Who Am I? Part 7

In another essay I presented his Jewish and Roman trials as a kind of ultimate tempting of the flesh of Adam and an ultimate proving of the Holy Spirit which descendedin bodily form like a dove[1] upon Jesus the Christ or Messiah.  I characterized those trials as a time “when sinners, Jerusalem, the whole world, perhaps even the created cosmos were in extreme danger of falling into the hands of an angry God.”  I want to continue with his crucifixion.

Nail me to a cross and I’m stuck there but Jesus said (John 10:17, 18 NET):

This is why the Father loves me – because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again.  No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will.[2]  I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again.  This commandment I received from my Father.

It says to me that at any moment throughout his ordeal of ultimate humiliation Jesus, yehôvâh in the flesh of Adam,[3] could have decided that enough was enough, sat down at the right hand of his Father in heaven and been none the worse for wear—personally.

As they led him away, Luke recorded in his Gospel narrative, they seized Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country.  They placed the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus.[4]  Matthew and Mark recorded the same incident.  I might have assumed that He was too holy to carry his own cross except that John recalled Jesus carrying his own cross (John 19:16, 17 NET).  Apparently the One who said, If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,[5] was too weak to carry his all the way to his crucifixion.

Two other (ἕτεροι, a form of ἕτερος) criminals (κακοῦργοι, a form of κακοῦργος) were also led away to be executed with him.[6]  Isaiah had prophesied, he was numbered with the transgressors,[7] though he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.[8]  But with the words ἕτεροι κακοῦργοι δύο Luke captured (See: ἕτεροι; Luke 11:15, 16) the social reality of Jesus as one of three criminals condemned to death by the duly authorized governor of Judea.  His punishment was neither cruel nor unusual under the prevailing standards of their socially constructed reality.

A great number of the people followed him (Luke 23:27-31 NET):

among them women who were mourning and wailing for him.  But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  For this is certain: The days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore children, and the breasts that never nursed!’  Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’  For if such things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”) and offered Jesus wine mixed with gall to drink.  But after tasting it, he would not drink it.[9]  There they crucified him along with two others, one on each side, with Jesus in the middle.[10]  But Jesus said, “Father, forgive (ἄφες, a form of ἀφίημι) them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”[11]

Jesus, naked[12] on the cross, looked down as the soldiers who crucified Him took his clothes and made four shares, one for each soldier, and the tunic remained. (Now the tunic was seamless, woven from top to bottom as a single piece.)  So the soldiers said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but throw dice to see who will get it.”  This took place to fulfill the scripture that says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they threw dice.”  So the soldiers did these things.[13]  David (1 Samuel 16:1 – 1 Kings 2:11) had prophesied, they look and stare upon me.  They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.[14]

Then they sat down and kept guard over him there.[15]  It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.[16]  That would be the second morning since the night of his arrest with little or no sleep for Jesus.  The people also stood there watching, but the rulers ridiculed him, saying, “He saved others.  Let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, his chosen one!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!”[17]

Pilate also had a notice written and fastened to the cross, which read: “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.”[18]  Thus many of the Jewish residents of Jerusalem read this notice, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the notice was written in Aramaic (Ἑβραϊστί; literally, in Hebrew; NET note 67), Latin, and Greek.  Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The king of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am king of the Jews.’”  Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”[19]

Those who passed by defamed him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha!  You who can destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross!”  In the same way even the chief priests – together with the experts in the law – were mocking him among themselves: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!  Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross now, that we may see and believe!”[20]  He trusts in God – let God, if he wants to, deliver him now because he said, ‘I am God’s Son’!”  The robbers who were crucified with him also spoke abusively to him.[21]  One of the criminals who was hanging there railed at him, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”[22]

This is the point in the story where I wished Jesus would come down from the cross as more than twelve legions of angels came screaming out of the sky to the tune of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries to kill everyone who mocked Him.  Actually it is the ideal of the Sicarii—walking up to an “enemy” (anyone who disagrees with my “truth”) plunging a long knife into him several times and melting away again into the crowd—that appeals to the sin in my flesh more than the straight-up warfare of the Zealots.  Cowardice prevented me from ever actualizing the murderous intentions of my heart.  And until the moment that sentence formed in my mind I hadn’t thanked God for that fear.  All this may help explain why years of imitating the Pharisees felt like a step toward godliness to me.

But the other [criminal] rebuked him [the former criminal], saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we rightly so, for we are getting what we deserve for what we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.”  And Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”[23] as a door of hope opened (Hosea 2:14-17 Tanakh).

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.  And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.  And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD (yehôvâh, יהוה), that thou shalt call me Ishi (ʼı̂ysh, אישי); and shalt call me no more Baali (baʽălı̂y, בעלי).  For I will take away the names of Baalim (baʽal, הבעלים) out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name.

As confessions go, And we rightly so, for we are getting what we deserve for what we did is nothing compared to Achan’s confession (Joshua 7:19-25 Tanakh)

And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.

And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.

So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it.

And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua, and unto all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the LORD.

And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor.

And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day.  And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.

I wonder now whether Achan and his sons and his daughters, after suffering the punishment of criminals, face an implacable Judge or a merciful Savior, not because of the merits of Achan’s confession but because of the merits of that Savior: But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.[24]

Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  So when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, look, here is your son!”  He then said to his disciple, “Look, here is your mother!”  From that very time the disciple took her into his own home.[25]

Now from noon until three, darkness came over all the land.  At about three o’clock Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”[26] that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[27]  After six hours on the cross Jesus lamented his loneliness even as He affirmed his confidence in the Scripture, written for his comfort (Psalm 22:6-18) for the very moment He prayed it (Psalm 22:1, 23, 24 Tanakh):

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.  For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.

When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”  Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.  But the rest said, “Leave him alone!  Let’s see if Elijah will come to save him.”[28]  After this Jesus, realizing that by this time everything was completed, said (in order to fulfill the scripture [Psalm 22:15]), “I am thirsty!”  A jar full of sour wine was there, so they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a branch of hyssop and lifted it to his mouth.  When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!”[29]  David had already spoken for Jesus’ failing breath (Psalm 22:25-31 Tanakh):

My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.  The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.  All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.   For the kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations.  All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.  A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

The temple curtain was torn in two.  Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”  And after he said this he breathed his last.[30]  The earth shook and the rocks were split apart.  And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised.  (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.)[31]

Now when the centurion, who stood in front of him, saw how he died, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”[32]  And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.[33] 

Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? Jesus asked.  The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds.[34]  And in the letter to the Hebrews we are encouraged: Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up.[35]  I tell you the solemn truth, Jesus promised, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father.[36]  For, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[37]

The Gospel harmony I made to write this essay follows.

The Crucifixion

Matthew Mark Luke

John

So they took Jesus, and carrying his own cross…

 John 19:16b, 17a

As they were going out, they found a man from Cyrene named Simon, whom they forced to carry his cross.

Matthew 27:32

The soldiers forced a passerby to carry his cross, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country…

Mark 15:21a

As they led him away, they seized Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country.  They placed the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus.

Luke 23:26

(he was the father of Alexander and Rufus).

Mark 15:21b

A great number of the people followed him, among them women who were mourning and wailing for him.  But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  For this is certain: The days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore children, and the breasts that never nursed!’  Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’  For if such things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Luke 23:27-31

Two other criminals were also led away to be executed with him.

Luke 23:32

They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”)…

Matthew 27:33

They brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which is translated, “Place of the Skull”).

Mark 15:22

So when they came to the place that is called “The Skull” …

Luke 23:33a

…he went out to the place called “The Place of the Skull” (called in Aramaic Golgotha).

John 19:17b

…and offered Jesus wine mixed with gall to drink.  But after tasting it, he would not drink it.

Matthew 27:34

They offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.

Mark 15:23

When they had crucified him…

Matthew 27:35a

Then they crucified him…

Mark 15:24a

…they crucified him there…

Luke 23:33b

There they crucified him…

John 19:18a

…along with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

Luke 23:33c

…along with two others, one on each side, with Jesus in the middle.

John 19:18b

[But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”]

Luke 23:34a

…they divided his clothes by throwing dice.

Matthew 27:35b

…and divided his clothes, throwing dice for them, to decide what each would take.

Mark 15:24b

Then they threw dice to divide his clothes.

Luke 23:34b

Then they sat down and kept guard over him there.

Matthew 27:36

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.

Mark 15:25

The people also stood there watching, but the rulers ridiculed him, saying, “He saved others.  Let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, his chosen one!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!”

Luke 23:35-37

Above his head they put the charge against him, which read: “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.”

Matthew 27:37

The inscription of the charge against him read, “The king of the Jews.”

Mark 15:26

There was also an inscription over him, “This is the king of the Jews.”

Luke 23:38

Pilate also had a notice written and fastened to the cross, which read: “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.”

John 19:19

Thus many of the Jewish residents of Jerusalem read this notice, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the notice was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The king of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am king of the Jews.’”  Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

John 19:20-22

Now when the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and made four shares, one for each soldier, and the tunic remained. (Now the tunic was seamless, woven from top to bottom as a single piece.)  So the soldiers said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but throw dice to see who will get it.” This took place to fulfill the scripture that says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they threw dice.”  So the soldiers did these things.

John 19:23, 24

Then two outlaws were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.  Those who passed by defamed him, shaking their heads  and saying, “You who can destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself!  If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross!”  In the same way even the chief priests – together with the experts in the law and elders – were mocking him: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!  He is the king of Israel!  If he comes down now from the cross, we will believe in him!

Matthew 27:38-42

And they crucified two outlaws with him, one on his right and one on his left.  Those who passed by defamed him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who can destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross!”  In the same way even the chief priests – together with the experts in the law – were mocking him among themselves: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!  Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross now, that we may see and believe!”

Mark 15:27-32a

He trusts in God – let God, if he wants to, deliver him now because he said, ‘I am God’s Son’!”

Matthew 27:43

The robbers who were crucified with him also spoke abusively to him.

Matthew 27:44

Those who were crucified with him also spoke abusively to him.

Mark 15:32b

One of the criminals who was hanging there railed at him, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”  But the other rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we rightly so, for we are getting what we deserve for what we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.”  And Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23:39-43

Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  So when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, look, here is your son!”  He then said to his disciple, “Look, here is your mother!”  From that very time the disciple took her into his own home.

John 19:25-27

Now from noon until three, darkness came over all the land.

Matthew 27:45

Now when it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.

Mark 15:33

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, because the sun’s light failed.

Luke 23:44, 45a

At about three o’clock Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”  Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.  But the rest said, “Leave him alone!  Let’s see if Elijah will come to save him.”

Matthew 27:46-49

Around three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  When some of the bystanders heard it they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah!”  Then someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Leave him alone!  Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down!”

Mark 15:34-36

After this Jesus, realizing that by this time everything was completed, said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty!”  A jar full of sour wine was there, so they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a branch of hyssop and lifted it to his mouth.  When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!”

John 19:28-30a

Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit.  Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom.

Matthew 27:50, 51a

But Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed his last.  And the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom.

Mark 15:37, 38

The temple curtain was torn in two.  Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”  And after he said this he breathed his last.

Luke 23:45, 46

 

 

Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19:30b

The earth shook and the rocks were split apart.  And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised.  (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.)

Matthew 27:51b-53

Now when the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were extremely terrified and said, “Truly this one was God’s Son!”

Matthew 27:54

Now when the centurion, who stood in front of him, saw how he died, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Mark 15:39

Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

Luke 23:47

And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.

Luke 23:48

Many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and given him support were also there, watching from a distance.

Matthew 27:55

There were also women, watching from a distance.

Mark 15:40a

And all those who knew Jesus stood at a distance, and the women who had followed him from Galilee saw these things.

Luke 23:49

Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Matthew 27:56

Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.  When he was in Galilee, they had followed him and given him support.  Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were there too.

Mark 15:40b, 41

 

[1] Luke 3:22a (NET)

[2] The words free will were added by the translators to the Greek word ἐμαυτοῦ translated my own.

[3] Romans, Part 55; My Reasons and My Reason, Part 5; Romans, Part 38; Fear – Genesis, Part 6; Who Am I? Part 2

[4] Luke 23:26 (NET)

[5] Matthew 16:24 (NET)

[6] Luke 23:32 (NET)

[7] Isaiah 53:12b (Tanakh)

[8] Isaiah 53:9b (Tanakh)

[9] Matthew 27:33, 34 (NET)  David Mathis offers the following explanation in his blog post “The Wine Jesus Drank” on desiringGod.

[10] John 19:18 (NET)

[11] Luke 23:34a (NET)

[12] Stephen Ray, “Was Jesus Crucified Naked?,” Defender’s of the Catholic Faith

[13] John 19:23, 24 (NET)

[14] Psalm 22:17b, 18 (Tanakh)

[15] Matthew 27:36 (NET)

[16] Mark 15:25 (NET)

[17] Luke 23:35-37 (NET)

[18] Though it differs slightly from the synoptic Gospels I’m going with John’s account because he, the disciple whom [Jesus] loved, was actually there (John 19:25-27) near enough to read it.

[19] John 19:19-22 (NET)

[20] Mark 15:29-32a (NET)

[21] Matthew 27:43, 44 (NET)

[22] Luke 23:39 (NET)

[23] Luke 23:40-43 (NET)

[24] 1 John 1:9 (NET)

[25] John 19:25-27 (NET)

[26] I had thought and written that this was Aramaic.  E. A. Knapp in his article “Did the Messiah Speak Aramaic or Hebrew? (part 2)” on Torah Class online disputes that.

[27] Matthew 27:45, 46 (NET)

[28] Matthew 27:47-49 (NET)

[29] John 19:28-30a (NET)

[30] Luke 23:45b, 46 (NET)

[31] Matthew 27:51b-53 (NET)

[32] Mark 15:39 (NET)

[33] Luke 23:48 (NET)

[34] John 14:10 (NET)

[35] Hebrews 12:3 (NET)

[36] John 14:12 (NET)

[37] Galatians 5:22, 23a (NET)

Father, Forgive Them – Part 1

Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,[1] Jesus prayed from the cross.  It isn’t found in some early manuscripts so it’s in single brackets in the NET (note 81) translation.  I don’t intend to argue the Is it really true that God said[2] aspect here.  I’m more interested in what He meant when He said it since less than forty years later Roman armies quashed a Jewish revolt.  The death toll was staggering and the temple in Jerusalem was completely destroyed.

“Israel’s sins were responsible for the” destruction of the temple Rabbi Irving Greenberg wrote.  “But what were the sins?  Interestingly, the Rabbis focused on Jewish divisiveness.  Unjustified hatred among the people had invited the tragedy…”[3]  Eliezer Cohen, an editor of The Jewish Magazine online, called it punishment:[4]

The calamity of two thousand years in the exile requires understanding…the sages…told us that the first Temple was destroyed because of three things: sexual immorality, widespread murder and idolatry.  The second Temple was destroyed because of one reason: baseless hatred (sinat chinam).

Sexual immorality, murder and idolatry are three grave sins for which a person is obliged to give his life rather than transgress.  Baseless hatred is not considered such a severe sin.  For the sin of sexual immorality, murder and idolatry the Jews had their Temple destroyed and were exiled for a period of only seventy years.  After this period, they came back to their land and rebuilt the second Temple which stood another 400 plus years.

Yet for the comparatively minor sin of baseless hatred the second Temple was destroyed and we were exiled for almost two thousand years!  The punishment seems out of proportion to the crime!!

Though his reasons were different the church historian Eusebius, writing about the destruction of the temple under the Roman emperor Vespasian, seemed to describe it as divine punishment:[5]

For the Jews after the ascension of our Saviour, in addition to their crime against him, had been devising as many plots as they could against his apostles.  First Stephen was stoned to death by them, and after him James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John, was beheaded, and finally James, the first that had obtained the episcopal seat in Jerusalem after the ascension of our Saviour, died in the manner already described.

John Chrysostom called it grievous wrath and punishment:[6]

‘I ask the Jews, whence came upon them so grievous wrath from heaven more woeful than all that had come upon them before?  Plainly it was because of the desperate crime and the denial of the Cross.  But He shews that they deserved still heavier punishment than they received, when He adds, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved;” that is, If the siege by the Romans should be continued longer, all the Jews would perish; for by “all flesh,” He means all the Jewish nation…”

“This early Christian understanding that the Jewish people were being punished for their rejection of Christ may seem very harsh today,” Robin A. Brace explained:[7]

but we must understand that this was a widespread view for many hundreds of years.  Only now, in an age of ‘political correctness,’ ‘liberal values,’ and a concern for ‘human rights,’ has it become unfashionable to express such a view.  Yet let there be no doubt that when the people of Judea demanded that Barabbas the robber should be released and that Jesus should be condemned, those people apparently accepted a curse upon themselves and upon their children for their rejection of Jesus.  Scripture itself states,

Mat 27:25: ‘Then all the people answered and said, Let His blood be on us and on our children.’

The end of the second temple era “was an era of great political upheaval internally, with an ongoing struggle for supremacy amongst different groups of Jews:”[8]

  1. The Pharisees were the led by the rabbis and Sanhedrin…they were careful to maintain ritual purity, and separated themselves from those who did not strictly observe these laws.
  2. The Sadducees rejected the Oral Torah and the leadership of the rabbis…Those who wanted to befriend the Romans were mostly Sadducees.
  3. The Zealots were passionate nationalists who broke away from the Pharisees because they wanted to fight the Romans at all costs, while the Pharisees hesitated.
  4. The Sicarii were against any form of government altogether. “Sicarii” literally means “dagger-men.”  They resorted to stealth and terrorism to achieve their objectives.  They would carry small daggers under their cloaks and stab their enemies – Romans or Roman sympathizers, often wealthy Jews and elites associated with the priesthood – and then blend into the crowd.

“By 66 CE, the Jews in many of the coastal cities were treated as despised outsiders:”[9]

On one day in Jerusalem, 3,600 Jews were killed by Roman troops who had been sent in to quell the riots. Florus hoped the Jews of Jerusalem would try to avenge the slaughter so he could justify the mass killing of the Jewish population, loot their possessions, and seize the Holy Temple.  Instead, the Jews organized a march seeking to make peace with the governor.  The Roman soldiers, lusting for blood, charged into the crowd of marchers, killing many Jews, and continued on to the Temple Mount.  Many Jews had gathered in there to block the entrances.  They were successful, and the Roman soldiers retreated.

But now the Jews began revolting against the Romans throughout the land.  In ever-increasing numbers they joined the movement of the Zealots who were openly preparing for warfare against the Romans.

“The story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza was the pivotal event that ignited Nero’s rage and caused the destruction of the Holy Temple:”[10]

A Jew who had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza made a feast.  He told his servant to invite Kamtza, but by mistake the servant invited Bar Kamtza …when the host noticed Bar Kamtza, he demanded that he leave…Bar Kamtza was embarrassed…“I am willing to pay the full cost of the feast, but do not embarrass me any more…”  The host had Bar Kamtza dragged from the feast and thrown into the streets…Bar Kamtza went to Emperor Nero and told him that the Jews were planning a rebellion against him.

“Vespasian’s troops brutally conquered the north of Israel, eradicating all resistance:”[11]

Meanwhile, the Jewish factions – now increasingly concentrated in Jerusalem – moved beyond power struggles into open civil war.  While Vespasian merely watched from a distance, various factions of Zealots and Sicarii fought each other bitterly, even those that had common goals.  They killed those advocating surrender.  Thousands of Jews died at the hands of other Jews in just a few years.

Long before, the residents of Jerusalem had stored provisions in case of a Roman siege.  Three wealthy men had donated huge storehouses of flour, oil, and wood—enough supplies to survive a siege of 21 years.

The Zealots, however, wanted all-out war.  They were unhappy with the attitude of the Sages, who proposed sending a peace delegation to the Romans.  In order to bring things to a head and force their fellow Jews to fight, groups of militia set fire to the city’s food stores, condemning its population to starvation.  They also imposed an internal siege on Jerusalem, not letting their fellow Jews in or out…

In 69 CE, Vespasian returned to Rome to serve as emperor, but first he appointed his son, Titus, to carry on in his stead.  In 70 CE, Titus came towards Jerusalem with an army of 80,000 soldiers.

“In honor of Passover, many Jews from all over Judea risked their lives to make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, arriving just ahead of the swiftly-approaching Roman army:”[12]

When they arrived, they found a city divided among warring factions, even as the Romans were in sight.

An unlikely alliance of Pharisees and Sadducees – both of whom did not want to engage the Romans in war – held control of large swathes of the city.  The Sicarii, led by Simon ben Giora, held much of the Upper City and parts of the Lower City.  The Zealots, divided amongst themselves, controlled the Temple area: A moderate faction, led by Eleazar ben Simon, camped in the Temple complex itself while the extreme Zealots, led by Yochanan of Gush Chalav, camped on the Temple Mount—in between the moderate Zealots and the Sadducees.

The moderate Zealots generously opened the gates of the Temple so the Jews could come in and offer their Paschal sacrifices.  But the extremists, pretending to be Jews coming to offer sacrifices, also entered.  Once inside, they took out their swords and began to kill moderates as well as visiting Jews.

“On the day after Passover, Titus started engaging in active warfare.  Now, finally, all the factions in Jerusalem had no choice but to work together and fight their common enemy.”[13]  “When Titus saw he could not conquer them by force, he decided to starve the Jews into submission:”[14]

A terrible hunger now ravaged the overcrowded city.  Soon the last stores of food dwindled down.  Rich people gave all their wealth for a bit of food.  Even leather was cooked and eaten.  At first the Zealots had not been affected by hunger because they took other people’s food, but eventually they too became desperately hungry, eating their horses and even their horses’ dung and saddles.

In Josephus’s account (The Jewish Wars, 5:10): “The roofs were filled with women and small children expiring from hunger, and the corpses of old men were piled in the streets.  Youths swollen with hunger wandered like shadows in the marketplace until they collapsed.  No one mourned the dead, because hunger had deadened all feeling…”

The streets were soon filled with corpses, and, as it was hot summer weather, terrible epidemics broke out. Hundreds of people were found dead every morning.  In their despair, many of the Jews tried to leave the enclosure of Jerusalem under the cover of night to seek something edible in the fields.  They were easily captured, and Titus had them crucified in plain view of the city’s defenders on the wall.  In one night, Josephus tells us, five thousand Jews were discovered searching for food and were all crucified.

“Knowing the dire situation in the Jewish camp, Titus sent his spokesman, Josephus, to convince the Jews to surrender.  The Jewish warriors turned deaf ears to his words and ejected him contemptuously from their presence.  The battle now raged in the Temple area.”[15]  “According to Josephus, Titus did not want the Temple to be burnt, apparently because a standing (but vanquished) Temple would reflect more on Rome’s glory:”[16]

It was a Roman soldier acting on his own initiative who, hoisted on the shoulders of another soldier, threw a firebrand into the Temple.  Titus tried to put a stop to the fire, but in the chaos, his soldiers did not hear him.  (Other historians contradict this account of Titus’s enlightened perspective and report that Titus ordered the Temple destroyed.)

In either case, before long, the Temple was engulfed in flames.  The Jews frantically tried to stop the fire, but were unsuccessful.  In despair, many Jews threw themselves into the flames.  The Roman soldiers rushed into the melee.  Romans and Jews were crowded together, and their dead bodies fell on top of each other.

Josephus recalled the carnage:[17]

Crowded together around the entrances, many were trampled down by their companions; others, stumbling on the smoldering and smoked-filled ruins of the porticoes, died as miserably as the defeated.  As they drew closer to the Temple, they pretended not even to hear Caesar’s orders, but urged the men in front to throw in more firebrands.  The rebels were powerless to help; carnage and flight spread throughout.

Most of the slain were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, and they were butchered where they were caught.  The heap of corpses mounted higher and higher about the altar; a stream of blood flowed down the Temple’s steps, and the bodies of those slain at the top slipped to the bottom…

While the Temple was ablaze, the attackers plundered it, and countless people who were caught by them were slaughtered.  There was no pity for age and no regard was accorded rank; children and old men, laymen and priests, alike were butchered; every class was pursued and crushed in the grip of war, whether they cried out for mercy or offered resistance.

Through the roar of the flames streaming far and wide, the groans of the falling victims were heard; such was the height of the hill and the magnitude of the blazing pile that the entire city seemed to be ablaze; and the noise – nothing more deafening and frightening could be imagined.

There were the war cries of the Roman legions as they swept onwards en masse, the yells of the rebels encircled by fire and sword, the panic of the people who, cut off above, fled into the arms of the enemy, and their shrieks as they met their fate.  The cries on the hill blended with those of the multitudes in the city below; and now many people who were exhausted and tongue-tied as a result of hunger, when they beheld the Temple on fire, found strength once more to lament and wail.  Peraea and the surrounding hills, added their echoes to the deafening din.  But more horrifying than the din were the sufferings.

The Temple Mount, everywhere enveloped in flames, seemed to be boiling over from its base; yet the blood seemed more abundant than the flames and the numbers of the slain greater than those of the slayers.  The soldiers climbed over heaps of bodies as they chased the fugitives.

It’s a horrifying story.  But is it knowledge of God, how He treats people who are dearly loved (ἀγαπητοὶ, a form of ἀγαπητός)?  I thought so and became an atheist when God didn’t measure up to my expectations.  But now I think it’s the religious mind that seeks out guilt to assign blame: Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?[18]  “They deserved it,” mitigates the horror a bit.  But I can no longer conscience standing before the judgment seat of Christ with this story as proof of how God treats people.

If anything, this story describes how sin treats people.  It is not a story (Galatians 5:13-26) of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.[19]

Back to Who Am I? Part 7

[1] Luke 23:34a (NET)

[2] Genesis 3:1b (NET)

[3] Rabbi Irving Greenberg, “Destruction As Punishment,” myjewishlearning.com

[4] Eliezer Cohen, “Baseless Hatred and the Destruction of the Temple,” The Jewish Magazine

[5] Quoted from: Robin A. Brace, “Jerusalem, AD70: The Worst Desolation Ever?,” ukapologetics.net

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8]The Factions of the Second Temple Era,”  Chabad.org

[9]Revolt against Rome,” Chabad.org

[10]The Story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza,” Chabad.org

[11]Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s Request,” Chabad.org

[12]The Last Passover,” Chabad.org

[13]Battle,” Chabad.org

[14]Starvation,” Chabad.org

[15]The Seventeenth of Tammuz,” Chabad.org

[16]The Destruction of the Temple,” Chabad.org

[17]The Romans Destroy the Temple at Jerusalem, 70 AD,” eyewitnesstohistory.com

[18] John 9:2 (NET)

[19] Romans 3:22 (NET)

Forgiven or Passed Over? Part 1

Revisiting an essay—David’s Forgiveness, Part 1—I realized I had put an inordinate emphasis on the word forgiven without looking into the meaning of the original Hebrew word.  My suspicion of Bible translators feels at times like a paranoid schizophrenic’s fear of the CIA.  Lapses like this one renew my appreciation for the maxim, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”[1]

This essay could be very short.  I could simply say that Nathan actually responded to David’s confession with the words, Yes, and the Lord has passed over[2] (ʽâbar) your sin.  You are not going to die.[3]  Such a translation would agree with Paul’s assessment of God’s past actions: God in his forbearance had passed over (πάρεσιν, a form of πάρεσις) the sins previously committed.[4]  I could simply accept the text at face value, that ʽâbar is not forgiveness and God is free to exact whatever penalty He chooses.

It seems like an ironclad argument.  But five of the twelve Bibles I checked translate ʽâbar in 2 Samuel 12:13 forgiven or forgives.  Of the remaining seven four have it put away, two are taken away, and one, Jehovah hath caused thy sin to pass away.  How different is that from forgiven really?

ʽâbar 2 Samuel 12:13

Bible Versions

forgiven NET, CEV, NAB
put away ASV, DNT, KJV, NKJV
taken away GWT, NIV
forgives TEV, TMSG
pass away YLT

Do the translators believe that this is all I should expect from the forgiveness God exalted Jesus to give to Israel?  God exalted him to his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness (ἄφεσιν, a form of ἄφεσις) of sins.[5]  Apparently a primary verb to forgive is as absent from holy Hebrew as it is from pagan Greek.  The concept to forgive is either shoehorned into, or extrapolated from, other verbs in both languages.  That gives me cause to study ʽâbar in more detail to get a feel for its capacity to carry forgiveness.

I had the opportunity to go home for a month at Christmas.  Home is a relative concept.  I alternated between my mother’s house visiting her, my sister and her husband, and my ex-mother-in-law’s house about a hundred miles north visiting her, my kids, my ex-wife and her husband.  The day after I arrived I attended my son’s wedding.

We all sat in the front row.  I offered the seat next to our ex-wife to my son’s biological father.  He declined the offer and sat next to me.  (Her current husband sat on her other side.)  He is about two years from a painful break-up with his significant other.  He leaned over and whispered to me, “I don’t know how you do it.  I don’t think I could sit next to my ex, smiling, at her son’s wedding.”  He gave me the opportunity to say that I couldn’t take the credit, that it is not my doing so much as my getting out of the way of the Lord’s doing: his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and firm control.  He received it well and acknowledged that he was seeking a similar peace.

Later, in a phone conversation with another friend who questioned me more specifically about the fruit of the Spirit, I acknowledged that sadly the Lord’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness aren’t always my first impulse.  Sometimes letting the fruit of his Spirit shine through me is a matter of waiting in that firm control until the second, third or fourth impulse holds sway.  But as I think of it now there is something else that makes friendship with my ex-wife possible.

I forgave her for divorcing me.  I forgive her every night I go to bed alone and every morning I wake up.  And I will forgive her for as long as we both shall live.  “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel[6]  I don’t forgive her because I am so righteous.

Jesus taught us to pray, forgive (ἄφες, a form of ἀφίημι) us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven (ἀφήκαμεν, another form of ἀφίημι) our debtors.[7]  I, a sinful man in need of the Father’s forgiveness, pray this daily, and I believe Jesus’ saying: For if you forgive (ἀφῆτε, another form of ἀφίημι) others their sins (παραπτώματα, a form of παράπτωμα), your heavenly Father will also forgive (ἀφήσει, another form of ἀφίημι) you.  But if you do not forgive (ἀφῆτε, another form of ἀφίημι) others, your Father will not forgive (ἀφήσει, another form of ἀφίημι) you your sins (παραπτώματα, a form of παράπτωμα).[8]

And here I probably give myself too much credit for rational consistency.  I forgive because I am schooled in this teaching by the Holy Spirit and filled continuously with his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and firm control.  It occurs to me, however, that one who feels more righteous than I, might feel less need of the Father’s forgiveness and less compulsion to forgive others.  The fault in this logic is that the most righteous man of all prayed, Father, forgive (ἄφες, a form of ἀφίημι) them, for they don’t know what they are doing[9] as He surrendered[10] to his Father’s will.

The Father’s answer to his beloved Son’s request is the hope of all us sinners if it does not depend on human desire or exertion, but on God who shows mercy[11] (ἐλεῶντος, a form of ἐλεέω).  For God has consigned all people to disobedience (ἀπείθειαν, a form of ἀπείθεια) so that he may show mercy (ἐλεήσῃ, another form of ἐλεέω) to them all.[12]  What shall we say then?  Is there injustice with God?  Absolutely not!  For he says to Moses: I will have mercy (ἐλεήσω, another form of ἐλεέω) on whom I have mercy (ἐλεῶ, another form of ἐλεέω), and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”[13]

The Greek word ὡς persuades me that forgiveness is, and will be perceived as, a relative as opposed to an absolute concept.  So then, be perfect, as (ὡς) your heavenly Father is perfect.[14]  Whenever you pray, do not be like (ὡς) the hypocrites[15]  …may your will be done on earth as (ὡς) it is in heaven.[16]  …and forgive us our debts, as (ὡς) we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.[17]  The absolute on/off positions are clear.[18]  But some form of continuum from none to full pardon seems to be indicated by ὡς, contingent upon that quality of forgiveness we extend to others.

Still, I would suggest that we will be inclined to extend the same forgiveness to others that we believe we receive from God.  If that forgiveness seems to include punishment we are more likely to believe that some form of punishment should be meted out with our forgiveness as well.  Or if the one extending such forgiveness has no authority to punish, conditions may be attached, making forgiveness something that must be earned as opposed to something graciously given and received.  I take the interaction between David and Shimei as a case in point.

As David fled from Jerusalem during the events that fulfilled the Lord’s promise to bring disaster (raʽ ) on you from inside your own household,[19] Shimei threw stones and yelled, “Leave!  Leave!  You man of bloodshed, you wicked man!  The Lord has punished (shûb) you for all the spilled blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you rule.  Now the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom.  Disaster (raʽ ) has overtaken you, for you are a man of bloodshed!”[20]  Clearly, Shimei’s assessment does not agree with Nathan the prophet’s assessment.

Nathan the Prophet’s Assessment

This is what the Lord God of Israel says:

2 Samuel 12:7b (NET)

Why have you shown contempt for the word of the Lord by doing evil in my sight?

2 Samuel 12:9a (NET)

You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword…

2 Samuel 12:9b (NET)

…and you have taken his wife as your own!

2 Samuel 2:9c (NET)

You have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.  So now the sword will never depart from your house.

2 Samuel 12:9d, 10a (NET)

For you have despised me by taking the wife of Uriah the Hittite as your own!

2 Samuel 12:10b (NET)

I am about to bring disaster on you from inside your own household!  Right before your eyes I will take your wives and hand them over to your companion.  He will have sexual relations with your wives in broad daylight!  Although you have acted in secret, I will do this thing before all Israel, and in broad daylight.

2 Samuel 12:11, 12 (NET)

Then David exclaimed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord!”  Nathan replied to David, “Yes, and the Lord has ʽâbar your sin.  You are not going to die.

2 Samuel 12:13 (NET)

Nonetheless, because you have treated the Lord with such contempt in this matter, the son who has been born to you will certainly die.

2 Samuel 12:14 (NET)

The Hebrew word translated punished (shûb) is not found among the words the Lord God of Israel spoke through Nathan,[21] though I have certainly interpreted them as if they described recompense.  As a child I assumed that “forgiveness” only pertained to hell.  I believed that God would still punish me for my sins some other way.  He couldn’t help Himself, I thought, it’s who He is.

Abishai couldn’t tolerate hearing his king and commander spoken to as Shimei had spoken to him: Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?  Let me go over (ʽâbar) and cut off his head![22]  Abishai’s use of ʽâbar doesn’t sound much like forgiveness, but David said, “What do we have in common, you sons of Zeruiah?  If he curses because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David!’, who can say to him, ‘Why have you done this?’”[23] David exercised what I have come to call an experimental faith (2 Samuel 16:11, 12 NKJV):

And David said to Abishai and all his servants, “See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life.  How much more now may this Benjamite?  Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the Lord has ordered him.  It may be that the Lord will look on my affliction, and that the Lord will repay (shûb) me with good for his cursing this day.”

As David returned, lamenting his Pyrrhic victory[24] over his son Absalom, Shimei was one of the first[25] to greet him.  Don’t think badly of me, my lord, he said, and don’t recall the sin of your servant on the day when you, my lord the king, left Jerusalem!  Please don’t call it to mind!  For I, your servant, know that I sinned, and I have come today as the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king.[26]  These are reminiscent of David’s words after Nathan confronted him (Psalm 51:1-3 NET):

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your loyal love!  Because of your great compassion, wipe away my rebellious acts!  Wash away my wrongdoing!  Cleanse me of my sin!  For I am aware of my rebellious acts; I am forever conscious of my sin.

Abishai, who may have been hiding with David in the cave when Saul entered to relieve himself,[27] pursued a pious good (possibly expecting David’s approval): For this should not Shimei be put to death?  After all, he cursed the Lord’s anointed (mâshı̂yach)![28]  But David seemed to pursue something more like a beautiful good: What do we have in common, you sons of Zeruiah?  You are like my enemy today!  Should anyone be put to death in Israel today?  Don’t you realize that today I am king over Israel?[29]

David said to Shimei, “You won’t die.”  The king vowed an oath concerning this.[30]  Here it sounds like he forgave Shimei.  But apparently that wasn’t the case.  He held onto his grudge against Shimei for the rest of his life.  With his dying breath[31] he instructed Solomon, another son by Bathsheba (1 Kings 2:8, 9 NET):

Note well, you still have to contend with Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who tried to call down upon me a horrible judgment when I went to Mahanaim.  He came down and met me at the Jordan, and I solemnly promised him by the Lord, ‘I will not strike you down with the sword.’  But now don’t treat him as if he were innocent.  You are a wise man and you know how to handle him; make sure he has a bloody death.

The Lord however didn’t treat David that way.  He didn’t recall David’s sin when He spoke to Jeroboams’s wife by Ahijah the prophet (1 Kings 14:7, 8 NET):

“Go, tell Jeroboam, ‘This is what the Lord God of Israel says: “I raised you up from among the people and made you ruler over my people Israel.  I tore the kingdom away from the Davidic dynasty and gave it to you. But you are not like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me wholeheartedly by doing only (raq) what I approve.”’”

This is another reason I wish to look deeper into ʽâbar.  Whatever it means, it altered reality for the God, who does not lie[32] when He extended it to David.

Forgiven or Passed Over? Part 2

[1] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/98153-just-because-you-re-paranoid-doesn-t-mean-they-aren-t-after-you

[2] The first occurrence in the Bible is Genesis 8:1b (NKJV), And God made a wind to pass (ʽâbar) over the earth, and the waters subsided.

[3] 2 Samuel 12:13b (NET)

[4] Romans 3:25b (NET)

[5] Acts 5:31 (NET)

[6] Malachi 2:16a (NET)

[7] Matthew 6:12 (NET)

[8] Matthew 6:14, 15 (NET)

[9] Luke 23:34a (NET)

[10] Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now?  How then would the scriptures that say it must happen this way be fulfilled (πληρωθῶσιν, a form of πληρόω)? (Matthew 26:53, 54 NET)

[11] Romans 9:16 (NET)

[12] Romans 11:32 (NET)

[13] Romans 9:14, 15 (NET)

[14] Matthew 5:48 (NET)

[15] Matthew 6:5a (NET)

[16] Matthew 6:10b (NET)

[17] Matthew 6:12 (NET)

[18] Matthew 6:14, 15 (NET)

[19] 2 Samuel 12:11 (NET)

[20] 2 Samuel 16:7, 8 (NET)

[21] It does occur in the description of events leading up to and following those words (2 Samuel 11:4, 15; 12:23) but seems to be used in its more literal sense, to return.

[22] 2 Samuel 16:9 (NET)

[23] 2 Samuel 16:10 (NET)

[24] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrrhic_victory See: 2 Samuel 18:33 (NET)

[25] 2 Samuel 19:16 (NET)

[26] 2 Samuel 19:19, 20 (NET)

[27] 1 Samuel 24:3 (NET)

[28] 2 Samuel 19:21 (NET)  See also: 1 Samuel 24:6 (NET)

[29] 2 Samuel 19:22 (NET)

[30] 2 Samuel 19:23 (NET)

[31] 1 Kings 2:10 (NET)

[32] Titus 1:2 (NET)

Romans, Part 53

So, how can I view—Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord[1]—as a definition of love (ἀγάπη) rather than as rules?  Again, I’ve constructed the following table to help.

The Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22, 23 (NET)

love (ἀγάπη)

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.  Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint, because the love (ἀγάπη) of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.[2] Love (ἀγάπη) does no wrong (κακὸν, a form of κακός) to a neighbor. Therefore love (ἀγάπη) is the fulfillment of the law.[3] Knowledge puffs up, but love (ἀγάπη) builds up.[4]
Love (ἀγάπη) is…

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NET)

…not self-serving (οὐ ζητεῖ τὰ ἑαυτῆς; literally, “not seek itself”)…

1 Corinthians 13:5 (NET)

If someone owns a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go look for (ζητεῖ, a form of ζητέω) the one that went astray?[5]  But above all pursue (ζητεῖτε, another form of ζητέω) his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.[6]
This Love Without Hypocrisy…

Romans 12:9-21 (NET)

Do not lag in zeal (σπουδῇ, a form of σπουδή), be enthusiastic (ζέοντες, a form of ζέω) in spirit…

Romans 12:11a (NET)

…serve (δουλεύοντες, a form of δουλεύω) the Lord.

Romans 12:11b (NET)

But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all eagerness (σπουδῇ) and in the love from us that is in you – make sure that you excel in this act of kindness too.[7] Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, arrived in Ephesus.  He was an eloquent speaker, well-versed in the scriptures.  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm (ζέων, another form of ζέω) he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John.[8] Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart as to Christ, not like those who do their work only when someone is watching – as people-pleasers – but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart.  Obey with enthusiasm (εὐνοίας, a form of εὔνοια), as though serving (δουλεύοντες) the Lord and not people, because you know that each person, whether slave or free, if he does something good (ἀγαθόν, a form of ἀγαθός), this will be rewarded by the Lord.[9]

In the previous essay it seemed to make intuitive sense to place cling to what is good[10]under that aspect of the fruit of the Spirit translated goodness.  Here it may seem like begging the question[11] to simply place—Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord—under love.  In one sense love (ἀγάπη) is the master key that can stand for all aspects of the fruit of the Spirit.  I think John used ἀγάπη that way often, but I want to follow Paul’s thinking here.

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith (πίστεως, a form of πίστις), he wrote.  By our own faith?  I think not, for πίστις[12] is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.  Since we have been declared righteous by faith we have peace (εἰρήνην, a form of εἰρήνη) with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.[13]  Again, peace (εἰρήνη) is an aspect of the fruit of his Spirit.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ we have also obtained access by faith (πίστει, another form of πίστις) into this grace (χάριν, a form of χάρις) in which we stand.  And by grace, though Paul may mean more, I think he cannot mean less than the credited righteousness of God, this very fruit of God’s Holy Spirit.  And we rejoice in the hope of our glory!  But that’s not what Paul wrote.  And we rejoice (καυχώμεθα, a form of καυχάομαι) in the hope of God’s glory.[14]

Though the NET translators chose rejoice for καυχώμεθα here and in the next verse, boast is a more obvious meaning.  I say again, let no one think that I am a fool.  But if you do, then at least accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast (καυχήσωμαι, another form of καυχάομαι) a little.  What I am saying with this boastful (καυχήσεως, a form of καύχησις) confidence I do not say the way the Lord would.  Instead it is, as it were, foolishness.  Since many are boasting (καυχῶνται, another form of καυχάομαι) according to human standards, I too will boast (καυχήσομαι, another form of καυχάομαι).[15]  By the way, according to human standards is κατὰ σάρκα in Greek, according to the flesh (NKJV).

It gives me the sense that Paul meant we boast in the hope of God’s glory.  We boast in the hope that God will be glorified by the lives we live in the flesh (not according to the flesh), crucified with Christ (it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me),[16] living by the Spirit,[17] not by the works of the flesh.[18]  Translated that way we might be less likely to gloss over it and boast in the hope of our own glory.  Not only this, Paul continued, but we also rejoice (καυχώμεθα, a form of καυχάομαι; or, boast) in sufferings.[19]  So where does Paul get off writing this wacko stuff?

If I must boast (καυχᾶσθαι, another form of καυχάομαι), I will boast (καυχήσομαι, another form of καυχάομαι) about the things that show my weakness (ἀσθενείας, a form of ἀσθένεια).[20]  There was method to Paul’s madness.  For the Lord said to him, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (ἀσθενείᾳ).” So then, Paul concluded, I will boast (καυχήσομαι) most gladly about my weaknesses (ἀσθενείαις), so that the power of Christ may reside in me.[21]  And in Romans we find a similar method to his madness: we also rejoice (or, boast) in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.[22]  And here I get a beautiful glimmer of an understanding why the NET translators chose rejoice over boast.

We don’t rejoice or boast in our own suffering because of a rational understanding: knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.  We can only rejoice or boast in our own suffering because we are filled with the joy (χαρὰ) of God, another aspect of the fruit of his Spirit.  And rejoice hearkens back to that fact better than boast ever could.  I am confident they chose rejoice for this reason because of a note on the next verse.

And hope does not disappoint, Paul concluded, because the love (ἀγάπη) of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.[23]  The note in the NET reads: “The phrase ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ (…‘the love of God’) could be interpreted as either an objective genitive (‘our love for God’), subjective genitive (‘God’s love for us’), or both (M. Zerwick’s ‘general’ genitive [Biblical Greek,§§36-39]; D. B. Wallace’s ‘plenary’ genitive [ExSyn 119-21]). The immediate context, which discusses what God has done for believers, favors a subjective genitive, but the fact that this love is poured out within the hearts of believers implies that it may be the source for believers’ love for God; consequently an objective genitive cannot be ruled out. It is possible that both these ideas are meant in the text and that this is a plenary genitive: ‘The love that comes from God and that produces our love for God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us’ (ExSyn 121).”

Here is one place I can say with confidence the NET translators really got what Paul was saying.  This love (ἀγάπη), which has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us, does no wrong (κακὸν) to a neighbor.  Therefore love (ἀγάπη) is the fulfillment (πλήρωμα) of the law.[24]  Pouring this love out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us is what Jesus meant when He said: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill (πληρῶσαι, a form of πληρόω, the verb from which the noun πλήρωμα is derived) them.[25]

I want to spend some time with κακὸν (a form of κακός) since this ἀγάπη does (or, works) no wrong (or, harm) to a neighbor.  The first time κακὸν occurs in the New Testament was from the mouth of the Roman governor.  Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?”  They all said, “Crucify him!”  He asked, “Why? What wrong (κακὸν) has he done?” But they shouted more insistently, “Crucify him!”[26]  Though Pilate found no κακὸν in Him under Roman law the chief priests and elders of Israel had accused Him of many things: “Don’t you hear how many charges they are bringing against you?”[27] Pilate asked.  When Jesus was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he did not respond.[28]

Now, with 20-20 hindsight I can see Jesus consciously fulfilling Scripture: He was treated harshly and afflicted, but he did not even open his mouth.  Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block, like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not even open his mouth.[29]  At the time in the moment, however, He appeared obstinate, belligerent and disdainful of authority.  Consider his teaching (Matthew 23:1-12 NET).

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat.  Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it.  But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach.  They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them.  They do all their deeds to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long.  They love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’  But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers.  And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Even here there is a very rough edge that is disdainful of human authority.  More to the point, perhaps, Jesus did nothing that would inhibit his progress toward the cross.  My commandment (ἐντολὴ, a form of ἐντολή) is this, He also said, to love (ἀγαπᾶτε, a form of ἀγαπάω) one another just as I have loved (ἠγάπησα, another form of ἀγαπάω) you.  No one has greater love (ἀγάπην, a form of ἀγάπη) than this – that one lays down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command (ἐντέλλομαι) you.[30]  Hanging on the cross, after thirty plus years of human experience, eating it, drinking it, pissing and shitting it, Jesus prayed what I consider the real prayer of salvation: Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.[31]

My point here, I suppose, is that the love that does (or, works) no wrong (or, harm) to a neighbor may not always appear to all the people all the time to be doing or working no wrong or harm to a neighbor.  By his own admission Jesus’ death on a cross was not his will but his Father’s.[32]  Like most human beings Jesus wanted to live; whoever is among the living has hope; a live dog is better than a dead lion.[33]  Perhaps I’ve overstated the case.  Jesus was not suicidal as He hung on the cross.

I want to follow this just a bit farther (Luke 16:25 NET).

Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things (ἀγαθά, another form of ἀγαθός) and Lazarus likewise bad things (κακά, another form of κακός), but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish.’

When I considered this in the light of the gospel I gleaned from my religion,[34] Abraham’s words seemed like karmic nonsense.  But in the light of the knowledge of God I’m compelled to reconsider.  God is love (ἀγάπη).[35]  Love (ἀγάπη) does no wrong (κακὸν, a form of κακός) to a neighbor.[36]  (And this is οὐκ the absolute negation, modifying ἐργάζεται [a form of ἐργάζομαι] apparently not κακὸν.)  So while I might be intellectually stimulated to wonder what role God’s love played in Lazarus’ life, the Holy Spirit reminds me that Knowledge puffs up, but love (ἀγάπη) builds up.[37]  All in all it is simpler then to assume that God’s love was revealed after Lazarus’ death.  This is in accord with Jesus’ knowledge of God: he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live before him.[38]  And it is prudent to accept that I do not dictate when God reveals his love to anyone (or, in anyone for that matter).

I’ll continue looking into—Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord—as a definition of love rather than as rules in the next essay.

Romans, Part 54

Back to To Make Holy, Part 1

 

[1] Romans 12:11 (NET)

[2] Romans 5:1-5 (NET)

[3] Romans 13:10 (NET)

[4] 1 Corinthians 8:1b (NET)

[5] Matthew 18:12b (NET)

[6] Matthew 6:33 (NET)

[7] 2 Corinthians 8:7 (NET)

[8] Acts 18:24, 25 (NET)

[9] Ephesians 6:5-8 (NET)

[10] Romans 12:9b (NET)

[11] http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/begging-the-question.html

[12] Galatians 5:22 (NET) translated faithfulness

[13] Romans 5:1 (NET)

[14] Romans 5:2 (NET)

[15] 2 Corinthians 11:16-18 (NET)

[16] Galatians 2:20 (NET)

[17] Galatians 5:16 (NET)

[18] Galatians 5:19 (NET)

[19] Romans 5:3a (NET)

[20] 2 Corinthians 11:30 (NET)

[21] 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NET)

[22] Romans 5:3, 4 (NET)

[23] Romans 5:5 (NET)

[24] Romans 13:10 (NET)

[25] Matthew 5:17 (NET)

[26] Matthew 27:22, 23 (NET)

[27] Matthew 27:13 (NET)

[28] Matthew 27:12 (NET)

[29] Isaiah 53:7 (NET)

[30] John 15:12-14 (NET)

[31] Luke 23:34a (NET)

[32] Luke 22:42 (NET)

[33] Ecclesiastes 9:4 (NET)

[34] “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ before you die or burn in hell for all eternity.”

[35] 1 John 4:8, 16 (NET)

[36] Romans 13:10a (NET)

[37] 1 Corinthians 8:1b (NET)

[38] Luke 20:38 (NET)

Forgiveness and my Religious Mind

If Jesus prayed Father, leave them (ἄφετε αὐτούς), for they don’t know what they are doing, as He was crucified rather than Father, forgive them (αφες αυτοις), for they don’t know (οἴδασιν, a form of εἴδω)[1] what they are doing (ποιοῦσιν, a form of ποιέω),[2] that’s a big difference, too big to turn on the translation of one word (αφετε and αφες are forms of ἀφίημι).[3]  Yet that seems to be my only choice when comparing Luke 23:34 with Matthew 15:14.

In Matthew 15:14 (NET) Jesus spoke to his disciples about the Pharisees, Leave (ἄφετε, a form of ἀφίημι) them!  They are blind guides.  If someone who is blind leads another who is blind, both will fall into a pit.  In Luke 23:34 the Greek word εἴδω is the knowledge gained by seeing.  In contemporary colloquial usage then the word might be translated, Father, forgive them, for they don’t [see] what they are doing.  Both suffer from a lack of vision on the path they have chosen.  But the disciples were told to leave the one and God was implored to forgive the other.

My religious mind is tempted to consider that Jesus actually prayed Father, [leave them], for they don’t know what they are doing for one reason, and one reason only.  It likes rules, laws, guidelines and principles, for others certainly, but even for itself.  Within the bounds of those rules, laws, guidelines and principles it feels safe and righteous.  Adherence to rules is its primary means of self-justification.  Without rules, laws, guidelines and principles it feels desperate and lost.  My religious mind expects Jesus to follow the rules, too, particularly the rule of ἀφίημι He inspired in 1 John 1:9 and 10 (if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins) and articulated in Luke 17:3 and 4 (If he repents, forgive him).  But God did not bind Himself to rules when it comes to being gracious or showing mercy to humanity.

I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy[4] He said to Moses even after giving the law at Mount Sinai.  It makes sense then that the dying Son of God would not be constrained by the rule of ἀφίημι when he prayed for forgiveness for humanity to his Father the living God.  And John wrote (1 John 2:1, 2 NET):

(My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin [ἁμάρτητε, a form of ἁμαρτάνω].)[5]  But if anyone does sin (ἁμάρτῃ, another form of ἁμαρτάνω), we have an advocate (παράκλητον, a form of παράκλητος)[6] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One (δίκαιον, a form of δίκαιος),[7] and he himself is the atoning sacrifice (ἱλασμός)[8] for our sins (ἁμαρτιῶν, a form of ἁμαρτία),[9] and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.

Paul wrote (Romans 8:31-39 NET):

What then shall we say about these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is the one who will condemn?  Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.  Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us!  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But I would like to know what Jesus thought about it.  Interestingly, He left enough clues to indicate what He was thinking and what He was believing, the literal content of the faith that sustained Him as He died on the cross.  At about three o’clock Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is,My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[10]  This is the first line of Psalm 22.  When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!”  Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.[11] Completion or accomplishment of salvation is the last thought of Psalm 22 (NET).

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
I groan in prayer, but help seems far away.
My God, I cry out during the day,
but you do not answer,
and during the night my prayers do not let up.

You are holy;
you sit as king receiving the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted in you and you rescued them.
To you they cried out, and they were saved;
in you they trusted and they were not disappointed.

But I am a worm, not a man;
people insult me and despise me.
All who see me taunt me;
they mock me and shake their heads.
They say,
“Commit yourself to the Lord!
Let the Lord rescue him!
Let the Lord deliver him, for he delights in him.”

Yes, you are the one who brought me out from the womb
and made me feel secure on my mother’s breasts.
I have been dependent on you since birth;
from the time I came out of my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Do not remain far away from me,
for trouble is near and I have no one to help me.

Many bulls surround me;
powerful bulls of Bashan hem me in.
They open their mouths to devour me
like a roaring lion that rips its prey.
My strength drains away like water;
all my bones are dislocated;
my heart is like wax;
it melts away inside me.
The roof of my mouth is as dry as a piece of pottery;
my tongue sticks to my gums.

You set me in the dust of death.
Yes, wild dogs surround me –
a gang of evil men crowd around me;
like a lion they pin my hands and feet.
I can count all my bones;
my enemies are gloating over me in triumph.
They are dividing up my clothes among themselves;
they are rolling dice for my garments.

But you, O Lord, do not remain far away!
You are my source of strength!  Hurry and help me!
Deliver me from the sword!
Save my life from the claws of the wild dogs!
Rescue me from the mouth of the lion,
and from the horns of the wild oxen!

You have answered me!

I will declare your name to my countrymen!
In the middle of the assembly I will praise you!
You loyal followers of the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
All you descendants of Israel, stand in awe of him!
For he did not despise or detest the suffering of the oppressed;
he did not ignore him;
when he cried out to him, he responded.

You are the reason I offer praise in the great assembly;
I will fulfill my promises before the Lord’s loyal followers.
Let the oppressed eat and be filled!
Let those who seek his help praise the Lord!
May you live forever!

Let all the people of the earth acknowledge the Lord and turn to him!

Let all the nations worship you!
For the Lord is king
and rules over the nations.
All of the thriving people of the earth will join the celebration and worship;
all those who are descending into the grave will bow before him,
including those who cannot preserve their lives.
A whole generation will serve him;
they will tell the next generation about the sovereign Lord.
They will come and tell about his saving deeds;
they will tell a future generation what he has accomplished.

Here is the forgiveness, the mercy, the grace and salvation of God in Jesus the Christ.  I do not doubt that Jesus prayed, Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Forgiveness and Denial of Christ

Back to David’s Forgiveness, Part 2

Back to Fear – Exodus, Part 4


[4] Exodus 33:19 (NET)

[10] Matthew 27:46 (NET)

[11] John 19:30 (NET)

Forgiveness

After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his disciples (John 20:21-23 NET):

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”  And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive (ἀφῆτε, a form of ἀφίημι)[1] anyone’s sins (ἁμαρτίας, a form of ἁμαρτία),[2] they are forgiven (ἀφέωνται, another form of ἀφίημι); if you retain (κρατῆτε, a form of κρατέω)[3] anyone’s sins, they are retained (κεκράτηνται, another form of κρατέω).”

In John 20:23 (NET) Jesus contrasted forgiving (ἀφίημι) sins to retaining (κρατέω) them.  The contrast in Matthew 4:11 (NET) is that the devil left (ἀφίησιν, another form of ἀφίημι) [Jesus], and angels came (προσῆλθον, a form of προσέρχομαι)[4] and began ministering to his needs.  In Matthew 4:20 (NET) Simon (called Peter) and Andrew left (ἀφέντες, another form of ἀφίημι) their nets immediately and followed (ἠκολούθησαν, a form of ἀκολουθέω)[5] [Jesus].  In Matthew 9:25 (NET) krateō, (κρατέω) is contrasted to ekballō (ἐκβάλλω):[6]  But when the crowd had been put outside (ἐξεβλήθη, a form of ἐκβάλλω), he went in and gently took (ἐκράτησεν, another form of κρατέω) her by the hand, and the girl got up.

I get the point that to forgive another’s sins, I send those sins away from that person, creating a distance, rather than holding them close.  This is something I do in my mind, not recalling a sin as I recall the forgiven person.  But John 20:21-23 seems to indicate that the consequence of doing (or not doing) so is farther-reaching than my mind.

Jesus taught his followers to pray (Matthew 6:12 NET), forgive (ἄφες, another form of ἀφίημι) us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven (ἀφήκαμεν, another form of ἀφίημι) our debtors.  How easily such prayer could become a self-invoked curse (Matthew 6:14, 15 NET): For if you forgive (ἀφῆτε, a form of ἀφίημι) others their sins (παραπτώματα, a form of παράπτωμα),[7] your heavenly Father will also forgive (ἀφήσει, another form of ἀφίημι) you.  But if you do not forgive (ἀφῆτε, a form of ἀφίημι) others, your Father will not forgive (ἀφήσει, another form of ἀφίημι) you your sins (παραπτώματα, a form of παράπτωμα).

Jesus’ teaching recorded in Matthew 18:15-20 (NET) offers a counter example to 1 John 1:9 and 10, and aligns with his teaching recorded in John 20:21-23:

If your brother sins (ἁμαρτήσῃ, a form of ἁμαρτάνω),[8] go and show him his fault (ἔλεγξον, a form of ἐλέγχω)[9] when the two of you are alone.  If he listens (ἀκούσῃ, a form of ἀκούω)[10] to you, you have regained (ἐκέρδησας, a form of κερδαίνω)[11] your brother.  But if he does not listen (ἀκούσῃ, a form of ἀκούω), take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established.  If he refuses to listen (παρακούσῃ, a form of παρακούω)[12] to them, tell it to the church (ἐκκλησίᾳ).[13]  If he refuses to listen (παρακούσῃ, a form of παρακούω) to the church (ἐκκλησίας, a form of ἐκκλησία), treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.  I tell you the truth, whatever you bind (δήσητε, a form of δέω)[14] on earth will have been bound (δεδεμένα, another form of δέω) in heaven, and whatever you release (λύσητε, a form of λύω)[15] on earth will have been released (λελυμένα, another form of λύω) in heaven.  Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.  For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.

This passage begins with instruction how to handle a person who will not confess (ὁμολογῶμεν, a form of ὁμολογέω)[16] sin (1 John 1:9, 10 NET).

But if we confess (ὁμολογῶμεν, a form of ὁμολογέω) our sins (ἁμαρτίας, a form of ἁμαρτία), he is faithful (πιστός)[17] and righteous (δίκαιος),[18] forgiving (ἀφῇ, another form of  ἀφίημι) us our sins (ἁμαρτίας, a form of ἁμαρτία) and cleansing (καθαρίσῃ, a form of καθαρίζω)[19] us from all unrighteousness (ἀδικίας, a form of ἀδικία).[20]  If we say we have not sinned (ἡμαρτήκαμεν, another form of ἁμαρτάνω), we make (ποιοῦμεν, a form of ποιέω)[21] him a liar and his word (λόγος)[22] is not in us.

To confess (ὁμολογῶμεν, a form of ὁμολογέω) sin is to acknowledge the word (λόγος) of Jesus concerning sin, to agree with Him that the thing in question is sin.  The purpose is not to humiliate the sinner but to regain (ἐκέρδησας, a form κερδαίνω) a brother (as opposed to winning an argument).  That purpose remains throughout, up to and including shunning.  Forgiveness is not given out of the fear of Matthew 6:14 and 15, but on the basis of God’s own forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  It is also important that the λόγος of Jesus is truly the basis for determining sin as opposed to some distinctive of a religious sect.

The binding and releasing of Matthew 18:18 seem to correspond to forgiving and retaining sins in John 20:23.  There is apparently an ongoing debate whether the binding and releasing will have been or will be bound or released in heaven.  The point seems moot.  In either case the agreement of two on earth as to what is to be bound or released, forgiven or retained, carries the imprimatur of heaven.  It’s a sobering thought.  But the scale tips toward releasing and forgiving because of the character of God.

The passage continues (Matthew 18:21, 22 NET):

Then Peter came to him and said, “Lord, how many times must I forgive (ἀφήσωanother form of ἀφίημι) my brother who sins against me?  As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!”

Then Jesus told a parable that might shed some light on how literal one should be about seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:23-35 NET).

“For this reason, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves.  As he began settling his accounts, a man who owed ten thousand talents was brought to him.  Because he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made.  Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.’  The lord had compassion on that slave and released (ἀπέλυσεν, a form of ἀπολύω)[23] him, and forgave (ἀφῆκεν, another form of ἀφίημι) him the debt.  After he went out, that same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him one hundred silver coins.  So he grabbed him by the throat and started to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’  Then his fellow slave threw himself down and begged (παρεκάλει, a form of παρακαλέω)[24] him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you.’  But he refused.  Instead, he went out and threw him in prison until he repaid the debt.  When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were very upset and went and told their lord everything that had taken place.  Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, ‘Evil slave!  I forgave (ἀφῆκα, another form of ἀφίημι) you all that debt because you begged (παρεκάλεσας, another form of παρακαλέω) me!  Should you not have shown mercy (ἐλεῆσαι, a form of ἐλεέω)[25] to your fellow slave, just as I showed (ἠλέησα, another form of ἐλεέω) it to you?’  And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed.  So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive (ἀφῆτε, a form of ἀφίημι) your brother from your heart.”

Have faith (πίστιν, a form of πίστις)[26] in God, Jesus told his disciples.[27]  For this reason I tell you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe (πιστεύετε, a form of πιστεύω)[28] that you have received it, and it will be yours.[29]  The topic here is not forgiveness but faith in God and believing what one asks for in prayer.  Yet the connection between faith in God and forgiveness is so strong in Jesus’ mind that I find his thumb on the scale again (Mark 11:25 NET):

Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive (ἀφίετε, another form of ἀφίημι) him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive (ἀφῇ, another form of ἀφίημι) you your sins (παραπτώματα, a form of παράπτωμα).

Watch yourselves! Jesus said.  If your brother sins (ἁμάρτῃ, another form of ἁμαρτάνω), rebuke (ἐπιτίμησον, a form of ἐπιτιμάω)[30] him. If he repents (μετανοήσῃ, a form of  μετανοέω),[31] forgive (ἄφες, another form of ἀφίημι) him.  Even if he sins (ἁμαρτήσῃ, another form of ἁμαρτάνω) against you seven times in a day, and seven times returns to you saying, “I repent (μετανοῶ, another form of μετανοέω),” you must forgive (ἀφήσεις, another form of ἀφίημι) him.[32]  It is worth noting that the sinner’s repentance did not mean that the sinner’s sin had ceased.  On the contrary, Jesus’ thumb is most heavy on the scale, tipping it toward release and forgiveness, when sin against God was arguably at its zenith (Luke 23:33 NET):

So when they came to the place that is called “The Skull,” they crucified [Jesus] there, along with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

It was then and there that Jesus interceded for all humanity (Luke 23:34 NET):

Father, forgive them (αφες αυτοις), for they don’t know (οἴδασιν, a form of εἴδω)[33] what they are doing (ποιοῦσιν, another form of ποιέω).

He didn’t follow the rule of ἀφίημι He inspired in 1 John 1:9 and 10 or articulated in Luke 17:3 and 4.  Jesus didn’t wait for humanity to confess (ὁμολογέω) sin or repent (μετανοέω) but prayed that God his Father would forgive anyway.  It is safe to assume that Jesus has faith in God, that He believes what He prayed and that He expects to receive what He prayed.

Or, perhaps, αφες (a form of ἀφίημι) should have been translated leave rather than forgive in Luke 23:34 (NET) as it was in Matthew 15:14 (NET):

Leave them (αφετε αυτους)!  They are blind guides.  If someone who is blind leads another who is blind, both will fall into a pit.

 


[27] Mark 11:22 (NET)

[29] Mark 11:24 (NET)

[32] Luke 17:3, 4 (NET)