Psalms of Lament

psalm-13-lament

Fifty or one-third of the Psalms are classified as laments. Gary Yates further explains, “Laments are times when the psalmist prays to God in times of trouble, distress, sadness, and in life-threatening situations.”[1] Walter Brueggemann classifies laments as psalms of disorientation as the relationship between the psalmist and God is conducted in an honest engagement, and where pain and hurt are acknowledged rather than denied and avoided.[2] The basic elements of the laments consist of: (1) an opening address or an introductory cry out to God in a very personal way; (2) a lament where the psalmist gives a description of present troubles, often in a very figurative, extreme, and over the top way, to make God aware of the dire circumstances; (3) a petition or prayer, which consists of what the psalmist is actually asking God to do; (4) a confession of trust and faith that God will act; and (5) a vow of praise where thanksgiving and sacrifice are offered when the Lord delivers the psalmist from his trouble.  Logan Jones describes the depth of pain in laments, “was the characteristic way of expressing and voicing the hurt, [but] the distinctive movement from plea to praise [demonstrated] an act of boldness. This movement does not stay stuck in the plea of brokenness and grief; [it] moves beyond to praise and unparalleled transformation with joy, wisdom and hope.”[3] This transformation did not deny the reality of brokenness or grief. Instead, the lament provided trust, confidence, and gratitude towards God.

Yates also illustrates, “The Bible does not command us to fake joy; it promises us a deep and real joy that is so satisfying because we know God is with us, regardless of what we are facing in life, [enabling us to] come to Him with complete honesty, especially in times of desperation.”[4] Jones adds, “By praying the laments, Israel had a way of directly facing the hurtful dimensions of human life. Israel did not try to explain them away, deny them, or avoid them. Instead, Israel held to the premise that all of life – even the hurtful dimensions – was embraced by it covenantal relationship with God.”[5] The psalmist’s relationship with God is deep, personal, and authentic. In Psalm 13, Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. explain:

The prayer is spoken from a situation of severe crisis… The original crisis may have been a physical, emotional, social, or economic crisis. But two things are clear. First, the psalmist definitely understands the crisis as a spiritual and theological crisis — the relationship with God. Second, the psalm is now available to any believer for reuse in a variety of life situations.[6]

Craig Broyles further demonstrates, “This psalm allows believers to voice the mixed emotions often felt toward God while in the midst of hardship, namely complaint and trust.”[7] In Psalm 79, the lament depicts a community crying out for help and most likely refers to the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. Everything the nation of Israel had believed and trusted in was gone and the people had no hope. However, in every lament, there is a wonderful transformation that occurs, where heartache, pain, and misery turn into joy, thanksgiving, and praise.

Laments are cries for help and Yates makes a valid point that “Part of dealing with pain is being able to express it.”[8] As Roland Murphy demonstrates, “The psalms are about honest dialogue where nothing is held back. The words of the psalms speak to the very core of human experience in ways other language cannot begin to approach. In this way, the psalms teach us how to pray, how to stand faithfully before God, asking and even demanding response, action, and answers.”[9] The psalms also teach us to bring our hopes, praise, and joy to God and they call us to bring our fear, pain, and sorrow before God. In desperate times, Jones illustrates “the psalmist gives voice to the anguished part of our human experience, [where] questions are asked that have no answers: How long will God forget? How long will God be hidden? How long must pain be born? How long will the enemy be exalted?”[10] These are valid questions, which every believer has wrestled with. Jones suggests some of the greatest reasons for the laments are to help believers make it through seasons where there is no hope and a cry for deliverance, for healing, for life, for mercy, for forgiveness, for help, for vengeance, for relief, for hope, for attention, for presence, and for strength.[11]

Jones then explains, “bad things happen, circumstances change, loss occurs, and grief and sorrow break the heart, [which] leads to the first movement [as] the cry of lament speaks of the terrible truth of disorientation.”[12] However, when the pleas and petitions reach God, Jones illustrates disorientation does not last forever. Instead, the laments petition God to be true to His character and as a new orientation emerges, blessings and breakthroughs in life are witnessed and praise and worship are given for all God has done. However, spiritual growth does not happen over night; it is a life-long pursuit of trusting and praising God, despite the circumstances.

By praying the laments, individuals will be able to face any hurt, betrayal, or anxiety, by looking to God and embracing the covenant relationship he or she has with Him. Jones explains, “The movement from orientation to disorientation to new orientation… is a way to move deeper into a faith which is transformative, where God indeed makes a difference.”[13] Laments illustrate why it is important to lift one’s petitions before God because as Jones explains, “Our pain can be spoken and named, our hurt can be lifted up and heard, our cries can come from our heart, and we can rest assured nothing, nothing at all can separate us from the love of God.”[14] The believer must simply understand and trust that God hears every prayer and He is continually working in the lives of His children, according to His perfect plan.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Jones, Logan C. “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow.” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47-58. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

Murphy, Roland. “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235-238.

Yates, Gary. “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

________. “The Lament Psalms: Part 2.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

 


[1] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[2] Logan C. Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

[3] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 48-49.

[4] Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.”

[5] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 49.

[6] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 158.

[7] Craig C. Broyles, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999), 87.

[8] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 2,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[9] Roland Murphy, “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235.

[10] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 52.

[11] Ibid., 52.

[12] Ibid., 51.

[13] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 50.

[14] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 54.

Use of Imprecatory Psalms in Prayer Today

imprecatory-psalms

The use of Imprecatory Psalms, as a model for prayer, requires proper context. As John Day explains, “These psalms express the desire of God’s vengeance to fall on His [and His people’s] enemies and include the use of actual curses, or imprecations.”[1] At first glance, these psalms seem to stand in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus who called His followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Several implications result from this assumption: the Old Testament only involved cursing enemies, the New Testament only involved loving enemies, and the morality of Scripture evolved over time. Each of these false assumptions are self-refuting because the nature of God cannot change, as Day suggests, “The tension between loving and cursing [must] be harmonized, [since] the character of God does not change, so the essence of God’s ethical requirements does not change. Therefore, as the imprecatory psalms were at times appropriate on the lips of Old Testament believers, so they are at times appropriate on the lips of New Testament believers as well.”[2]

The psalms remain relevant because “They rooted their theology of cursing, of crying out for God’s vengeance, in the Torah – principally in the promise of divine vengeance expressed in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43), the principle of divine justice outlined in the lex talionis,[3] and the assurance of divine cursing as well as blessing in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:2-3).”[4] To fully comprehend the imprecatory psalms, Day demonstrates four crucial truths:

First, the vengeance appealed for is not personally enacted; rather God is called on to execute vengeance. Second, these appeals are based on God’s covenant promises. Third, both testaments record examples of God’s people justly calling down curses or crying for vengeance.[5] Fourth, Scripture further records an instance in which God’s people in heaven, where there is no sin, cry out for divine vengeance and are comforted by the assurance of its near enactment[6] (Rev. 6:9-11).

Day illustrates the Book of Psalms contains nearly one hundred verses with imprecations, each one containing the cries of God’s people for vengeance for unspeakable atrocities against them as God’s people were oppressed, persecuted, and ultimately carried off to exile in Babylon. In Psalm 58, David is appealing to Yahweh to act justly against the unjust rulers. As Frank E. Gaebelein demonstrates, in this Psalm, “It may well be classified as a prophetic type of lament in which David speaks prophetically of God’s judgment on evil.[7] He charges the earthly system of justice with unfairness, commits his case to the Lord’s justice, and is confident of God’s vindication. The psalmist’s prophetic understanding is a comfort to God’s people[8] whenever they are harassed or maligned.”[9] The theological foundations are developed in the Pentateuch, but as Day furthers establishes, “The expression of exultation over the destruction of the enemies of God and His people is seen throughout Scripture. It begins in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:43), finds utterance in the Psalms (58:10), is proclaimed in the prophets (Jer. 51:48), and climaxes in the Book of Revelation (18:20).”[10] Given these precedents, should a Christian follow David’s example? This writer believes David’s passionate cries should be emulated as David continually demonstrated immense faith in his God. Day then reminds the reader what is being voiced here is poetry, which often used vivid imagery and where a concept in narrative form may be described dispassionately; in poetry, it may well be expressed emotively. G. L. Peels perceives that the phraseology of Psalm 58:10b “Employs a powerful image, borrowed from the all too realistic situation of the battlefield following the fight (wading through the blood), to highlight the total destruction of the godless.”[11] Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. illustrate “If God removes the rulers’ power, then they will be like toothless beasts.”[12] This shows David’s first wish was for the rulers to become powerless and ineffective, but ultimately, in the end, David knew the only way to end the suffering of the righteous was “bathing his feet in the blood of the wicked.”

Psalm 109 is an imprecation against a personal enemy and reads much like an individual lament. Day recognizes this psalm as being, above all others, highly criticized in its harsh and explicit appeal to the Lord. With the language found in this psalm, it is initially difficult to see any relation to the New Testament’s commands to love our enemies (Matt 5:44), turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29), and to pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44). However, in this psalm, David’s enemies had continually returned hatred for his sustained love, so David called out to the divine Judge, as Day puts it, “to extend to his enemy the demands of the lex talionis, [but] David did not react in private revenge; instead, he released the retaliatory demands of justice to the One in whose jurisdiction it rightfully lies. He voiced his cry for vengeance to God – a cry that would transform to public praise when divine deliverance was revealed.”[13] David looked to the Abrahamic Covenant and then appealed to God to curse those who had shown him only hatred. Now the question becomes: is this covenant promise of divine cursing relevant to Christians today? In this writer’s opinion it is and (Gal 3:6-29) makes it clear, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants – heirs according to promise.” Here, Day demonstrates “the dual-edged promise blessing was not merely a spiritual abstraction; it applied as well to the physical life of God’s people in their times of extremity… [And] this psalm is the cry of the child of God who has no other recourse for justice…”[14]

Jesus felt the same oppression the psalmist and Israelites faced, but He called for one another to love his or her neighbor. This apparent contradiction in actuality shows the harmony that exists when one understands the character of God further demonstrating, Christians should use imprecatory psalms as a source of strength and honor, in their worship of God.[15]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

Day, John N. “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics.” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (April 2002): 166-186. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2016).

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Gaebelein, Frank E. ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

Peel, G. L. The Vengeance of God: The Meaning of the Root NQM and the Function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of Divine Revelation in the Old Testament. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, 1995.

Footnotes

[1] John N. Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (April 2002): 166. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2016).

[2] Ibid., 168.

[3] The principle or law of retaliation that a punishment inflicted should correspond in degree and kind to the offense of the wrongdoer, as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; retributive justice.

[4] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 168.

[5] Mark 11:14; Matthew 21:19; Galatians 1:8-9; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Acts 8:20; and Revelation 6:10

[6] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 169.

[7] Psalm 14

[8] The righteous.

[9] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 405.

[10] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 171.

[11] G. L. Peels, The Vengeance of God: The Meaning of the Root NQM and the Function of the NQM-Texts in the Context of Divine Revelation in the Old Testament (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, 1995), 218.

[12] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 495.

[13] Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics,” 178.

[14] Ibid., 179.

[15] Ibid., 186.

Feeding of 5,000 & Feast of Tabernacles

feeding-5000

Andreas Köstenberger illustrates, “a parallel between Jesus’s first sign (at the wedding of Cana) and the feeding of the five thousand, as He provided abundant wine there, so He here provides abundant bread, [and] bread and wine, in turn, symbolize the eschatological Messianic banquet.”[1] The following day, the people became hungry again and went looking for Jesus, wanting more signs (food), but as Köstenberger demonstrates, “Jesus discerns the people’s true motives, [and] rather than opening their eyes to God’s reality in Jesus, they ask for a sign authenticating Jesus’s authority.”[2] Leo Percer explains, “when Jesus says, ‘I am better than manna from heaven, for I am the living bread, and no one comes to Christ unless first drawn by God,’ He is not talking about the Eucharist or communion; He is talking about oneness with God and being united with Christ.”[3]

Jesus was pointing to Himself as the true bread from heaven, so when the Jews asked Jesus to duplicate Moses’s provision of manna in the wilderness, He is quick to point out it was not Moses, but God who provided the manna. Köstenberger explains, “It is not so much that Jesus gives certain gifts – He Himself is the gift, [and] only He can satisfy people’s hunger, and only He can quench their thirst, not merely for material food and drink, but for spiritual sustenance.”[4] God had come down from heaven, essentially answering the prayer of Isaiah,[5] and not to just feed the people, but to make atonement for their sins, yet despite witnessing Jesus with their own eyes, and being mindful of Old Testament prophecy, the Jews still did not believe in the Son, sent by the Father.

The idea of eating Jesus’s flesh and drinking His blood to a modern reader of John’s Gospel, without context, would seem rather strange and to many, it would probably be terrifying. Many have misunderstood Christianity, since its inception. The Romans thought Christians were cannibals because of the Eucharist and also believed Christians were incestuous because they referred to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. This made Christianity sound more like a cult, so only a proper exegesis will help explain what Jesus was referring to during the Last Supper and in John’s Gospel. When Jesus says, “the bread is His flesh, which He gives for the life of the world,”[6] Frank Gaebelein demonstrates, “This verse introduces the concept of Jesus’ vicarious death, the sacrifice of his body for the sins of the world.”[7]
Also, as Leon Morris highlights:

Many commentators speak as though the word “flesh” self-evidently marked a reference to Holy Communion. It, of course, does nothing of the sort. The word is not found in the narratives of the institution, nor in 1 Corinthians 10 or 11 in connection with the sacrament. Nor is it common in the Fathers in this sense. The usual word in sacramental usage is “body.” The last words of the verse bring before us once more the truth that the mission of Jesus is universal. He did not come to minister to the Jews only. When he gave his flesh it would be “for the life of the world.”[8]

However, Köstenberger demonstrates, “John’s later audience will no doubt detect Eucharistic overtones in Jesus’s words, especially since John’s is the only Gospel lacking an account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper… [Ultimately,] John’s point is Jesus’s work reveals He is the definitive source and giver of all true spiritual life.”[9] Thus, when partaking of the elements, one is simply remembering and honoring the sacrifice Jesus made to restore fellowship between God and His children. “His body given for us and His blood poured out for us” has profound meaning, as Gordon Fee explains, “The Lord’s Supper that Christians celebrate is in fact a continuation of the Last Supper that Jesus ate with his own disciples, probably a Passover meal at which He reinterpreted the bread and wine in terms of His body and blood soon to be given over in death on the cross.”[10]

This restored fellowship came only through Christ and after the bread of life discourse, even Jesus’s disciples said, “This is hard teaching. Who can accept it?” During the early part of Jesus’s ministry, many were attracted to Him because of His signs and teachings, but now true allegiance was being tested. Even the twelve were perplexed as they watched the defection of many of Jesus’s followers. Then, Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”[11] Peter, always the vocal one, had the perfect response, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”[12] This event marks a turning point in Jesus’s ministry as John demonstrates a division and conflict not only between Jesus and the Pharisees, but also amongst Jesus’s followers.

Andreas Köstenberger demonstrates how John presents, “Jesus as the fulfillment, even the replacement of [Passover and the Festival of Tabernacle.] His body is the temple;[13] He is the light of the world and the living water to which the Festival of Tabernacles pointed;[14] and He is God’s Passover Lamb.[15][16] Josephus, a first century historian, describes the Festival of Tabernacles as the holiest and greatest feast of the Jews, as it follows closely after the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, the 10th of Tishrei). Leo Percer further explains, “The harvest feast lasted seven days, culminating on the eighth day, when the people celebrated God’s provision during the wilderness wanderings. The pouring of water symbolized rain, but has come to be associated with purification and eschatological/Messianic hopes.”[17][18] Köstenberger then shows how the evangelist links, “Jesus’s signs with the two previous major periods of miraculous activity in the history of God’s people: the ministries of Moses and Elijah/Elisha.”[19]

While Jesus does attend the festival, he does not go with His brothers, who challenge Him in doubt, nor does He go publicly; instead, He goes privately and gets up halfway through the ceremony and begins teaching in the temple, with mixed reactions from those listening. At this point, as Köstenberger illustrates, “the entire narrative builds towards the climax of verse thirty-seven, where Jesus, on the last and greatest day of the festival, stands up and announces in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’”[20] Jesus was proclaiming He was the fulfillment and He had come to heal and restore that which was broken.

D. A. Carson adds, “Jesus kept quiet and out of sight until the time came for this dramatic pronouncement, and then its audacious authority prevented the temple guards from carrying out their assignment… [and while] the water and light of the Tabernacles rites pass into memory, year after year; His claim to provide living water and light for the world is continuously valid.”[21] The Old Testament background to Jesus’s interaction with the Jews at this Feast came from the image of living water found in Numbers 28:7, Isaiah 58:11 and Isaiah 12:3. Wandering in the desert for forty years made water a necessity for survival, so when Jesus says, “anyone who believes in Him will have rivers of living water,” it had deep implications of not mere survival, but overflowing abundance. Köstenberger also shows these passages point to Jesus being the dispenser of the Holy Spirit, through whom those who come to Him for salvation will be abundant blessings to others.[22]

Bibliography

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991.

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Gaebelein, Frank E., ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Köstenberger, Andreas. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013.

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Percer, Leo. Liberty University. NBST 615, Week Four Presentation, “Escalating Conflict – Family Issues (John 7:1 – 8:59).” (Video). 2012, 25:13, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327810_1&content_id=_13789642_1  (accessed September 20, 2016).

_________. Liberty University. NBST 615, Week Four Presentation, “Escalating Conflict – Religious Issues/Signs 4 and 5 (John 5:1–6:71).” (Video). 2012, 17:47, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327810_1&content_id=_13789642_1 (accessed September 20, 2016).


[1] Andreas Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013), 83.

[2] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 84.

[3] Leo Percer, Liberty University. NBST 615, Week Four Presentation, “Escalating Conflict – Religious Issues/Signs 4 and 5 (John 5:1–6:71),” (Video), 2012, 17:47, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327810_1&content_id=_13789642_1 (accessed September 20, 2016).

[4] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 85.

[5] Isaiah 64:1-12

[6] John 6:51

[7] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 77.

[8] Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 331-332.

[9] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 87.

[10] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 549.

[11] John 6:67

[12] John 6:68

[13] John 2:21

[14] John 7:38-39; 8:12; & 9:5

[15] John 1:29, 36

[16] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 64.

[17] Leo Percer, Liberty University. NBST 615, Week Four Presentation, “Escalating Conflict – Family Issues (John 7:1 – 8:59),” (Video), 2012, 25:13, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327810_1&content_id=_13789642_1 (accessed September 20, 2016).

[18] Zechariah 14:16-19

[19] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 83.

[20] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 92.

[21] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991), 321.

[22] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 92.

And He Dwelt Among Us: Book Critique

and-he-dwelt-among-us

Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897–1963) is considered by many to be one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century. Tozer was a minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches in Toronto and Chicago, from 1919 up until his passing. However, it was not until 1950, when he became the editor of Alliance Witness that he began to put word to paper. Much like John Wesley, he was, “a man of one Book, but a student of many.”[1]

The Gospel of John captivated Tozer’s imagination, as he would preach weekly Spirit-filled and anointed sermons, which had profound impacts on the congregation, to the point following the conclusion of the service, many were paralyzed in silence by the intensity of the message and the truth Tozer had clarified. Tozer believed, “any doctrine that did not rise to the height of identification with the Lord Jesus Christ was either misunderstood or not properly rooted in Scripture.”[2] On this assumption, Tozer sought to show doctrine must always establish truth, while also acting as a pathway to an intimate knowledge of God. Tozer understood in order to preach from John, a sound doctrinal foundation was imperative, especially since John was such a mystical thinker. James Snyder goes as far to describe Tozer being a “mystic with his feet on solid doctrinal ground.”[3] Another core reason, which compelled Tozer’s writing and preaching was the “spiritual boredom” that had overtaken the evangelical church. Tozer recognized the familiarity and complacency, which was taking root, especially in America and he sought to cast light on the darkness, which had attempted to eclipse the truth of the Word. “The heavens declare the glory of God,”[4] was a profound truth that resonated in Tozer’s soul as he saw John’s Gospel as a bright lens to view the love and nature of Jesus through. He recognized, “We are resting in the truth of the Word and are forgetting that there is a Spirit of the Word without which the truth of the Word means nothing to the human spirit at last.”[5]

Analysis

Tozer saw John’s way of presenting Christ in a mystical setting insightful, while other scholars viewed mysticism as something to avoid. Gnosticism was partly to blame for this and mid-nineteenth century literary criticism sought to discredit Johannine authorship as well. Instead, Tozer sought to highlight how John used sound theology in a way to truly define Christ’s nature. Right from the start of John, “In the beginning,” Tozer shows how mankind has been elevated into the realm of everlasting. This is an interesting point and something many fail to realize. Everyone has everlasting life, the only thing that determines where it will be spent is if one has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “From everlasting to everlasting, God is God” is profound, and the thought of an eternal separation from the Father should compel every follower of Christ to seek to help the lost and hurting comprehend the everlasting nature and love of God. Tozer demonstrates, “To ascend into the heart of God in this fashion is to begin to experience the Old Testament encouragement, ‘the eternal God is thy refuge.”[6] [7]

There is a God-shaped hole inside every man and woman and the reality of this statement means, “everywhere you go you see people who manifest a deep-seated restlessness, [which] shows there is something deep within the soul, put there by God, that yearns for the everlastingness that is only found in God.” Being created in the image of God and understanding He has put eternity into the mind of man, demonstrates why He puts the “everlasting beginningless” into the hearts of His children. God’s design was for mankind to always have freewill, however, hardwired into every mind, there has always been a longing for the everlastingness of God. Some call this quest for immortality a conditioned human response, but Tozer demonstrates, “God made man in His own image, and though man fell, He keeps the longing after eternity there and the appreciation of everlastingness there.”[8] There are many human responses God has placed inside men and women, but as Tozer highlights, “the most natural thing for a person who has been redeemed is for that person to lift his or her heart in prayer and praise to God. God put that response there, and redemption unleashes its capacity… [However,] when man fell in the Garden, it brought a dark cloud over the soul of all mankind.” This dark cloud is evidenced in the moral decline seen all across the world, as it attempts to suffocate the dreams, aspirations, and longings for a relationship with the Creator. Satan cannot stand anything God loves, so he attempts to counterfeit, destroy, or pervert anything that would create unity and oneness with God. This is evidenced by his early actions in the Garden of Eden.

Since mankind was cast out of Eden, everything has been tainted and Tozer argues everything is wrong until Jesus sets it right stating, “the kiss of death rests upon everything in our world [and] nothing in this world will help anybody toward God.”[9] Tozer rightly identifies the war being raged between the desires of the mind and the longings of the heart. He also demonstrates how the brain wants improvement and advancement, while the heart longs for everlastingness. The battlefield of the mind is a treacherous place where the greatest enemy is you. This is so true because the heart will never be satisfied with the desires of the depraved mind. An important concept here is the transient and finite nature of this world. Everything in it attempts to captivate one’s time, talents, and treasures, yet true meaning and happiness is only found in God. Toys, conveniences, games, hobbies, careers, will never satisfy because each of them is fleeting, here one moment, but gone the next. Only God is eternal and our souls will only be satisfied found in the divine everlastingness of the Word made flesh.

Tozer skillfully illustrates how God has no beginning and no end, making Him completely self-sufficient and self-existent. He needs nothing outside of Himself and that includes His creation. Tozer uses this truth to show, “We are likely to forget that God once lived without help and without creation… [and] when we give God anything, we are only giving God what He gave us in the first place.”[10] As humans, it can be remarkably easy to forget one’s place in the metanarrative of God’s story and how everything is dependent on everything, except God. Created things only lead to other created things, but each of them can be traced back to God, Who had no beginning and will have no end. The governing laws of the universe attempt to place restraints on God, essentially trying to put Him a box, so He can be defined or quantified. This is impossible, as Tozer shows, “God Himself established all the laws of creation and He created life and spirit, in order that there might be creatures conscious of Him. Christ has every claim over His creation and He has prepared a hell for those who do not respond to His call. This is heartbreaking to contemplate, but as Tozer highlights, “We should never come to God as a gesture of pity, thinking that God desperately wants us; we should give ourselves to God because He is worthy.”[11] This section of the book would have considerable impact to any freethinkers or individuals wrestling with intelligent design or science versus God dilemmas.

Tozer’s unpacking of, “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not”[12] is enlightening. He shows the cause and effect relationship as the world is always an effect and the Word is always a cause. God created the world with order, beauty, harmony, and purpose. Tozer then explains, “Everything He created brought pleasure to Him in some way: ‘Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’”[13] [14] The world was filled with the presence of God, first in the form of the Shekinah of the Word, and then in the incarnate form of Jesus Christ, becoming the light into the world.[15] John’s use of light and darkness is not accidental as light reveals was darkness attempts to hide. Pleasure, comfort, and luxury are dangerous in this sense, especially when there is no want or desire, as God can easily be forgotten. This writer believes Satan learned a valuable lesson when he persecuted Job. The worst things became and the more loss Job suffered, the closer he drew to God. The same thing is evident today as the church is being persecuted in many areas of the world, causing them to go underground, for fear of torture or death. The harder things become and the darker things get, the more people turn to God, but when man has no burdens and instead has all the comforts, desires, and pleasures one could hope for, God can quickly be forgotten. This is a profound truth!

This writer believes one of Jesus’s favorite miracles was the healing of the blind, so it is tragic how the very people He came to save were blind to Him being the prophesied Messiah. Tozer cites five insightful reasons why people continue to reject Him, even today, but each of them comes back to the blatant fact, humanity simply loves sin more than God:

(1) Change in priorities, meaning placing Christ first in life and no compromise in life; (2) Change in habit, allowing the patterns of life to be disturbed; (3) Personal Cleansing, requiring a pure heart; (4) Change in Direction, asking followers to “take up his [or her] cross and follow Me;”[16] and (5) Risking Wholehearted Trust, by showing faith in the unseen.[17]

The finite thinking of humanity denies the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and sacrifice partly because they themselves would never be willing to do the same thing. Tozer demonstrates, “The most profound mystery of human flaw is how the Creator could join Himself to the creature… [making] the incarnation of Christ shrouded in an impenetrable mystery that we could never uncover with our finite thinking.”[18] Christ was no less deity when He became flesh and this would mark the first time since creation God was dwelt with man again. While God would sometimes appear in the form of a theophany, He never dwelt with man in quite the same way He did in the Garden, with Adam and Eve. Being in the physical presence of Christ must have been a fascinating experience, especially to those who believed during the time of Jesus. This was an area Tozer could have gone a little deeper in, as John’s Gospel is packed with Old Testament references. He mentions Moses briefly, but this work would have been even better if it included more references to Isaiah or some other encounters with prophets, priests, and kings.

Tozer, insightfully illustrates, “What God thinks about a man is more important than what a man thinks about himself, [because] as far as God is concerned, what a man is always is more important to God than what that man does.”[19] Christ came into the world to show how much God values His creation and it is only through Christ God chooses to dispense His blessings on creation. God’s grace is ultimately the all-in-all and Tozer does a good job showing how God’s grace precedes everything from creation to the incarnation, even the mystery of the sacrificial atonement. For many, this is the part of the story where one cannot fathom why this had to happen and “why the eternal Father turned His back upon the Son – the Son of man, the sacrificial Lamb to be slain – and in blind terror and pain of it all, the sacrifice, the Lamb, temporarily became sin for us and knew Himself forsaken.”[20] Due to the requirements of the Law, atonement and the shedding of blood was needed for the remission of sins and Jesus allowed us to be redeemed, by taking upon Himself every sin and curse of the world. Through His crucifixion, He revealed God’s grace and mercy and made a way for humanity to have restored communion with the Father.

Tozer does demonstrate John’s strategic use of some Old Testament Scripture to confirm the Messianic prophecy had been fulfilled. John the Baptist rightly speaks of Jesus as the Lamb of God Who had come to take away the sins of the world[21] and he points out Jesus was the only hope for salvation. Christ is often referred to as the second Adam and Tozer explains, “God began the redemption of the human race within the race so that there are now two races running parallel to each other. The unregenerate race that goes back to the loins of Adam and the regenerate race that goes back to the start of Jesus.”[22] The world, ruled by the unregenerate had a choice to make, as every sinner belongs to the old race, but every Christian becomes redeemed and part of the new race. Every person matters to God, yet Satan wants everyone to believe they have no worth or purpose, and many fall prey to this pernicious lie.

Understanding why Jesus came into the world is a crucial point many discount or simply do not comprehend. He did not come to pronounce judgment; instead, He came that the world might be saved. When mankind becomes aware of sin, there is a natural feeling of judgment because sin separates mankind from God and the “wages of sin is death.”[23] Fortunately, the last part of this verse is, “but the gift of God is eternal life found in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Contemplating how Jesus came into this world, as a baby born to a virgin, is even more complex. Tozer further explains Jesus had a fondness for babies, regularly performing miracles on them, so it makes one ponder the early life of Christ, especially since there is very little evidence found in Scripture. This, perhaps, is another area Tozer could have added some additional insight in, pertaining to the relationship Jesus as a child had with the Father. If Christ had come in the form of a grown man or a theophany, John 3:16 would probably be needed to assure people destruction and judgment were not imminent. Instead, Jesus came as a baby to a lowly family to begin His mission of saving the world. At Christmas time, Christians celebrate the birth of the Savior, but Easter represents a much different occasion. Tozer demonstrates, “Without the cross on which the Savior died, there could be no Scripture, no revelation, and no redemption, but [even in John 3:16] there is no mention of the cross.”[24] God simply reveals He sent and gave His Son, which has deep meaning when used in conjunction with the story of the prodigal son.[25] Mankind, living a life apart from God is like the prodigal son, as everything is only about him or her. This mindset leads one further and further away, until he or she hopefully has the realization how much better things were back at home. For many, this takes humility and courage to face what awaits one’s return, but this story represents the true heart of the heavenly Father as the earthly father runs out to meet his son when he sees him on the horizon. He runs to his son, to protect him from shame and because what was lost was now found, and he embraces his son with grace and mercy by putting a ring on his finger, by placing the best robe around him, and throwing a feast in his honor. This is the celebration God must experience every time one of His children come to his or her senses and comes back to His loving embrace. With over twenty-five million children in America growing up in a fatherless home, this section of the book will help anyone struggling with how a heavenly Father could love them when his or her earthly father abandoned or abused them.

As one comes to faith in Christ, he or she is being invited into the Godhead, which exists in perfect harmony. Tozer beautifully explains, “Whatever the Father does, the Son sees Him do and works in harmony. And the Holy Ghost is the perfect bond between the Father and the Son, energizing the eternal Son with the energies of the Father and so working harmoniously to a preordained end.”[26] The holy trinity has been a topic of debate in some scholarly circles, as Jesus possessed the nature of man and the nature of God, but Tozer rightly shows how even these seemingly contradictory states harmonized into one perfect personality.[27] The mystery of the three-in-one and the unbroken fellowship, which exists, is hard to fathom with finite minds and it is even harder to picture given mankind’s fallen and sinful nature. Despite this, even when Jesus walked the earth, He maintained perfect visibility with God and He remained in perfect love within the Godhead. Tozer offers great insight into the inadequate concepts of judgment, as “mankind did whatever was right in his [or her] own eyes.”[28] During this time period, God equipped the Israelites with Judges, but today’s moral decay only demonstrates the depravity and misunderstanding, which exists, as Tozer shows:

(1) the law of compensation only serves to counterbalance any action; (2) we are accountable only to our society has partial truth, [however,] when we do something against God, we are accountable to Him for our actions; (3) we are accountable to human law, which demonstrates an outlaw is never a happy man because he is accountable to the law even while he is breaking it, and he is miserable even while he is flaunting the law; and (4) man’s accountability is to himself alone, which seeks to show man is a law unto himself and is the worst concept of judgment in all of society.[29]

Ultimately, every human being is accountable to God and Scripture is quite clear on this point.[30] Fortunately, God is all knowing, impartial, and empathetic, acting as both Savior and judge. Tozer says, “Those of you who do not want Jesus as a judge, had better think seriously now about Him as a Savior and stand like a penitent or kneel like one and confess your sin.”[31]

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He passed on His mission to the church. During His earthly ministry, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”[32] Even though Jesus had left earth, He had not abandoned humanity. The omnipresence of God assures He is infinitely everywhere at all times. This concept can be hard to fathom, especially given mankind’s coexistence in two worlds: we are in this world, but not of it.[33] The dualistic physical and spiritual worlds are at odds with each other, but Tozer explains, “When I say there are two worlds, I do not mean to out the material world. God made it also, but not to last. He only made it temporarily…”[34]

There is no denying religion has improved morality and culture, but at the same time, the legalism found in many denominations has caused immense heartache and pain. America, while founded on biblical principles and responsible for much of the early evangelism and missions around the world, is now a nation where Christianity is no longer the fastest growing religion. Tozer further explains, “No religion ever rose higher than its concept of God and a nation can go below its religion.”[35] As a result, America is no longer one nation under God, America is far from being one church under God, and very few people can truly attest to being one people under God. The only hope is, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”[36]

Conclusion

John could not be clearer about the mission of Jesus. He became flesh, so everyone could know Him and thus know God. Previously, The Pursuit of God was this writer’s favorite Tozer work, but And He Dwelt Among Us is now a close second. Tozer masterfully tackles the mystery of the incarnation. He then shows how God is calling His children to come home to Him, just as the father of the prodigal son awaited his son’s return, God is waiting for us to call upon His name. He calls out to the weary and the broken and wants to give them the bread of life and living water, so he or she will no longer hunger or thirst anymore. He wants to give them rest by taking on Himself all the burdens and worries of life. That is why God sent His Son to save the world, so if anyone would simply believe in Him, God would grant forgiveness of sins and give the gift of eternal life. This promise releases the believer from judgment and condemnation, but one will only find Jesus Christ through faith, confession, and humility. Tozer closes saying, “Humility is a beautiful thing, but not very many people have it.”[37] This is tragic because when one seeks Christ in humility, He will reveal Himself to us and as we know Christ, we will know God. This masterpiece would be well suited for anyone wanting to know the true nature of God, regardless of where one is on his or her spiritual journey. It also would be beneficial to anyone taught since John was not considered part of the Synoptic Gospels, it did not deserve as much attention.

Tozer, A.W. And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John, Edited by James L. Snyder. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishing Group, 2009, 218 pp. $14.99 (Paperback).

 Bibliography

Tozer, A.W. And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John, Edited by James L. Snyder. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishing Group, 2009.


[1] A. W. Tozer Theological Seminary, (Redding, CA), “Who is Tozer?” http://tozer.simpsonu.edu/Pages/About/Tozer-AWTozer.htm (accessed September 16, 2016).

[2] A.W. Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John, Ed. by James L. Snyder, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishing Group, 2009), 8.

[3] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 9.

[4] Psalm 19:1

[5] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 11.

[6] Ibid., 17.

[7] Deuteronomy 33:27

[8] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 20.

[9] Ibid., 23.

[10] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 32-33.

[11] Ibid., 41.

[12] John 1:10

[13] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 48.

[14] Revelation 4:11

[15] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 53.

[16] Matthew 16:24

[17] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 70-73.

[18] Ibid., 78-79.

[19] Ibid., 83.

[20] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 91.

[21] John 1:29

[22] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 103.

[23] Romans 6:23

[24] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 134.

[25] Luke 15:11-32

[26] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 140.

[27] Ibid., 141.

[28] Judges 17:6

[29] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 156-158.

[30] John 5:22, Romans 14:10 & Philippians 2:10-11

[31] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 168.

[32] Isaiah 53:5 (ESV)

[33] John 17:16

[34] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 194.

[35] Ibid., 204.

[36] 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

[37] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 217.

Apologetic Methods

cslewis

While there are an array of methods and strategies used in apologetics, they all should seek to define truth, defend the faith, and move individuals closer to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Truth, faith, and reason are among some of the most contested topics debated over in philosophical engagements, so a proper understanding of each of them is crucial. Douglas Groothuis defines faith as:

Believing something without or against evidence and logic, [meaning] the less evidence and logic [available], the more need for faith, [while] the more evidence [present,] means the less of a need for faith… Fideism is the term Groothuis uses to designate the highest and most commendable faith in an attempt to protect Christian faith against the assaults of reason by means of intellectual insulation and isolation.[1]

The logic of truth began with Aristotle’s logic of law, which classified specific laws of logic and contradictions to enforce, “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time, in the same respect.” Groothuis uses this law to demonstrate, “anyone who claims this basic principle of thought is false must also assert to the principle, in order to deny it.”[2] When dealing with worldviews, Groothuis claims:

The best method of apologetic reasoning is hypothesis evaluation and verification, which first commends the Christian worldview, secondly, presents itself as a candidate for the most important truths, and lastly, presents an apologetic argument for the Christian worldview by applying the same criteria or tests of truths to each of the contending worldviews.[3]

Interestingly, as Groothuis points out, some argue that the criteria for truth are worldview dependent, meaning specific criteria cannot be used to assess competing worldviews. To overcome this obstacle, the apologist must be able to develop objective criteria for any contending worldviews. For example, since God is ultimately the source of all objective truth, this declaration becomes a core aspect of any Christian’s worldview. Competing worldviews, such as truth relativism teaches there is nothing that is objectively true, but rather everything is subjectively true. Edward Martin further defines truth as a property of propositions, and knowing as having reasonable justification or confidence about truth. Martin then demonstrates how knowing is a human exercise, whereas truth is an extra-human exercise.[4]

While there is no clear apologetic method, which can be used in all cases, there has been success by using a variety and combination of methods. The relationship between faith and reason have become bookends to the question of whether, “do we start with faith and only then try to explain or justify it, or do we provide reasons for Christianity and only then, on the basis of those reasons commit in faith?”[5] Within the continuum of faith and reason, this writer relates most to the Reformed Theology popularized by Augustine and Calvin, who “gave universal primacy to neither reason nor faith. In some contexts and for some people, reason will lead; in other contexts and for other people, faith. Moreover, faith is absolutely reasonable, and utilizing one’s reason is, in an important sense, an act of faith.”[6] James Beilby, thus proposes doing apologetics well requires three things:

(1) One’s argument must be effective, [meaning] they must be logically valid and persuasive, and they must directly address the objections offered by the skeptics; (2) one must have a proper conceptualization of the nature of both Christian belief and unbelief; and (3) most important, one’s attitude and approach to apologetic conversions must be appropriate, [because] too often, Christians are condescending, arrogant, and dismissive in their apologetic encounters.[7]

Three popular schools of apologetics include: evidentialists, presuppositionalists, and experientialists. Groothuis defines evidentialistism as, “a method in apologetics that argues that the most significant historical events in Christianity – particularly the resurrection of Jesus are matters that can be established through proper historical argumentation, even apart from any prior arguments for the existence of God.”[8] Evidentialists rely on the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible and the truth claims of Jesus. An area of caution for evidentialists occurs when one is convinced a supernatural event occurred in history, but he or she lacks the ability to place the event in a coherent worldview. Beilby adds, “Evidentialist apologetics needs to be distinguished from evidentualism, a position that involves a claim that one who accepts a belief without basing it on arguments is irrational.”[9] Within the Evidentialist family, there are classical apologetics, which use a two-step approach, historical apologetics, which emphasize rational and evidential arguments, and cumulative-case apologetics, which converges a multiplicity of arguments.

Groothuis explains, “presuppositionalism as a school of apologetics influenced by Reformed Christianity that rejects the tools of classical apologetics… claiming that the Christian should presuppose the entire Christian worldview and reason from this conviction with unbelievers.”[10] Groothuis then demonstrates, “The problem with this approach is it limits positive apologetics and claims unless a person presupposes Christianity, he or she cannot make any sense of the world morally, logically, or scientifically, since Christianity alone supplies the required conditions for these areas of life to be intelligible.”[11] Beilby further explains, “Presuppositionalists believe the problem with non-Christians is not a lack of good reasons, but innate sinfulness manifested as rebellion against God, a rebellion that first and foremost amounts to a refusal to acknowledge God’s proper place.”[12] Revelational presuppositionalism teaches, truth, logic, meaning, and value can exist only on the presupposition that the Christian God exists. The rational counterpart places a higher value on logical arguments, while the practical side emphasizes the necessity of starting from fundamental Christian truths, rather than arguing to them.[13]

Lastly, proponents of experientialism view God as being infinite and omniscient. Beilby illustrates, “experiential apologists do not rely on logical arguments or evidences, because their reasons for rejecting an exclusively rational approach is different. They do not hold that the truth of Christianity must be presupposed; rather they hold that is must be experienced.”[14] However, the major issue with this approach is it limits one’s perception of God due to humanity’s finite minds. This approach also prevents the individual from aspiring to anything more than some metaphysical union or religious experience.

Once again, each of these strategies contains strengths and weaknesses, so this writer believes an eclectic apologetic approach and strategy will be most effective. That being said, it is necessary to not view one’s own approach as the only viable one, while at the same time not viewing other methods as being only problematic or ineffective.

Bibliography

Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Martin, Edward. Liberty University. APOL 500, Week Three Presentation “Truth.” (Video), 2013, 18:38, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_317469_1&content_id=_13462356_1 (accessed September 14, 2016).


[1] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 45 & 60.

[2] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 46.

[3] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 49-51.

[4]Edward Martin, Liberty University, APOL 500, Week Three Presentation “Truth.” (Video), 2013, 18:38, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_317469_1&content_id=_13462356_1 (accessed September 14, 2016).

[5] James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 88.

[6] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 89.

[7] Ibid., 157.

[8] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 69.

[9] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 96.

[10] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 62.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 99.

[13] Ibid., 100.

[14] Ibid.

Synoptic Gospels Vs.John & the Logos

in-the-beginning-hebrew

In the beginning…

Andreas Köstenberger demonstrates, “At the very outset, John’s gospel claims to represent apostolic eyewitness testimony regarding Jesus’s earthly ministry,”[1] yet only eight percent of John’s Gospel is found in the Synoptic counterparts. Köstenberger also illustrates recent interpretation and criticism focused on two stereotypes: “first, the Synoptic Gospels were interested in history, whereas John, as the ‘spiritual Gospel’ (Clement of Alexandria’s term), favored theology; and second, that John was a product of Hellenistic Christianity, whereas the Synoptic Gospels, in particular Matthew, came from a Jewish milieu.”[2] The debate continues today, but there is no denying the Gospel of John, as Köstenberger substantiates, “contributes an accurate, trustworthy account of Jesus’s life, not merely with regard to theology, but also in terms of history.”

The differences between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel are overwhelming, but perhaps the biggest difference is John’s interest in drawing out the theological implications of Jesus’s ministry. Leo Percer emphasizes, “the Gospel of John was written to explain further the Johannine view of Christ being divine.”[3] In the Synoptic Gospels, one will find parables and short stories where Jesus conveys a central point, but John’s Gospel contains no parables. Instead, John comprises long discourses where Jesus explains His perspectives. The Synoptic Gospels have the Last Supper, the baptism of Jesus, but in John’s Gospel there is no specific mention of His baptism or the Last Supper. Overall, John portrays Jesus as being divine, the Son of God, and God Himself. While there is a garden prayer found in John, it is not the same Garden of Gethsemane prayer found in the Synoptic Gospels. Lastly, in the Synoptic Gospels, one will see teachings on the kingdom of God, the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfiguration account, yet in John’s Gospel; there is no temptation by Satan in the wilderness and no exorcisms. Instead, John focuses on Jesus’s teachings on life and not the kingdom of God, which is found throughout the Synoptic Gospels. D. A. Carson concludes, “[John] wrote not to supersede or correct Gospels that were already circulating, but because he found them inadequate for his purpose.”[4]

John presents God as the one who sent Jesus, the Father of Jesus, the Christ, and the Messiah. Additionally, while salvation is mentioned in all Gospels, substitutionary atonement is unique to John’s Gospel. Christ had come to take away the sins of the world, so John portrays a divine Messiah and not a crucified Christ. Without the crucifixion, there can be no resurrection, so John writes his Gospel as though the resurrection had already taken place, encouraging his readers to believe in Christ who was raised from the dead, not just because of His Messianic claims, but also because of His divine status.[5]

John’s use of “Word” in the prologue sets the stage for the following twenty chapters and provides a lens to view them through. John takes the reader back to creation to show everything, which had come into being, came through this “Word.” John further demonstrates Jesus is bigger than the universe and the source, but then he switches gears to show how God became flesh and dwelt among us. This transition was profound, since Jesus’s coming had an impact not just on specific souls being saved, but it had an impact on all of creation. God becoming flesh and dwelling among His creation made Him an active participant in the history of creation.

“Word” is the Greek word for logos, but in this occurrence and the one found in Genesis 1, it is so much bigger. God’s “Word” was the divine vehicle for action that brought the world into existence. Logos is only used in the prologue and it is used as a Christological title. There are several potential sources where John could have rooted his use of “Word” in. Logos in stoic thought was reason, the impersonal principle, which governed the universe. Stoics believed everything was ordered by a divine logos and there was no way to avoid it, so all one could do was try to live in harmony with it. Philo understood logos as a representation of God Himself, but John’s logos was not merely another aspect of God; the logos was God. Logos had Jewish and Greek roots as well as linkage to a personified wisdom, however wisdom literature does not view wisdom as part of God, but rather a tool He uses. John’s witness to the incarnation of the Word is perhaps the most important thing for Christians to consider, as Christ became flesh, to provide salvation. Isaiah 55:9-11 demonstrates the word of God always accomplishes the task for which it was sent and never returns void. John Oswalt further demonstrates this principle:

God has spoken to reveal his plans and purposes in the context of human history, and what He has said will be accomplished.[6] Above everything else, these plans and purposes are for good.[7] God intends to bless the human race, to forgive its sins, to redeem its failures, and to give permanence to its work. All this will be accomplished through his revelatory word.[8]

Explaining the role of Jesus in John 1 to a modern reader would begin by showing if someone truly wanted to know God, all he or she would need to do is look at the life and ministry of Jesus. As Percer illustrates, being precedes doing and for Jesus to do the things He did, He had to be God and this is John’s central point. Secondly, essence precedes action, so who He his is revealed by what He does. Jesus told those who challenged His ways and teachings to not judge him by His words, but by His works. Hebrews 1 says Jesus is the exact representation of the godly nature and essence of God. Lastly, John’s detail of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection details how freedom is found through salvation, which only comes through Jesus. Jesus conquered death by dying, which allows believers to not fear death, since Jesus had overcome the grave. John’s primary focus in the prologue is to remind us that our hope and our salvation comes through Jesus who became flesh to provide salvation to all who would believe.

Bibliography

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991.

Köstenberger, Andreas. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Percer, Leo. Liberty University. NBST 615, Week Two Presentation, “Literary Characteristics and Major Themes of John’s Gospel,” (Video), 2012, 14:34, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327810_1&content_id=_13789632_1 (accessed September 7, 2016).

 


[1] Andreas Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013), 4.

[2] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 201.

[3] Leo Percer, Liberty University, NBST 615, Week Two Presentation, “Literary Characteristics and Major Themes of John’s Gospel,” (Video), 2012, 14:34, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327810_1&content_id=_13789632_1 (accessed September 7, 2016).

[4] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991), 93.

[5] Percer, “Literary Characteristics and Major Themes of John’s Gospel.”

[6] Isaiah 53:10

[7] Jeremiah 29:11

[8] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 446.

A Closer Look at John’s Gospel

gospel_of_john_logo1

Andreas Köstenberger demonstrates, “At the very outset, John’s gospel claims to represent apostolic eyewitness testimony regarding Jesus’s earthly ministry.”[1] This is a crucial component of the internal evidence presented to support Johannine authorship and determines whether the gospel is truly an eyewitness account or merely a later apostolic writing. D. A. Carson also concludes, “The Fourth Gospel can be accepted as what it manifestly purports to be: a reliable witness to the origins, ministry, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus the Messiah.”[2] Following the opening testimony, additional internal evidence refers to the author being the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” This title first occurs at the Last Supper,[3] then in the high priest’s courtyard following the arrest of Jesus,[4] next at the foot of the cross where Jesus was crucified,[5] and lastly at the empty tomb, following the resurrection of Jesus.[6] From these references, this writer and Köstenberger conclude, “the internal evidence points unequivocally to John, the son of Zebedee as the author of John’s gospel.”[7]

External evidence supporting Johannine authorship exists first with the early church fathers, all of which unanimously supported John, the son of Zebedee as the author. In addition, as Köstenberger illustrates, “Irenaeus used John’s gospel to refute Gnostic teaching in the second half of the second century AD, [which] cemented the gospels place in the church’s canon once and for all.”[8] From the second up until the middle of the eighteenth century, the church and most scholars are united in attributing the Fourth Gospel’s authorship to John, the son of Zebedee. During the mid-eighteenth century, literary criticism attempted to discredit Johannine authorship, but today most scholars again agree John, the son of Zebedee is the most likely author. It is imperative to show John authored the fourth gospel because as Köstenberger highlights, “It safeguards this gospel’s character as an apostolic eyewitness testimony.”[9]

The most popular view on the place of writing comes in the form of external evidence from Irenaeus, who said, “John… published the Gospel while he was a resident at Ephesus in Asia.” This, however, does not mean a community of believers in Ephesus was his primary audience. The date of writing is linked closely with two events: the destruction of the temple in AD 70 and Peter’s martyrdom around AD 65. Based on these events, this writer and Köstenberger believe, “John probably wrote his gospel in the AD 80s in Ephesus, primarily to Diaspora Jews and to Gentiles attracted to the Jewish faith, but ultimately to the church at large.”[10] Additional external evidence favors this date, as coins from that time period have been discovered bearing Domitian as Dominus et Deus (Lord and God) the exact Latin translation of Thomas’s confession.[11]

            The destruction of the temple in AD 70 was reminiscent of the Babylonian exile, since there was now no temple to offer sacrifices in. Without a sacrificial system in place and no priesthood, John used these dilemmas as a window of opportunity to evangelize Jews; by showing how Jesus, the Messiah became the final atonement for sin. John then shows how Christ, the Son of the living God had become Prophet, Priest, and King. John wanted his readers to recognize the universal nature of Christianity, found in salvation by faith. Köstenberger further demonstrates, “The gospel’s audience is not limited to its first readers and intended recipients; it also extends to us. And in God’s providence, we may benefit from John’s gospel by deriving spiritual insights from it not even envisioned by John himself.”[12] John’s gospel plays a major role in the spiritual journey of believers and non-believers today in its ability for edification of believers and evangelism for non-believers. The “good news” of John, while not considered a synoptic, is just as relevant today as it was for its intended audience, making it for many the “preferred gospel.”

Bibliography

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991.

Köstenberger, Andreas. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013.


[1] Andreas Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013), 4.

[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991), 40.

[3] John 13:23

[4] John 18:15

[5] John 19:26-27

[6] John 20:1-8

[7] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 5.

[8] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 6.

[9] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 6.

[10] Ibid., 6.

[11] Ibid., 8.

[12] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 10.