The Spirit in John’s Gospel. Part 1 -παρακλητος

Studies in Johannine pneumatology gravitate toward the second half of John’s Gospel (a.k.a. “the Book of Glory”). The reason for this focus is that along with the much debated Greek term παρακλητος, John’s presentation of the Spirit becomes more detailed and explicit in the second half of the Gospel. More particularly, the Spirit passages (except John 20:22) are concentrated in the Farewell Discourse.

While the Farewell Discourse contains the clearest descriptions of the Spirit, these passages should not be read in isolation from previous material. “The Book of Signs” (roughly chapters 1-12) develops the Spirit concept (the Spirit marks what is of the heavenly realm and reveals Jesus’ identity) and anticipates the giving of the Spirit (John 1:34; 7:39). These previous concepts feed into the Spirit/Paraclete concept of the Farewell Discourse. Scholars who attempt to understand Johannine pneumatology apart from the Book of Signs, or by simply focusing on the meaning of παρακλητος, neglect the narrative flow of the Fourth Gospel.[1] Such neglect compromises the Fourth Evangelist’s own agenda and presentation. Because the Evangelist explicitly equates παρακλητος with the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), one should assume that the Evangelist wants his readers to understand the Spirit/Paraclete in light of the previous Spirit passages.[2] The presentation of the Spirit certainly undergoes a shift, and understanding that shift elucidates the Evangelist’s agenda.

The Book of Signs presents the Spirit as identifying that which is of the realm of God.[3] The Spirit remains on Jesus (John 1:33) without measure (John 3:34) thus marking Jesus’ messianic identity and heavenly origin. Simultaneously, the narrative looks forward to Jesus giving the Spirit (John 1:33) to anyone who thirsts (John 4:10; 7:37) as a realization of eschatological promises. The Spirit is centered upon Jesus and will flow from him. This forward-looking perspective views Jesus’ glorification as the climatic eschatological hour (John 12:23–27). When the Book of Glory shifts to the hour of Jesus’ glorification, the Spirit theme turns toward Jesus giving the Spirit and what reception of the Spirit means for the disciples. While specific Spirit passages will be analyzed later, some preliminary observations in the Book of Glory show these concerns.

Jesus’ giving of the Spirit depends upon his looming departure (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7), so that the eschatological blessings come through tribulation (see John 16:20–24, where the pain/joy of the eschaton is compared to a mother in labor). This triumph-through-tribulation perspective prepares the disciples to view Jesus’ looming death as the inauguration of the eschatological age with its attendant blessings (John 14:12; 15:11, 16; 16:15, 33; 17:2). The Book of Glory portrays these blessings (including the Spirit) in very personal/familial terms.[4] This portrayal is a natural development of centering all eschatological hopes/fulfillment on the person of Jesus. As God’s one and only son, Jesus uniquely manifests the Father’s presence (John 1:18; 10:30; 12:45; 14:9). Jesus also establishes a familial relationship between his followers and the Father, a blessing emphasized in the Farewell Discourse (John 14:2, 21, 23; 15:15; 16:15, 26–27; 17:20–26). The establishment of a renewed familial relationship between God and his people was an eschatological hope (Lev 26:11–13; Isa 65:22–25; Jer 31:33–34; Ezek 37:23–28; Zech 2:10–12).

The shift toward personal imagery is evident in the Spirit theme as John shifts from depicting the Spirit as “living water” to depicting the Spirit as “another Paraclete” whom the disciples know, “because he abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16–17). Moreover, the Spirit continues the personal connection between the disciples on earth and the departed Jesus and the Father above (John 14:16–17, 26; 16:14–15). As Brown argues, the promised Spirit will be Jesus’ personal presence with the disciples while Jesus is with the Father.[5] The shift to personal/familial imagery coheres with the Son manifesting the true presence of the Father.[6] Jesus embodied the heavenly presence of God that earthly temples accessed. As the Son, Jesus realizes God’s presence from the familial connection (founded in the eternal heavenly realm) more than the cultic (John 3:35; 5:20–24; 8:36; 10:11–17; 14:13; 17:1).[7]

In biblical and second Temple literature, the Spirit manifested God’s presence. While the Spirit became associated with God’s presence in the Temple, the Spirit primarily manifested God’s presence among the people. God was also believed to pour out his Spirit in an expanded and intensive way in the eschaton. For John, therefore, the Spirit was an apt candidate to continue the divine presence that the Son inaugurated.[9]

In the Book of Glory, the Spirit carries overlapping temple concepts, but temple imagery has been eclipsed. Through John’s pneumatology there is a “contrast between the cultic worship of the temple, which the author is claiming to be merely human, and the eschatological worship of the Endzeit, which has its origin in God.”[10] That contrast is highlighted by a shift from cultic language to personal language as God himself is manifested in the Son and the Spirit. The Farewell Discourse does not depict eschatological water flowing from the temple, but the Son sending the Spirit to make the heavenly realities of the Father known (including God’s manifest presence).[11] Since Jesus is the true embodiment of the heavenly presence (the fulfillment of the temple), the Spirit must continue to make Jesus’ personal presence known in order for the fulfillment to abide in the post-ascension community.   

Included in the Spirit’s role of continuing to manifest the heavenly presence to Jesus’ disciples is the Spirit performing many of the functions that Jesus performed. These functions include: teaching and reminding the disciples what Jesus said (John 14:26), testifying about Jesus (John 15:26), guiding the disciples into truth (John 16:13), and glorifying the sender (John 16:14).[12] The Spirit also serves an important witnessing function amidst persecution so that the disciples, like Jesus, are empowered to witness to the truth (John 15:18–27).[13] With all the similarities between the Spirit and Jesus, the Evangelist aptly describes the Spirit as “another Paraclete.”

Although contextually understanding John’s presentation of the Spirit is primary, the meaning of the term παρακλητος must be integrated into this understanding. John chooses to employ the term παρακλητος to help define the Spirit’s role in the messianic community, even if the term has not helped such definition in the later scholarly community. The term παρακλητος, as John employs it, does not match a secular Greek or translated Hebrew title.[14] Most attempts to identify a specific background and/or a “primary” meaning of παρακλητος do not satisfactorily account for Johannine usage.[15] While παρακλητος may appear in judicial contexts in rabbinic and classical literature, Grayston has demonstrated that παρακλητος is used in other contexts with a general meaning of supporter or sponsor.[16] The παρακλητος certainly functions in forensic contexts in witness for Jesus (John 15:26), in help for the disciples amidst persecution (John 16:7–11), and in the trial motif in general (John 16:8).[17] Yet, as Grayston has shown, the forensic role does not account for much extra-biblical usage nor does it account for John’s emphasis on the Spirit’s role of manifesting Jesus’ presence.[18]

One of the reasons that the extra-biblical usage of παρακλητος does not fully match John’s usage is that John bases the Spirit as παρακλητος on Jesus as παρακλητος.[19] While John’s Gospel does not explicitly call Jesus “παρακλητος,” it implies that Jesus is the first παρακλητος since the Spirit is “another παρακλητος” (1 John 2:1 identifies Jesus as the community’s παρακλητος with the Father). As the Son of God, Jesus made the presence of God available and “sponsored” those who believed in him to become “children of God” (John 1:12). In many respects, Jesus is a patron or broker making available heavenly realities to his followers (a function previously filled by the temple).[20] As mentioned above, the Spirit assumes these functions after Jesus’ departure. John’s depiction of the Paraclete depends upon his depiction of Christ.[21] The Spirit/Paraclete is presented in very personal terms because he is manifesting Jesus’ personal presence.[22] For this reason, Jesus can refer to the Spirit’s coming as “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).[23] The Spirit/Paraclete teaches, testifies, guides into truth, and glorifies the Son because Jesus did these things and the Spirit continues the work. In John, as in other NT writings, the early Christian concept of the Holy Spirit is conditioned by belief in Jesus.[24] Nonetheless, the Spirit/Paraclete is distinct from Jesus. The Spirit is not the messianic center, but the efflux of that heavenly center. The Spirit remains on Jesus to mark his heavenly origin and messianic identity (John 1:33), and the Spirit will abide in the disciples to identify them as part of the messianic household (John 14:17).

What then, does the Evangelist’s use of παρακλητος add to his presentation? It provides a term that emphasizes the support and brokerage whereby Jesus the Son, then the Spirit, make access to the realm of God possible. Such patronage is necessary (John 3:3, “You must be born from the Spirit/above.”) to enter the kingdom of God. Whereas the Son ushers in the eschatological kingdom, the Spirit’s role continues the kingdom realities in the community. Both provide the needed support for entry into the household of God as well as expanding God’s kingdom in the world. Although παρακλητος probably carried some nuances lost to modern scholars, the extant evidence calls for understanding the term in a general sense of support or brokerage.[25] This sense includes judicial support and intercession, but also accounts for support for the disciples amidst persecution, as well as manifesting the presence of the Father and Son.[26]

In the next blog post, I will relate John’s use of the term “Spirit of Truth” to his overall pneumatology and to the term παρακλητος.

End notes

[1] This tendency is often influenced by other assumptions. A history of religions approach (or response to that approach using similar interpretive categories) influenced Betz into finding the interpretive key in extra-biblical literature. Otto Betz, Der Paraklet: Fursprecher im haretischen Spatjudentum, im Johannes-Evangelium und in neu gefundenen gnostischen Schriften (Leiden: Brill, 1963). Hans Windisch’s disjunctive treatment arises from his source critical assumptions, Hans Windisch, The Spirit-Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel (trans. J. W. Cox; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968).  

[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 481.

[3] Tricia Brown, Spirit in the Writings of John (JSNTSup 253; New York: T & T Clark, 2003), 21–22; Marie E. Isaacs, The Concept of the Spirit: A Study of Pneuma in Hellenistic Judaism and its Bearing on the New Testament (HeyMon 1; London: Heythrop College, 1976), 99–100.

[4] Burge, Anointed Community, 137143; Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John (vol. 2; AB 29A; New York: Doubleday, 1966), 2:1140.

[5] Ibid., 1139–1141.

[6] Coloe shows the prominence of the familial aspects of the Farewell Discourse, even if she overemphasizes that aspect at points. Mary Coloe, Dwelling in the Household of God: Johannine Ecclesiology and Spirituality (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2007), 193–201. See also James McCaffrey, The House with Many Rooms: The Temple Theme of Jn. 14, 2–3 (Rome: Editrice Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 1988), 246.

[7] T. Brown (Spirit in John, 260–265) concludes that Jesus, as God’s son, is the sole broker of the Father’s presence. For this reason, the Spirit, as second broker, primarily brokers Jesus’ presence while manifesting the Father’s presence.

[9] For how the Johannine Spirit fulfills eschatological expectations and represents the divine indwelling presence see, James M. Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence (Nashville: B&H, 2006).

[10] Isaacs, Concept of the Spirit, 100.

[11] Note John 16:14–15, “He will glorify me, for he will take of mine and will disclose it to you.  All things that the Father has are mine, that is why I said that he takes of mine and will disclose it to you.”

[12] See Figure 7 in Burge (Anointed Community, 141).for a listing of similarities between Christ and the Paraclete. See also Brown, John, 2:1141.

[13] Ibid., John, 2:698–701.

[14] Raymond Brown, “The Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel,” NTS 13 (1967): 114.

[15] Ibid., 115–120; Köstenberger, Theology, 712. Bultmann’s theory that the Paraclete is borrowed from the Gnostic “helper” has long been refuted as using sources too late to be relevant. Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John (trans. G. R. Beasley-Murray; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971), 566–572. Betz identification of the Paraclete with Michael, the angelic intercessor of Qumran, not only lacks lexical links but is too narrow a background to account for John’s usage. Otto Betz, Der Paraklet: Fursprecher im haretischen Spatjudentum, im Johannes-Evangelium und in neu gefundenen gnostischen Schriften (Leiden: Brill, 1963). Likewise, Johnston’s response to Betz that John was countering the Qumranic concept suffers the same narrowness. George Johnston, The Spirit-Paraclete in the Gospel of John (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970). M. Eugene Boring, “The Influence of Christian Prophecy on the Johannine Portrayal of the Paraclete and Jesus,” NTS 25 (1978): 113–123 speculates the Paraclete was originally an angel that John transformed into the Spirit of prophecy. Regardless of its problems with evidence, this theory is also too narrow to account for John’s particular use. Davies’ attempt to locate the meaning of παρακλητος in the LXX is admirable, but his methodology of looking at groupings of ideas where παρακλητος is the central theme is dubious. In addition, Davies’ conclusion that the primary meaning of παρακλητος is “comforter” does not square with some Johannine usage (most notably John 16:8). J. G. Davies, “The Primary Meaning of PARAKLHTOS,” JTS NS 4 (1953): 35–38.

[16] One of the more thorough treatments of παρακλητος in the primary sources from fourth century B. C. to A. D. third century is found in Kenneth Grayston, “The Meaning of Paraklētos,” JSNT 13 (1981): 67–82. Through looking at every occurrence of παρακλητος, Grayston demonstrates that the term has a general meaning that need not have a forensic nuance. In agreement with Grayston: Margaret Davies, Rhetoric and Reference in the Fourth Gospel (JSNTSup 69; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1992), 145.

[17] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John  (2 vols.; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 2:955–971; Burge, Anointed Community, 41 see the forensic sense as second only to Christology in determining Johannine usage. Others arguing for the “advocate” meaning : C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: University Press, 1958), 414; Antony Billington, “The Paraclete and Mission in the Fourth Gospel,” in Mission and Meaning: Essays Presented to Peter Cotterell (eds. Antony Billington, Tony Lane, and Max Turner; Carlisle, U.K.: Paternoster, 1995), 90–115.

[18] Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John (trans. John Vriend; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 500–501, points out that the Paraclete as “advocate” is an especially ill-fitting meaning for John 14. Similarly, Tricia Brown (Spirit in John, 217–228) demonstrates the weaknesses of the forensic understanding and how the idea of brokerage better accounts for all the occurrences of the Spirit/Paraclete. I mostly agree with her assessment.

[19] Brown, John, 2:1140.

[20] This point agrees and combines T. Brown’s (Spirit in John, 260–265) and Grayston’s (“Paraklētos,” 67) conclusions.

[21] Burge, Anointed Community, 30.

[22] B. Vawter, “John’s Doctrine of the Spirit: A Summary of His Eschatology,” in A Companion to John: Readings in Johannine Theology (ed. Michael J. Taylor; New York: Alba, 1977), 178.

[23] Köstenberger, Theology, 714.

[24] Isaacs, Concept of the Spirit, 124.

[25] T. Brown, Spirit in John, 217–228. Ridderbos (John, 503) says of παρακλητος, “the dominant idea is of someone who offers assistance in a situation in which help is needed.”

[26] Although I have simply transliterated the term because all English equivalents fall short, “helping presence” probably best sums up the above analysis (Köstenberger prefers this term in Theology, 710). The “helping” sums up the support or patronage aspect of the term while “presence” sums up the Johannine emphasis on the Spirit as realizing the Son and Father’s presence. “Helping presence” is vague and still needs qualification, but it allows the context to provide that qualification.

Miracles in the Four Gospels : A Discussion and helpful reference table.

Jesus’ teaching (often through parables) and miracles are primary features of the Gospels. A biblically informed definition of a miracle would consider a miracle as “an event which runs counter to the observed processes of nature” (EDT, 779). Certainly prophecy or special knowledge could fit into this definition, but most treat those phenomena in their own category.

Miracles in the Bible are evidence of God’s direct intervention in the world. Just as miracles are displays of God’s power in the space and time of this world, faith in the God who works those miracles calls for a lived-out response in a believer’s life. Neither biblical faith nor biblical miracles are just “religious” concepts or theories of the mind; they are observable holy disruptions in a fallen word on its way to redemption. For this reason, when God intervenes to redeem people of faith, his power and presence produce miracles. The miracles surrounding the exodus from Egypt exemplify this pattern. While the plagues and parting of the sea were incredible displays of God’s power, they were performed in the context of God fulfilling his redemptive promises to his people.

In keeping with the OT pattern, the arrival of God’s Kingdom in the person and work of Christ was predictably accompanied by miracles. Jesus’ miracles proclaimed in actions the same message proclaimed in his words: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Moreover, the miracles demonstrated Jesus’ identity as the promised Messiah who would usher in this new age of redemption. The resurrection of Jesus was the pinnacle of all miracles and the firstfruits of the new age of redemption and resurrection.

In the NT Jesus is not the only person to work miracles. Every Gospel contains a passage about Jesus giving his followers authority and power to perform miracles (Matt 6:7, 12-13; Mark10:1; Luke 9:1-2, 6; John 14:12). Not surprisingly, the apostles perform miracles in the book of Acts (3:1-11; 5:12-16; 19:11-12), and Paul mentions miracles taking place in the early churches apart from an apostle’s presence (1 Cor 12:6-10, 28-31; Gal 3:5; ).

Why do the Gospel writers incorporate miracles into their writings? While each writer employs miracles for their own distinct purposes, some general observations can be made. 1) Because Jesus actually performed miracles, any biography about him would include this remarkable aspect of his life. 2) As mentioned above, miracles accompany turning points in God’s redemptive plan: “Thus the Synoptists regarded Jesus’ miracles. . . as one mode of God’s assertion of his royal power, so that while the kingdom in its fullness still lies in the future, it has already become a reality in Jesus; words and works” (DJG, 550). This idea is captured in Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees over the source of Jesus’ power. Jesus says, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20; Matt 12:28). God’s kingdom brings God’s power to do miracles. 3) Just as the miracles identify the advent of God’s kingdom, the miracles identify Jesus as the anointed Messianic king. As demons are cast out, they proclaim Jesus’ identity as the Holy One (or Son) of God (Mark 1:21-27; Luke 4:31-36; Matt 8:28-34). When Jesus walks on water, the disciples worship him and say, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matt 14:33). In a similar way, the miraculous signs of John’s Gospel point to Jesus’ glorious identity (John 2:11; 5:36). 4) Because miracles identify Jesus as the Messiah, it is no surprise that miracles are closely associated with faith in Jesus. In John, miraculous signs are usually meant to bring about faith, but in the Synoptics faith often precedes miracles (Matt13:58; Mark 5:34; Luke 17:19). What exactly is meant by faith/belief varies according to the author and the context. The blind man in John 9 believes that Jesus is the Son of Man and worships him (John 9:35-38), whereas the father in Mark 9:21-27 struggles with believing that Jesus is able to heal his son. At the very least, the Gospels present miracles as both confirming and encouraging faith in Jesus.

Table of Miracles

In the table below miraculous healings are in regular font, exorcisms employ italic font, and miracles over nature/materials are underlined. These different fonts are not meant to suggest that the Gospel writers thought in these different categories (especially concerning healings and exorcisms), but to show how the Gospel writers employed these miracles. Although the resurrection of Christ should be considered the pinnacle of all miracles, it is not included in this chart because it deserves its own separate treatment. Likewise, the appearance of angels around the birth narratives could be considered miraculous, but like appearances of the risen Jesus, they are not included below.

Miracles in the Gospels
Turning water into wine at Cana   2:1-11 *sign
General statement of healing all types of sicknesses in Galilee4:23-241:39 “preaching and casting out demons”  
Cana: Healing son (not present) of royal official   4:46-54 *sign
Exorcism in Capernaum (Confess Jesus as Holy one of God) 1:21-27  4:31-36 
Healing Peter’s Mother-in-law and many others8:14-171:29-344:38-41 
Removal/cleansing of leprosy-then more fame *8:2-41:40-455:12-15 
Healing the servant of  a Centurion with great faith8:5-13 (servant not present) 7:1-10 (servant & centurion not present) 
Miraculous catch of fish  5:1-11 
Paralytic healed & forgiven9:1-82:1-12 (lowered through roof.)5:17-26 (lowered through roof.) 
Healing invalid at Bethesda on Sabbath   5:1-17 *sign
Heals withered hand on Sabbath *12:9-143:1-66:6-11 
General statement: exorcised spirits confess Jesus as Son of God. 3:10-12  
Raising a dead man at Nain  7:11-17 
The women who followed Jesus were cured of sickness or demons  8:1-3 
Calming the storm on the sea of Galilee8:23-274:37-418:22-25 
Legion of demons cast into swine.8:28-34 (Confess Jesus as Son of Most High God)5:1-20 (Confess Jesus as Son of Most High God)8:26-39 (Confess Jesus as Son of God) 
Raising synagogue ruler’s dead daughter and healing a woman’s blood flow on the way9:18-265:21-438:40-56 
2 blind men healed9:27-31     
Disciples given authority to heal and cast out demons10:16:7, 12-139:1-2, 6 
Casting out demon from mute man – Pharisees blaspheme9:32-34 12:22-24 11:14-15 
Feeding five thousand14:15-216:35-449:12-176:5-13 *sign
Jesus Walks on Water14:25-33 (Peter joins him)6:48-52 6:19-21
General statements of curing many9:35 14:34-36; 15:29-316:53-566:17-196:2; 20:30
Healing man born blind on Sabbath, interrogated by Jewish leaders   Ch 9 *sign
Casting demon from daughter (not present) of Gentile15:21-287:24-30  
Healing of deaf man with speech difficulty 7:31-37  
Feeding the four thousand15:32-388:1-9  
Healing blind man at Bethsaida 8:22-26  
Casting demon out of son who convulses17:14-209:14-29  9:37-43 
Temple tax in fish’s mouth17:24-27   
Healing a sick by spirit & hunched over woman on Sabbath  13:10-17 
Healing man of dropsy on Sabbath  14:1-6 
Raising Lazarus   11:1-45 *sign
10 lepers healed; Samaritan returns to thank  17:11-19 
Blind healed at Jericho20:29-34 (2 blind men)10:46-52 (Bartimaeus)18:35-43 (unnamed) 
Healing many in Temple courts21:14   
Fig tree withered21:18-2211:12-14, 20-25  
Healing the servant’s ear after Peter cut it off  22:50-51 
Miraculous catch   21:1-11

The above table reveals some patterns. 1) All the Gospels contain general statements about Jesus performing other miracles. One should assume, therefore, that the Gospel writers only chose a select few miracles in their presentation of Jesus. 2) Each Gospel describes at least one miracle that is not mentioned in the other Gospels. 3) Assuming Mark was written first, one notices that when Matthew and Luke contain Mark’s miracles, they seem to follow Mark’s ordering of the miracles. The two occasions (marked with a *) that Matthew or Luke have a different ordering of the same miracle, they never agree against Mark. Instead Mark and one of the other Gospels match sequences. 4) John contains by far the fewest miracles. Of the eight miracles listed, only two appear in the other Gospels—Jesus’ feeding the five thousand and walking on water. That being said, all the other miracles (other than the water made into wine) in John are similar in type to the miracles described in the Synoptic (healings, walking on water, miraculous catch of fish).

An overview of the miracles also gives insight into the distinctive presentation of each Gospel writer. For instance, in the Gospel of Mark “(t)he virtual absence of miracle stories after Jesus arrives in Jerusalem allows full rein to the hints of the theme of Jesus’ self-giving expressed in the earlier miracle stories. Jesus the powerful miracle worker chooses to offer himself, powerless, into the hands of the authorities in order to die ‘for many’ (10:45). . . . Some of Jesus’ commands to his disciples to remain silent indicate that his true identity cannot be fully understood apart from his passion and death (1:11, 34; 3:12); the powerful miracle worker without the suffering Jesus is an incomplete and misunderstood Messiah.” (NDBT, 777)

Luke presents Jesus’ ministry of preaching and healing as a product of his Spirit anointing (Luke 4:14-21). In fulfillment of Isaiah, the Spirit anoints and empowers Jesus to bring a restoration that includes healing the blind and release those held captive by all manner of oppression (including sickness). Jesus’ working of miracles is evidence that he has been empowered by God to advance his kingdom (Luke 11:20). When Luke writes Acts, he states that this same Spirit will empower Jesus’ followers to expand Christ’s kingdom (Acts 1:8). After Pentecost, miracles accompany the apostles as they proclaim the gospel of Christ’s kingdom. 

How particular miracles function in each Gospel will be discussed more fully later. Taking a broad view of miracles shows that they are a prevalent feature of Jesus’ ministry. The Gospel writers weave miracles into their presentations to say something about Jesus’ identity, his kingdom, and the faith of those Jesus encounters. 


*DJG: Green, Joel and Scot McKnight, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers

 Grove: InterVarsity, 1992.

*EDT: Elwell, Walter, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids:

Baker, 2001.

* NDBT: Alexander, T. Desmond, et. al.  New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Downers

 Grove: InterVarsity, 2000.

John’s Journey: The Road to Eternal Life

Many Christians have heard of “The Roman Road to Salvation.” In this short post, I am going to also recommend something I call: “John’s Journey to Eternal Life.”

The Roman Road is not a literal road, but a series of verses from the New Testament book of Romans. These verses simply summarize the steps of faith one must take to “be saved.” Being saved can mean a whole lot of things in the Bible (and in various religious circles), but on the basic level it means to be in a right relationship with God. Different versions of the Roman Road exist; some contain several verses and others just a basic few. Here is the most basic form of the Roman Road:

  • All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)
  • For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
  • But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
  • If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

The Roman Road is a simple way to share some fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith while also guiding people in how to become a Christian. The difficulty with the Roman Road is that people who are totally unfamiliar with Jesus usually want to read about His life and work, especially if they just believed and confessed that Jesus died for their sins and was raised from the dead. At that point, we usually suggest reading one of the Gospels that contain narratives about Jesus’ life and teachings. For this reason, I prefer to use a “Roman Road” from one of the Gospels so that the series of verses (the road) then are reinforced and read in context. Such a series of verses can be found in John’s Gospel.

John’s Journey: The Road to Eternal Life

When seekers or new Christians ask for a good book of the Bible “to start with,” I often suggest the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is a narrative of Jesus’ life, death, and teachings. Most people prefer stories to propositions, and John’s Gospel paints a picture of Jesus’ identity and mission through interactions and dialogue. Because John’s Gospel is a preferred place for unchurched people to begin their exploration of Jesus and the Christian faith, I suggest a selection of verses from the Gospel of John that functions like the Roman Road. I call it “John’s Journey to Eternal Life.” After sharing John’s Journey to Eternal life, one can suggest reading the whole Gospel of John as a next step. Whether the verses simply peak someone’s interest or compel someone to saving faith, they can read more about Jesus for themselves. Without further adieu, here is my version of John’s Journey to Eternal Life:

  • The journey to eternal life begins with God’s initiative and gracious gift: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  • Apart from God, we are perishing as we choose evil over good: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19)
  • What should we do in response to God’s gift and our sin? Believe in that gift: “Then they said to Jesus, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ (John 6:28-29)
  • What does it mean to believe? We believe in who Jesus claimed to be, that He died for our sins, and He rose from the dead. Here are two scriptures:
  1. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
  2. Then (the resurrected) Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:27-29)

Additional scriptures (like John 1:14 or 8:24) can be added for emphasis, but keeping things concise works best. After all, we hope that this will be just the beginning of someone’s journey to eternal life.

While I prefer to use John’s Gospel to introduce people to Christ, getting people to look into the scriptures themselves is the most important thing. Whether you prefer the “Roman Road” or “John’s Journey: Road to Eternal Life,” the path toward eternity with God is too great a gift not to share!

Maundy Thursday and Jesus Washing the Disciples’ feet

Maundy Thursday is observed the Thursday before Easter Sunday and commemorates Jesus washing the Apostles’ feet and establishing the Lord’s Supper. footwashingJohn’s Gospel is the only Gospel that recounts the footwashing. In this post, I make a couple observations on John 13:1-30.

John 13:1-30 introduces a larger unit often called the “Farewell Discourse,” which covers John 13:31-17:26. As Jesus bids “farewell” to his disciples, he cleanses them through the act of footwashing. The Farewell Discourse concludes with Jesus praying for his followers to continue his mission. The discourse itself features Jesus preparing his followers for his departure by teaching them about their relationship to the Father, to Jesus, to the Spirit, to one another, and to the world.

The description of the footwashing is intertwined with Jesus’ predictions about his betrayal, something that the other Gospels recount with the institution of the “Lord’s Supper.” John’s Gospel places the footwashing at a meal, but does not include the explicit establishment of the Lord’s Supper. However, the act of footwashing symbolizes Jesus’ humble self-sacrificial service through his death on the cross – something also symbolized by the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper.  In his commentary on John, Craig Keener (2003, 902-914) observes that the interspersing of the footwashing and its significance (13:3-10) with the betrayal (13:2, 10-11) point to Jesus’ impending death. The betrayal of a friend or close associate was a terrible act in all first-century cultures and the act was especially heinous because it took place during a meal. Eating together was a symbol of trust and unity. And yet, Jesus did not make a mistake in choosing Judas (6:70) since he was chosen to fulfill the prophesied role of betrayer, as the quotation of Psalm 41:9 in John 13:18 points out.

Jesus tells his disciples beforehand about this betrayal so that they would not doubt Jesus because of this betrayal. Instead, Jesus’ foretelling would cause them to believe “I am he” (13:19). At the most basic level Jesus was showing that he was a legitimate prophet of God despite Judas’ betrayal; Jesus was still aware and in control of the situation. Telling of the events before hand was one way prophets were shown to be from God (Deut 18:22).

Keener (2003, 914) also states this language of Jesus “choosing” the disciples echoes the language of God choosing Israel as he was creating a covenant community. The choosing of Judas and the crucifixion – they were all a part of God’s plan to draw together a new community/family of God. By introducing the idea of voluntary humble service through footwashing, John emphasizes that the betrayal and death were consciously taken up by Jesus in love and service to God’s people. The humiliation of the cross and its cleansing of sinners were foreshadowed in the act of footwashing.

Jesus’ footwashing also serves as an object lesson in humility. Footwashing was the task usually done by the lowest servant. It was certainly not to be done by a renowned teacher or leader. Jesus says in John 13:14-15  If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” Jesus clearly states that one purpose for washing their feet is to give them an example they should follow. Only through humble, Christ-like service could the disciples truly continue Jesus’ ministry and mission.

Ending on a note of application, we church leaders must receive Jesus’ cleansing like anyone else. It is through Christ’s sacrificial death (the Lamb of God) that we are cleansed and adopted as children of God (John 1:12; 29). Christian leaders must be converted and cleansed by Christ. Too many have seized the mantle of leadership without having received Christ’s cleansing. We must also pay close attention to Jesus’ example. Jesus calls us to servant-leadership that is ready to humble oneself in service to the other. This includes doing the tasks no one else wants – the task of the lowest servant like washing the feet. Too many have seized the mantle of Christian leadership without taking up the mantle of service like Christ. Christ-like leadership is servant leadership.

Jesus as the Heavenly Temple in the Fourth Gospel.

The most recent edition of Bulletin of Biblical Research (28.3; 2018: pages 425-446) BBRcontains probably my last article that incorporates a large amount of material from my dissertation. Through many revisions, I was able to sharpen one of the main arguments in my thesis into an article length presentation. Below is the abstract/summary of the article. The full article can be read on JSTOR or by those who have a subscription to the Bulletin of Biblical Research. For those who have access to neither, but want the full pdf., leave a comment below and I can email you a copy.

ABSTRACT: The majority of Johannine scholars agree that the Fourth Gospel presents Jesus as fulfilling the temple. This article argues that the Fourth Gospel advances this fulfilment by closely associating Jesus with the heavenly temple more than the earthly. The thesis coheres with many previous studies but furthers the discussion by focusing on how the heavenly temple emphasis interacts with the temple-fulfillment theme. The Johannine Jesus embodied the more transcendent reality of the heavenly temple, and his return to heaven began the eschatological expansion of God’s temple presence through the Spirit. This argument is supported by (1) pointing to the pervasive importance placed on the heavenly temple in the first century, (2) examining specific temple-fulfillment texts and consistent motifs/terminology in the Fourth Gospel, and (3) showing how the correlation of Jesus with the heavenly temple better accounts for the post-resurrection fulfillment assumed in the temple-related texts.

Jesus Christ—the Fulfillment of all previous Sacred Places. Study 10.

All the history and temple theology that was covered in previous studies formed the background to Jewish beliefs in the first century. When Jesus of Nazareth began his public ministry around 30 C.E., he came to a people who carried assumptions and expectations concerning the temple. The first followers of Jesus incorporated these beliefs about the temple to describe and explain Jesus and his work. It may be helpful to review some of the assumptions and expectations concerning the temple that we covered in the previous studies. Some of those assumptions include: The temple was a gateway to God’s true heavenly presence. The tabernacle/temple was a way for God to manifest his glory presence to his people, a presence that began in the Garden of Eden. The temple was the place to offer sacrifice to maintain the covenant relationship with a holy God. Temple rituals were no substitute for a heart obedience to God, and God removed the temple when it became a mere religious/ritual token. In contrast to the destroyed temple, God would one day restore true worship among his people by giving them a new Spirit; through the Spirit, God could be present with his people no matter where they were located. Continue reading

Jesus as the new Bethel. Study 5, part 2 in the “Where Heaven and Earth Meet” series.

This study looks at how the Gospel of John appropriated Jacob’s encounter at Bethel to show Jesus as the typological fulfillment of that event. If you have not read it already, I suggest reading the first part of Study 5’s post from December 27, 2016. That post examines Jacob’s vision as it appears in the book of Genesis. jacob

Bethel was a place where heaven and earth met. This connection was vividly portrayed in Jacob’s dream with angels going up and down a ladder that stretched to the Lord in heaven. In the Gospel of John, Jacob’s ladder finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself makes this claim to Nathanael, one of the several men who are deciding to become Jesus’ disciples. We read about this encounter in John 1:43-51. Continue reading

How Temple Theology helps us Understand the Incarnation.

In study 2 we reviewed the theology of the temple in Jerusalem. In particular we templestudied how Solomon’s prayer at the temple dedication (1 Kings 8) demonstrates a belief that God’s true dwelling was in heaven, despite being able to manifest the Glory presence in the temple. A parallel account of the temple dedication in 1 Kings 8 can be found in 2 Chronicles 5-7.

Study Series Intro: Over the next several months I will be posting a series of group bible studies on the Bible’s sacred places. Each study focuses on what these sacred places reveal about the character of God and how these places point to God’s ultimate self revelation in Jesus Christ.

Let’s review the temple dedication and Solomon’s prayer by reading 2 Chronicles 5:5-6:3; 6:18-21.

Continue reading

Study Bible notes are helpful: A case study of the Wind-Spirit play-on-words in John 3:8

Study Bibles with reference notes have become very popular in the last few decades. While the common refrain of “my Bible says in the notes . . . ” has derailed many group discussions, Bible study notes do more good than harm. These notes often provide helpful cultural or linguistic information to help modern readers understand the author’s intended meaning. One example of this benefit is found in Jesus’ well-known interaction with Nicodemus in John 3.

John 3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 3:7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’ 3:8 The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (NET Bible)wind wheat

Those who have not studied Greek usually do not realize that in
this passage the English word “spirit,” “Spirit,” and
“wind”are translations of one Greek word: pneuma.
Continue reading

Sermon on John 20:31. (Проповедь: Ин. 20:31)

Below is a copy of one of the sermons I preached in Ukraine. This sermon is also available as a PDF on the page devoted to John’s Gospel. (Вы можете скачать эту проповедь в файл PDF на странице «ЕВАНГЕЛИЕ ОТ ИОАННА»)biblia

Сие же написано, дабы вы уверовали, что Иисус есть Христос, Сын Божий,  и, веруя, имели жизнь во имя Его.

Введение: я преподaвал курс по Евангелию от Иоанна в Запороской Семинарии. Мы обсуждали многие вопросы, связанные с Евангелием от Иоанна: автор, структура, цитаты из Ветхого Завета, и многие другие вопросы, которые теперь у нас нет времени обговоривать. Поэтому я хочу поделиться с вами только одиним вопросом, который мы обсуждали в курсе – цель написания Евангелия от Иоанна. В отличии от некоторых других библейских авторов, Иоанн ясно сказал почему он написал своё Евангелие. Нам важно понимать эту цель, потому что Иоанн не просто собрал кучу случайных историй и учений об Иисусе, у каждого из которых была своя собственная цель. Но Иоанн имел общую цель. Все написано чтобы способствовать этой цели. Нам важно и необходимо понимать не только значение каждого отдельного стиха, но и общее значение и цель книги, потому что они оба содержат истины, они оба вдохновленны Духом Святым. Continue reading