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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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Filed under discipleship, Interpretation of Scripture, The Gospel of John, theology and doxology

Exploring the Gospel of John: 1


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

St. Peter’s Anglican Church


John 1:1-18

The Prologue to the Gospel

I.  What is a Gospel?

In including four gospels into the canon of Scripture, the Church made a significant decision:  that no one gospel [by itself] could be taken to provide an adequate portrait of Jesus.  One of the earliest Christian theologians, Irenaeus of Lyon, spoke not of four gospels but of a fourfold gospel, the one gospel presented by the fourfold witness of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The early Church was not at all embarrassed by the fact that the gospels were all slightly different.  The gospels seem to have followed the pattern of ancient biography, the purpose of which was not to present a complete account of the subject’s life, arranging details in chronological order, but to provide an account of the subject’s character and significance.  A major element in this effort was the portrayal of the subject’s death.  Note that John 1:19-12:50 is an account of Jesus’ public ministry, sketched in terms of significant events, and John 13:1-19:42 is an extended account of Jesus’ death.  For John, Jesus is revealed through the signs he performs in the first section and in the way he dies in the second section.  The Prologue to the gospel (1:1-18) is the interpretive key to the whole work.

II. John 1:1-5

1. While Mark begins his account of Jesus with his baptism and while Matthew and Luke begin their accounts with Jesus’ birth, John begins his account of Jesus with the very life of God before Creation.   The reason for this is that Jesus’ relationship to God is one of his primary themes.  The gospels are never concerned with simply providing information about Jesus but they are always concerned with Christologywith understanding who Jesus is as both a person and as one in whom God acts.

2. John’s gospel begins in the very same way that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) version of Genesis 1:1 begins.   A. Lincoln offers this translation of John 1:1:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was at God’s side, and what God was, the Word was.”   Right from the start, we are given what John considers to be the most important fact about the story of Jesus:  The story of Jesus did not begin in first century Palestine but actually had no beginning at all because he was eternally present with God.  This gospel is going to recount the intersection of time and eternity, human history and the eternal God.

3. “Word  in 1:1 is the English rendering of the Greek word “logos,” a very rich word.   As Word, logos is not simply a conveyor of information but has to do with self-expression.  The Word is God’s own self-expression. While God and his self-expression are distinct, they are not separable.  The basis of John’s Christology is that God expresses himself in the person [of] Jesus.

4.  Two things are in the background here:

One is the fact that, in Genesis 1, God, through speaking, creates realities into existence;  God’s speaking does not merely convey information but actually effects things.  Creation is a Word-formed reality.

Another thing is the role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8, which also is before Creation and is with God.  For the Old Testament, Word (as in Psalm 33:6 and Isaiah 55:11) expresses God’s immanence in Creation, without compromising his transcendence. In Psalm 119: 93, 109, God’s life-giving Word and Wisdom can be identified with Torah, meaning that God’s Torah, given to Israel, was a source of both life and wisdom.  By speaking of Jesus as the Logos, John makes it clear that what is given in Jesus far surpasses what has been given in Torah.  It is not merely that Jesus simply fulfills Scripture (Torah) or completes it but that he surpasses it.

5. The point being made here is not that the Christian revelation is “better” that Judaism.  The purpose of John’s Gospel is not to compare two distinct “religions” called Judaism and Christianity, with a view to showing the superiority of Christianity but to make the case that faith in Jesus as the Word of God is the only true response to Israel’s God, open to both Jews and Gentiles.  Contrary to recent opinion, John is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Jewish.

6. The relation of the Logos to the created order is both simple and complex:  simple in the sense that “all things were made through him” (1:3) but complex in the sense that the human response to the Word is not uniform (as in 1:9-12).  Colossians 1:15-17 provides a helpful point of comparison:  This gets at the mystery of the person of Jesus, who is both a human being and God’s own self-expression, who gives form and sustenance to the created order.  On one hand, all of creation has a relationship to the Word through its very being; on the other hand, human beings are invited into a relationship to the Word in the person of Jesus through belief.   As 1:4 indicates, the Word is both the source of life (zôe) and light.  God creates through his [Word] and gives revelation through his Word.  Already, we have established the theology, which later Church Councils will have to work out:  that of how the Word is both identified with God and distinct from him.

III: John 1:6-8

1. We abruptly leave eternity to enter into the realm of time and history, so that the coming of the Word can be related to the witness of John (this gospel does not refer to John as “the Baptist”).  Notice that the work of John the forerunner (distinct from the author of the gospel) has its origin in God, as does the work of the Word.

2. Notice that in 1:7 that John “came as a witness, to bear witness.”   Here, we have two of the most important words in this gospel:  witness (marturàia) and bearing witness (marturein).   The noun form is used 14 times in this gospel and the verbal form occurs 33 times.   The purpose of John’s witness is clearly indicated in 1:7.

3. The meaning of witness and bearing witness have a strong meaning in this gospel.  What is envisioned is not simply oral testimony but the totality of one’s life.  It also has a forensic meaning, as in giving testimony in a court.

IV. John 1:9-14

 1. While John the forerunner was to bear witness to the light, Jesus is the light.  The point being made here is that the light Jesus brings is not simply some bit of “religious” knowledge, which is quite nice but which one could do very well without.  The enlightenment brought by the Word is the light of the Truth, the Truth about God, the Truth about human beings, and the Truth about the world.   The Word does not add a bit of religious varnish to a world that is already just fine but, rather, the Word enters into a dark and dying world into order to give light and life.

2. It is worth noting that enlightenment becomes a word for baptism within the New Testament (Ephesians 1:18; Hebrews 10:32) and the writings of the early Church fathers.

3. One type of response to this enlightenment is ironic in 1:10-11.  While the world came into being through the Word and is what it is because of him, it did not know him.  While the Word came to his own people, those most prepared for his coming, they did not recognize him.  This emphasizes the depth of the human predicament:  human beings no longer know who they really are nor do they understand the world for what it really is.

4. 1:12-13 shows another type of response, the response of John’s church.  The Word comes not merely to grant some type of generic enlightenment but to authorize the creation of a new people of God, a people who are children of God, by themselves being reborn.  Being a child of God is not simply a matter of birth (being born into the right people) but a matter of rebirth.   Just as the Word comes from God, so must the rebirth of God’s people.  Note that the problem with Jews, from the standpoint of this gospel, is not that they are Jews (this would be anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism) but the problem is that they have refused what the God of Israel wishes for them.

V. John 1:14-18

 1. In this section, we have the confession of John’s community about the Word.  It begins with the shocking affirmation that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (1:14).”   Here we are at the heart of the mystery of Christ who is God’s Word en-fleshed.   In order to begin to understand the mystery of Christ, we have to understand that he is the embodiment of God’s self-expression.  Notice that two seemingly different things come together here:  God’s self-expression and the created order.   In affirming the Incarnation (the en-fleshment of the Word), John affirms that God and creation are not simply opposites.

2. The Word “dwelt among us” (1:14).  This is related to the Old Testament notion of God dwelling among his people, particularly in the tabernacle or Temple (see especially Exodus 40).  It was this dwelling of God that made the Jerusalem Temple so important, in that it was a sacramental sign that God was present to his chosen people.  John holds that Jesus replaces the Temple as God’s place of dwelling.

3. As the new Tabernacle, Jesus the Incarnate Word also reveals God’s glory:  God’s splendor or radiance.  In Exodus 40, it is the glory of God that descends into the tabernacle and dwells.  Glory can also refer to God’s reputation — the weight of God’s name.  In John, it is precisely Jesus’ death [which] reveals the glory of God.  God is glorious, in revealing himself and, in his faithfulness, manifested in his action in Christ.

4. The glory of the Son is that of a Father’s only son (1:14).  In this culture, honor was tied to heredity and a person’s status was tied to that of his father.  The only son in a family had a place of unique honor.  The Son is affirmed to have a unique status because of his unique relationship to his unique Father.

5.  “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (1:16):  This statement is looking forward to v.17 and, thus, means that Christ adds to, completes, and surpasses the grace given in the Mosaic Covenant.   The point is not that Jesus and Moses are in competition and that we now have to choose sides nor that “good Jesus” has come to replace “bad Moses” but that what happens in Jesus encompasses Moses but [also] surpasses him.  This, of course, would be the dividing line between Judaism and Christianity.

6. 1:18 refers back to Exodus 33:12-34:9 and the well-known fact that Moses did not see God on Mt. Sinai.  According to Exodus 33:20, it is impossible for human beings to behold God.  And yet, this is precisely what the Son does, by virtue of his very being. The Son is “at the Father’s side”  (or “in the Father’s lap”) and so his vision of God is not an event but part of his very being.  Because the Son knows the Father intimately, he, and he alone, can make him known.  In the Son, we have real revelation, that is God making God known.


The Prologue to John helps us to get a proper sense of perspective, by placing both Jesus and the Church in the larger context of God’s relationship to his creation.  If Jesus is seen simply as a historical figure, questions about why he should be the only way to God immediately pop up and are finally impossible to answer.  When Jesus’ unique relationship with God is set aside, it becomes impossible to justify Christian faith in him other than on the basis of personal preference.  It is only when we make the connection between the historical figure of Jesus and the Son of God, the connection made by the Incarnation, that Jesus as God’s way to God becomes justifiable.

The Christian claim is both radically specific and cosmic at the same time:  It is radically specific in that it insists that God’s Word became Incarnate in a specific, historical person and that this was a unique event.  The salvation of the world does, in a sense, depend upon a Jewish prophet and upon the Israel that gave him birth.

This insistence that an equal opportunity for salvation does not present itself in Buddha or Mohamed is not the result of Christian “intolerance” or “exclusivism” but is the consequence of the way God has acted in his Son.  At the same time, we have to remember that Jesus is not simply a historical figure, knowledge of whom is only available in Scripture or the Church since, as the Word, he is the one through whom the world was created and is the one in whom it is sustained.

The witness of the Church plays an important role but this role presupposes Jesus’ relationship to the whole created order.  This means that the Gospel is not an “inside” story which Christians tell to themselves or a “religion” for those “who like that sort of thing.”  It is, rather, a matter of declaring to the world the truth about itself, a truth which it does not yet know and against which it often unknowingly reacts.  In light of the Prologue, we can see that much of the animus against Christianity is rooted in either the sting that it inflicts, by telling the truth, or the unfaithful way in which some Christians have carried out their task, either being slothful or overzealous.  We can and should do nothing about the former; we are duty-bound to correct the latter.

John 1:19-34

The Testimony of John the Baptist

John 1:19-28

 1.  The atmosphere in this scene anticipates the atmosphere that will surround the whole of Jesus’ public ministry:  that of hostility and interrogation.   John 1:19-34 is about John’s marturía or testimony, where this word has a forensic meaning.   “The Jews” have sent priests and Levites to investigate John’s ministry of baptism (1:25), since they are the experts in purity regulations and baptism had to do with purity.  “The Jews” is used by this gospel to designate a very specific group:  those Jewish officials who oppose Jesus.

2. John is asked about his identity (1:19).  Several things need to be kept in mind, in this respect:

First, we are told that John’s ministry took place in Bethany across the Jordan.  Bethany here is not the Bethany of Mary and Martha, near Jerusalem.  By placing himself across the Jordan, John was signaling some kind of Messianic activity, by suggesting that he was gathering people to be led by the Messiah, across the Jordan into the Promised Land, as Joshua had done but, in this case, what was being symbolized was the creation of a new Israel.

Second, there was no standard Jewish expectation of a Messiah in the first century.  Some Jews (the Sadducees) expected no Messiah at all while others (the Essenes) expected three:  a prophet, a priest and a king.

Third, baptizing Jews was an eschatological action, suggesting some final action on the part of God.

3.  John’s testimony begins with three denials:

(1)  John denies being the Messiah very firmly in 1:20.  “Christ” is simply the Greek version of the Hebrew “Messiah” and becomes the central designation for Jesus.

(2)  John denies being Elijah.  In 2 Kings 2:11, Elijah was taken up into heaven, without dying, and this created, with the help of Malachi 4:5, the popular expectation that Elijah would precede the Messiah.  This denial is in some tension with Mark (1:2) and Matthew (6:14), who do identify John with Elijah. For theological reasons, John pushes the Elijah theme aside, to focus on John solely as one who bears witness to Jesus.

(3)  John denies being the prophet. The prophet here is the one which Jewish interpretation took to be foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-18, a prophet like Moses.

4.  John’s testimony is not simply one of denial.  In 1:23, he identifies himself with the voice of Isaiah 40:3.  John’s ministry is nothing like that suggested by his interrogators but something far more humble:  that of preparing Israel for God’s intervention.  But this leads to another question:  If John is not the Messiah, Elijah, or the prophet, why is he baptizing?   The question here is not simply one of motive but of authority.  The point of 1:26-27 is to show the subordination of John to Jesus.

The question of why John is baptizing is answered by making it clear that it is simply preliminary — that John is not even worthy to perform for the “one you do not know” (1:26) a function performed by a slave.  The preliminary and subordinate nature of John’s baptism is portrayed in Acts 19:1-6, where there is a distinct separation between “John’s baptism” and baptism “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

John 1:29-34

 1.   Having been rather tight-lipped about himself, John now has much to say about Jesus.  This, of course, fits the pattern of John as a figure who only makes sense in relation to Jesus and is not an independent object of attention (note 3:30).

2.  John’s positive testimony begins with the affirmation that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29).  What does this affirmation mean?  One possible meaning is that Jesus is being identified with the apocalyptic lamb portrayed in inter-testamental Jewish literature, where the lamb is a conquering figure who destroys evil.  This would certainly make sense in light of Revelation 7:17 and in light of John 3:8, where the Son reveals himself to destroy the works of the devil.  Clearly, John’s reference to “lamb” is not intended to designate Jesus as “mild.”

Another possibility is that John is referring to the Suffering Servant Song of Isaiah 52:13-53:12.  This figure’s suffering purifies many (53:6, 11-12) and is described as being like a lamb (53:7).

Another possibility is that John is thinking of the Passover lamb.  This makes sense, in that John alone tells us that Jesus was on the Cross, while the Passover lambs were being slaughtered (19:4).  Of course, all of these images could be intended, putting them into the service of describing Jesus’ definitive role in God’s salvation.

3.  1:30-33 again clearly subordinates John.  While Jesus follows John in the flow of temporal events, this in no way indicates theological priority because, in the sense made clear in 1:1, Jesus is John’s predecessor.  In 1:31-32, we return to the theme of John’s baptism and two important things are made clear:

First, John does not recognize Jesus, until Jesus’ baptism, and only does so because he is told by God to watch for a specific sign.  Notice that this gospel does not actually recount Jesus’ baptism by John but refers to it obliquely (the scene John mentions seems to be Jesus’ baptism, as recounted in Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, and Luke 3:21-22).   Also important to notice is that, in this gospel, the baptism of John is not actually described as being for repentance but rather for the purpose of revealing Jesus to Israel (1:31).

These two things are not in conflict, but by describing John’s baptism in this way, it is made clear that John’s activity has no validity apart from Jesus.

4. In 1:32-33, we are also given an important insight into Jesus’ relation to the Spirit.  In both verses, the Spirit descends upon Jesus and also remains on him.  This sets Jesus’ relation to the Spirit apart from those of other figures who were given the Spirit but upon whom the Spirit did not remain.   It is Jesus’ possession of the Spirit that gives his baptism its unique character (1:33) and enables Jesus to speak of sending the Spirit (16:7).  John 1:32-33 is intimately connected with John 20:22.

5. The scene ends with John summarizing his witness to Jesus:   Jesus is the Son of God.  As Psalm 2:7 indicates, referring to someone as “God’s son” does not necessarily imply that they are divine:  In the case of Psalm 2, the king of Israel is “God’s son.”  But, in light of what John has said about Jesus in 1:29-34, the term takes on a different meaning:  Jesus is the Lamb of God (in several senses), he precedes John in a theological / ontological sense, and he is the one upon whom the Spirit remains.  These affirmations fill out what is meant by “Son of God” in this gospel:  One whose actions are definitive, not simply because he acts on behalf of God (an important claim by itself) but because his actions are also the actions of God.  In this brief scene, we have a summary of this gospel’s Christology.


This account of John’s witness (which will be continued in 3:12-36) provides us with a model for our own witness.  John’s witness is powerful for several reasons:

First, John clearly shifts attention away from himself to Jesus.  His witness is his witness but he is not the principal subject but points beyond himself.

Second, John focuses on conveying a truthful and understandable account of who Jesus is.  The success of a witness depends less on the persuasive abilities of the witness than on the Truth it conveys.  John appears less concerned with getting people to “appreciate” him than with telling the truth he knows.

Third, John appears ready to be questioned and disputed (as he clearly is in 1:19-28) without being discouraged.  “Who Jesus is,” he realizes, is not obvious or a simple truth of common sense:  (If this were the case, no witnesses would be needed!).

Finally, John is able to realize that there is a witness that is greater than his own, a witness which makes his own witness fruitful and this is, of course, the witness of God himself to himself.   It is helpful to see the witness of John as manifesting the ideal balance of characteristics:  It is spirited but does not presume to pound the truth into someone’s mind.  It is convinced but realizes that success does not belong to it.  It is concerned to convey the truth but knows that this truth stands beyond itself.

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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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“Between Heaven and Hell”

Dear Readers,

In my previous entry, I mentioned the date, 11.22.1963:  the exact day of death for three significant historical figures:

C. S. Lewis

John F. Kennedy

Aldous Huxley

I highly recommend the excellent book, “Between Heaven and Hell,” by Peter Kreeft, which envisions a conversation and intellectual debate between the three men.  The book artfully highlights the worldview of each of the three men, as C. S. Lewis engages Kennedy and Huxley in Socratic Dialog.

Who will win the debate?  Find out the answer, by reading this fascinating book:  it will sharpen your intellect and skill in the art of reason, persuasive argument, and logic.

Coram Deo,


Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley: 

is a novel by Peter Kreeft about U.S. President John F. Kennedy and authors C. S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), meeting in Purgatory and engaging in a philosophical discussion on faith. It was inspired by the odd coincidence that all three men died on the same day:  November 22, 1963. We see from the three points of view:  Kennedy’s “Modern Christian” view, Lewis’s “conservative Christian” or “Mere Christian” view, and Huxley’s “Orientalized Christian” view.  The book progresses as Lewis and Kennedy discuss Jesus‘ being God Incarnate, to Lewis and Huxley discussing whether or not Jesus was a deity or “just a good person.” [Wikipedia]

Peter John Kreeft 

(born 1937) is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and The King’s College.  He is the author of numerous books, as well as a popular writer of Christian philosophytheology and apologetics.  He also formulated, together with Ronald K. Tacelli, SJ, “Twenty Arguments for the Existence of God”.[1] 

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Worldview Lens: Blueprints


Dear Readers,

Click Worldviews in a Nutshell: Two, to read the previous post, in this series on Worldviews.

Worldviews are the basic stuff of human existence,

the lens through which the world is seen,

the blueprint for how one should live in it and, above all,

the sense of identity and place which enables human beings to be what they are.”

“They are that through which, not at which, a society or an individual normally looks;  they form the grid according to which humans organise reality — not bits of reality that offer themselves for organisation.”

“In order to answer the question ‘Why?’ in relation to the pastwe must move from the ‘outside’ of the event to the ‘inside’; this involves reconstructing the worldviews of people other than ourselves.”

“To ignore worldviews, either our own or those of the culture we are studying, would result in extraordinary shallowness.”

[Image:  First Century Jerusalem]

Worldviews, as I said earlier, are like the foundations of a house: vital, but invisible.”

There are four components of a worldview:
  1. . . . “[they] provide stories through which human beings view reality.  Narrative is the most characteristic expression of worldview, going deeper than the isolated observation or fragmented remark.” 
  2.  . . . “from these stories one can, in principal, discover how to answer basic questions that determine human existence:  who we are, where are we, what is wrong , and what is the solution?”
  3. “Stories and the answers provided to the questions are expressed in cultural symbols.”

  4. “Worldviews include a praxis, a way-of-being-in-the-world.”

    All quotes are from the book, The New Testament and the People of God, by N. T. Wright, pages 121-125.

Nicholas Thomas Wright (born 1 December 1948)  is an Anglican bishop and a leading New Testament scholar.  He is published as N. T. Wright when writing academic work, or Tom Wright when writing for a more popular readership.  His books include What St Paul Really Said and Simply Christian.  Wright was the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England from 2003, until his retirement in 2010.  [Wikipedia]

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Lent Made Easy!

The Third Week of Lent

Dear Family & Friends,

Click on this link:  Lent Made Easy [or read the news item, at the end of this entry.]

I read the news item and reflected upon some of my Lenten readings.  I asked myself, “How would Dietrich Bonhoeffer respond to this news item?”

Bonhoeffer’s words are as timely now as they were in 1937, the year he published his book, “The Cost of Discipleship.”  Here is an excerpt:

Costly Grace by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. 

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares.  The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices.   Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits.   Grace without price; grace without cost!   The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.   Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite.  What would grace be if it were not cheap? 

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system.   It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception” of God.   An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.   The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace.   In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.   Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God. 

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.   Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.  “All for sin could not atone.”   The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners “even in the best life,” as Luther said.  Well, then let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin.  That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs.  Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin.  Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. 

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.   Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. 

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.   It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.   It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows Him. 

Costly grace is the Gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. 

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.   It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.   It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.   Above all, it is costly because it costs God the life of His Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.   Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but deliver Him up for us.   Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. 

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs.   It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which He speaks as it pleases Him.   Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart.   Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow Him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and My burden light.” 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945, was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr.   He was also a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism and a founding member of the Confessing Church.   His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in April 1945, 23 days before the Nazis’ surrender.   His view of Christianity’s role in the secular world has become very influential.


msnbc.com news services:  updated 2/22/2012 8:40:20 AM ET

In an effort to reach parishioners too busy to sit through an Ash Wednesday service, some ministers are bringing the ashes to them.

In Ohio, a church is offering a drive-thru Ash Wednesday blessing for parishioners.  The Rev. Patricia Anderson Cook of Mt. Healthy United Methodist Church in suburban Cincinnati plans to provide the service Wednesday evening in the church’s parking lot.

“Some people are very busy, and some people get a little intimidated walking into a church, this is for them,” Cook told the Cincinnati Inquirer.

In Montclair, N.J., two Episcopalian ministers offered “ashes to go” for commuters at a local train station.   That effort is part of a national campaign.

“More and more, people’s schedules keep them from attending church, especially those who commute into NYC, so we are taking the ashes to them,” Rev. Andrew Butler said.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, which concludes after 40 days with the celebration of Easter.

In addition to ashes, Cook, the suburban Cincinnati minister, will provide a church brochure and a Lenten booklet.

“It’s a drive-thru,” she said. “Not a drive-by.”

 Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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