Category Archives: Difficult Bible Passages

Must New Testament Believers Obey the Dietary Laws of Leviticus 11?

A minority of New Testament (NT) believers still adhere to the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 (e.g., Seventh-Day Adventists). Are they correct? Should we all be abstaining from pork, shellfish, and the other foods banned in Leviticus 11?

No. The NT clearly teaches that the distinction between clean and unclean meat is gone. Several passages teach this concept.

First is Acts 10:10-16 where Peter receives a vision from God:

And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance  and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth.  In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.  And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’  But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’  And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’  This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Second is Romans 14:14 where Paul states, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”

Third is 1 Timothy 4:1-5 where Paul writes,

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,  through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,  who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,  for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Fourth, and most importantly, Jesus gives his views on clean and unclean foods in Mark 7:14-23:

And he called the people to him again and said to them, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand:  There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.’  And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable.  And he said to them, ‘Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him,  since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.)  And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’

The bottom line is that Jesus and his apostles clearly proclaimed the dietary laws in Leviticus 11 to be null and void. Those laws were in force for national Israel, but upon the arrival of Jesus, they were abrogated for new covenant believers.

Do the Three Accounts of Paul’s Conversion in Acts Contradict Each Other?

The conversion of Saul/Paul is so important to the author of the Book of Acts that he presents the story three times (Acts 9, 22, 26). Each version is different, and this fact has led some critics to say that the accounts are contradictory. But is that necessarily the case?

First, we must note that there are several common elements in the three versions:

  • Saul is on his way to Damascus to gather up Christians.
  • He sees an intense light.
  • The Lord asks why Saul is persecuting him.
  • Saul asks who the speaker is.
  • Jesus reveals that it is he.

What are the differences? Darrel Bock, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), writes:

The biggest differences in the accounts have to do with whether the men traveling with Saul see the light and hear nothing (22:9) or stand speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one (9:7). . . . Another difference is that Ananias does not appear at all in the Acts 26 account. . . . Another key difference between the accounts is that Saul does not mention his call to reach the Gentiles in the account given in Acts 9, whereas he shares this detail in Acts 22 and 26.

Bock then argues that each of these differences can be reconciled. About the different experiences of the men traveling with Saul,

The elements at play here can be reconciled (Witherington 1998, 312– 13), as for instance in the following way: The men hear a sound, but it is not intelligible to them; they also see a light but not Jesus himself. Only Saul sees someone in the light and is able to discern a speaking voice in the sound. Saul’s companions experience something less than the full event, which means that the appearance is neither an entirely private vision nor a fully disclosed public event. It is a public event whose details are for one man alone, Saul of Tarsus.

John Polhill, in Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary, agrees with Bock:

Paul’s traveling companions served as authenticators that what happened to Paul was an objective event, not merely a rumbling of his inner psyche. They heard a sound, but they did not see the vision of Jesus. Acts 22:9 says that they saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke with Paul. The two accounts are not contradictory but underline the same event. Paul’s companions heard a sound and saw a light. They could verify that an objective heavenly manifestation took place. They did not participate in the heavenly communication, however, neither seeing the vision of Jesus nor hearing the words spoken to Paul. The revelation was solely to Paul.

Regarding Ananias being left out of Acts 26, Bock writes, “This may be in part because the book has already mentioned him in detail twice, in Acts 9 and 22. Luke chooses not to be redundant on this detail, and so he provides a telescoped account.”

Regarding Saul not mentioning his call to the Gentiles in Acts 9, “Ananias notes in 9:15 that Saul would be called to a Gentile mission, so we probably have another example of telescoping. Another possibility is that Luke chose not to note this detail in his third-person narrative because the Gentile mission had not yet taken place, but this argument is somewhat weakened by the mention of the mission to Ananias. In any case, Saul’s not mentioning his Gentile mission in Acts 9 is simply an outcome of Luke’s literary choice, the exact reason for which is not clear.”

Bock concludes:

As is common in ancient retellings, each version has some variation so that each adds something to the reader’s understanding. Witherington (1998, 303– 15) has a helpful discussion of the relationship between these three accounts. He stresses that all of them are summaries and are not intended to provide comprehensive information.

Does Acts 4:32-35 Describe an Early Christian Experiment in Community Ownership?

The book of Acts describes the early church in Jerusalem in the following way: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). Does this describe an early experiment in compulsory community ownership of all property? John Polhill, in vol. 26, Acts, The New American Commentary, argues that it is not:

Repeated attempts have been made to see this as an early Christian experiment in community ownership. Sometimes a specific pattern has been suggested, such as the common ownership practiced by the Qumran covenanters. There are many reasons to reject such suggestions. Every evidence is that the early Christian practice was wholly voluntary.

First, there was no transfer of ownership, no control of production or income, no requirement to surrender one’s property to the community. The voluntary nature of the Christian practice is evidenced by the consistent use of the iterative imperfect tense throughout vv. 34b–35. This is how they ‘used to’ do it. They ‘would sell’ their property and bring it to the apostles as needs arose.

Second is the example of Barnabas in vv. 36–37. His sale of property would hardly be a sterling example if surrender of property were obligatory.

Third, in the example of Ananias and Sapphira, Peter clarified for Ananias that his sin was in lying about his charity. The land remained his to do with as he pleased; he was under no obligation to give the proceeds to the church (5:4).

Fourth, the picture of the central fund for the widows in 6:1–6 is clearly not an apportioning of each one’s lot from a common fund but a charity fund for the needy.

Finally, there is the example of Mary in 12:12f. She still owned a home and had a maid. The Christians enjoyed the hospitality of her home. This was clearly no experiment in common ownership.

But what of the practice of laying the proceeds at the apostles’ feet? The gesture was one of submission to another. At this point the Twelve were the representatives appointed by Christ as the foundation of the true people of God. The submission was not to them but to the one they represented. To lay one’s gift at their feet was to offer it to Christ. The apostles certainly did not consider this an enviable role. They were all too glad to turn the responsibility over to others (cf. 6:2).

Darrell Bock adds, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible),

This sharing of material things was not a required communalism but a voluntary, caring response to need, as the end of verse 45 shows. The verbs for ‘sell’ (epipraskon) and ‘distribute’ (diemerizon) are iterative imperfects. The implication is that this sharing was repetitive. That a community is really functioning with appropriate love and compassion is evident when material needs are being met.

Peter’s rebuke of Ananias in Acts 5:4 makes it clear that donation of material goods and money was not a requirement among early Christians, in contrast to the requirement at Qumran among the Essenes (1QS 1.11– 12; 5.1– 3; 6.2– 3; CD 9.1– 15; 1QS 9.3– 11). That the later church did not keep the communal practice confirms the voluntary nature of the practice witnessed in Acts 2. Possessing all things in common was often seen as an ethical virtue in ancient culture (Philo, Good Person 12 § 86; Hypothetica 11.10– 13; Abraham 40 § 235; Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.5 § 20 [of the Essenes]). The Greeks held that friends share things in common (Plato, Republic 4.424A; 5.449C; Critias 110C– D; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1168B. 31; Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras 30.168). Later rabbinic Judaism argued against it (m. ’Abot 5.10; Johnson 1992, 9).

The practice of communal living in Acts 2 was not driven by eschatological views. Rather, it was motivated by the intimate presence of God as proven by the ‘many wonders and signs [that] were being performed through the apostles’ (v. 43). The fitting response was that each member of the growing community show concern for needy members (chreian, need; perhaps as Jesus taught in Luke 6: 30– 36 or from the OT and Deut 15: 4– 5; Polhill 1992, 121). Jesus’ teaching about not hoarding material provisions from God also may provide background (Luke 12: 13– 21). The same motivation appears in Acts 4:35, and failure to meet such needs in 6:3 among Hellenist widows leads to a complaint and resolution in the church (20:34 and 28:10 complete the uses of the term ‘need’ in Acts). All of this shows we are not dealing with a command here, but a heartfelt response of deep faith. As such, the passage neither authorizes that such behavior is required, but neither does it preclude it from being done in any era as an expression of meeting community needs.

Does the Chronology of the Passion Week in John Contradict the Synoptic Gospels? Part 3

 

The fifth verse to consider is John 19:31. “Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.”

Again we come to the meaning of the phrase “day of Preparation.” Carson writes:

If paraskeuē (‘Preparation’) here refers to the same day as does its use in v. 14, and the reasoning in the notes on that verse are correct, then this sentence tells us that Jesus was crucified on Friday, the day before (i.e. the (‘Preparation’ of) the Sabbath. The next day, Sabbath (=Saturday), would by Jewish reckoning begin at sundown Friday evening. It was a special Sabbath, not only because it fell during the Passover Feast, but because the second paschal day, in this case falling on the Sabbath, was devoted to the very important sheaf offering (Lv. 23:11; cf. SB 2. 582).

The sixth verse to consider is John 19:36. “For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’”

Many Bible scholars tie the phrase “Not one of his bones will be broken” to Old Testament references to the Passover lamb in Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12. The argument is that if Jesus is crucified on Passover, then this OT allusion makes more sense. Carson agrees that Jesus is portrayed as the Passover lamb throughout the New Testament, but that hardly means that his crucifixion had to be on Passover for the portrayal to make sense.

“Certainly these chapters in John are laced with the Passover motif—indeed, the same could be said for much of the Fourth Gospel, even if we dissent from those who argue that in John Jesus dies at the time the Passover lambs are being killed in the temple complex. Elsewhere in the New Testament Jesus is portrayed as the Passover lamb slain for his people (1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:19).”

Finally, the seventh verse to consider is John 19:42. “So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”

Carson again notes that the day of Preparation should be understood as Friday, the day before the Sabbath. If that is the meaning of the phrase, then John’s Gospel exactly matches the chronology of the Synoptics.

Does the Chronology of the Passion Week in John Contradict the Synoptic Gospels? Part 2

The third verse to consider is John 18:28. “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.”

If the Passover meal was the night before, then why would the Jewish authorities be concerned about being defiled for the Passover meal? This verse seems to imply that the Last Supper occurred the night before Passover, or Wednesday night. Everything hinges on what the phrase “eat the Passover” means. Carson argues that “eat the Passover” could have another meaning.

It is tempting here to understand to eat the Passover to refer, not to the Passover meal itself, but to the continuing Feast of Unleavened Bread, which continued for seven days. In particular, attention may be focused on the ḥagigah, the feast-offering offered on the morning of the first full paschal day (cf. Nu. 28:18–19). There is ample evidence that ‘the Passover’ could refer to the combined feast of the paschal meal itself plus the ensuing Feast of Unleavened bread (e.g. Lk. 22:1: ‘Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching’). If then the Jewish authorities wanted to continue full participation in the entire feast, they would have to avoid all ritual contamination. Even if they contracted a form of defilement that could be washed away at sundown, it would preclude them from participating that day. True, the ḥagigah could be eaten later in the week, but the Jewish leaders, conscious of their public position, would be eager to avoid any uncleanness that would force them to withdraw from the feast, however temporarily. At this point, distinctions between defilement that lasts until sundown and defilement that lasts seven days become irrelevant.

This interpretation becomes very convincing if our treatment of 19:31 is correct. Morris (pp. 778–779) concedes that ‘the Passover’ can refer to the Passover plus the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but insists that ‘to eat the Passover’ cannot refer to all or part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread apart from the Feast of Passover. The criticism has little weight: the interpretation here defended is not that ‘the Passover’ refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread apart from Passover, but to the entire Passover festival. The Jews wanted to continue to participate in the entire feast; they wanted to eat the Passover.

The fourth verse to consider is John 19:14. “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’”

If it is the day of Preparation of the Passover, then the Passover meal must not have occurred yet. But again, Carson argues that the phrase “day of Preparation of the Passover” has a different meaning than what we might think.

The precise referent of day of Preparation (paraskeuē) is disputed. If this refers to the day before the Passover, i.e. the day in which one prepares for the Passover, then John is presenting Jesus as being sent to execution about the same time the Passover lambs are being slaughtered. That would mean that the meal Jesus and his disciples enjoyed the night before was not the Passover supper; and that in turn brings us into sharp contradiction with the Synoptic witness, which makes it clear that Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover. The attractiveness of this theory, despite the clash with the Synoptists, rests in the assumption that John introduces this time factor here as a symbolic way of saying that the true Passover lamb was none other than Jesus himself: he was sentenced to be slaughtered just as the slaughter of the lambs began.

One would have thought, however, that if this were John’s intent he would have achieved much more dramatic power by inserting this time notice just after v. 16a. Moreover, a better way of reading the passage turns on recognizing that paraskeuē (‘Preparation’) regularly refers to Friday—i.e. the Preparation of the Sabbath is Friday. Despite the fact that Barrett (p. 545) confidently insists paraskeuē tou pascha must refer to the Preparation day of (i.e. before) the Passover, he does not offer any evidence of a single instance where paraskeuē refers to the day before any feast day other than Sabbath. If this latter identification is correct, then tou pascha must be taken to mean, not ‘of the Passover’, but ‘of the Passover Feast’ or ‘of the Passover week’. This is a perfectly acceptable rendering, since ‘Passover’ can refer to the Passover meal, the day of the Passover meal, or (as in this case) the entire Passover week (i.e. Passover day plus the immediately ensuing Feast of Unleavened Bread: cf. Jos., Ant. xiv. 21; xvii. 213; Bel. ii. 10; Lk. 22:1; cf. notes on 18:28). Hence paraskeuē tou pascha probably means ‘Friday of Passover week’ (cf. also notes on v. 31). In this view, John and the Synoptics agree that the last supper was eaten on Thursday evening (i.e. the onset of Friday, by Jewish reckoning), and was a Passover meal.

We’ll continue Carson’s analysis in part 3.

 

Does the Chronology of the Passion Week in John Contradict the Synoptic Gospels? Part 1

The Synoptic Gospels clearly indicate that Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover meal together on a Thursday evening. During that year, the Passover ran from about 6:00 pm Thursday to about 6:00 pm Friday. The crucifixion occurred the next day, on Friday.

However, many scholars are convinced that the Gospel of John places the Last Supper on Wednesday evening and the crucifixion on Thursday. They typically cite seven verses in John that prove their case.

If John does move the Last Supper and crucifixion up by one day, then we would seem to have a contradiction between John and the other Gospels. The biblical scholar, D. A. Carson, however, argues convincingly in The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, that once these seven verses in John are interpreted correctly, the apparent contradiction evaporates. John agrees with the chronology of the Synoptic Gospels.

The first verse to consider is John 13:1. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

The argument goes that verse 1 of chapter thirteen introduces all the events from chapter thirteen through chapter seventeen, including the Last Supper. If that is correct, then the Last Supper must have happened before the Passover meal. Carson, however, argues that verse 1 does not introduce the entirety of chapters thirteen through seventeen.

[T]here is nothing in the words themselves to discourage us from taking the clause as an introduction to the footwashing only [verses 2-20], and not to the discourses that follow the meal. Chronologically, the opening words then place the footwashing before the Passover meal is about to begin (and v. 2, in the best texts, does not contradict this point); theologically, the clause alerts the readers to the Passover theme developed throughout the book (2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1; cf. 18:28, 39; 19:14), inviting them to see in the footwashing an anticipation of Jesus’ own climactic Passover act as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29; cf. notes on 13:6–9).

The second verse to consider is John 13:29. “Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the feast,’ or that he should give something to the poor.” Jesus has told Judas to leave during the Last Supper, and his disciples are wondering why.

Carson writes,

Many have taken these words as evidence that this meal took place twenty-four hours before the Passover. If not before the Passover, why send Judas out at this late hour? And if this were Passover night, would any shops have remained open?

But Carson finds these arguments unconvincing.

One might wonder, on these premises, why Jesus should send Judas out for purchases for a feast still twenty-four hours away. The next day would have left ample time. It is best to think of this taking place on the night of Passover, 15 Nisan. Judas was sent out (so the disciples thought) to purchase what was needed for the Feast, i.e. not the feast of Passover, but the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the ḥagigah), which began that night and lasted for seven days. The next day, still Friday 15 Nisan, was a high feast day; the following day was Sabbath. It might seem best to make necessary purchases (e.g. more unleavened bread) immediately. Purchases on that Thursday evening were in all likelihood possible, though inconvenient. The rabbinic authorities were in dispute on the matter (cf. Mishnah Pesahim 4:5). One could buy necessities even on a Sabbath if it fell before Passover, provided it was done by leaving something in trust rather than paying cash (Mishnah Shabbath 23:1). Moreover, it was customary to give alms to the poor on Passover night, the temple gates being left open from midnight on, allowing beggars to congregate there (Jeremias, p. 54). On any night other than Passover it is hard to imagine why the disciples might have thought Jesus was sending Judas out to give something to the poor: the next day would have done just as well.

We’ll continue Carson’s analysis in part 2.

 

To Which Generation Does Jesus Refer in the Olivet Discourse? Part 3

Michael Wilkins, in , offers a twofold interpretation. He writes:

The identity of ‘this generation’ has vexed interpreters. Perhaps it is easiest to see a twofold reference, as Jesus has done throughout the discourse. The disciples to whom Jesus is speaking on the Mount of Olives is most naturally ‘this generation’ who sees the events of the destruction of the temple, which shows the applicability of the discourse to A.D. 70. Yet within the context of Jesus’ statements about the coming of the Son of Man at the end of the age, there must be primary applicability to those at the end of the age who see the events surrounding the abomination of desolation occurring. When these signs of the end of the age appear, those waiting for his arrival are to recognize that their redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28). The generation that sees these things occurring will be the generation that sees the Lord appear.

Craig Evans, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), offers the following suggestions:

This saying is consistent with the similar prediction in [Mark] 9:1 (‘There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God come in power’). It is apparent that Jesus’ generation expected to see the fulfillment of the things prophesied in the discourse. And indeed the predictions were partially fulfilled in the events of the first century. That generation saw the destruction of the temple and some of the signs, or at least events that paralleled the signs that will portend the second coming of the Son of Man. But Jesus’ generation did not see the second coming, nor did it see the consummation of the kingdom of God. Jesus spoke of the generation of the last time, not his disciples’ generation. Since ‘this generation’ in Mark refers elsewhere to those who are rebellious and blind (8: 12, 38; cf. Matt 11: 16; 12: 41, 42, 45), it could be used in that sense here, yielding the sense that wickedness will continue until the coming of the Son of Man. Another view is that ‘this generation’ refers to the generation that sees the ‘abomination that causes desolation.’ One further view is that ‘all these things’ refers only to the ‘signs’ of the end rather than to the end itself (Bock 2005, 523).

And finally, John D. Grassmick, in Mark, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, writes:

’Generation’ (genea) can refer to one’s ‘contemporaries,’ all those living at a given time (cf. 8:12, 38; 9:19), or to a group of people descended from a common ancestor (cf. Matt. 23:36). Since the word ‘generation’ is capable of both a narrow and a broad sense, it is preferable in this context (cf. Mark 13:14) to understand in it a double reference incorporating both senses. Thus ‘this generation’ means: (a) the Jews living at Jesus’ time who later saw the destruction of Jerusalem, and (b) the Jews who will be living at the time of the Great Tribulation who will see the end-time events. This accounts best for the accomplishment of ‘all these things’ (cf. vv. 4b, 14–23).

After my study of all these different viewpoints, I find myself leaning toward Brooks, Keener, and Blomberg. However, this is certainly not an issue to be dogmatic about. I have great respect for all these scholars, and it’s quite possible that other interpretations are correct.

To Which Generation Does Jesus Refer in the Olivet Discourse? Part 2

Leon Morris, in vol. 3, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, disagrees with the Brooks interpretation. He writes:

Some see a reference to the people then alive and see the fulfilment in the fall of Jerusalem. The context seems against this, unless, with Plummer, we see the fall of Jerusalem as a type of the end (so Fitzmyer). Many think that Jesus was prophesying the end of all things within a few years and that he was mistaken. In view of his explicit disavowal of knowledge of this point (Mark 13:32), this seems most unlikely. Moreover, as many critics have pointed out, it is impossible to hold that Luke who recorded these words understood them to mean this. In the early church it was often held that the generation of Christ’s followers was meant, so that the elect would persist right through to the end. Others see a reference to the Jewish nation (e.g. Ryle). Some have thought that Luke means us to understand the term in the sense ‘mankind’ (Leaney, Harrington). Lenski draws attention to the frequent use of ‘generation’ in the Old Testament to denote a kind of man, especially the evil (e.g. Ps. 12:7), but also the good (e.g. Ps. 14:5). Similarly Ellis points out that in the Qumran scrolls the term ‘last generation’ apparently ‘included several lifetimes’. It seems that it is something like this that Jesus has in mind. This unusual use of generation concentrates on the kind of people that would persist through to the end. The expression ‘means only the last phase in the history of redemption … The public revelation of the kingdom is just around the corner, but its calendar time is left indeterminate’ (Ellis; cf. Schweizer, ‘since Easter all belong to the generation of the eschaton’).

Robert H. Stein, in , prefers yet a third interpretation:

This expression has been interpreted as referring to (1) Jesus’ own generation, (2) the Jewish people, (3) humans in general, (4) the last generation in history, and (5) Luke’s contemporaries. (Compare how the Qumran community wrestled with the identity of the final generation in 1QpHab 2.7; 7.2.7 and how the ‘final generation’ referred to several generations.) Even though every other reference to ‘this generation’ in Luke can include Jesus’ own generation, it is quite unlikely that here Luke understood ‘this generation’ in this manner because that generation had essentially passed from the scene, and the parousia still lay in the future. The fourth interpretation is so bland as to be meaningless. As long as humanity is present when the Son of Man returns, this by definition must be true; for unlike people in the nuclear generation who wonder if humanity may destroy itself in nuclear war, Luke and his contemporaries had no doubt that the return of the Son of Man would take place in the presence of people. The second suggestion fails to take into consideration that the scene of the coming of the Son of Man is not the ‘land’ (Luke 21:23) of Judea but the ‘earth’ and the ‘nations’ (21:25), so that to restrict the audience here simply to the Jewish people would be to lose sight of the cosmic focus of 21:25–36. Furthermore why would Luke or his readers think that the Jewish people might be wiped from the face of the earth? The fifth suggestion is unattractive to many interpreters since it is obviously wrong. The Son of Man did not come in Luke’s generation. However, in the pursuit of Luke’s meaning one cannot rule out this possible interpretation simply because one does not like it. Nevertheless this interpretation would be strange if in his Gospel Luke was combatting a misunderstanding that the parousia already should have taken place. Luke probably would have been hesitant to date the coming of the Son of Man in such a way.

The third suggestion appears to be the best option. Elsewhere in Luke this expression is used to describe sinful humanity unresponsive to God and oblivious to the possibility of immediately encountering him (cf. 12:16–21, 35–40; 17:26–36). ‘This generation,’ which ignored the coming of the kingdom in Jesus’ ministry, continues in its rejection of the gospel message until the very end. Thus ‘this generation’ of 21:32 stands in continuity and solidarity with ‘this generation’ of Jesus’ day.

We’ll finish up with a couple more scholars in part 3.

 

To Which Generation Does Jesus Refer in the Olivet Discourse? Part 1

In Mark 13:30, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Matthew 24:34 and Luke 21:32 record the exact same words. To which generation does Jesus refer? Biblical scholars have offered several theories, but I will survey several a handful of well-respected conservative scholars to give the reader some ideas for further research.

James A. Brooks, in vol. 23, Mark, The New American Commentary, writes that “this generation” refers to Jesus’ disciples and their contemporaries. “Jesus meant that some of the people of his generation, and more particularly some of his disciples, would not die until the things of [Mark 13:5–23] had happened, including the very significant destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.”

Brooks argues that the cosmic signs and Jesus’ second coming (verses 24-27 in Mark 13) “constitute the end, not things that must precede the end. Furthermore, the various items in vv. 24–27 together constitute one climactic event that takes place at one point of time rather than a series of events spread over a long period of time.”

Craig S. Keener, in The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, agrees with Brooks’ interpretation. He writes,

Whereas the signs Luke mentions mean that the kingdom is near (Lk 21:31; cf. 1 Clem. 23), ‘these things’ in Matthew 24 (cf. 24:2) apply to the desolation of the temple to occur within that generation (24:34). Though some (mentioned in Cullmann 1956a: 151; Mattill 1979a: 97; cf. Bonsirven 1964: 58) wish to take ‘generation’ (genea) as ‘race’ (cf. the distinct genos in 2 Macc 8:9; Jdt 9:14; 11:10), 23:35–36 leave no doubt that Jesus uses the term as normally (e.g., Jer 7:29) and as elsewhere in Matthew refers to the climactic ‘generation.’

Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary, also agrees that “generation” refers to Jesus’ contemporaries. He writes about Matthew 24:34:

Verse 34 does not imply that Christ will return within the lifetime of his hearers or within some later period of thirty to forty years during which all the signs occur. Nor is it necessary to follow the NIV margin and translate genea as ‘race,’ referring to Israel, a much less likely rendering of the Greek than ‘generation.’ Rather, ‘all these things’ in v. 34 must refer to ‘all these things’ of v. 33, which show that Christ’s return is near and which therefore cannot include Christ’s return itself. ‘All these things’ will then refer to everything described in 24:1–26 but will not include the Parousia itself (described in vv. 27–31).

We’ll look at more scholars’ views in part 2.

 

Why Don’t the Synoptic Gospels Recount the Raising of Lazarus?

Some critics have cast doubt on the veracity of the raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel because it is not recorded in the other three Gospels. John’s Gospel is believed to be the last Gospel written, so the critics allege that John invented the story to further his particular agenda. Andreas Köstenberger, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), argues against this viewpoint.

This critique is part of a larger argument against the historicity of John’s Gospel based on its omission of many events found in the Synoptics and its inclusion of material absent from the other Gospels. However, this critique is ultimately unconvincing. For no matter one’s theory as to how John composed his Gospel, it is apparent that he had a large amount of material from which to choose. If John was aware of the Synoptics as he was writing, which is probable (see Bauckham 1997a, esp. 147– 71; Köstenberger 2009, 553– 55), then he could reasonably be expected to assume much of the material they contain.

On the other hand, if John wrote without knowledge of the Synoptics, then it is likely that at least some of the differences can be attributed to the large amount of material from which he had to choose. This corresponds with what John later writes: ‘Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book’ (20: 30). Craig Blomberg rightly notes, ‘Any two ancient historians’ accounts of a given person or period of history differ from each other at least as much as John does from the Synoptics, when they do not rely on common sources for their information’ (Blomberg 2007, 207).

In addition, it stands to reason that John had his own theological emphases and unique perception of the significance of the events surrounding Jesus, not to mention his own individuality, style, interests, and distinctive eyewitness recollection from which to draw.

If the raising of Lazarus really did occur, why would the other Gospel authors fail to include it in their biographies? Surely an event of this significance would necessitate inclusion, the critics argue.  Köstenberger disagrees:

Why does an event require multiple attestations in the Gospels to be considered historical? Throughout the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus performs a host of miracles, including raising people from the dead (an admittedly rare feature), so critics certainly cannot legitimately argue that Lazarus’ resurrection fails to comport with the general Synoptic portrait of Jesus. Although it is impossible to know for certain why a given author selects or omits particular material in his or her account, one possible reason for the omission of the story of Lazarus in the other Gospels is their focus on Galilee (the raising of Lazarus takes place in Judea). Also, in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Bauckham (2006, 184– 87) cites favorably G. Theissen’s theory of ‘protective anonymity,’ according to which the evangelists sought to shield individuals who were still living from persecution by not naming them. If Lazarus was still alive when the Synoptic Gospels were written, but died in the interim between their publication and the composition of John’s Gospel, this, likewise, may account for the Synoptic non-inclusion of the account and John’s inclusion of it. Lazarus’s death would have meant he no longer needed protection from persecution, so that John was free to include the account of his raising from the dead by Jesus.