Foreigners in the Old Testatment: An Exegesis of Joshua 10:1-15 [Part 3]

Introduction

1 As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction,doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 2 he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors. 3 So Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me and help me, and let us strike Gibeon. For it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” 5 Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it.

6 And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, “Do not relax your hand from your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered against us.” 7 So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. 8 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” 9 So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. 10 And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. 11 And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.

12 At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,

“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,

and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”

13  And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,

until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.

15 So Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.

In this pericope, Joshua is proven to be a faithful and powerful leader of Israel as he honors the peace treaty he had been tricked into signing with the Gibeonites. Yahweh affirms – and even submits to – his great leadership as he defeats the Amorite kings attacking the city of Gibeon.

Historical Context

The suzerain-vassal treaty was an alliance between two political leaders or groups that spanned a significant power differential. At its core, it was an oath made in the presence of state deities who guaranteed the fulfillment of the treaty with the promise of divine punishment for the offending party.[1] It created a master-servant relationship, where the master was obligated to provide protection. One important implication from this relationship was the vassal’s assumption of the suzerain’s enemies as its own.[2]

For nearly all Ancient Near Eastern societies, wars were “waged in an atmosphere of religion, as though the battlefields were temples.”[3] Before battle, kings were known to visit the temple of the deity for prayer to seek oracles and give sacrifices; doing all they could to gain divine assurance of victory.[4] During battle, a special relationship existed between the deity and the king’s weapons, which were seen as gifts from the deity placed in the king’s hands.[5] National gods were fully present during battle and fought for the king in such a way that the king’s actions were seen as “pale reflections” of the deity’s endeavors.[6]

Literary Context

This account of Israel’s battle to defend the city of Gibeon against the attack of Amorite kings is the third and final great victory after those at the cities of Jericho and Ai, which are “paradigmatic for all victories over the peoples of the land.”[7] In the two previous battles, Joshua is presented as an inconsistent leader. He diligently obeys Yahweh at Jericho and achieves great success. Then he charges headlong into Ai without consulting Yahweh and suffers an embarrassing defeat that leaves him in despair. After removing Achan’s sin, Joshua heeds Yahweh’s battle advice and routs the city of Ai. After this great victory, Joshua holds a covenant renewal ceremony to show his renewed faith and commitment to Yahweh.

However, Joshua stumbles again when he fails to consult Yahweh and is tricked into signing a peace treaty with the Gibeonites – a city of Hivites who were marked for destruction. After signing the treaty, the Gibeonites are attacked by Amorite kings and cry out to Joshua, who leads Israel’s army to complete victory with Yahweh’s assistance. After the battle at Gibeon, Joshua is seen developing new leaders with the same encouraging words Yahweh spoke to him. He completes a swift and comprehensive conquest of the land and follows Yahweh’s commands spoken to Moses.

Structure and Movement

This pericope is a narrative account of Israel’s defeat under Joshua of an alliance of five Amorite kings who had attacked Gibeon – Israel’s new vassal city. The plot is moved forward by the communication of five messages: (1) King Adoni-zedek’s hearing of Joshua’s great victories over Jericho and Ai and Gibeon’s peace treaty with Israel, (2) the king’s message to four allied Amorite kings ordering an attack on Gibeon, (3) the Gibeonites’ plea to Joshua for help, (4) Yahweh’s words of affirmation and assurance of victory to Joshua, and (5) Joshua’s poetic speech to Yahweh. The story is introduced by King Adoni-zedek’s fear of Gibeon and its alliance with Israel. The action escalates as the Amorite alliance gathers and attacks Gibeon. The main conflict arrives with the Gibeonites’ desperate cry to Joshua for help and rescue. The narrative climaxes when Joshua responds with boldness and immediacy and sets out to defend Gibeon with Yahweh’s encouragement and promise of victory.  The action is subdued as the Amorites come to their expected end – utter defeat and destruction at the hands of Israel and Yahweh. However, just as the story comes to an end, the narrator surprises the reader with an incredible detail: Yahweh heard Joshua’s request to the sun and moon and obeyed his direction. The reader is left with a sense of awe as Joshua returns to the Israelite camp at Gilgal.

Detailed Analysis

The pericope begins by introducing a crisis of leadership in the king of Jerusalem’s concern over his own city in light of Joshua’s violence against Jericho, Ai, and their kings. The king becomes “greatly frightened” at the idea of a Gibeon-Israel alliance. He acts out immediately to defend his territory by gathering an alliance of four Amorite kings to his south. According to suzerain-vassal conventions, Gibeon had become an enemy of the Amorites because Israel was their enemy. Two other Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, had already been defeated by Israel. The text condenses the actions of the Amorite kings as they gather, go up, and attack Gibeon in order to bring the reader to the real conflict: will Joshua uphold the peace treaty he had been tricked into signing?

The repeated, desperate appeals of Gibeonites’ create suspense. They exaggerate the extent of the attack by claiming that “all the kings of the Amorites” were attacking them. Joshua is now in the spotlight. Following the conquest narrative up to this point, the reader is not sure how Joshua will respond. The text moves immediately to his response, which comes immediately with no prior consultation of Yahweh. Joshua boldly decides to set out from the Israelite base at Gilgal with “all the fighting force with him, all the mighty warriors.” He does not send a mere expeditionary force; he commits the full military might of the nation in defense of the Gibeonites in order to honor the peace treaty between them.

While some of the tension is resolved with Joshua’s response, even more suspense is directed towards Yahweh’s response to Joshua’s unilateral decision. However, the text quickly resolves this tension by citing Yahweh’s approval. With renewed confidence, Joshua marches through the night to mount a surprise attack. The text goes out of its way to describe the extent of defeat and destruction of the Amorite armies by the Israelites. Yahweh is involved at every location of the battle providing support and resorting to a greater magnitude of lethal force than the Israelites.

An apparent insertion to the original narrative is found in verses 12-14. This insertion serves as a startling surprise as it reveals Joshua’s commands spoken to Yahweh, with all Israel listening, to stop the sun in order to prolong the day. Yahweh’s response to Joshua is so unexpected the narrator must repeat it: the sun was stopped – Yahweh had heard Joshua’s voice and had obeyed him.

Synthesis

In the final great battle recorded in Israel’s conquest narrative, Joshua’s leadership faces a final test after achieving equal measures of success and failure at Jericho and Ai. His leadership had once again failed him during his initial experience with the Gibeonites, which resulted in a binding peace treaty with a people Yahweh had marked for destruction. When Gibeon is threatened, Joshua’s bold and immediate response proves that he is a powerful and decisive leader who commands the armies of Israel to victory with Yahweh at his side. In this battle, Yahweh does not simply fight for Israel; the God of Israel hears Joshua’s voice and follows his lead. When even Yahweh follows this man, how could anyone in Israel ever question his leadership? He moves on from this victory as a faithful and successful leader who completes the conquest and leads Israel into the Promised Land.

Reflection on behalf of Undocumented Immigrants

In this passage, Joshua’s identity as a mighty leader in battle and a faithful servant of Yahweh is thoroughly established. The doubts that had arisen from his past leadership blunders were completely erased. He would forever be known as the last faithful patriarch and worthy successor of the mighty prophet Moses. This victory was a life-altering moment for Joshua – even Yahweh recognized this and chose to follow his lead.

With the gravity of this story in mind, it is important to remember the circumstances that led to this event: Joshua was honoring a treaty he had been tricked into signing. It was illegitimate and it allowed the Gibeonites to “illegally” occupy a piece of the land promised to Israel. In choosing to uphold the obligations of the peace treaty, Joshua ignores the devious nature of the circumstances which led to Israel’s relationship with Gibeon and instead chooses to honor, maintain, and protect the relationship they have established.

A note on the nature of this relationship is pertinent. As stated previously, it was common for the vassal in a suzerain-vassal relationship to be considered as a servant to the suzerain. From a contemporary perspective, the Gibeonites’ status as Israel’s laborers may seem abhorrent, but the text does not hold this view. The Gibeonites were being treated as they and the broader society of the time would have expected. Therefore, Joshua’s actions on the Gibeonites behalf should not be viewed as maintaining an oppressive or tyrannical rule over them.

As the church of the United States considers its posture towards those who illegally inhabit its nation, it would be wise to learn from the example of Joshua. The “illegitimate” residents of the US are under attack from a great alliance of powerful interests. Like Joshua, the church must overlook the “illegality” of immigration and consider how it might honor and protect those who are now making their home in its midst. Joshua’s example calls the church to immediate, bold, and decisive action to protect the lives of undocumented immigrants, especially the most weak and vulnerable among them. As the church moves out on this mission with the full force of its witness, it, like Joshua, will be encouraged to find Yahweh at its side – throwing its enemies into a panic and fighting for shared victory.


[1] Michael L. Barre, “Treaties in the ANE,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 6, ed. Freedman (NYC: Doubleday, 1992), 654.

[2] Barre, 655.

[3] Gwilym H. Jones, “The Concept of Holy War,” in The World of Ancient Israel: Sociological, Anthropological and Political Perspectives, ed. Clements (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 299.

[4] Jones, 300.

[5] Jones, 300.

[6] Jones, 300.

[7] L.D. Hawk, “Book of Joshua,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books, ed. Arnold et al. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 563.

The Way to Truth and Life in the Non-Violent Kingdom: An Exegesis of John 18:33-38a

Translations of John 18:33-38a

Personal Translation

33 Pilate walked back inside the governor’s residence and summoned Jesus and asked him: “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 Jesus replied: “Is this (what) you say or did other people say this to you about me?” 35 Pilate replied: “I am not a Jew am I? Your people and the chief priests handed you over to me. What did you do?” 36 Jesus replied: “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom was of this world, those who serve (under my authority) would be (passionately) struggling (with all their might) so that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But now – my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate then asked him: “So you are a king?” Jesus replied: “You say that I am a king. I have been born for this (mission) and for this (mission) I have come into the world: that I might bear witness to the truth. Everyone who (abides in) the truth hears (and obeys) my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him: “What is truth?”

The New Revised Standard Translation

 33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”[1]

Interesting Words

ἀλήθεια

            In John’s gospel, ἀλήθεια is a signature term. It is usually translated as “truth.” In the Synoptic gospels, ἀλήθεια simply means “truly existing” or “reality”[2], but in John’s gospel it takes on a deeply theological and highly nuanced meaning. In John, Jesus “possesses this truth in its fullness and reveals, transmits, and explicates it.” To see Jesus is to see truth; He is the way that leads to truth and life. In essence, Jesus is the “Revealer par excellence”[3] of the truth; he is the “self-revealing divine reality.”[4]

The ἀλήθεια that Jesus reveals requires his followers to know Him as the source of all truth. In this text, those who would follow Jesus are called to be “ὁ ὢν ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας” (of the truth); they are to “depend on, abide in” the truth, which implies a sense of permanent obedience to the truth as it is revealed in Jesus. Disciples of Christ are sanctified in ἀλήθεια as they are “invaded by it and transformed within.”[5]

ὑπηρέτης and ἀγωνίζομαι

             In verse 36 of the text, Jesus says that, if his kingdom were of this world, his ὑπηρέται would be ἠγωνίζοντο so that he would not be handed over to the Jews. These words are translated rather vaguely by the NRSV as “followers” and “fighting” respectively. Unfortunately, this translation fails to communicate the powerful meaning these words express.

The term ὑπηρέτης is used only twenty times in the New Testament and nine of those appearances are in John’s gospel. Of those nine appearances, five are found in the 18th chapter. The reference in verse 36 is the final reference in the chapter, and in the four previous references the word refers to the “temple police” or “officials”.[6] The ὑπηρέται are not simply followers, but are rather those who are “in the service of a higher will and [are] fully at the disposal of this will.”[7] Jesus is employing the language of a king who has full authority to order his servants according to his will.

The translation of ἠγωνίζοντο as “fighting” is even more inadequate. In Hellenistic writing, this word refers to a hero struggling for virtue. It was used in the book of 4 Maccabees to relate the passion of a martyr to the struggle of an athlete in the arena. While it takes on a more nuanced meaning in the New Testament, the author of John means to say that those under Jesus’ authority would be passionately struggling at the expense of all their energy and resources in order to keep Jesus from being handed over to the Jews.[8] This is the kind of struggle where one must be willing to give everything. Otherwise, the struggle would have no purpose.

Grammatical Analysis

Use of Emphasis

            The author’s use of grammar to add emphasis in this text is very interesting. On six occasions in this brief dialogue, the author supplies a personal pronoun as the subject of the sentence. This is a common method of adding emphasis in koine Greek since the subject is already implied in the verb.[9] This use of emphasis heightens the sense of drama in the narrative as Pilate questions, and is questioned by, Jesus. The Jesus in John’s gospel does not remain virtually silent before Pilate like the Jesus of the Synoptics. Instead, he responds to the force of Pilate’s questioning with equal rhetorical strength. This display of strength in the face of death contributes to John’s majestic presentation of Jesus as king and reminds the reader that Jesus’ life is not being taken from him – he is choosing to lay it down.[10]

Literary Analysis

This text presents an episode in the gospel of John’s passion narrative. The Synoptic gospels also include passion narratives, but John’s is unique in the amount of conversation it includes between Jesus and Pontius Pilate. In the period of the gospel’s writing, a crucifixion was a shameful event. This shame drove early followers of Jesus to reinterpret the event in various ways, which they did through the passion narratives. These stories are based on an ancient literary genre known as court-conflict. According to this genre, the life of an innocent protagonist is put in danger by an evil scheme. The outstanding qualities of the protagonist, who is usually vindicated after suffering or death, are celebrated. These characteristics of ancient court-conflict literature help to reveal the source of a popular reinterpretation of the cross event by early Christians. Because of its combination of “vindicated innocence” and “vicarious death,” the prophet Isaiah’s image of the suffering servant of God was used by New Testament authors to embed the shameful event of the cross into God’s greater story of redemption for both Israel and the world.[11] The court-conflict genre also helps to focus attention of the reader on the qualities of Jesus revealed in the passion narratives. By paying close attention to these specific qualities, Christians today can gain a clearer understanding of what kinds of people the gospel writers are calling them to be.

Historical and Cultural Analysis

Dating

The dating of John’s gospel has been thoroughly disputed in the past and the debate continues amongst scholars today. The date of authorship has traditionally held as later than that of the Synoptic gospels. A later date was assumed due to the prevalence and depth of theological reflection found in John. While this observation is correct, it was coupled with a separate assumption which held that the author used the Synoptic gospels as a source for this theological reflection. In addition, most scholars saw no need to consider an earlier dating of John since they believed John’s gospel to be a spiritualized version of the Synoptic gospels and thereby unconcerned with historicity.[12]

The assumption that the Synoptics were used as a source for John’s spiritualized gospel account has been heavily criticized in recent years. The most commonly held view puts the writing of John’s gospel sometime in the last decade of the first century. This date is based on the dating of the Ryland’s manuscript, a fragment of John’s gospel. This manuscript dates to 125 CE, and by allowing a few decades for dissemination, scholars place the gospel’s original writing late in first century.[13] However, since the dating of the Ryland manuscript is also debated and because no references to the gospel are found in extant writings until the late second century, some scholars continue to date the gospel to the middle second century.[14]

Political and Economic Considerations

As the first century CE came to a close, the political climate of Palestine and Asia Minor was, at best, hostile towards the Jews and the early Christians. After a period of semi-autonomous rule lasting nearly a hundred years under the Hasmonean dynasty, followed by a period of decreasing freedom as a vassal Roman state, Palestinian Jews attempted to revolt against Roman rule in 66 CE. Unlike the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid dynasty in 166B BCE, the Jews suffered massive defeat at the hands of the Romans in 70 CE with the destruction of Jerusalem along with its temple. After this event, most Jews were scattered throughout the Roman Empire.[15] Life for Christians was not much better in the second half of the first century. As they grew progressively distinct from non-believing Jewish communities, Christians lost the protection of religious freedom that Jews enjoyed.[16] Severe Roman persecution began under Emperor Nero in 64 CE and continued until the mid-second century under Emperors Domitian, Trajan, and Hadrian.[17] In addition to this external persecution and oppression, there was often conflict between Jewish and Christian groups as evidenced by the book of Acts.[18]

While there was a definite political hostility towards Jews and Christians in the first and second centuries, they lived in the midst of a prosperous economy. The pax Romana created by Caesar Augustus in the late first century BCE provided a fertile environment for economic growth.[19] However, this economic growth was never fairly distributed and as a result the society was deeply divided along class lines. Heavy, and often corrupt, Roman taxation, especially on vassal states and conquered peoples, ensured that a significant portion of any financial gain by Jews and Christians did not lead to subsequent prosperity. This economic oppression contributed to even more tension and division in the society at large.[20] While surrounded by a thriving economy, the majority of Jews and Christians had no access to this wealth or the power it could provide.

Authorship, Setting, and Audience

Similar to the Synoptic gospels, the gospel of John is written anonymously. In the gospel, the author is only identified as the “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Several theories have been suggested to name this disciple based on loose textual evidence, but church tradition, namely through the writings of Irenaeus, names the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, as the author. However, even church tradition is not absolutely clear on this point. A statement by the fourth century historian Eusebius, who quotes the early church father Papias from the early second century, has led some scholars to believe that John the Elder, not John the apostle, is the gospel’s author. While debate continues on this point, there is currently not enough evidence to reject the authorship of John the apostle.[21]

Traditionally, the gospel is said to have originated from Ephesus, where the apostle John ministered. Some scholars have noted the presence of traditions that probably originated in Palestine and were further developed in Hellenistic cultural centers with significant Jewish populations – which supports the Ephesus location. Other major centers, like Alexandria or Antioch, have been suggested.[22]

The audience for John’s gospel is usually described as the Johannine community – a faith community that gathered around the apostle John; following his teachings and preserving them for later generations. This community would have been distinguishable from other Christian communities and composed of both Jews and Gentiles. It is most often described as a group that broke away from the Jews in the synagogue either because of persecution or by their own choice. While the concept of the Johannine community has been debated amongst scholars,[23] there is ample textual evidence that suggests an audience of second generation believers, both Jews and Christians, who are in need of guidance about their life together under the Spirit. If there was hostility between this community and the synagogue, it was probably over by the time of the gospel’s final publication. While it does take on a sharp polemical tone when referencing “the Jews,” there is not enough evidence to support an audience whose identity is based on persecution from non-believing Jews associated with the synagogues. Rather, the gospel seems to be written to a group of believers that need to be reminded of Jesus’ life and mission.[24]

Conclusions for Exegesis

            At least two conclusions can be drawn from this historical and cultural. First, since both the author and audience of John’s gospel are members of a politically and economically marginalized group, the power dynamics presented in the gospel, along with their political implications, should be considered carefully. Second, close attention should be paid to the gospel’s portrayal of violence since it was written to guide second generation believers through a period of extremely violent persecution.

Theological Themes

Two major theological themes of John’s gospel are evident in this text. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus describes his kingdom, or eternal life, as a spiritual reality that is universally accessible to all those who are “born again of the Spirit.”[25] In this text, Jesus explicitly states that his kingdom is “not from [this world].” He rejects the title of “king of the Jews” because he is king over all creation. His reign does not extend over a piece of land, but into the lives of those who hear and obey his voice.

The Gospel of John’s Christology emphasizes the role of Jesus, the Son, revealing the true nature of the Father. This was built on the Jewish idea of agency. An agent was a surrogate who was sent on a specific mission with the authority of the sender. The agent was considered as an equivalent to the one who sends and would act on behalf of the sender; speaking to the agent was the same as speaking to the sender.[26] In this text, Jesus defines his mission in terms of agency. He has been born to testify to the truth, which is to say that he has been born to be an agent of His Father.

Conclusion

The Essential Message of the Text

            In this dialogue between the Jesus and Pilate, the author of John’s gospel reveals the impotence of all worldly power and points the reader towards the one and only source of life.

The original audience of this gospel would have been well aware of the power differential at work in this scene. Jesus stands alone and condemned before Pilate, who is the representative of the greatest political power in the world. He has been utterly rejected by his own people, who claim to be the people of the one, true God. Jesus has no allies; he has been marginalized politically, culturally, and socially.

As followers of Jesus in late first or early second century, the gospel’s audience would have been searching for a source of strength to sustain them through brutal persecution. They needed wisdom to inform their encounter with a world that wanted them dead – just like Jesus. In this text, the author of John’s gospel clearly dismisses violent resistance as a viable option for the persecuted community. Jesus’ insistence in the text on the other-worldly character of his kingdom, one that cannot be bound to ethnic or national categories, makes the argument for political revolution irrelevant.

However, the text does not simply leave the reader without an option for moving forward. Jesus does not deny his kingdom. The readers of this gospel would know that Jesus is in fact the King. However, as the gospel has emphasized throughout, Jesus’ kingdom is first and foremost a spiritual reality. However, this does not imply that Jesus and those who serve under his authority have no earthly power. Rather, by its emphatic announcement of Jesus’ mission to bear witness to the truth, the text points its readers towards the only source of real power in the world. The power of nations that is imposed on others is not real power because it leads to death. Real power is found in knowing Jesus and being transformed by his life, his truth, from within. Followers of Jesus do not violently lash out against the powers that oppress them; they listen for the voice of Jesus and obey him with all their heart. When they do this, they will find life – even abundant life – in Christ.

Conversation with Other Commentators

            In Wes Howard-Brooks’ commentary of this text, more weight is given to how Pilate’s responses to the Jesus’ questions reveal the author’s message. He uncovers the irony of Pilate’s attempt to disassociate himself from Jewish infighting by explaining that Pilate actually becomes a Judean through his complicity with the Sanhedrin’s scheme to kill Jesus. He also points out the condescending nature of the title Pilate gives to Jesus, “the king of Judea,” which acknowledging the colonial nature of Roman rule over the area. He also points out the other-worldly source of Jesus’ kingdom in opposition to those who use this passage to claim an other-worldly location for Jesus’ kingdom. The kingdom is not from this world, but it is certainly in this world. Brooks also mentions that Jesus’ kingdom is of a completely different type than Pilate’s kingdom. It does not require violence or oppression. Instead, it is about the love of God revealed in truth by the life of Jesus. Attentive to the purely political language in this conversation, Brooks observes that there is no “God-talk” but only language that is familiar to Pilate. However, Pilate has no time for what seems like philosophical questions and sarcastically dismisses Jesus’ claim as the one who bears witness to the truth.[27]

In her commentary on this text, Dr. Sherri Brown, identifies kingship and the character of truth as the main issues in Jesus’ trial before Pilate. She also focuses on how Pilate’s responses to Jesus bring out the meaning of the text. While he begins the interrogation with a question concerning the political implications of the Jews’ accusation against Jesus, Jesus deftly shifts the dialogue back on to Pilate. As he attempts to defend himself, Pilate gives Jesus the opportunity to describe his other-worldly kingdom of those who are born from above. As Pilate continues with his questioning, still concerned with the political nature of Jesus kingship, Jesus stays true to his mission of bearing witness to the truth. Dr. Brown connects Jesus’ mission statement with the theme of covenantal gift that was introduced in the gospel’s prologue. She notices the great irony of Pilate’s denial of the existence of truth while he stands face to face with truth himself. For her, this passage is about Pilate’s refusal of the truth gift, which reminds the reader that Jesus’ kingdom is about hearing and accepting the voice of Jesus as the true revelation of God.[28]


[1] John 18:33-38a (NRSV).

[2] Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 1:70.

[3] Spicq, 76-77.

[4] Gerhard Kittle, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W. M. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), 245.

[5] Spicq, 78, 80.

[6] John 18:3, 12, 18, 22 (NRSV).

[7] Kittle, 8:531.

[8] Kittel, 1:135-137.

[9] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 321.

[10] J.B. Green, “Death of Jesus,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Kenneth DeRuiter (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 162.

[11] J.B. Green, “Passion Narrative,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Kenneth DeRuiter (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 603-604.

[12] M.M. Thompson, “Gospel of John,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Kenneth DeRuiter (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 370.

[13] Thompson, 371.

[14] Colleen M. Conway, “Gospel of John,” in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld (Nasvhille, TN: Abingdon Press, 2008), 3:362.

[15] Mark Strauss, Four Portraits One Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), NEED PG NUMBER

[16] Martin Marty, The Christian World (New York: Modern Library, 2007), 19.

[17] Marty, 31.

[18] Acts 16:19-40 (NRSV).

[19] Strauss, NEED PG NUMBER

[20] Strauss, 114.

[21] Strauss, 334.

[22] Thompson, 371.

[23] Conway, 3:364.

[24] Thompson, 371-372.

[25] John 3:6 (NRSV).

[26] Thompson, 377.

[27] Wes Howard-Brook, John’s Gospel and the Renewal of the Church (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997), 119-122.

[28] Sherri Brown, Gift Upon Gift: Covenant through Word in the Gospel of John (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010), 203-207.

The Risk of Dialogue

In the first chapter of his book, A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament ExegesisRichard Erickson discusses the necessity of openness and commitment to the practice of faithful exegesis of Scripture. He says

Exegesis requires openness toward hearing the message of the Bible, the Bible to which we are passionately committed.

Exegesis, like every critical task, requires a certain amount of distance from the object being criticized. This distance gives us a vantage point for asking questions about the text that we could not see before. It’s like trying to criticize your “outfit” while standing 1cm away from a mirror – you can’t really see everything you need to see unless you back up. I think this is what Erickson is getting at when he says openness. There has to be space in our minds for something new to take root; open space.

The commitment part seems self-explanatory. We must remain committed to our belief that Scripture is in fact the Word of God and that it brings us life. Regular commitment won’t do – we need passionate commitment. As Erickson explains, the work of exegesis is tough and it takes time and lots of practice to develop. Our commitment to the Word – our desire to know the God whose Word it is – will propel us in this hard work.

What does this have to do with dialogue? Everything. Why? Because exegesis IS dialogue (well… half of it at least). It is about hearing the text rightly, as it was heard by those who first heard it. So, what is essential for exegesis is essential for dialogue as well.

Like exegesis, true dialogue – on any topic – requires an openness to the voice of another. Without this openness, you hear nothing but static. It also requires a passionate commitment to your own voice. Without this commitment, you have nothing to say.

In my view, followers of Christ – His Church – should be well-equipped for the art of dialogue. Why? Well, we say that we believe in things like forgiveness and hospitality and reconciliation. If we do, we should have no fear of dialogue with one another; no fear of sharing ourselves with another. We say that we base our lives – even our eternity – on the things we believe. If we do, we should have no lack of passionate commitment to those things. So, we should be equipped with the tools we need for dialogue, but how is that going?

I’m often discourage by the lack of dialogue in the Church as a whole. Of course, I have a very limited view and much, much, much, much, much is happening that I do not and will never know about. Still, if I had to grade the part of the Church I participate in on its dialogue skills, I’d give it a C-.

Why do we struggle with dialogue? I think Erickson hit the nail on the head. He writes about how we are sometimes afraid of jeopardizing our passionate commitment to Scripture (or to any topic of discussion) when we open ourselves to hearing other interpretations of it. He says:

For those who truly love the Bible and Bible’s Lord there is little risk of losing the passion by listening to what others think. These people love Scripture so much that they are willing to risk what they believe the biblical text says in order to discover more accurately what in fact it does say.

Are we willing to take the risk of dialogue? Do we hold our own beliefs and interpretations so dearly that we “hide them under a bushel”?  Are we willing to quiet our own passion in order to be hospitable to the voice of others? Do we even care what others think?

Erickson on the hidden problem of too many English Bible translations

In contemporary English-speaking cultures, we have an embarrassing wealth of Bible translations. If we dislike the way a particular version renders a passage, we can choose another; and if we find our second choice no better, we can try a third or a fourth. The hidden problem in this privileged scenario is the unspoken question, how do we decide whether one translation is better than another? What do we mean by “better”? If we base our preferences on whether a translation supports or fails to support our chosen doctrinal orientation, then what have we learned from Scripture that we did not already know? We assume that the message of the Bible, properly understood, speaks prophetically, critically, and “life-givingly” to us today. But how can the Bible possible critique us (and thereby offer us life) if we ourselves determine in advance what it is allowed to say?

Richard J. Erickson in A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Exegesis.