding” completely undercuts all thought of independence and demands fruitfulness.  “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” (15:4)

What the language offers here is something of an equation, which offends modern ears:  complete dependence upon Jesus = fruitfulness.  It is important to notice that the vine / vinedresser imagery is a perfect way of restating the theme of Chapter 14:  that Jesus’ work of bearing witness to the Father will continue in the disciples.  The “work” of the vine is carried out in its branches, the bearing of “fruit” (grapes).  Lest there be any doubt about this, we have the blunt admonition that “apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5).  The theme of judgment on unfruitful branches, first hinted at in 15:2, returns in a way that is unmistakable, in 15:6.  This imagery, too, has its source in the Old Testament (note particularly Ezekiel 15).

15:7 returns to the theme of prayer, which 14.3 first introduced, but makes more clear the link between obedience and answered prayer:  “If you abide in me . . .” clearly refers to obedience to Jesus’ teaching, as 15.10 makes clear.   Note the balance between “keeping my commandments” and “abiding in my love” and Jesus’ keeping of his Father’s commandments and abiding in his Father’s love.  The point is that if Jesus had not been obedient to the Father’s mission and had, finally, avoided the cross, there would be no grounds to say that the Son loves the Father.   Likewise, obedience to the Son is the emblem of abiding in his love.  The mission of the disciples and the mission of Jesus parallel each other, in that the fruitfulness of the disciples’ mission glorifies the Father, just as the fruitfulness of Jesus’ mission does the same thing (15:8).  But this obedience and fruitfulness is not a joyless burden — because Jesus will bring to the disciples the same love that he has from his Father (15:9).  It is precisely by “abiding” in the vine that the disciples will experience a joy that is “full” (15:11).

(b) 15:12-17:

15:12 essentially repeats 13:34.  Once again, the readers understand that central characteristic of the Church is the willingness of Jesus’ followers to embody the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.  Their love is rooted in his.  The richness of Jesus’ love, mentioned in 15:13, is explicated in 15:15.  While Jesus is their superior, he has made the disciples into his friends; they are no longer simply servants who follow instructions simply because they come from the superior.  Rather than simply following instructions, the disciples are to know what Jesus’ intentions are.  Jesus has not kept aside some “secret knowledge” for himself that he is keeping from the disciples but “all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (15:15).  15:16 emphasizes the experience of Israel:  that it is God who calls the disciples; it is God’s prior action which creates Israel and then the Church, neither of which is a volunteer organization.  While God calls the disciples to bear fruit, their fruit bearing is dependant upon their continuing relationship to Jesus and upon the fact that it is his intention and purpose: what is involved here is more than human religiosity and effectiveness.

(2) 15:18-16:4:

The “world” which hates Jesus is not simply everything around us.  John uses “world” (kosmos) in a very strict sense to mean “those structures and orders of creation that are opposed to God.”   Another sign of the disciples’ conformity to Jesus’ mission (in addition to self sacrificial love) is the response of the world’s hatred.  The theme of calling re-emerges here (see 15:16):  “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (15:19).  Notice that this calls for a shift in thinking.  When they experience the ill-will of the world, the disciples are not to wonder about their “effectiveness” but to be aware that this is a sign of their conformity to Jesus’ mission.  The disciples must live in a situation in which the response to their word is just as mixed as the response to Jesus’ word.  The disciples (10:20) should expect both persecution and obedience. The disciples will face opposition but they will not take it personally, since they will face opposition for the very same reason that Jesus faced opposition: “because they do not know him who sent me.” (15:20)

Because the disciples carry on Jesus’ mission, with Jesus in their midst, the rejection of them is a rejection of the one who sent them:  “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me” (13:20).  The same principle applies to rejection: “Whoever hates me hates my Father also” (15:23).  15:24 represents the negative aspect of Jesus’ ministry.  He has come primarily to do the Father’s works but for those who reject what he does, judgment has occurred because to reject the one sent by the Father is to reject the Father and, thus, to hate him.  Jesus’ witness makes sin impossible to cover up or ignore.

The phrase “they hated me without cause” (15:25) is from the Greek version of Psalms 35:19 and 69:4.  The purpose of this citation is to show that the rejection of Jesus is part of the will of the Father, though this in no way diminishes the culpability of those who reject him.  We should not view the human rejection of Jesus as indicating the divine rejection of Jesus — only that such a rejection by Israel was foreseen.

In 15:26-27, we return to the theme of the Holy Spirit, already mentioned in 14:15-17, 25-26.  Once again, the Spirit is connected to the witness of the Church.  In accord with Deuteronomy 17:6, which requires two witnesses to establish something, there will be two witnesses to Jesus: the disciples and the Spirit.  It is the Spirit who enables the Church to bear a fruitful witness, even with the hatred of the world directed against it.

The final sub-section of this section, 16:1-4, makes it clear why the disciples are being told all this.  This discourse is aimed at preparing the disciples so that, in the fact of persecution and hostility, they will not fall away into apostasy.

Questions for Reflection

(1)  Are Christians persecuted in any way in our culture?  Have you ever had to deal with persecution?

(2)  In what ways can we manifest joy, even in the midst of difficulty?

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Exploring the Gospel of John: 14


By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]


Farewell . . . For Now (II)

John 14:1-31

1.  Readers will find the heart of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” (13:31-16:33) in 14:28, which states:  “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father.”  The subject is Jesus’ future and his future secures the future of the disciples.  Because Jesus’ future is completely secure, so is that of the disciples.  Three successive questions, each from a different disciple, punctuate this section of the discourse.   Each of the three questions provides Jesus with the opportunity to develop the theme of why his physical departure is a good thing.

2.  14:1-7: 14:1 sets the theme for this section:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and “Believe in God; believe also in me” are directly related.   Belief in God is also belief in Jesus and this belief makes it possible for the disciples to face “this hour” untroubled.  Jesus’ departure is good because this means that he has prepared a way to “my Father’s house” (14:2), a phrase that refers to the afterlife.  Jesus is departing to return to God and this return prepares a way for his followers.  Note that Jesus has answered Peter’s question of 13:36.  Jesus’ coming again and taking the disciples to himself (14:3) is apocalyptic language (see I Thessalonians 4:15-17) and refers not to the immediate consequences of Jesus’ death but to the ultimate consequences.   Jesus gives to the disciples the assurance that, although he is physically departing, he will come to them and gather them to himself.  Thomas’ question about the way to the Father allows Jesus to make an important declaration: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6).  The immediate context of this claim is Jewish convictions about Torah being the way to God (cf. Psalm 119:30). The force of this declaration is that Jesus is God’s way to himself, since the Son is the Father’s own Word, revelation, and life giving power.   The Son does not merely communicate accurate information about the Father but grants the power, to those who believe in him, to become children of God (1:12).  The claim, which the Son makes, that he is the only way to the Father, is not an arbitrary one.  He bases it upon the very identity of the Son.  To know the Son is to know the Father (14:7) because the Son shares all that the Father is and knows him completely.

3.  14:8-14:  Phillip’s request, to “show us the Father” (14:8) allows Jesus to again emphasize an important point:  “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9) makes the nature of the Son’s mission clear: The Son introduces people to genuine knowledge of the Father and a living relationship with him.  Through his signs and, finally, through his death and resurrection, the Son reveals the Father’s glory and character.  In the Son, the Father displays himself.   The life of the Son is perfectly transparent to the Father, making it clear that “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (14:10) and that “the Father who dwells in me does his works” (14:10).  God gives this revelation – not for the purpose of allowing people to enter into a state of private religious bliss or enlightenment — but to put them into the Father’s service.  Jesus’ “departure” will enable Jesus’ mission of bearing witness to the Father to continue through the disciples: “ . . . whoever believes in me will also do the works I do; and greater works than these ill he do, because I am going to the Father” (14:12).  The works of the disciples will be “greater” — not in the sense of being more important or astounding — but in the sense of [a greater] extent (in the sense of Acts 1:8).  The ministry that Jesus undertook, of revealing the Father, will not come to an end with his death or resurrection.   It is in this light that we need to read 14:13-14.  Jesus is not promising to grant the disciples their every wish.   The promise of answered prayer presupposes that disciples are being incorporated into Jesus’ mission, in the same way in which he was – completely and self-sacrificially.   It will be the Church’s life of prayer, emphasizing her complete dependence upon the Son, that will sustain the Church in her mission of carrying out Jesus’ mission.  Here, we get the basic understanding of what the Church is, in terms of her fundamental reality:  a community united to Christ and in Christ, sent and sustained to continue the witness of Jesus — a witness to the world and against the world.

4. 14:15-31: This section introduces the crucial subject of the Holy Spirit.  Note that 14:15 connects love with obedience:  Love, here, is not a sentiment but an act of obedient service.  The “commandments” in view are to wash one another’s feet (13:14-15) and to believe in Jesus (14:1).

There can be no claim to love Jesus, apart from obedience.  It is important to notice that Jesus identifies the Holy Spirit in 14:16 as “another paraklatos.”  This implies that we are to also consider Jesus to be a paraklatos, an Advocate or Helper (in the sense that the Old Testament refers to God as the helper of Israel).  Jesus’ role has been to bear witness for God and to bear witness against the world.

It is through the Holy Spirit in the Church that this witness will continue.  14:16-17 and 14:25-26 make it clear that the Church is a creation of the Trinity, created by the Father in the Son and through the Holy Spirit and indwelt by the Trinity; through the Spirit, the Father and the Son come to indwell the Church (14:23).  While the Spirit is clearly distinct from the Son, his principle ministry is to bear witness to the Son, “to teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (14:26). What seems to be ruled out here is the notion that the Spirit will make available “new revelations” which go beyond what the Son has disclosed or revealed.   If the Father bears witness to himself, in the person of the Son, then the Father bears witness to his own witness to himself in the person of the Spirit.  By referring to both the Son and the Spirit, using the term paraklatos, this draws our attention to two distinct ways in which God accomplishes his one work.   It is precisely the presence of the Spirit, who will grant peace to the Church.  This peace is not like the world’s peace, given conditionally and as the product of compromise, but the Spirit gives peace completely and unconditionally and we acquire [receive] it, not by getting things, but by complete self-surrender to Jesus’ mission.   It is Jesus’ own peace, which is not peace in the absence of difficulty, but peace in the very presence of difficulty, suffering, and anguish.  While the ultimate consequence of Jesus’ departure will be that the disciples (and those who follow them) enter into eternal fellowship with God, the immediate consequence will be that they will see him and know that he will not leave them.  (14:18-19).

Questions for Reflection

(1) Why does it seem that we misunderstand the Holy Spirit?  How does this section of John correct misunderstandings or deepen your understanding of the Spirit?

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Exploring the Gospel of John: 13


By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

New words:  Click here for definitions:  prolepsisforeshadowingprolepsis

“Farewell . . . For Now” (I)

John 13:1-38

I. Setting an Example: 13:1-20

1.  The purpose of John 13-16 is to prepare the disciples for Jesus’ departure and the aftermath of this departure. As becomes clear, as the discourse moves along, Jesus’ departure is not a departure at all — but is a radicalization of his presence.

2.  It is clear that Jesus knows his destiny — that “his hour had come” (13:1; 12:23).  For Jesus, the crucifixion will mean not simply death but [will mean] a return to the Father.  His death on the cross consummates his obedience to the Father and his love for the world.   Jesus will now demonstrate proleptically the meaning of his death — the fact that “he loved them to the end” (13:1).

3.  The cause of Jesus’ departure is twofold:  Ultimately, its cause is the will of the Father and the concurring will of the Son.  Proximately, it is the devices of the devil (13:2), worked out in human instruments (Judas).  13:3 is the interpretive key to understanding the washing of the disciples’ feet:  This verse makes Jesus’ identity clear:  he is from God and is returning to God and God has placed all things into Jesus’ hands.  Jesus is, if fact, the Father’s personal action in human history:  The One who created water is going to [now] wash the disciples’ feet.

4.  The washing of the disciples’ feet is not simply an act of humility or an attempt of Jesus to identify with the “common man.”  Jesus removes all his clothing, except for a loincloth, which foreshadows the removal of his clothes, for the purpose of flogging and crucifixion.  (The Romans usually crucified their victims naked).  Foot washing was an act of hospitality in the ancient world:  it was a task given to slaves or to servants of the lowest standing.  It was the iconic form of menial service because it involved not only the washing of dirt from the feet of guests but also [involved] the washing of human and animal excrement, which found its way into the streets and sewers – [those two things being “pretty much” the same things.]

In this case, foot washing is an enacted parable of the Cross — a parable which Philippians 2:6-11 describes.

5.  Peter, who speaks for all the disciples, finds Jesus’ intentions incomprehensible.  For Peter (13:6) those in positions of superiority, like Jesus, do not wash feet:  “Lord” and “washing feet” do not belong in the same sentence.  Jesus makes it clear (13:7) that Peter cannot now understand the meaning of Jesus’ actions but such an understanding will come only “afterward.”  Peter’s refusal for Jesus to wash his feet (13:8) constitutes a clear rebuke to Jesus but Jesus responds:  “If I do not wash you, you have no share in me” (13:8).  “Share” here seems to mean “inheritance” or “participation.”  The refusal of the foot washing means a refusal of Jesus himself.  Accepting the foot washing is acceptance of the reversal of values it implies and such a reversal is necessary, in order to understand and accept Jesus’ death and its consequences.  Accepting this reversal is also necessary, in order to carry on Jesus’ mission in the world.

6.  In 13:12-14, Jesus provides an interpretation of his own acts:  Jesus underlines the incongruity between his status as Lord and his action of foot washing — that the Lord should engage in menial service.  Jesus says that this same pattern of action is to be the hallmark of the Church.  He calls upon the disciples to serve one another — reminding them that any relinquishment of status that they may have to make pales, in comparison, to the relinquishment of status that Jesus makes.

7.  13:15-17 makes it clear that Jesus has not merely commanded the washing of feet but [has commanded] also the imitation of the pattern that he himself has set (13:15).  The pattern of service that Jesus has set presupposes a radical inversion of values — an inversion that the disciples will have to accept and practice.  What Jesus has in mind is not simply the one act of foot washing but an entire set of practices which reflect his own pattern:  “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (13:17).   [Of course, Jesus has to qualify what he says, in order to account for Judas.]   In 13:18, Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9, to make the point that the betrayal of a close friend (one with whom one has broken bread) is a great cruelty.  One of his own, not the Sanhedrin, will betray Jesus.

8.  13:20 looks forward to the disciples’ mission, which is, of course, what the discourse about foot washing has been all about.  Just as Jesus has been sent from the Father and to receive him is to receive the Father, since “I and the Father are one” (10:30), so to receive the disciples is to receive Jesus himself and the Father.  This emphasizes the fact that the disciples (and the community gathered around them) are not simply independent agents but, are, rather, themselves an extension of Jesus’ mission.

II. Betrayal, Commandment and Denial: 13:21-38

1.  13:21-30:  The theme of Jesus’ sovereignty continues in this section:  he knows that an intimate is going to betray him and this fact further prevents people from seeing Jesus as a victim — an innocent man which an evil world has overtaken.  Significantly, the foreknowledge of betrayal does not render it easy to accept, as 13:21 makes clear.  Here, the text considers seriously the matter of Jesus’ humanity and his divinity.  All through the next several chapters, Jesus is simultaneously inside and outside the developing narrative -– he is both the one who has written the narrative and [he is also] one of the characters in the drama.  Just as the crucifixion of Jesus is not simply about the fate of an individual, so Judas’ decision to betray Jesus is not simply about an individual decision but is something larger: “Satan entered into him” (13:27; cf. 13:2).  Jesus’ death is not simply a function of the Sanhedrin’s desire to retain power or of Pilate’s desire to maintain Roman rule.  Notice that Jesus knows what Judas is about to do and does not attempt to dissuade him from doing it (13:27).  It is appropriate that Judas goes out into the night (13:30), to carry out his decision.

2.  13:31-38:  This section is the beginning of what we know as Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” because, in it, Jesus prepares the disciples for his departure.  The striking of the first note is the most important one:  Jesus’ crucifixion will not be a humiliation or a defeat but [will be] a glorification.  Emphasizing the reciprocal relationship between Father and Son, the Father will glorify the Son in his death and the Son will also glorify the Father.  The reputation and honor of God and that of the Son are finally inseparable.  The “new commandment” (13:34) is not actually “new” but is a re-phrasing of Leviticus 19:18 and Jesus presents this as his final wish for the Church.  The type of love that Jesus will demonstrate in his death will be the hallmark of Christian behavior.  Observers will recognize the community of Jesus by the quality of its life — as a continuous corporate image of Jesus.  Jesus emphasizes twice (13:33, 36) that his disciples cannot follow him.  This is because of the unique work he has to do and the unique destination he has:  he is going to the cross and to the Father and only after this has happened will it be possible to follow him:  “but you will follow afterward” (13:36).

Questions for Reflection

(1)  The washing of the disciples’ feet is an enacted parable of love, which is at the center of John’s understanding of God, Christ, and the Church.  Unfortunately, the Church has, in many ways, surrendered this understanding of love, in order to embrace a modern, individualistic, and therapeutic one — an understanding in which “love” means the non-judgmental acceptance of other people.  How can we recover the meaning of “love,” which Jesus demonstrates in this scene and which he enacted on the Cross?  Note Philippians 1:27-2:11.

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Exploring the Gospel of John: 12


By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

New word:  Click here for definitions:  prolepsisforeshadowingprolepsis

The Last Events of Jesus’ Public Ministry

John 12:1-50

I. The Proleptic Anointing of Jesus for Burial: 12:1-11

1. Six days before the Passover, Jesus returns to Bethany, the scene of the resurrection of Lazarus.  As we have learned (11:53), the latter event has sealed Jesus’ fate and this will be his final Passover.

2.  Mary’s action of anointing Jesus both foreshadows his death and displays the extravagant response that his self-offering calls forth.  Mary uses a huge quantity (almost a pound) of an expensive perfume to anoint Jesus.  The estimated value of this perfume is (12:5) about what an average person might earn in a year and Judas can, thus, denounce Mary’s action as a scandalous waste.  Underlining the extravagance of the act is the fact that Mary wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair.  Since Jews did not embalm their dead but rather anointed corpses with perfumes and spices, Mary effects a proleptic anointing of Jesus for burial (cf. John 19:38-42).  Mary has also proleptically kept Jesus’ final commandment that “you love one another as I have loved you” (15:12).

3.  While the text clearly labels Judas’ response to Mary’s action as hypocritical (12:6), the chief failure here is not mere dishonesty but a failure to understand the significance of what has just happened.  The devotion of Mary reflects an insight into the nature of Jesus’ departure — a departure for which Jesus will begin to prepare the disciples, in chapters 13-17.

4.  In 12:7, Jesus explicitly interprets Mary’s actions with reference to his burial. 12:8 has often been misinterpreted and taken to mean that care for the poor is not important. Actually, Jesus’ remark presupposes the continuing validity of Deuteronomy 15:11, which says that “there will never cease to be poor in the land,” which means that “you shall open wide your hand to . . . the needy and to the poor.”

5.  Jesus is under a sentence of death and now (12:10) Lazarus [also] comes under one, as well.  Ironically, it is his being brought back to life that is the cause of his death, since “on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (12:10). The possibility of Lazarus dying again serves to remind us that, while raised from the dead, he does not yet participate in the resurrection in its fullness, which is a resurrection to a life beyond death (cf. Romans 6:9).

II. Jesus’ Final Entry into Jerusalem: 12:12-19

1.  This scene confirms the decision of the Jewish leaders, in 11:53, and their decision to get rid of Lazarus, in 12:10-11.  In John, it is the raising of Lazarus that is the primary cause of Palm Sunday (though the actual day of Jesus’ arrival was probably Monday or Tuesday).

2.  John is the only gospel that mentions the use of palms to mark Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  Since the time of the Maccabees (who forced the Greeks out of the Temple and began the celebration of Hanukkah or the Feast of the Dedication), palms signified victory (cf. I Maccabees 13:51).  The welcome that Jesus receives is that of a national hero.  Psalm 118:6 provides the first part of the crowd’s acclamation:  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Hosanna!” (12:13 is simply a transliteration of the Hebrew: “Save us!”

3.  Jesus’ own actions make clear how he understands himself to be king.  Zechariah 9:9 provides the [slightly-altered] text for the citation, in 12:15.   In the larger context, the king mentioned here will not only restore Israel from exile but will also bring a reign of peace and justice to the whole world.

4.  12:6 makes it clear that the disciples did not understand the significance of this act, until after the resurrection.  That is to say, the disciples did not understand the nature of Jesus’ kingship, until after his death and resurrection, after which it was possible to see that the cross defined the kingship of Jesus.  This comment is an indication that John’s gospel is written [in a manner that] looks back at the events of Jesus’ life, as seen in the light of his glorification.

5.  In the other gospels, the cleansing of the Temple follows Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  In John, however, this has already happened (2:13-22).  Uniquely, John connects the entry into Jerusalem with the raising of Lazarus in that, apparently, some of those who witnessed the event were in Jerusalem, giving testimony, and this accounts for the presence of a crowd (2:18).

III. The Hour Has Come: 12:20-36

1.  In this section, Jesus announces, for the first time, that his hour has now come.  The moment to which his life has been directed is now here. Three important things about this moment are made clear:

2. 12:23-26:  The necessity of Jesus’ death:  Just as a grain of wheat must disintegrate (“die”) into the ground, in order to bear fruit, so Jesus’ own death is necessary in order to produce “much fruit” (12:24).  In Jesus’ case, to reject death is to reject the fruitful consequences of death.  The saying in 12:25 has parallels in Mark 8:35; Matthew 16:25, 10:39; Luke 9:4, 17:33.  To “hate one’s life” is a Semitic expression for having no higher loyalty than preserving one’s life, all the time failing to realize that life is a gift from God.  Jesus’ action of laying down his life is a pattern that the disciples will follow:  God calls them to trust him in such a way that they are willing to surrender life, in the hope of receiving it back again.

3.  12:27-30:  Jesus’ struggle in the face of death:  This is John’s equivalent of Jesus’ Garden of Gethsemane experience.  What Jesus says here echoes Mark 14:34 (“My soul is sorrowful, even to death”), which echoes Psalm, 42:5-6:  [“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”]  

While in Mark’s account, Jesus prays that this hour might pass from him and then resigns himself to God’s will (Mark 14:36), in John, Jesus makes no such request but makes it clear that “for this purpose I have come to this hour” (12:27).  Instead of a prayer for deliverance, Jesus asks that God’s name be glorified.  God’s name has been glorified, in Jesus’ signs, and it will be glorified again, in his death and resurrection.  It is important to notice that the divine voice, responding to Jesus, is not for his benefit but for that of the crowd.   Jesus does not need a response from the Father because he already knows the Father’s response.

4.  12:31-36:   The consequence of Jesus’ death:  Jesus’ death is full of irony in that, seen from a merely worldly point of view, it appears to be a defeat for him but a victory for “the ruler of this world” (12:31).  Seen from a cosmic point of view, however, things are very different, in that Jesus’ death functions like a cosmic exorcism, through which “the ruler of this world [is] cast out” (12:31) and the world is judged.  But the action of Jesus’ death is two-fold, in that Satan is driven out while people are drawn to Jesus (12:32).  This, in short, describes God’s reclamation of his creation.  12:33 makes it clear that the crucifixion is what is being designated by the metaphor of “lifted up” (12:32).  In response to the crowd’s question, “Who is this Son of Man?” (12:34), Jesus replies, in effect, “It is I.”

IV. Jesus’ Summary of His Ministry: 12: 37-50

1.  With this section, Jesus’ public work comes to a conclusion and chapters 13-17 will involve only Jesus and his disciples.

2.  It is now clear that Israel’s response to Jesus is quite mixed, since “though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him” (12:37).  But we are not to understand this reaction, the narrator says, as rendering Jesus’ claim false. Two passages from Isaiah are cited to show that Israel’s response to God’s servant, promised by Isaiah, is precisely the response given to Jesus:  12:38 cites Isaiah 53:1 and 12:40 cites Isaiah 6:10 (in a modified form).  Isaiah 6:10 makes two things clear: that Israel’s disobedience is not beyond God’s sovereignty and that there is still hope for repentance, since the hardening of hearts is not final.   Isaiah was able to see this, since he beheld God’s glory (12:41; cf. Isaiah 6:1-5).

3.  The comment in 12:42 seems to contradict 12:37 but we soon discover that this is not the case — for the belief of the “authorities” is actually a “pseudo” belief, since they do not openly confess their belief because fear hinders them. (12:42-43).

4.  Jesus’ testimony concludes with two summary statements:  First, Jesus says that judgment is a secondary consequence of his work but that the word he has spoken is the same word that God will speak at the last judgment (12:47-49).

Second, Jesus’ testimony is in complete agreement with the Father’s will and word (12:50).

Questions for Reflection

(1) The Gospels tell us about events in the life of Jesus, not merely to offer us information, but to answer two major theological questions:

(a) Who is God (God’s nature and character)? and

(b) What does it mean to follow Jesus (the nature and character of discipleship)?

What answers does this chapter offer to these questions?

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Worldview Lens: “On the Shoulders of Giants”

The South Rose Window of the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris:  []

La claire-voie de la Rose Sud:  []

“Under the rosette, the heavenly court is represented by the sixteen prophets, portrayed under the large windows of the bay, which were painted in the 19th century by Alfred Gérente, under Viollet-le-Duc’s supervision.

The architect drew inspiration from Chartres Cathedral, placing the four great prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel) carrying the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) on their shoulders, at the centre.

This window echoes the reflections of Bertrand, Bishop of Chartres in the 13th century, on the connection between the Old and New Testaments:

‘We are all dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants.

We see more than they do, not because our vision is clearer there or because we are taller, but because we are lifted up, due to their giant scale.’ ”   


Dear Readers,

[This is a revision from an earlier post.]

Each of us uses his/her own lenses in order to view the world.  This is called a “worldview.”

Since it is impossible to view the world without lenses, it is imperative that we wisely choose the lens that offers us the most clear view of history.

We contemporaries, who are committed to Christian formation, have received a priceless unopened gift — an inheritance!

Receiving this inheritance is like opening the gift of a high-powered, finely engineered telescope, allowing us to peer into the heavens, through a telescope dome:


“Wise Christians should always be historians in one sense.  They sit higher and can see further, more panoramically, if they enrich themselves from the past.

John of Salisbury [1115-1180] a medieval scholar, spoke of the jewels, the riches, the prestige of antiquity.  He was right.  

The past has bequeathed to us its gems.  Note his wise words:

‘Our own generation enjoys the legacy bequeathed to it by that which preceded it.  

We frequently know more, not because we have moved ahead by our own natural ability, but because we are supported by the [mental] strength of others, and possess riches that we have inherited from our forefathers.  

Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to [puny] dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants.  

He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.’

Our brothers and sisters from the past, indwelt by the same Spirit who indwells us, have left us a rich inheritance.  

It’s locked away inside a treasure chest.  It’s layered in cobwebs.  It’s rusty and in some ways not very appealing.


But inside is the wealth John of Salisbury told us about:  diamonds, emeralds, gold sovereigns, and chains of Spanish silver.  

If you have ever wanted to go on a treasure hunt, you’ve come to the right place.  We’ve already found the chest.  

The hard, laborious work is done.  All we need do is dip our hands inside and let the riches run through our fingers.  

Come along, and you’ll be sitting higher and further.”

[Resource:  Pocket History of the Church, D. Jeffrey Bingham, InterVarsity Press, 2002.]

Coram Deo,



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Worldview Lens: Interpreting Scripture

Dear Readers,

Today’s entry continues the Worldview Lens Series:  The entry is long but includes section breaks:   It might be helpful to read one section at a time.

Read this entry slowly and carefully.  It is an excellent introduction to the Art of Interpreting Scripture.

For emphasis, I have included italics, boldface, and underlining.  I have included “Terms and Definitions.”

Written Down to Instruct Us:  Interpreting Scripture

by The Rev. Dr. Michael Petty, St. Peter’s Anglican Church


In I Corinthians 10:1-5, Paul makes reference to Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea, the fact that Israel was sustained by miraculous water in the wilderness, and the fact that, while in the wilderness, most of Israel was not faithful to God.  The result of this was that “they were struck down in the wilderness” [I Corinthians 10:5].  Paul presents this whole narrative to the Corinthians church as a warning against taking God’s grace and mercies lightly.  He makes this clear, when he says that these events “were written down to instruct us.” [I Corinthians 10:11]  The significant point made here is absolutely crucial:  Scripture speaks to God’s people, across time.

[There are] two cardinal points with respect to the interpretation of Scripture:

First, we do not begin to truly interpret Scripture, until we allow Scripture to interpret us.  If we are asking all the questions, we are not really interpreting it.

Second, in reading Scripture, we are not simply reading ancient religious literature but God is addressing us.

Interpreting Scripture:  Modern Prejudices

  1. The common perception that the business of biblical interpretation is essentially a war between “fundamentalists” and “liberals” is a mistaken one.  This view is too simplistic.  The real conflict, which takes place as several different [conflicts] simultaneously, is between those who believe that the witness of Scripture is irreplaceable, unsurpassable, and contains the soul of the Christian faith, and those who see Scripture as simply a historically conditioned, human document, which may be set aside at will . . .
  2. The popular view, held by those unfamiliar with the history of biblical interpretation, that the Bible can be interpreted to mean whatever an interpreter wants it to mean, is manifestly false.  If Scripture can be interpreted to mean anything, the consequence is that the Christian faith collapses into meaninglessness.
  3. The view that “modern people” [by which we usually mean ourselves] are so much better equipped to interpret Scripture than [were] past generations of Christians is simply a conceit.  It is quite clear that our scientific and technical education has not brought us to a depth of scriptural understanding which surpasses all previous generations.  One need only look at the quality of modern preaching to see this:  The sermons of St. Augustine, in the fifth century, and the sermons of John Wesley, in the eighteenth, which were all preached to ordinary Christians, reflect deeply on scriptural texts, in ways that are often beyond the average Christian today.  Yet, St. Augustine and Wesley were popular preachers.
  4. With respect to the interpretation of Scripture, [many denominations/churches] suffer from a defect, one that is potentially fatal:  On the one hand, we profess that Scripture is our ultimate authority.  [Article 6 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion says that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation.”]  On the other hand, we have no commonly-recognized way for adjudicating among differing interpretations of Scripture or any real way of articulating normative interpretations.  This means that our claim about Scripture being our ultimate authority is a largely formal one, which has little actual application to our life as a church.

Interpreting Scripture:  Some Historical Perspective

When considering the practice of biblical interpretation, it is important to have some historical perspective.  In particular, we need to mention four points:

1.     It is important to remember that the Christian faith began with the interpretation of Scripture.  For early Christians like Paul, whose letters are the earliest New Testament documents, the Old Testament was not old but simply Scripture [as in 2 Timothy 3:16].  For Paul, the Old Testament is not simply a collection of stories or moral rules but contains God’s designs and promises for his people [Romans 1:1-2], all of which are fulfilled in Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 1:20].  It is not simply that the Old Testament serves as a good introduction to the New Testament:  Rather, without the Old Testament, the New Testament would not exist.

An example might be helpful:  The first Christians labored to understand the nature and meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross.  Of course, they looked at the cross in the light of the resurrection but they understood both by interpreting the Old Testament.  In Romans 3:23-25, Paul is doing just this.  He describes Jesus as the one “whom God put forward as an expiation of his blood.”  The word translated as expiation or atonement is the Greek work, hilastrion.  Paul is clearly referring to Leviticus 16:2 and the Day of Atonement liturgy, in which the high priest makes atonement or expiation for the sins of Israel, by sprinkling sacrificial blood on the hilastrion or “mercy seat,” the gold lid on the Ark of the CovenantPaul understands that the Day of Atonement finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  The same line of thinking is present in Hebrews 9-10.  The Old Testament provides the matrix, in which Jesus is interpreted.

2.    The fact that the early Christians accepted the Old Testament as Scripture meant that, from the beginning, the so-called “lost gospels,” or Gnostic gospels, could never be accepted as Christian scripture, since these so-called “gospels” were composed by heretical Christian groups, which completely rejected the Old Testament.  The acceptance of the Old Testament as Scripture ruled out, from the beginning, all the Gnostic gospels.  As a matter of fact, no writings produced after 150 AD were even considered for inclusion into the canon of Scripture.

3.    It is important to remember that the Church has been interpreting Scripture for some 2000 years and, in this time, has learned something.  One of the central problems of the modern Church is that, through ignorance and intellectual sloth, we have cut ourselves off from what has been learned.  The Church, as from the beginning, applied two cardinal principles to the interpretation of Scripture.

a.  We must always interpret particular passages of Scripture in the light of the whole Scripture.  What this has meant is that the Old Testament has been interpreted in the light of the New Testament.  The whole of Scripture – Old Testament and New Testament – constitutes a two-testament witness to the one God.  The strength of any interpretation lies in its ability to make sense of Scripture as a unified whole.

b.  We must always interpret passages of Scripture in the light of the Church’s rule of faith, expressed in the ecumenical creeds [The Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds].  We do not read Scripture as we would an encyclopedia [as a neutral source of information] nor do we read Scripture as something whose meaning is determined by the reader.  We read Scripture in the context of the faith, articulated by the Church.

4.  What is now called fundamentalism is a relatively new phenomenon, being essentially a product of the nineteenth century.  It emerged out of the modern context, in which truth was equated with factual information.  Fundamentalism adopted a flattening approach to Scripture, which was really quite new and this resulted in interpretations, which were, surprising though this may sound, rationalistic in nature.  Fundamentalism is a product of the modern world and was one of the many signs that the modern Church had lost touch with its past with respect to the interpretation of Scripture.  The other product of the modern world, Christian liberalism, was equally flawed.  It adopted a way of interpreting Scripture, which was just as flattening as that of fundamentalism, though it was seen as being more congenial to people who considered themselves enlightened.  Both fundamentalism and liberalism are failed methods of biblical interpretation because both decide, in advance, what Scripture can and cannot say.

Christian interpretation of Scripture has always, until recently, recognized that the Bible has many senses and that the art of reading Scripture consists in allowing it to speak from the depth of its riches.

 Traditionally understood, Scripture has been seen as having four senses:

a.  The literal sense:  The plain sense of what the text actually says, as discerned by sound methods of interpretation.  St. Thomas Aquinas thought that this sense was the most important.  To talk about the literal sense of Scripture meant that it had a meaning, which was not simply dependent on the reader.

b.  The allegorical sense:  Some things in Scripture are signs and types of realities in other parts of Scripture.  Scripture contains some truths, which must be understood allegorically.  Example:  Romans 5:12-21.

c.  The moral sense:  Some passages of Scripture must/can be read as offering guidance in holy living.  Example:  1 Corinthians 10.

d.  The anagogical sense:  Some passages of Scripture hold before us our eternal destiny, which is absolutely necessary to our earthly pilgrimage.  Example:  Hebrews 12:18-29.

It is important to note that, for the best Christian interpreters of Scripture, the allegorical, moral, and anagogical sense of Scripture never existed apart from or in conflict with the literal sense.  The four senses of Scripture remind us that the goal of Christian interpretation has been to plumb the depths of Scripture and to present the meaning of Scripture in its entire splendor.  This [approach] contrasts markedly with much of modern interpretation, especially the interpretation in liberal Protestantism, which seems to focus on getting as little out of Scripture as possible or, even, inoculating us against it.  Something is clearly very wrong.  As Pope Benedict XVI [then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger] noted in his now famous 1988 Erasmus Lecture, the crisis in Biblical interpretation is really a crisis in the faith of the Church.

Interpreting Scripture:  Three Examples:

One of the most important methods of biblical interpretation is called intertextual interpretation.  This method involves paying attention to the ways in which one text of Scripture interprets another.  I want to offer three examples of intertextual interpretation and to show why each is significant.  I will focus on one theme, the New Testament interpretation of the most important event in the Old Testament, the Exodus.  The Exodus is a complex of three events–Passover, Red Sea crossing, and Sinai covenant—and these events constitute the soul of the Old Testament.

1.      “Our God is a consuming fire.”   [Hebrews 12:18-29]:  This text offers a Christian interpretation of Israel’s experience at Mt. Sinai, in Exodus 19:12-22; 20:18-21 [cf. Deuteronomy 4:11-12, 5:22-27].  The experience of Israel becomes the matrix, within which Christians can understand their own experience.  In Jesus Christ, Christians have not simply come to Mt. Sinai, awesome and important as it is.  No, in Jesus Christ, God’s new covenant people, defined no longer by circumcision and Passover, but by Baptism and Eucharist, have come to the city of God, “the heavenly Jerusalem” [12:22].  But note this:  While Christians have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, they have also come into the presence of the same God, Who met Israel on Mt. Sinai.  It is not that Mt. Sinai reveals a God Who is awesome, demanding, and who gives his law to his people to form them in holiness, while Jesus reveals a God who is friendly, undemanding, and who just wants us to be nice.  No, for indeed, our God is a consuming fire [12:29].  God revealed Himself on Mt. Sinai as a consuming fire and remains such, in Jesus Christ.  Those who trifle with God’s grace, who sit loose to His Word, who neglect His holiness, do so to their own eternal peril.  From Jerusalem to New Jerusalem, from Mt. Sinai to Golgotha, God is and remains a consuming fire.  Those who do not take God’s holiness seriously simply cannot understand Scripture.

2.  “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”  [1 Corinthians 5:7]:  In response to widespread immorality in the Corinthian church, Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians, to make a fundamental point:  that the Corinthians have failed to understand what it means to be the church.  To make this point, Paul interprets the Old Testament, specifically Exodus 12:15-20, which gives instructions for the celebration of the Passover.  During the seven days of Passover, Israel was to eat unleavened bread and all leaven had to be removed from homes.  Anyone who ate leavened bread or whose home had leaven in it was disqualified from keeping Passover.  The removal of leaven was seen as a sign of purity and Leviticus 2:11-16 forbids Israel from offering to God anything with leaven in it.

Paul takes all of this and transposes it into a Christian context.  He reads leaven as moral impurity, Israel celebrating the Passover as the Church celebrating the Eucharist and the Passover Lamb as Christ.  For Paul, therefore, moral impurity is completely inappropriate to the Church, not because this violates a few rules but because it violates the very essence of what the Church is.  Paul uses the Old Testament to make it clear that Christian morality is not simply a matter of individual conduct but a matter of what is appropriate to God’s holy, covenant peopleTo fail to see that the Christian life is essentially about holiness in all dimensions of life is to fail to completely understand God, the Church, and Christ.

3.  “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matthew 5:48]:  The Sermon on the Mount occupies Matthew 5-7.  It has often been misunderstood.  The most common misunderstanding of it today takes the form of supposing that Jesus came to replace all the hard demands of the Old Testament with easier ones.  Thus, we frequently hear that the essence of Jesus’ teaching is that we should be loving and non-judgmental.  But, listen to what Jesus Himself says:  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill . . . For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 5:17, 20]

After this, Jesus then reinterprets key commandments of the law.  The prohibition against murder in Exodus 20:13 becomes a prohibition against anger.  The prohibition against adultery in Exodus 20:14 becomes a general prohibition against lust.  The “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” of Exodus 21:23-24, intended to limit revenge, becomes a command to completely forswear revenge.  The thing to notice here is that, whenever Jesus interprets the Old Testament, he does not interpret it away but interprets it so as to make it more demanding, not less so.  Jesus has not come to free us from God’s demands or to lead us into the sunny uplands of either liberal Christianity or Christian America:  He has come to bring the holiness of God to bear upon every aspect of our lives.  Lest anyone fail to understand what Jesus is driving at, He states his message quite bluntly:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  [Matthew 5:48]

I close with an analogy from John Henry Newman:  A church which is conformed to upper middle class American consumer culture, a church which is skeptical of Scripture but credulous about itself can no more make proper judgments about Scripture than can a blind person make judgments about shades of color.

 Terms & Definitions [from InterVarsity Press Handbook of Theological Terms, unless otherwise noted.]

[Note: Compiled by Margot Payne.]


Expression, by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions, of truths or generalizations about human existence; a symbolic representation. [Webster’s].

 A story in which the details correspond to or reveal a “hidden,” “higher,” or “deeper” meaning. 

Method of biblical interpretation [which] assumes that biblical stories should be interpreted by seeking the “spiritual” meaning to which the literal sense points.


Greek:  a “climb” or “ascent” upward.  “Leading above” when by a visible act an invisible is declared.  A method of interpretation of literal statements or events, especially Scripture.  [Wikipedia]

Interpretation of a word, passage, or text, that finds beyond the literal, allegorical, and moral sense, a fourth and ultimate spiritual or mystic sense. [Webster’s]

Analogy of Faith:

 A principle of interpretation that suggests that clearer passages of Scripture should be used to interpret more obscure or difficult passages. 

 For Augustine, the analogy of faith requires that Scripture never be interpreted in such way that it violates the church’s summary of Christian faith [i.e., The Apostle’s Creed]. 

For Luther, Christ is the analogy of faith, so that Scripture needs always to be interpreted as testifying to Christ.

For Calvin, the analogy of faith assumes that, because the Spirit oversaw its writing, Scripture and the Spirit together interpret other parts of Scripture.

Exegesis, Eisegesis:

Literally, “drawing meaning out of” and “reading meaning into,” respectively. 

 Exegesis is the process of seeking to understand what a text means or communicates on its own. 

Eisegesis is generally a derogatory term, used to designate the practice of imposing a preconceived or foreign meaning onto a text, even if that meaning could not have been originally intended at the time of its writing.


The discipline that studies the principles and theories of how texts ought to be interpreted, particularly Sacred texts, such as the Scriptures. 

Hermeneutics also concerns itself with understanding the unique roles and relationships between the author, the text, and the original or subsequent readers.

Literal or Historical:

A strict adherence to the exact word or meaning, either in interpretation or translation, of the Biblical text. 

Attempts to understand the author’s intent by pursuing the most plain, obvious meaning of the text, as judged by the interpreter. 

In translation, the attempt is made to convey with utmost accuracy, through the words of another language, the actual meaning of the biblical text.

 Moral or Ethical:

The area of philosophical and theological inquiry into what constitutes right and wrong, that is, morality, as well as what is the good and the good life.  Ethics seeks to provide insight, principles, or even a system or guidance in the quest of the good life or in acting rightly, in either general or specific situations of life. 

Broadly speaking, ethical systems are either deontological [seeking to guide behavior through establishment or discovery of what is intrinsically right and wrong] or teleological [seeking to guide behavior through an understanding of the outcomes or ends that ethical decisions and behavior bring about.]


An interest or concern for matters of the “spirit,” in contrast to the mere interest and focus on the material.  Christian spirituality, as expressed through participation in certain Christian practices, such as Bible study, prayer, worship, and so forth.


Differing from a symbol or an allegory, a typology is a representation of an actual, historical reference.  According to Christian exegesis, biblical typology deals with the parallels between actual, historical [usually OT] figures or events in salvation history and their later, analogous fulfillment.  Often NT events and figures are typologically understood and interpreted according to an  OT pattern [e.g., Creation and New Creation, Adam and Christ, the Exodus and NT concepts of Salvation.]  On this basis, typology became one of the four prevalent ways [together with the literal, the analogical, and the spiritual] of interpreting Scripture in the Middle Ages.


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Worldview Lens: The Halo Effect

Dear Readers,

Before autumn begins, I have one more story of summer to share with you, from when I was ten [1962] and lived in Bossier City, Louisiana:

Almost every morning, I  hopped on my bicycle and rode across three subdivisions and a corn field.

Finally, I reached the gate of the Barksdale Air Force Base, where my father worked.  From there, I pedaled over to the Officer’s Club Pool, where I parked my bike and met my friends.

[Circa 1960]

All day long, my friends and I played “Marco Polo,” jumped off the diving board, splashed each other, did somersaults, and stood on our heads.  What I chiefly remember is the laughter and the care-free hours.

My friends and I never willingly left the pool water.  However, the lifeguard’s whistle blew every hour, which meant that all the children must exit the pool and “rest” for 10 minutes.

How we resented the sound of that whistle!  We were not tired in the least!

Sometimes we bolted to the concession stand and “nourished” ourselves with French fries and a Coke, while we endured the enforced wait.

After the break, we jumped back into the pool and played, until late afternoon.  Then, I hopped back onto my bike to return home, in time for supper.

Even more delightful than the sun-lit hours were the moon-lit evenings in the pool:  I loved the reflection of the light from the lamps, both above and below the pool.

One evening at the pool, I asked one of my childhood friends:

“Do you see how the lamp-light looks fuzzy, like the moon on a cloudy night?   I mean, you cannot see the lamp itself, right?  You just see a halo?”

For this is [kind of] what I saw:

Or, if I squinted, I might see this:

My young friend looked at me in amazement and silence.  Then, she assured me that she saw no “fuzzy moon” or “halo.”

She described to me how she viewed the lamplight:

I asked every one of my young friends to describe what they saw.  Sure enough, I was the only child in the pool who saw the “fuzzy moons” and the “halos.”

I remember that startling moment, when I realized that I could not trust my own sensory perception. 

I returned home, reported the evening to my parents, and they made an appointment for me to see a professional:  a Doctor of Optometry.

The optometrist determined that my vision was distorted.  Not only was I near-sighted, I also had astigmatism, and my night vision was compromised.

There was, fortunately, a corrective:  frames with prescription lens, which arrived the week following my appointment:

[Children’s eyeglasses, circa 1962]

When I slapped those frames on my face and looked out the lens for the first time, it was a revelation:

The colors, shapes, textures, words, and numbers were now in sharp focus.  Even from across the street, I could identify people and read road signs!

 It was as if I was seeing the world for the first time.  


Almost 40 years later, in 1999, I had a similar revelation, when N. T. Wright delivered a series of four lectures in Chicago.

Stephen and I were in the audience, with over one thousand graduate students and faculty.  The national conference, entitled “Following Christ:  Shaping Our World” was sponsored by the InterVaristy Christian Fellowship Graduate and Faculty Ministry.

The four lectures formed the backbone of the this book:

Here is a quote from this book . . .

“Out of his own commitment to both historical scholarship and Christian ministry, Wright challenges us to roll up our sleeves and take seriously the study of the historical Jesus.”  [The Publisher]

. . . and a quote from N. T. Wright:

“Many Christians have been, frankly, sloppy in their thinking and talking about Jesus, and hence, sadly, in their praying and in their practice of discipleship.  

We cannot assume that by saying the word “Jesus,” still less the word “Christ,” we are automatically in touch with the real Jesus who walked and talked in first-century Palestine . . . 

. . . Only by hard, historical work can we move toward a fuller comprehension of what the Gospels themselves were trying to say.”

Here is a quote from a more recent book by N. T. Wright . . .

“Bible scholar, Anglican bishop, and bestselling author N. T. Wright summarizes a lifetime of study of Jesus and the New Testament, in order to present for a general audience who Jesus was and is.  

In Simply Jesus, we are invited to hear one of our leading scholars introduce the story of the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, as if he were hearing it for the first time.”  [The Publisher]

. . . and this quote from N. T. Wright:

“Jesus — the Jesus we might discover if we really looked, is larger, more disturbing, [and] more urgent than we had ever imagined.  

We have successfully managed to hide behind other questions and to avoid the huge, world-shaking challenge of Jesus’ central claim and achievement . . . . 

. . . We have reduced the kingdom of God to private piety; the victory of the cross to comfort the conscience; Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale.

Piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness are important, but not nearly as important as Jesus himself.” 


I will begin teaching a class tonight, at St. Peter’s Anglican Church.  Our text will be The Gospel of John and the commentary will be John for Everyone by N. T. Wright.

Click here for more details: The Pause That Refreshes!

For the objectives of the class, I am borrowing a quote from The Challenge of Jesus:

“The Challenge of Jesus poses a double-edged challenge:

–To grow in our understanding of the historical Jesus within the Palestinian world of the first century, and

–To follow Jesus more faithfully into the postmodern world of the twenty-first century.”  [The Publisher]

Coram Deo,



Filed under discipleship, The Gospel of John, theology and doxology, Worldview

Portrait of A Tree


Crape/Crepe Myrtle [Lagerstroemia]

” ‘Natchez ‘ Crepe Myrtles grow 20′-30’ high in the South.   The foliage becomes a reddish-orange in fall.   The bark peels off attractively, rather like that of birches, adding winter interest.   Natchez Crepe Myrtles bear white blooms.   As with most crepe myrtle, the flowers are the main selling point.   They not only grow in striking clusters, but put on a display that lasts longer than that for most plants (mid-summer to fall).   The blooms yield to fruits that are brownish and persist through winter.” [Wikipedia]

Dear Readers,

Recently, I was looking out the window at my Crape [Crepe] Myrtle trees:  I chose the “Natchez”  variety — but not for the profusion of ornamental and transient white flowers.  No, I chose it for one striking and enduring characteristic:  the beauty of the emerging “inner” bark.

It is fascinating to observe the process:  Over time, the rough, ugly, greyish, thin, “outer” bark will peel and slough off, to reveal the smooth, satiny, cinnamon-color “inner” bark:

The vigorous and healthy growth of the tree provides the vitality and energy to burst through the containment of the outer bark.

The portrait of this tree reminds me of the dynamics of a forty-year process:  

Forty-two years ago, in May of 1970, I attended a Protestant Youth of the Chapel Retreat.  I was 18 years old and my only motivation for attending the retreat was to spend time with my high school boyfriend.

In those days, weekend retreats were very simple.  They were intentional “retreats” from the world and provided hours of silence.  As I recall, the retreat followed this daily pattern:




Morning Prayer

Keynote Speaker


Canoe on the Lake or Hike a Nature Trail

Silence:  Rest,  Read, and Bible Study


Keynote Speaker

Vespers by the Lake



Lights Out



The Keynote Speakers were two handsome, athletic young men, who were volunteer staff with a university campus ministry.

The theme for the speakers’ lectures that weekend was, “My Heart: Christ’s Home,”  based upon a simple little booklet, written by Robert Boyd Munger.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA

Robert Boyd Munger

I assure you that I did not, before the retreat, possess a yearning to offer hospitality to Christ — no, not even admittance to a tiny, dark, recessed corner of my autonomous life.

For I was a busy high school student:  Endless activity filled my days, evenings, and weekends.  And then there were also my studies, which I must cram within the frenetic schedule.  Contemplation and meditation were completely absent from my life.

But the weekend retreat and the hours of silence provided for me an opportunity to stop, think, and ponder.

I was not yet a student of theology.  If I had been, I might have snorted in derision at the simple content of the booklet, My Heart – Christ’s Home.  

It measures merely 3 1/2″ x 5″  and contains only 25 pages of text.  Page 3 introduces the theme:

“That God may grant you to be strengthened with might, through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” [Ephesians 3.16-17]


“That Christ may settle down and be at home in your hearts by faith.”  [Weymouth translation]

The keynote speakers offered each of us a copy of the little booklet, which contained eight tiny chapters.  Over the weekend, I read the booklet, as a novitiate might pore over a prayer-book.  The reading filled up the moments of silence, as I meditated upon the weighty message of this simple book.

On the last evening of the retreat, I perfectly remember that we, the high school students, were encircled around a camp fire.  We sat on the benches of the amphitheatre, in front of the lake.

The two speakers, standing in front of us, concluded their talks and asked us, “Are you ready to ask  Christ to ‘settle down and be at home in your hearts by faith?'”  

In silence, we departed and returned to our cabins, in time for curfew.  The counselors extinguished the lights and all was silent.  With a flashlight, under my blanket, I re-read the booklet.

And then I made a very reckless decision:  I followed the instructions, contained within the booklet:  I “transferred the title-deed of my home:”

I signed the title-deed of my life over, as it were, to Christ, and placed my life under his ownership and control.

If I had carefully counted the Cost of Discipleship, as the author Dietrich Bonhoeffer implores us, I might not have made such a life-altering decision.

It was, I admit, a rash thing to do.

And I do think that, at the time, someone might have warned me about the long-term consequences.

The portrait of the tree represents those consequences:

Over forty years’ time, the presence of the Living Christ has eclipsed my life.

How did I ever hope to think, forty years ago, that I could safely contain the Lord of the Universe, within the confines of my life?

For, even heaven cannot contain him!

This is my fair warning to those contemplating such a serious decision:  Count the cost of discipleship.

Take heed — for Christ will burst through the confines of your life.

The thin veneer of your life will peel, slough off, and float down to the ground.  Doubtless, you will not enjoy the process, for it is painful.

The life of Christ, mighty, majestic, and powerful, will not conform to the contours of your life.  Your life must conform to his life.

But the process, as painful as it may be, will also startle you with its ultimate beauty:

Forty years from now, you may survey the life-less and superfluous outer bark and think to yourself,

“Oh, yes, this process was indeed necessary.  He has increased and I have decreased.”  

Then you will realize that the transfer has become a transplant:

Christ, The Great Physician, has removed your heart of stone and has given you a heart of flesh.

It is a mystery beyond my telling.

Coram Deo,


P. S. 

Yes, I married Stephen Payne, my high school sweetheart.


I have four extra copies of the booklet, “My Heart – Christ’s Home.”   If you want a copy, free of charge:

Step One:  Include a Reply/Comment below — I will reserve a copy for the first four persons who respond.

Step Two:  Contact me at my email address [] and include your  name and snail-mail address.

Or, if you want to order the booklet:  

ISBN 0-87784-075-X

Revised Edition, 1986, by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA

InterVarsity Press

POB 1400

Downer’s Grove, Illinois 60515


Filed under discipleship, The Cost of Discipleship