Epistle of Jude 17-25: Keep Yourself in the Love of God, Contending for the Faith

jude17-25_image(2) - Edited

Prologue

Jude has brought us along on a short, but powerful journey. Sharing with his audience, as well as us, what following Christ really is like. We are not just someone in an audience, listening to a pastor on a Sunday morning. We are being called to “save others by snatching them from the fire” and to show mercy to them, all while keeping ourselves in the love of Christ (Jude 23 CSB). This is the powerful, yet short message of Jude’s epistle. Join me as we look at the end of Jude’s epistle together.

Jude 17-23

Warning and an Exhortation

Jude’s last portion of his letter is structured as so—he calls for his audience to contend for the faith just as he requested them to in his opening. There are three sections—there is the call to remember the teaching of the Apostles regarding the eschaton (a fancy word for the end time), that there would be those who would live ungodly lives. Then, Jude breaks out his exhortation with verses 21-23. Jude then ends with his benediction.

jude17-19_imageWith this section, the words hymeis de (But you) begins both the sentences in verse 17 and 20. What is most interesting about this section is that Jude makes mention that his audience had heard what the Apostles said, which leads to the notion that either Jude is reminding his audience of what the Apostles said, of which he himself quoted, or, and more probable, is that Jude’s audience actually heard the literal words of all 11 of the Apostles, which would make this letter earlier than believed (Faithlife Study Bible note). As well, we have access to this teaching, in Mark 13:22; Acts 20:30; 1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Pet 3:3 (CSB). This has to do with eschatology (the study of the end times). During the time period of Jude’s letter, the notion of the end time was that it began with Jesus’ resurrection and would come to fruition upon His second coming (Brooks 2016). Jude uses the word elegon which in the Greek is parsed as a third person plural verb in the imperfect active indicative. I know that is a long phrase to say “they said.” What it means, though, is that the wording connotes that the Apostles continuously predicted of these false teachers (NIV Study Bible). Jude calls these false teachers, empaiktai, scoffers. Jude, again, tells his audience that these men are out for nothing except what fulfills their desires. He tells us that we can know who they are because they “create divisions and are worldly, not having the Spirit” (Jude 19 CSB).

 

Jude 20–21 [widescreen]

 

Now we turn to Jude’s exhortation. Again, Jude begins his sentence with the words, hymeis de (But you). Jude uses several words, which all tie into the theme of contending for the faith. jude20-23_imageFirst, Jude tells his audience that they need to “pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20 CSB).  Followed by waiting on the eternal life in the mercy of Jesus Christ (Jude 21 CSB). After this, Jude wants us to “[h]ave mercy on those who waver” (Jude 22 CSB); save others from hell, show mercy without fear, and to hate corruption (Jude 23 CSB). This second to the last paragraph in Jude’s letter is loaded with such wonderful and, yet, powerful words.

 

Jude20_image

Jude begins this exhortation with the desire for his audience to pray in the Spirit. Jude believes that praying in the Spirit will build up the members of the Church. The word for build up in Greek is epoikodomountes. This word is a long Greek word for “up” in English. The word build is connoted with it or joined with it through context. Here, Jude uses the word proseuchomenoi which is translated as praying. The lexical, or root word, for this, is proseuchomai which means to pray. It is the most common, or general, Greek word used for the actual act of conversing with God. Prayer was a very important part of the early Church, one that flowed over from Judaism (Hardin 2016). Early Judaism, of which the early Church came from, had several types of prayers—eg., liturgical, personal, and spontaneous ones (Ibid.). However, the early Christians did have their own take on the prayers, of which are—Abba Father, Thanksgiving, In Jesus Name, and Intercessions in the Spirit (Ibid.). Jude, here, is requesting his audience to pray in the power and spontaneousness of the Spirit (NIV Study Bible, Keener and Walton 2016; MacArthur 2017). Jude believes, that by praying in the Spirit, his audience will be able to keep themselves in the love of God. We can identify this by the simple fact that Jude’s only command is the word keep, in Greek is tērēsate. Helm (2008) in his commentary of Jude says,

It is a matter of Greek grammar. In the list of things Jude calls us to do in verses 20, 21, the word “keep” is the only one that appears as an imperative. In other words, it is Jude’s only command. The other items in Jude’s how-to list are what are called participles, which means that grammatically speaking they are dependent on the phrase “keep yourselves.” In essence, Jude’s call in verse 21 to keep ourselves is the center of gravity for everything else being said.

What Jude is getting at here, with verses 20 and 21 is that the good Christ followers will pray in the Spirit, unlike those false teachers who will be worldly, seeking any ways possible to fulfill their own desires.

Between verses 22 and 23, Jude uses the word mercy twice. The Greek word, eleate, translated as mercy is used by Mounce (2006) and he defines the root word, eleeō, as an “emotional response and resulting action after encountering the suffering or affliction of another.” Basically, Jude uses this word here, as well as in 23, in a way that is to have pity on those who are suffering. Jude then makes a strange request in verse 23, he seeks us to snatch people from Hell! The Greek word, harpazontes, means snatching. Once again, Mounce (2008) describes the lexical form of the word, harpazō, as a violent or forceful grasp. Mounce (2008) believes that Jude uses this word to teach “the forceful proclamation of sound doctrine.” In verse 22, again, who are those who waver? Jude chose the Greek word diakrinomenous, which translates as waver in the CSB, NAB, and the NLT, and the ESV, LEB, and the NIV translate the word as doubt. I believe that Jude is seeking for his audience to show pity on those who were affected by the false teachers and having doubt in the correct doctrinal teachings of the Church.

In verse 23, Jude then exhorts his audience to “save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear-hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (CSB). Jude uses the Greek word, sozete, which means to save. Since Jude’s audience was mostly Jewish, one can understand the meaning of this word in its Jewish context. The translators of the LXX (Septuigent—Greek version of the Old Testament) used sozo, the lexical form of sozete, roughly 15 times and mostly for the Hebrew verb yāša’ which means “to deliver and save;” as well as for mālaṭ meaning “to slip away, escape, or (piel) to deliver, save” (Verbrugge 2000). There were two main meanings of this word in the LXX for sozo which were by human deliverance, meaning from a king to “the poor, needy, and oppressed within the nation”; while the other meaning comes from God (Ibid.). Many Old Testament warnings were in regards to not being sucked into a false notion of salvation from things not of God (Ibid.). Jude, being the good Jew that he was trained up to be, uses these many warnings (as we have seen in his letter so far) to say to his audience that they are to be part of the deliverance of God to those who are led astray.

Jude uses the weirdest statement in his whole letter when he exhorts his audience to “show mercy with fear” (Jude 23 CSB). What does he mean by fear? The word in Greek is phobo. Jude’s use of the word phobo is nothing short of simply being mindful. What that means, in a way, has to be seen with the rest of the sentence of which this statement comes from “hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 23 CSB). What does Jude mean, though, in regards to “the garment?” Jude uses the Greek word chitona which is translated as either garment or tunic. The tunic, as used in this verse, was the garment worn under the outer one, or as William Mounce, in his New Testament Dictionary, states, “the article of clothing worn next to the skin by both men and women” (Mounce 2006). What needs to be understood here, then, is that what is the closest to the person is easily corruptible. In other words, as the translators of the NET state, “the things close to the sinners are contaminated by them, presumably during the process of sinning” (Harris 2017). All of verse 23 is taken from Zechariah 3:1-5 (CSB). God rebukes Satan for accusing the high priest Joshua in front of the Lord. God asks Satan, “[i]sn’t this man [high priest Joshua] a burning stick snatched from the fire?” After this, God takes Joshua’s clothes, which were filthy, and replaces them with clean ones (Zech 3:4-5 CSB). Jude wants his audience, who would have had this verse from Zechariah in their thoughts, to see that this was how God wants them (as well as us) to treat those who have strayed.

Jude 24-25

Benediction

 

Jude 24–25 [widescreen]

 

Now we come to the portion of the letter known as the doxology or the benediction. This is Jude’s final closing to his audience. Most Jewish services would end on a praise through a doxology (Keener 2014, 722). Jude is now going to tie everything back to his theme of salvation that he briefly spoke of at the beginning of his letter (Jude 1-3 CSB; MacArthur 2017, 1988n). Jude is able to do this with his song of praise to God.

Jude opens is doxology expressing one of the most important truths in all of the Bible—”to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy” (Jude 24 CBS). To begin, Jude uses the Greek word phylaxai which comes from the lexical form phylassō which can mean to guard, preserve, and/or keep. The Greeks had a form of this word for a guard or sentry (phylax). In Jude’s use, it can be translated as protect. Only the CSB states this word as protect in English where the ESV, GNB, NJB, NIV, and NLT all interpret it as keep. For Jude, protect or keep can mean the same thing, which in theology is known as the doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints.” It is best explained in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647, 17.1) as ” [t]hey, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.” The notion is that if we are truly regenerated, saved, by the work of Jesus, then we will never fall away. There is also an understanding, here, that in verse 21 Jude tells us to keep in the love of Christ, which now he tells us that it is in God that we are kept. In other words, God’s grace keeps us, which causes us to stay in Christ’s love. By doing this, it brings glory to God.

Application

Jude’s Epistle was written to show his audience, as well as us, to stay holy, persevering in the love of Christ. Jude 25 [widescreen]We are to contend for the faith, saving those along the way who have lost their way. We are only able to do this through the perseverance of God. It was God who created this world and everything in it, calling it good. From the beginning, God made a covenant with Adam, that was to be carried along by the rest of humanity, to expand His kingdom (the Garden of Eden). However, it was man who broke that covenant. Then, God made more covenants (eg., Noah, Abraham, Jacob, the people of Israel) knowing full well that we would never be able to uphold our end of the contract. Therefore, God had to do what we could not, he made a covenant with Himself through the person of Jesus the Christ, for us. Through that covenant, God was able to keep/protect us, which in turn allows us to stay in the love of Christ. This is the message of Jude, in a nutshell. “Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25 CSB)!

Reference List

Brooks, Page. 2016. “Eschatology.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Hardin, Leslie T. 2016. “Prayer.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Harris, W. Hall III ed. 2017. New English Translation. Biblical Studies Press, LLC.

Helm, David R. 1-2 Peter and Jude. Preaching the Word Commentary Series. Edited by R. Kent Hughes. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Keener, Craig S. 2014. IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Keener, Craig S. and John H. Walton. 2016. Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

MacArthur, John. 2017. MacArthur Study Bible: Aniversary Edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Mounce, William D. 2008. “(Have) Mercy.” In Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Verbrugge, Verlyn ed. “G5392 σῴζω.” In New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 

 

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Epistle of Jude 12-19: Dead Fruitless Trees

jude12-16_image

Prologue

Sometimes you go to a church where things act, look, and sound Christian (especially orthodox). However, you find out that the pastor has just been accused of having an affair with his secretary or stealing money from the offering. When your church needed a new roof or some work done in the basement, yet, somehow the pastor has just gotten a new car or house, you begin to wonder what is really going on. In the early middle ages (ca. AD 500-1000), the office of the priesthood was held by, mostly, the children of a current churches priest. Basically, until the 11th century, the Medieval Church allowed their priests to marry, giving their offspring the ability to inherit the parish and take over as its new priest. This was good, until the time of the Viking invasions, which left the churches in the hands of ungodly, false teachers, men who did not care how the church flourished spiritually, only that they got their women and money. After this, the priesthood moved to more of the nobility. During the High Middle Ages (ca. AD 1000-1250), if a noble had three sons, one took on the family industry of the nobility, the second would become a lawyer, and the third would become a member of the clergy. This tradition continued on till the modern period of the French Revolution (1789). Interestingly, the desire to hold a pastorate or church for sex, power, and/or wealth, has been common, even in today’s society. This is what Jude calls us to look out for. We must judge these so-called rulers by the type of fruit they produce.

Jude has just finished exegeting (fancy word for pulling out of the text, an important form of interpretation) and is now going to move along to applying his findings to his audience (Helm 2015). Those who proclaim to be teachers of the Word, yet live a life contrary to it, as Jude will tell us, are nothing more than dangerous reefs, waterless clouds, and fruitless trees (Jude 12 CSB). Jude tells us that these false teachers are the ones “whom the blackness of darkness is reserved forever” (Jude 13 CSB). 

Jude 12-13

Jude begins his application by describing what type of people these so-called leaders actually are. He uses the word, in Greek, spilades, which can be translated, as in most cases, hidden reefs. This is a very interesting term to use when speaking of eating at a feast. In the translations of Mounce’s Reverse-Interlinear New Testament, NIV, and the NAB (New American Bible Revised), it is translated as blemish. According to the NET (New English Translation),  the translating of spilades as blemish is incorrect. The Greek word for blemish would be spiloi. They’re similar, even in the root of the words, spilas and spilos. Basically, the ESV, CSB (Christian Standard Bible, a revision of the HCSB), NET, and NLT have it translated, correctly, hidden/dangerous reef. Making the concept of the false teachers as ones who being so-called rocks of their community are nothing more than hidden reefs, causing a shipwreck (Harris 2017).

Early Christians celebrated the Eucharist as a love feast. Though we do know that Christ used bread and wine to form His new community; Jesus and His disciples feasted on a bigger meal, the Passover Feast, which consisted of lamb, bread, wine, and various other dishes. Craig S. Keener (2016), in his comment on Jude 12 in his Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, states that communal meals were part of the Mediterranean value system, where it created an obligatory friendship bond. The idea behind these feasts, tais agapais in Greek, was for the community to gather together to celebrate their love of Christ and each other. It’s in this feast that these false teachers are corrupting and shipwrecking the flock.

Jude now begins to tear these heretics apart, using some very descriptive words in regards to what kind of people they are, within his church. Jude begins with calling them “shepherds who only look after themselves” (Jude 12 CSB). In other words, what Jude is telling his audience is that these men care only about themselves. These men seek only gain, no matter what the cost. Jude continues to explain that these so-called shepherds are completely useless, devoid of any value. This is why he likens them to waterless clouds, dead, uprooted (twice over) fruitless trees (Jude 12 CSB). This last statement is important. Jude calls these men, dead trees, that are fruitless, and uprooted. It is vitally important for us to catch what Jude is saying here, these men are incapable of producing anything of value because they are dead and uprooted. They cannot, and will not, be able to be fruitful. 

Next, Jude moves to an even deeper expounding of their persons and reservations. Jude says that “[t]hey are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shameful deeds” (Jude 13 CSB). The Jews had a way with words. In Jewish writings, it was not uncommon to use the symbolism of waves for wickedness (Keener and Walton 2016). The Greeks had a way with language as well; here, for instance, is the single word epaphrizonta which literally translates into casting up the foam. It was sometimes associated with “babbling or exposing secrets” (Keener and Walton 2016). Next Jude tells his audience that these false prophets are “wandering stars for whom the blackness of darkness is reserved forever” (Jude 13 CSB). Wandering stars were seen as actually planets, which in some cases they actually are (Keener and Walton 2016). What Jude is saying here, which aligns with his culture and time, is that these false teachers are nothing more than the erratic planets circling around the earth–which we know today is not correct, however, the argument is still valid (Ibid.). Again, Jude alludes to 1 Enoch, with this statement about the false prophets being wandering stars (Ibid.). It is in 1 Enoch “that God imprisoned hostile star-angels [and that their] judgment [was] as “darkness … forever” (Ibid.). 

Jude 14-16

It’s time again that we focused on Jude’s use of extrabiblical sources for his message in his letter. First, Jude was not incorrect in his use of extrabiblical sources, mainly because, even, Jesus did not stick strictly to the Old Testament (see Matt 23 CSB; Archer 1982). What we need to look at, quickly, is who Enoch was. The only source, in the Bible, for Enoch comes from the Torah, or Pentateuch (Gen 5:18-24 NKJV). What we can deduce, here from Jude, as well as Genesis, is that Enoch was the seventh generation after Adam and that he was thought to have prophesied the verse in 1 Enoch 1:9 (Jude 14-15 CSB). 1 Enoch is what scholars like to call, apocalyptic literature. Basically, apocalyptic literature is a Biblical genre that uses symbols and imagery to portray God’s future judgment (Neal 2016). 1 Enoch does resemble much of the Old Testament and may have influenced some of the New Testament writers, using common terms as Son of Man and shared notions of angels (Hiehle and Whitcomb 2016). First off, 1 Enoch was written ca. 200 BC (Ibid.). That is a long time after the actual life of Enoch, as well as about few hundred years before Jude even thought about writing his letter. Essentially, 1 Enoch is a book all about the coming judgment, end times narrative much like Revelation, of God, especially upon the ungodly (Ibid.). Though 1 Enoch is not canonical, Jude still used it to show his audience the seriousness of God’s coming judgment on false teachers (Helm 2015). To end this portion of Jude’s letter, these false teachers are nothing more than loudmouths who long to glorify themselves and gain as much sensuality, power, and wealth as they can (Jude 16 CSB).

Conclusion

We, in the Church of America, are continuously under attack by Satan and his army of false teachers. It seems that there is always someone taking advantage of another. Let us think like Jude, be on our guard of these dead and fruitless heretics. Jesus is our only Lord and God and we need to be wary of anyone preaching another gospel unlike some of those in Paul’s churches (Gal 1:6; 2 Cor 11:4 CSB). There are those who do not preach God’s wrath, Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, or Christ’s actual divinity. Instead, they water down the Gospel, teaching a Jesus who led a revolution and died because of injustice. This is the Church in America that is falling prey to these attacks, and it is time that we listen to Jude, as well as the other New Testament authors, and wake up take back our Church. Oh little ones, be careful of the false teachers. Let us stay faithful to Christ, His teachings, and the Word of God.

Reference List

Archer, Gleason L. 1982. “Did Jude err when he cited nonbiblical sources?” In New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Harris, W. Hall III. 2017. New English Translation. Biblical Studies Press, LLC.

Helm, David R. 2015. 1-2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Suffering. Preaching the Word Commentary Series. Edited by R. Kent Hughes. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Hiehle, Jonathan Alan and Kelly A. Whitcomb. 2016. “First Book of Enoch.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Keener, Craig S. and John H. Walton. 2016. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Neal, D. A. 2016. “Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

 

The Historical Jesus is the Christ of Faith, Part Five: What’s in a Baptism?

Jordan River

‎The Jordan River at Yardenit, near the outflow from the Sea of Galilee. The image is taken from the Faithlife Study Bible.

Prologue

In the small Roman province of Palestine, ca. AD 30, during the reign of Caesar Tiberius, a Jewish prophet was out in the area of Bethany beyond Jordan (John 1:28 CSB). God had been silent for nearly 400 years, and suddenly, someone new came on the scene proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was coming near, that the people of Israel needed to be cleaned with water, repent, and accept God’s Messiah (Mark 1:4-8; Matt 3:1-2; Luke 3:2-3; John 1:26-28 CSB). God’s people had been waiting for this moment, His Messiah was finally coming. Israel was going to be restored to her Golden Years, as under David. The notions of who and what this Messiah was, was very misunderstood. The historical Jesus did not come to bring a war, free the Jews from their current exile under the Romans, He, as the Christ of faith (was also the Jesus of history), came to free His people from Satan, death, and sin. The historical Jesus came to set His people free, to reconnect them with their God, YHWH, through His death and resurrection.

Why a Prophet in the Wilderness and how does he Connect to the Historical Jesus?

Family tree of John and Jesus

Family Tree of John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah. The image is taken from Faithlife Study Bible

Around the year 4 BC, while Caesar Augustus was the Emperor of the Roman Empire, John the Baptist was born. His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were in their older age when they gave birth to John. Zechariah was a priest in Jerusalem, officiating in the Temple when Herod the Great was still the King of Judah. Zechariah was from the line of priests of Abijah and Elizabeth was a daughter from the family line of Aaron (Luke 1:57 CSB). Luke is the only author who gives us any internal information on John. It is Luke who gives us the angelic introduction to Zechariah, telling us that Elizabeth was barren and unable to have children (Luke 1:7 CSB). Luke also gives us the angelic understanding of who John was in connection with the story of Jesus:

he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people (Luke 1:13-17 CSB).

It is, though, in the Synoptics that we learn of John’s wilderness ministry (Mark 1:1-8; Matt 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-18 CSB). Mark and Matthew tell us that John wore camel’s hair, a leather belt, and ate locust and honey (Mark 1:6; Matt 3:4 CSB). John’s message was one of repentance, to be baptized “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; Matt 1:1-2; Luke 3:3 CSB). Outside of the Evangelists, Josephus tells us about John the Baptizer:

 Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure to him (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.2).

Josephus wrote his works as an apology, as well as an explanation, of Judaism (along with their history) to the Romans (Keener 2009, 167). Josephus wanted to show to the Romans that his people, the Jews, were not all about rebellion they were not all a threat to the peace of Rome (Sanders 1993, 93). This is part of the reason why Josephus and the Gospels differ in their statement of who and what John was and did. There is an underlying historical connection—John was called by God to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

In most of the critical scholarship, secular, and Jewish worlds, there’s a thought that the Gospels have actually tweaked the story of John (DeMaris 2002, 138;* Keener 2009, 166-167; Chilton and Good 2011, 26-31; Bock 2012, 28-29). What this means is that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and, even, John have all diminished the role of John the Baptist and increased that of Jesus’ (Bock 2012, 28-29). Inside this view is an argument that Jesus was actually a disciple of John’s and that once he was imprisoned Jesus took on John’s message and ministry for Himself (Sanders 1985, 91; Sanders 1993, 94; Theissen 2003, 15; Keener 2009, 166-167; Chilton and Good 2011, 26-31; Bock 2012, 28-29). The truth is, as Keener (2009, 167) holds, that the Gospel authors, whose material is much older than Josephus’, are actually more authentic than that of Josephus.

As we have seen, most of modern scholarship has tried to place John the Baptist as the rabbi of Jesus (for a humorous version see Chilton 2000, 41-43+), we need to get behind the real John, the one that history, through the Gospels, tells us about.

life of Christ infancy

Timeline of the birth and early life of Christ taken from the Faithlife Study Bible.

As mentioned above with the Gospels’ narratives, let’s look a little more deeply at John the Baptist. First, John was not an Essene (Bruce 1980,153-154; Wright 1996, 276; Keener 2009, 167). Second, what John was was a prophet. John not only baptized, he even prophesied that the Messiah was coming, saying: “One who is more powerful than I am is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8 CSB). Third, John, as a prophet, preached an eschatological message—from the Greek meaning the study of the end times (Bruce 1980, 154; Sanders 1985, 92; Sanders 1993, 93; Keener 2009, 167-169; Sproul 2009, 61-69; Bock 2012, 33). Fourth, and lastly, John was a baptizer. Baptism was simply a ritual washing, however, we need to understand what kind of ritual washing this was. 

First thing, John’s baptism was something new, Israel had never had anything quite like what John was doing (Bruce 1980, 155; Bock 2012, 31). In Leviticus 14, Moses is given commands from God in how to purify the people of Israel from skin diseases and contaminated objects. It deals with bathing, mostly after the ceremony which included being sprinkled with a mixed concoction of bird’s blood and water. The closest thing to what John was doing is from Numbers 19. Here, God tells Moses that a red cow is to be completely burned and its ashes added to water for purifying someone as a sin offering. Most importantly, Ezekiel declared that God was going to clean Israel of her impurities with water and place his Spirit within them, restoring them to their former glory making a new covenant with them (Ezek 36:24-30 CSB). Ezekiel 36_27 [widescreen].pngDuring John’s day, the Pharisees added certain details to being ritually clean. For them, the washing of hands was not hygienic, it was a necessary ritual to help those who were once prevented from gaining access to God by being unclean the ability to stay connected to Him (Bock 2012, 31). The Essenes would bath daily in hopes of keeping their access with God, also it replaced their use of the sacrificial system at the Temple (Bruce 1980, 120). What John was doing, however, was completely different.

John’s washing was one that a proselyte was to do when converting to Judaism (Bruce 1980, 156; Sproul 2009, 67; Sproul 2014, 284). This is important to understanding John’s baptism, message, and Jesus’ connection to him because to a Jew they were already a part of the story (Sproul 2009, 68; Sproul 2014, 285). For Gentiles to be converts to Judaism they needed to do three things, says Sproul (Ibid), profess their faith through the Laws and the Prophets, be circumcised and go through a ritual baptism to become clean. Essentially, what John was proclaiming, to all of Israel, was that Judaism was completely unclean, they needed to repent, be baptized to be made clean (Bruce 1980, 156; Sproul 2009, 68; Sproul 2014, 285; Limbaugh 2017, 123).  If this was John’s message, then what did it have to do with the historical Jesus?

Matthew 3_17 [widescreen]

What does the Baptism of Jesus have to the do with the Historical Jesus?

To break it down, John’s baptism of Jesus and his message are important to the historical Jesus due to the fact that He accepts John’s baptism, calling, message, mission, and prophetic ministry (Bruce 1980, 159; Keener 2009, 175-176; Bock 2012, 34-36; Limbaugh 2017, 124). Jesus tells John to allow His baptism, that it is necessary “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15 CSB). By taking on John’s baptism, Jesus was saying to him, that He would take on the very obligations that God required of Israel—hence the need to fulfill all righteousnesss—at the same time proclaiming that John was correct in requiring all of Israel to repent, be cleansed, and ready for God to return as their King (Sproul 2009, 68; Keener 2009, 175-176, Bock 2012, 34-36; Limbaugh 2017, 123-124). That Jesus had to humble Himself to be baptized in a ritual for repenting was something that is seen as being embarrassing for the early Christians (Keener 2009, 176; Bock 2012, 28). Because of this, then, historically the situation must have happened, or else why would the authors even put it in their story (Ibid.)? The historical Jesus is the Christ of faith, taking on the baptism of John, becoming our Messiah and the King of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ baptism marked that the new covenant had been established, that through Him would God’s Kingdom come and be ruled by Him (Sproul 2009, 68; Sproul 2014, 286-287; Limbaugh 2017, 124).

Author’s Notes

* Richard E. DeMaris, a social-Scientific scholar in Jesus studies, tries to argue that the visual experience of Jesus at His baptism has more historicity to it than His actual baptism. DeMaris (2002, 138), states “Jesus’ baptismal vision has a stronger claim to historicity than the baptism itself…Jesus’ baptism has no claim to historicity.” This is the type of arguments that are making it into our churches and seminaries, arguments that contradict themselves. There are a few fallacies that DeMaris is making here. The first one is the post hoc ergo propter hoc, also known as the faulty cause fallacy, which states that because one thing happens, another one follows it. DeMaris makes this fallacy by arguing that Jesus’ baptism did not really happy, but because of the view of Jesus being possessed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus went through some kind of ritual, without actually going through it—in other words, because Jesus was a holy man, He had to receive His purpose from something. Another fallacy he makes is known as inconsistency, which means that an argument is made in which the premise stems from a self-contradiction. DeMaris makes this one with the argument that Jesus’ physical baptism did not happen, yet His baptismal vision has some factual historicity to it. When we do studies into the Gospels and Jesus’ life, we must be very careful of the types of arguments we are making.

+ Bruce Chilton, in his biography of Jesus, believes that Jesus separated from His family, to seek a rabbi who would help Him to understand His vision of the Kingdom, through the Temple, by following John at the Jordan River. Even giving a complete conversation:

“Shelama, rabbi,” he would have said. He [Jesus] opened his hands by his sides in a gesture of vulnerability, went down on one knee, bowing his head, holding breath, waiting to see if John would acknowledge him. “Show your face,” John finally said to this strange beggar-boy. He saw a young man, dirty and disheveled. “Who are you?” John asked. “Jesus from Nazareth.” “Why are you not then in Nazareth?” And Jesus found his voice by telling his story: how he had left his family because the Kingdom he intuitively discerned was palpable for him in the Temple, how he needed to remain near its center (Chilton 2000, 42).

Reference List

Bock, Darrell L. 2012. Who is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith. New York: Howard Books.

Bruce. F. F. 1980. New Testament History. New York: Galilee Book, Doubleday.

Chilton, Bruce. 2000. Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography. New York: Image Books, Doubleday.

Chilton, Bruce and Deirdre Good. 2001. “Movement of John the Baptist.” In Studying the New Testament. A Fortress Introduction. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

DeMaris, Richard E. 2002. “Baptism of Jesus: A Ritual-Critical Approach.” In Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Wolfgang Stegemann, Bruce J. Malina, and Gerd Theissen, 137-157. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Keener, Craig S. 2009. Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Limbaugh, David. 2017. True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels. Washington D. C.: Regnery Publishing.

Sanders, E. P. 1993. Historical Figure of Jesus. New York: Allen Lane, Penguin Press.

________. 1985. Jesus and Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Sproul, R. C. 2014. Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

________. 2009Who Is Jesus?. Vol. 1. The Crucial Questions Series. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Theissen, Gerd. 2003. Fortress Press Introduction to the New Testament. Translated by John Bowden. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Wright, N. T. 1996. Jesus and the Victory of God. Vol. 2. Christian Origins and the Questions of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.