June 23, 2009

A New Take on John 21

Let me take another shot at reconstructing this event. Seven paragraphs, instead of ten posts. All in one. Here goes:

Cleopas said that Jesus appeared to Peter on Easter day, so John 21 is not about restoring Peter in his relationship to Jesus. But it is about restoring Peter to a position of serving the Lord. Since Easter night, Peter has been trying to get used to the indwelling spirit of Jesus inside him. But after the last supper, Peter had been excited about his promotion from “servant” to "friend". The friend of a King is a strong right hand man, trusted with great responsibility, and Peter had been very much looking forward to that. So after two weeks or so of ‘practicing the Lord’s presence’ since Easter, Peter’s got to be thinking “This is nice, but when are we gonna DO something and what’s it gonna be?”

We actually can tell he was thinking something along those lines because Peter antsily gets up and goes fishing. He tries to go alone but some disciples manage to keep it a corporate outing. Either way, Peter is just a man looking for something to do, at this point. He’s killing time until the Lord gives him some new orders. And as it turns out, the moment Jesus shows up he gives him a practical command. “Throw your nets…” And Peter gets excited and runs to him through the water. Then Jesus cooks breakfast, and they eat. And Peter knows that Jesus knows everything that's going on inside of him at this moment.

So Jesus says, “Simon son of Jonah, do you love me more than these [fish?]?” It’s a playful question, probably teasing him for leaving Jerusalem, but it’s serious too. There's a point to this question. When Peter says yes, Jesus doesn’t go, “Oh. Okay, good. Cause I just really wanted to know if you did.” He’s not a teenager in courtship. He’s a man on a mission. And “Do you love me” is a set up for asking a favor. (Now, you can believe the word “agapao” may mean “do you care for me” or “do you love me with God’s love”, but either way, it’s a prelude to making some kind of a request.) The point is, Peter knows this. Peter knows Jesus is about to ask him to DO something. And Peter is as excited in this moment as he was when he jumped off the boat.

So Peter says, “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” And the word “phileo” means “I love you like a friend” but this is NOT necessarily less than what “agape” means. In fact, given the context laid out thus far, it is most likely to read Peter as making reference to the speech when Jesus said, “You are my philos if you do what I command. My command is this, agape one another. Greater agape has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his philos.” So in this case, Peter is responding enthusiastically in the affirmative. Reminding the Lord he is his friend is the same as saying, “Whatever you need, you know I’ll do it.”

But then Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.” And Peter doesn’t respond. We don’t know why Peter doesn’t respond, but we know Jesus feels the need to ask again. And the second time it would be natural for Peter to expect a new favor on the second request. But Jesus repeats the same basic command. “Feed my sheep.” And again, Peter doesn’t respond. So Jesus feels the need to ask a third time, but this time the Lord challenges Peter precisely on his confident affirmation to be God’s right hand man. Jesus says, “Do you love me like a friend?” The implication for us in reading, now, is that Jesus doubts Peter’s implied claim to do whatever the Lord asks. This is the point at which we can tell Jesus wasn’t impressed with Peter’s response to “Feed my lambs.” and “Feed my sheep.”

Now Peter is grieved, because Jesus is questioning his status as a friend of the King. On top of this, Peter is probably confused as to what “Feed my sheep.” means. Was Jesus rebuking him for going fishing to try and feed his human family? Was Jesus saying he had to fish a lot more to feed all Jesus’ followers from then on? Or was Jesus speaking in some metaphor that implied some larger sense of care taking for the spiritual family? A few more weeks from now, Peter will take to his role in Jerusalem with gusto and vigor, but on the beach by the Sea of Tiberias, Peter doesn’t seem to like the way this conversation is going at all. And still he protests, "You know everything. You know I love you like a friend." Peter knows the Lord can see right through him. He means it sincerely. But - for whatever reasons - he's struggling sincerely, too.

That last point is all we need to set up the conclusion of the story. Well, Peter? Do you only want to be my friend when we’re sword fighting and setting up Kingdoms? Or will you also love me like a friend and do what I ask of you when it’s something you don’t want to do? Or maybe when it's something you don't think is so exciting? “When you were younger you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to. But when you are old you will stretch out your arms and someone else will dress you and carry you where you don’t want to go.” Can you die on that cross, Peter? Because that’s what being my friend and loving me is really all about.

And that's what John 21 is really all about. IMHO. Love to hear your thoughts...

Index of Recent Posts:

A New Take on John 21

June 21, 2009


What would Jesus do? Whatever pleased the Father.

Happy Father's day, everybody.

June 20, 2009

Matthew's Gospel - the first AND the last (?)

Biblical scholars have long since made clear it's okay to reconstruct hypothetical documents. For many reasons, I like my suggestion a thousand times better than "Q". Here's the thought process that led me to it, about one year ago:

Question: If there was ever an early source document for the synoptic gospels, that was composed by one author as a deliberate record of Jesus' life and teachings, which known follower of Jesus would be the most likely person to have written such a document?

My Answer: Matthew's tax collection business required some degree of book keeping, which suggests he had some travel-ready writing tools and basic writing ability. Since Matthew joined Jesus just before the naming of the twelve and the sermon on the mount, it makes sense that the bulk of synoptic events would take place after that point. Finally, if Matthew kept an intermittent journal that was preserved and copied, feeding early source material to Mark and Luke, their completed gospels would most naturally have inspired Matthew to create a more sophisticated composition of his earlier journal - giving this hypothesis a practical application for source theory.

Point: This plausible event sequence would both explain the tradition of Matthean priority and offer a general solution to the Synoptic problem. If all three gospels were written by the early 60's AD, then Mark and Luke used Matthew's journal before Matthew used Mark and Luke.

That's my hypothesis, and some of you know it well. But now let me go back to the original question - assuming there was any such early source document, can anyone suggest a better candidate to have authored such an account? And if so, what are your reasons? And would your candidate fit into any scenario for explaining the synoptic composition process? Or, given the question at top, would you any of you agree that Matthew could be the most likely answer?

Take your time thinking about it. Leave comments here any time in the future. And as always, thanks for stopping by. :-)

June 19, 2009

John 21 - Any Feedback?

My blogging philos Peter Kirk really proved his agape for me by posting today about my series on John 21. I actually couldn't have paid him to write a better summary and recommendation. Even better, Peter closes by asking "Does anyone have any constructive, or other, criticism of this proposal?" I dearly hope so, in both cases.

I should also say I have no problem with Peter's argument in his first paragraph. Whether the key six lines were spoken in Greek or "crafted into its surviving Greek form by John", I still think we're supposed to take the view I've presented. I tried to make that clear before the series, but Peter said it very well and I thank him again. Either way, here's the series links:

A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

(For related posts, scan the Archives for June.)

John 21 - the Fishy Part

Imagine I'm a really good cartoonist. Okay, now imagine I just drew Jesus sitting in his robe by a fire, next to a big net full of fish. And he holds up a fishbone he's just picked clean, points at the net and looks at Peter. And the caption says, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"

I won't argue for it, but I'd bet even money that's what he was saying. It gets even fishier if you transliterate from the Greek, "Simon, son of Jonah..." (half joking about that last bit, but only half).


June 18, 2009

A New Take on John 21 (Summary)

Eleven posts is more than enough. This one’s the wrap-up.

This new take on John 21 is about phileo being more than agape, at least as Peter was using the word. The context is what makes this so plain. Two weeks after being reconciled with Jesus (as Cleopas reported), having breathed in the Holy Spirit and learning to practice the Lord’s presence during His periods of physical absence, Peter was simply itching for some more active type of occupation, besides being just spiritual. So when Jesus sounded like he wanted a favor, Peter sounded eager to please, but then he clammed up at the favor that was requested. Finally, Jesus challenged Peter’s confident claim to be such a friend, so capable of loving and doing whatever God wanted, even if he didn't want to go there.

Most often in ancient greek, among the greeks themselves, “phileo” was greater than “agape”. But regardless of which words we use, when the conversation turns to serving Jesus Christ, there is no task that trumps simple obedience – to love Him, to do whatever great or menial task he requests, even merely to serve food, or to die on a cross.

After their Passover supper, Jesus had said, "Greater agape has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his Philos." Peter heard the words and made the proper connection, but the sword wielding fisherman still needed help figuring out just what Jesus actually wanted from his friends, when they offered to serve him.

(This series is now Concluded. :-)

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

June 17, 2009

A New Take on John 21 (10)

With his third question, Jesus challenges Peter on Peter's own claim. Since that claim was to love Jesus like a friend - loyal brother, right-hand-man, consigliore - this challenge really hurts Peter. It might even have seemed to Peter like the Lord was openly doubting his very manhood. At least in one sense, I think that's exactly what Jesus was doing.

Seen in the light of the overall context, Jesus is actually challenging the overzealousness, the mission-orientation, the task-centeredness of Peter’s ego and his male, human drive to succeed. Jesus says, essentially, “Do you really love me like a friend?” The implication is, “If you’re willing to do anything, why do you seem so much less enthusiastic when I tell you what I want? My true friend wouldn’t hesitate to do a simle chore like what I’m asking.”

This third time, Peter is openly grieved, at least partly because he’s been challenged, but perhaps also partly because he still doesn’t get it. ((Of course we all struggle here, and in some ways I think the male ego struggles especially.)) So the Lord goes on to explain what he means when he asks for a favor... for service…. for Mission… for being his loyal, right hand man… for someone to be his Friend. Of course, this is the crux of the story, and the part that requires no special reinterpretation whatsoever.

Stretch out your arms. Go where you don’t want to go. Die… like I did. (Oh. Lord…)

Do you still love me like a friend, Peter? Are you still my right hand man, Peter? Are you still willing to do what I ask, when you aren't personally thrilled about what I want you to do? And after one of those moments with the Lord, what can any of us say?

That's the climax of the story and the point of the scripture. Now give me one more brief post to wrap up the point of my series, and summarize what I've been saying.

(To be summarized…)

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

June 16, 2009

My King

Yeah, this is totally awesome. After spending several hours writing about one of the darkest years in the life of Augustus Caesar, this was quite a contrast in Kings. You'll probably enjoy it even if you don't study Kings. Or cabbages. Or anything else. Enjoy! :-)

A New Take on John 21 (9)

When Peter steps UP from agape to phileo, pledging his love as a friend of the Lord, Jesus does not offer his eager devotee a challenging or seemingly manly campaign to embark upon, but a simple domestic chore. “Feed my lambs.” And this is not only less than what Peter’s testosterone might have been hoping for – this is partly an open critique of his self centered fishing expedition. Feed my family, Peter.

The conversation as recorded shows Peter making no response, but Jesus brings it up again. So when Jesus asks Peter for a second time, “Do you care for me?” – we put ourselves in Peter's place and expect the Lord to add a new request. And with that expectation, we wouldn't stretch hard to imagine at least some part of Peter was probably hoping for a tougher assignment, or at least more than just food duty. Whatever Peter expected, he responds again with an emphatic, “I phileo you.” But the friend of the King gets the same task assignment again. And according to the record of this conversation, Peter goes quiet again.

Unfortunately we can only speculate on how Peter felt about Jesus' instructions at this point. Some will assume Peter knew Jesus meant preaching. I seriously doubt that. But I think the overall text gives us a picture that Peter's silence means he wasn't real sure what Jesus was talking about, yet. And I personally suspect Peter wasn't real thrilled with an assignment that sounded so normal. Whatever he's thinking, here is the man who confidently proclaims "You know I'm your man", falling silent as soon as he gets the details.

Mind-reading aside, Jesus definitely picks up on the difference between Peter's general enthusiasm up front and and his lack of reply when things got specific. Of course, they both konw this moment is about restoring Peter to a position of service to his King. But it's becoming clear that Peter may not understand what type of service Jesus is actually hoping for.

So the Lord decides, with his third question, to challenge the whole "friend" concept, as it currently exists in Peter's mind.

(To be concluded…)

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

June 15, 2009

A New Take on John 21 (8)

Four posts to set up the problem and rebuild the context. Three posts on Greek. Now we just need to put it all together. So picture this scene:

Here’s Peter, roughly two weeks after the resurrection, still getting used to a new, indwelling spirit – except he’s starting to get antsy for something to do, beyond mysticism. He wants a task, he wants a chore, he wants a position. With all his being, Peter still wants to serve as the Lord's loyal consigliore (so to speak). As we soon learn, Jesus wants all of this too. So Peter’s only fault in all this, aside from being confused, is feeling impatient.

And then, all of Peter's longing became focused in one moment, at the beach. Peter hears Jesus say, “Peter, do you love me?” (“Do you really care about me?”) In any language, this naturally implies, will you do something for me? And so Peter knows this is what he’s been itching for. Jesus is about to ask Peter for a personal favor. And Peter, having just lept into the sea with enthusiasm only minutes ago, is way too excited to just answer "yes". So Peter emphatically – in one word – tells the Lord he’s prepared to take on any challenge and he’s ready to finally start working for Him.

Peter says, “You know I phileo you”. This means, “I love you like a friend.” But that thought here is worth a lot more than many have supposed. If God's love in Christ means anything at all, then true friendship to Jesus must be the highest form of love there can be. And so, in effect, with one word, Peter is saying, “Absolutely I love you, Lord. You know I’m your right hand man. Just tell me what you want. Say the word, and I’ll do it. Whatever it is, I'm your guy.

Taken this way, John 21 still has the sense of restoring Peter to something, just as everyone always thought. Only, it's not a restoration of relationship, but a restoration to service. After two weeks of exploring his new ability to find Jesus Christ in his spirit, Peter didn't need to reconcile with his Lord... he just needed some practical marching orders. Peter isn't admitting he can't measure up and being sheepish about it. Quite the opposite. Peter is expressing his own bold expectations to Jesus.

However... after Peter's response, there is still a tension that builds through the rest of their conversation. So what is that tension all about? As the end of their talk makes abundantly clear, Peter seems to have a somewhat different idea about service than Jesus does.

(To be continued...)

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

June 14, 2009

A New Take on John 21 (7)

Again, the main idea of the last two posts is that "phileo" was not necessarily a weaker form of love than "agape", but was often stronger, to actual Greeks. This also seems to hold up in John's Gospel. When Jesus wept for Lazarus, the Jews nearby said, "See how he ephilei him."

To the point of the last post - that John 15 is the appropriate textual background for John 21 - here are some more (crudely spliced) snippets reflecting the interplay between agape and phileo during Jesus' post-dinner chat on their way to Gethsemane. I want to keep stressing/admitting that I’m not a linguist, but the prevalence of this vocabulary says something, even to me. They're not simply interchangeable synonyms. Also, note the sequence:

v.9 – as the Father agapesen me, I also have agapesa you. Abide in my agape.
v.10 – if you keep my commandments, you will abide in my agape, just as I have kept my father’s commandments and abide in his agape.
v.12 – This is my commandment, that you agapate one another, as I have agapesa you.
v.13 – greater agape has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his philon
v.14 – you are my philoi if you do what I command you.
v.15 – I no longer call you servants… but I have called you philous
v.17 – these things I command you, that you agapate one another.

It seems pretty clear, according to Jesus in John 15, that the stated mission of a friend is to love. (Swords with-or-not-withstanding.) So even if John knew Paul's writings and believed “agape is the most excellent way”, John shows us here that phileo is also not beneath it. To the contrary, in John 15, the philos carries the chief responsibility for delivering agape. So even when we change philos (noun) to phileo (verb), can the relationship be any different in John 21? I think not.

That brings us at last to the major question of this series: If Peter was actually stepping up a rung in his expression of "love" for Jesus, then what do those word changes tell us about what Peter & Jesus were actually trying to say to each other?

(To be continued…)

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

June 13, 2009

A New Take on John 21 (6)

This blog series so far can be said to turn on a simple question, which I will restate from the end of my last post. What if the key to understanding the conversation in John 21 is to suppose Peter thought “phileo” was a step up from “agape” when he said it?

Building on the last five posts, there are reasons to think this makes the most sense of any interpretation. If “phileo” means, roughly, “I love you like a friend”, then Peter was most likely referring to the promotion Jesus made after the Last Supper – from servants to friends. And just like John 16 is fulfilled in John 20, John 15 prepares the textual ground for John's use of agape/phileo in chapter 21. In fact, it does this in more ways than one.

When Jesus told his disciples, “I no longer call you servants… now I have called you my friends”, Peter was wearing a sword. (Lk 22:38) John did not refer to the sword, but it was probably not lost on his audience that this friendship promotion was very King-like. John’s overall narrative had already brought the King motif from Nathaniel’s proclamation in Ch.1 to the rabble’s demand in Ch.6 to the triumphant entry in Ch.12. And now, for a greek audience, this official promotion of his students into a tight circle of “friends” makes a definite parallel with the practice of Hellenistic Kings.

At least from Alexander on, Greek style Kings always had circles of friends. In extant literature, I suspect this has to be one of the most common repetitive uses of the word philos – the “friends of the King”. At any rate, there was certainly no higher honor for a non-royal in the ancient world, than to be a friend of the King. So Peter, holding his sword, who still mostly saw Jesus as the head of God’s coming Kingdom… must have relished being named with such a magnanimous title. He could hardly have done better than “friend of Jesus”.

The friends of the King aren’t just his drinking buddies. They act as his strong right arm. They are loyal servants of his needs, and of his kingdom’s needs. The King’s friends are the ones who do the most work for the King. They hold high positions. They run things.

In other words, they ‘phileo’ the King.

(To be continued…)

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

June 12, 2009

A New Take on John 21 (5)

Yes, I took sixteen semester hours of greek at LSU, but don't ask me how much I remember. Since I’m clearly not a linguist, I eagerly invite any Greek experts reading this to critique my claims here in the comments. That said, I suspect you’ll all mainly agree. Either way, here goes…

I never forgot my 7th grade Latin teacher telling us over and over, "Language was not created in a laboratory". That may partly explain why I just never bought into the supposed agape/phileo dichotomy, per se. What I mean is, “agape” may be the most excellent way in Paul’s most famous paragraph, but if the pagan-born Corinthians already shared Paul’s definition of “agape” then why did he have to spell it out for them? Answer: Because it wasn’t standardized christian jargon yet.

As I see it, 1.Cor.13 is a beautiful exercise in the redefinition of a term. “Agape is… Agape is… Agape is…” I don’t know how this didn’t come up while Paul was in town, but somehow, they still didn’t know! Or maybe they needed to hear it again. Either way, the Corinthians seem to have thought agape was something else. We may as well imagine displaced Eskimos trying to tell ancient Egyptians about snow, because surely, no human being before Jesus Christ ever thought up a word that meant “unconditional giving”.

Here’s all I’m trying to claim. To the ancient Greeks, “agape” wasn’t always, automatically or inherently superior to “phileo”. On the contrary, I believe classical scholars will back me up in asserting that – prior to Christian redefinitions – ancient Greeks valued “phileo” more than “agape”. The Liddel-Scott Lexicon devotes one collumn of space for the three major forms of "agape", but gives eleven full pages of "phileo" and "phil-" based words. When the Greeks needed to invent a new word to mean "fond of fish", they built it on "phil-", not "agap-".

Besides, the root of "phileo" seems to come from "philos", which means friend. Preachers always said this word meant brotherly love or loyalty - as if that's less valuable? Not in the godless, heathen world's mindset! In contrast, the Homeric & Attic "agapao" seems to center on the idea of affection, or expressions of personal regard, such as a simple caress. Think about that. You can pet a cat to express affection, but a blood-strong bond of loving friendship? That can press you to the limit at the cost of your life.

And remember, we're talking about a godless heathen language. Whatever emotional chords the Greeks struck on when they used the word agape (however rarely), they couldn't possibly have placed as much value upon it as upon friendship. A contract of personal loyalty is good credit for mutual fortune, advancement, prestige and many other practical benefits of this life.

Again, this is all just to say “phileo” can be superior to “agape” and generally was, to the Greek speakers up to and during the time of Jesus Christ. Evidently, it stayed that way at least as far as the days of Paul in Corinth as well.

This point alone suggests we consider turning the typical view of John 21 upside down. What if Peter thought he was 'doing one better' for Jesus, by claiming “phileo”?

(To be continued…)

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

June 11, 2009

Misquoting Scripture

Years ago in a house church meeting, someone piped up, "Yeah, it's just like that proverb. A man something something but the Lord something else." We laughed pretty hard, partly because we all thought we knew which one he meant. That brother was a little embarrassed, but nobody thought any harm had been done to the Bible. Come to think of it, that story probably typifies a lot that is both wonderful and awful about simple gatherings, but I'm telling it here just to introduce my next thought.

Tonight I'm trying to imagine possible reasons why Matthew misquoted Micah as badly as he did about Bethlehem. (Not to mention all the other Hebrew scriptures he mangled somewise adapted.) For the record, I don't care so much that he misquoted scripture. I just want to know if there's any consistency in the way that he did it. (Can anyone point me to a helpful study on this topic?)

Pending further research, I'll just have to wonder. Was it as simple as not having resources and quoting from memory, mixing in a few words from the wrong mental file along the way? (Like in this case, 2 Samuel 5:2.) Or was Matthew fully aware, but the ancients just weren't as uptight as some christians today about manipulating the scripture? In my house church days, we also turned scripture into prayer, some more creatively than others. It took me a while to get comfortable with that, but I learned it can be beautiful and deeply spiritual, as long as you don't take the word changes too seriously.

Textual issues aside, my focus remains on the story. I continue to assume the complete historicity of Matthew 2, with the obvious exception that the chief priests who searched the scriptures for King Herod were not the ones misquoting Micah. Matthew was, many years later. The most likely scenario here is that Matthew researched the story and found out the Magi went from Herod to Bethlehem. From there, Matthew must have deduced that Micah would have been what they looked up. That reconstruction (of literary process) still doesn't explain why he misquoted Micah the way he did, but I think it's solid enough to proceed with reconstructing events.

However, if anyone wants to suggest the chief priests made the mistake, as if Matthew recorded it flawlessly, over five decades later... well... I suppose that's not completely inconceivable, but it sure isn't likely, there's no good reason to think otherwise, and it's not necessary besides.

The scripture is powerful enough to survive getting misquoted now and again. So what? Look up the proper quotation and move on with life. But I'm talking about us, here, today. As far as finding out how, when and why the New Testament writers misquoted scripture, I've got a lot left to learn... assuming anyone else knows enough to give a good answer.

Seriously, any tips would be helpful. :-)

Against Context-Less Theology

Captain James T Daniel Kirk has been boldly going across the whole Universe recently. I'm not sure where he's going to wind up with the series, but several parts of his 5th post (on Jesus as Man) had me cheering, and today's post about Israel's Story is what sparked this response.

I can tell you I've never spent five minutes in my entire life caring what the Westminster Confession said about Israel, although I admit Daniel gave me some good reasons to think about why it might matter a lot. And I sure got no special beef with Presbyterians. I just want to quote the following snippets because they also fit well, IMHO, to describe how all kinds of protestants too often treat the New Testament.
...in the scholastic Reformed Tradition, what is "real" is not what happens in history, but the transhistorical entities that hover beyond space and time--abstract concepts of works and grace. In such a world, there is no inherent value in the story of Israel...

See what that's saying: the story of Israel is merely a container for what's really important: the increasing revelation of the knowledge of transhistorical truths about God...

...[to them,] the story isn't the thing, the revelation of the propositional truths about who God is, that's the thing.
Thank you Daniel, for putting it so bluntly. That approach bothers me so much, I would now like to hock a big, transhistorical loogey upon it.

Snrgkkkkk... Fphoooey!

Ah. That feels better. :-)

A New Take on John 21 (4)

This is part four of my effort to reconstruct a more holistic context for the “love” conversation in John 21. Here’s the Timeline so far.

Jesus has a private meeting with Peter on Resurrection Sunday. Somehow, Cleopas learned about this. Later that night, Jesus breathes on the ten and his Holy Spirit comes into the disciples on Sunday, 4-5-33. Jesus leaves again so the disciples can begin practicing their new sense of his presence. Thomas also believes on 4-13-33. Some days later, Peter and others walk four days to the sea, probably at the city of Tiberias itself.

Therefore, the fish fry scene begins roughly two weeks or more since Jesus breathed on Peter. About fourteen days or more have gone by since Peter gave up his sword and his vision of Christ's earthly kingdom. That's two weeks of just sitting around and being spiritual. And no matter how wonderful that must have been, at some point, honestly, wouldn't it just drive you flat bonkers!?!

Now, this is the moment Peter gets individualistic. He stands up and says, "I". Peter says, "I'm going fishing." And the next moment happens to be one of my favorite in all of scripture. Another disciple – perhaps the beloved – says, "WE". "We're going with you.” This was a beautiful, simple solution to what could have become the first major crisis of the earliest church. But here's my point - this is the overall context of John 21.

The issue was corporate. Their survival as a group was potentially at risk. How much would have changed forever if Peter had gone home to live out the rest of his days, abiding in the Lord’s presence through the Holy Spirit, but living merely as an individual? Thank God the other disciples stuck with Peter, and thank God Jesus came out to get him… and He essentially said - Don't worry about feeding your family, Peter. I want you to focus on feeding my family.

Context matters. Now, given that context, what do we do with agape/phileo?

(To be continued…)

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

June 10, 2009

A New Take on John 21 (3)

Here are my two keys to understanding the context of Peter’s conversation with Jesus as recorded in John 21.

Key Number One: I take it to be historical that Jesus breathed his abiding presence into Peter and the other disciples on Easter night. Given that as a fact, it's clear that Jesus left for a week so that the disciples (except poor Thomas) could 'practice his presence' in spirit, apart from his presence in physical person. It was a perfect training strategy. He left them physically for a week at a time so they could begin to adjust to this new spiritual experience before he had to be physically gone for good. All together, that means Peter was beginning to seek the Lord in his inward man. To abide. To know God spiritually, which is to say, mystically.

This is another reason John 21 isn't about restoring Peter's relationship to Jesus. [What Cleopas said was the first reason.] And now here is my major thesis – the passage IS about restoring Peter’s mission to serve Jesus. Which brings us to...

Key Number Two: After two weeks of "breathing", Peter was growing antsy without something to do. The man simply had too much testosterone to sit around forever. This explains the fishing. Practicing the Lord's presence is wonderful, but most men are simply not mystics. (Don't get me wrong, I have longed to be one for many years. But I just ain't. Lord forgive me again.) Peter didn't know how to do *NOTHING* for much more than a week at a time. So he got up and got busy. He took action.

In the natural world, action always takes time. So next time, I’ll sum up the timeline, before moving on.

(To be continued…)

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

June 9, 2009

Sights of Summer

<- Gorgeous Blonde at the Ballpark

Syme, Levick, Seager & Heroman ->
hopefully ;)

<- Brain Fuel & Fodder

Backyard Ballyhoo ->

<-- Palestine Push Pins

Doesn't that all look summer-ey? But seriously, if I play 2/3 as much as I work, my family will be thrilled with our summer... and so will I. Here we go...

A New Take on John 21 (2)

I just gave four reasons why I don’t buy the typical interpretation of the two “loves” in John 21. Starting in this post, I’m going to explain what I think is a better, more holistic interpretation. But first…

I’m a firm believer that context trumps text, and in this case we especially need to put the agape/phileo linguistics on the shelf for the moment. How? John blatantly tells us the word choice is significant. The scripture says Peter was grieved when Jesus challenged his use of 'phileo'. If we accept that, then there’s no point in debating whether the linguistics back it up. The only question is whether we understand why the word change matters in the sequence, as it stands.

Also, as I said recently, it doesn’t matter (for the purposes of this argument) if the historical conversation between Jesus & Peter was shared in greek or translated into greek for the gospel record. Regardless of whether we suppose the account is verbatim or rendered in general from memory, we can still take the author at face value. Once again, John clearly says the word changes matter. That’s enough to proceed as if Jesus and Peter said every word just as it’s written, even if they didn’t… or even if they did!

Therefore, we will proceed to analyze the text as an accurate and verbatim account of the conversation… either because we believe it, or because we’re going to trust the author for the sake of argument. (Dear reader, you know which side of that I land on, personally!) But in both cases, we should leave off word meanings until after we settle a context for the overall situation.

With all of that said, I think there are two keys to understanding the context of the conversation more holistically. Tune in next time, and I’ll tell you what they are!

(To be continued...)

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

June 8, 2009

A New Take on John 21 (1)

I'm going to be blunt. I've never thought much of the typical interpretation about the "love conversation" in John 21. Jesus and Peter weren’t still hung up on Good Friday and it wasn’t all about restoring their personal relationship with each other. Also, Jesus wasn’t Aristotle, so it’s not about categorizing “agape love” as being better than “phileo love”. The tender aspects of Jesus talking with Peter are still all there – we’ve just messed up the understanding of what one of the words meant.

Before I give the new view, here are four problems I have with the old view:

First, the typical view is anachronistic by roughly two weeks! Cleopas left Emmaus on Easter day and told the other disciples that Jesus had already appeared to Peter. Such an implied one-on-one meeting - although not recorded in scripture - must have included the emotional reconciliation between Peter and Jesus, which probably also explains why the details of their personal time were kept private. Whatever it was like, Cleopas’ report shows that the fish fry in Galilee was two weeks too late to be Peter's personal reconciliation with Jesus over the rooster incident.

Second, the typical view ignores the context of the conversation. Jesus says, "Do you love me?" Seriously, married people all know what this means. "Will you do me a favor?" The favor, of course, is the point. Feed my sheep. Stretch out your arms and sacrifice yourself for my flock. Go back to Jerusalem and stay there so I can build my church. The context is corporate, so how can the interplay be merely individual? Jesus is after something else in the conversation, and Peter would have picked up on that.

Third, I never liked the idea that certain greek words were more “Christian” than others. I also don’t think "phileo" and "agape" were so frozen in meanings that one was always *better* than the other. I admit linguistics isn’t my forte, but the typical view of John 21 makes translating scripture seem like using a cereal box decoder ring. It’s not so simplistic. Something else has got to be going on, here.

Finally, I never bought into the idea that Peter knowingly offered some blatantly inferior response. Didn’t he just jump out of the boat with excitement? And if Peter was being mealy-mouthed, wouldn’t it make perfect sense that Jesus should challenge such a weak response? So why was he surprised at the challenge? For that matter, why wasn’t he already grieved at his own lukewarm response? Where’s the big shift? Either way, something doesn’t add up.

So what actually IS going on in John 21?

(To be continued…)

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

June 7, 2009

A New Take on John 21 (Preface)

Yesterday I posted that I'm now working non-stop on an upcoming book. But last week I finished something just as exciting (to me) and it's scheduled to post here as an eleven-part blog series, starting tomorrow. If you ever liked anything I've written about before, you're gonna love this. Some parts are beautiful, some parts are technical, but the overall subject is something I hope every friend, reader and biblioblogger who's out there will come back to read, over the next two weeks.

Millions of christians have heard more than one preacher offer a certain explanation for the agape/phileo conversation between Peter & Jesus. I never bought that explanation, but twelve years ago, while I was reading Johnston Cheney's work, The Greatest Story, I discovered a broader context for what I believe is a better take on John 21. In short, if every word of Luke 24 is historical and accurate, then it's not about John 18. IMHO, it has a lot more to do with Jesus looking forward to Acts 2. (At least, that's one way of putting it.)

My review of the full context of Peter's relationship to Jesus, after Golgotha & Calvary, begins tomorrow. Please DO come back... and tell your friends.

I think you're all going to like this.

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

June 5, 2009

Cooking Up Little Churches

How many things can you make with eggs, flour and butter? That's how many results you can get when christians "just get together". You might get a cake, or you might get a mess. You might get a delicious omelet with bell peppers and sausage thrown in (which can be wonderful, but where's the wheat?) Even if you just scrambled two or three eggs once in a while that'd be a heck of a lot better than starving.

There's lots of options, and I'm convinced any life *WE* cook unto the Lord is worthy of giving Him joyfully. That said, I have no desire to just sit on the counter top with other ingredients for an hour a week. There's got to be cooking involved. Preferably, we should also have some skillful utensils the Lord can use to prepare His dish with, although too many utensils just talk or sing about cooking and do very little preparation of actual food.

The metaphor dies now, because fully prepared "ingredients" should become able to re-prepare themselves, repeatedly, as a full course dinner for the Lord. Naturally, inexperienced ingredients usually just throw themselves into a pot. Sometimes that works out great and sometimes it doesn't. Most times, I wish somebody knew what the heck they were doing. But yes, of course it's all good food, as long as it's made for the Lord. (And as long as it keeps getting made. Far too often, good ingredients quit after a difficult batch or two.)

By the way, there's no such thing as a perfect recipe, but if there was, it would only get discovered by practicing cooking, not by thinking and writing. That said, I still feel called to stay out of the mixing bowl for a while. There are, sometimes, such stand-alone items in cooking... but believe me, I hope I won't be one forever.

Meanwhile, Bon Appetit (while being eaten) to the rest of y'all. Keep on seeking the Chef. Hopefully, eventually, He'll teach us to cook ourselves better.

June 4, 2009

Did Jesus Speak Greek in John 21?

I'm planning to start a blog series (any day now) in which I challenge the traditional view of Jesus & Peter's "agape/phileo" conversation. Before I do that, I want to say this.

It seems fair to analyze the text of John 21 as if Jesus and Peter spoke in greek, whether or not the two men were actually speaking in greek on that day. Personally, I'd be happy enough to assume the agape/phileo wordplay is simply a faithful retelling of whatever Jesus & Peter actually said in some other language. However, since the words are significant here, we have to wonder. Are there any grounds for supposing that Peter & Jesus would have been talking to each other in Greek, on this particular occasion? I think, perhaps there are.

It's possible that the timing and location give us a clue here. Most likely sitting by the shore near Tiberias, the most hellenistic city of Galilee, Jesus was nearing the point where he was about to stop hinting about outreach to the gentiles, and about to start getting explicit. For four years of ministry, Jesus never pushed his disciples too quickly towards accepting what Peter wound up needing another 20 years to publicly affirm. On the other hand, there were subtle hints along the way. The gentiles had been on Jesus' mind for some time, and the dwindling time left - there were only two or three weeks before His command to preach and baptize in all nations - suggests Jesus may have been looking for a few extra teachable moments, before the big send off.

One thing we can say for sure is that it was Jesus who initiated the "love" sequence of the conversation. Now, since it's natural for foreign-language teachers to spontaneously ask questions of their students in the target language, and if we infer that Jesus [while not an instructor of greek] was hoping to nudge Peter into feeling more comfort with the greek world in general, it makes perfect sense to imagine this is where the greek began: a simple [and clearly elementary level] conversational exercise between master and disciple, set up at the perfect moment and chosen for more than one purpose. There are layers of brilliance in how appropriate this would have been - depending on our view of how Jesus set up the conversation.

Yes, that's a teaser for the upcoming series. What I have to say about agape/phileo is new, and I think it's significant. The case, when made, may provide even more reason to suspect Jesus & Peter did speak greek to each other, that day on the beach. That case, however, does not depend on any assumption that they did.

Obviously, I lean hard towards believing the agape/phileo conversation was actually held in greek - all nine sentences of it! (It's actually simple enough to be easily and fairly verbaitm as well.) I just want to be extra clear about separating these issues. Language, accuracy and interpretation are three different investigations to be held; if complimentary conclusions arise, that does not mean they stand or fall together. The picture I painted here offers a plausible scenario for putting the tri-fold exchange of John 21 in greek terms, historically. It's not at all conclusive, but it's definitely something to consider.

More on John 21 soon...

June 3, 2009

Jesus Math Joke

One day Jesus began teaching The Kingdom of Heaven is like 3x squared plus 8x minus 9.

The disciples began to wonder about this until Peter said, I'll bet this is another one of his parabolas.

Don't all laugh at once, now.

Did Jesus Speak Greek?

Hopefully, I'm about to make a fairly obvious point. For some reason, I just feel like making it extremely clear before going ahead with a new post thread I have in mind.

Common sense suggests most people in the Roman East were at least semi-fluent in greek. It's probably safe to assume places like Bethlehem and Nazareth heard less greek spoken than Jerusalem, which probably spoke less greek than Caesarea, but there's no question it was prudent for most folks in all places to know at least a few words in the "lingua franca" of their time. So... what about Jesus?

If Joseph and Mary chose Alexandria for their 2+ years in Egypt, Jesus definitely heard Jews speaking greek, probably from before he was able to talk. But did he speak it? Probably a better question is, how much did he speak it? Assuming the "red letters" of scripture are historically accurate renderings (verbatim quality being a whole separate issue), it would be as extreme to suppose they were all spoken in greek as that none of them were. More likely, if Jesus knew some greek, he probably used it only sometimes.

For instance, when large crowds followed Him from Syria and the Decapolis, someone could have translated as Jesus spoke, but he could have spoken some in greek also. When Jesus spoke at the Nazarene Synagogue? Probably Aramaic. When Jesus responded to Pilate? Probably Greek. Of course we can't say for sure, but my point is merely that the admittedly open question is not a singular one. There are separate considerations for any particular occasion.

Again, this should be an obvious point. I'm aware it's been made elsewhere. But now I feel more comfortable plowing forward into the post I really wanted to write... which will probably post here some time tomorrow:

Did Jesus Speak Greek at the fish fry in John 21?

June 2, 2009

Jesus, Refigured

On chronology, that is. By me, of course. ;) This post comes because of a paragraph I just read in which James D.G. Dunn provides a nearly flawless summary of the major chronological issues around dating the life of Christ. From Jesus Remembered (p.312):
"...the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3.1), reckoned as 27 or 28 CE. The date of his crucifixion is debated, with 14th Nissan 30 or 33 the chief alternatives, and the former gaining more support. The former would also fit with the general impression that Jesus' mission must have extended over two or three years, given particularly the Fourth Gospel's mention of three Passovers (John 2.13; 6.4; 11.55). Beyond that, the discussion quickly becomes bogged down, with the data affording no firm ground on which to advance..."
Now, why is this a nearly perfect summary? He left out 29 AD. In strict Roman chronology, the debate on Tiberius' 15th year should be 28 or 29, not 28 or 27. Tacitus himself would pick 29 but we may stretch Luke inclusively to 28. However, the wishful stretching required to suggest 27 [the so-called 'co-emperor' dating] comes in only because of a need to save the traditional preference for 30 over 33. (Harold Hoehner was one of those who got this right, though he got other things wrong.) This preference also limits the duration of Christ's ministry to 3 years at most.

It is extremely telling (of the scholarship which is being summarized) that Dunn mentions only John's Passovers in relating the duration of ministry. Dunn implies one additional passover of Matthew, Mark & Luke when he says "or three years", but the "or" makes me certain that the unfirm bog he immediately mentions is, in his summary, the synoptic "problem". Generally, the academy seems willing to discuss a bit of chronological data from the synoptics if all three agree on it - such as the deutero sabbath and Good Friday. But assumptions of source theory (evidently) are upheld to inhibit any critical attempt to reconstruct one sequence of gospel events for the whole of Christ's ministry. Well...

This is the point where I like to chime in. Simply put, it is not enough to say we cannot proceed. With an alternative source theory (fair's fair, after all) we can easily separate questionably conflated events. Assume for the sake of argument that three pairs of similar seeming events were actually six separate events, and the synoptic/Johnine chronology slides into an exceptional cohesion. This may or may not *prove* itself to be solid ground, but at least the assumption is academically valid ground from which to proceed. Surely such a conditional, potentially reliable reconstruction is far preferable to a deliberate, permanent head-in-the-ground condition. (Is it not?)

Just like the forest is more than the trees, I believe a full reconstruction of scriptural events is more valuable than interpreting difficult scattered verses. Accepting Johnston Cheney's blended chronology of all four gospels settles a four year duration [bookended by five passovers] for Christ's ministry, which eliminates 30 AD in favor of 33 and thus settles 28 as the year Luke must have meant as Tiberius' fifteenth. In all of this, urges to defend individual scriptures must wait until our last priority. If our faith in the scriptures is indeed justified, then delaying their defense will bring no harm, and could instead bring surprising and much needed perspective.

Mathematicians know this: sometimes the correct solution to a problem can only be found by working out all potential options, although each one is grounded by an assumption or logical leap. In fortunate cases, all but one option eliminate themselves from contention. Or, to put that another way... Sometimes you gotta put your foot in the river, before the waters can part.

June 1, 2009

Locating the Events of John's 21st Chapter

This is more warm-up for my upcoming series. Location matters in a story, as in history, and I believe John 21 is both. However, this post won’t belong in the middle of the series I’m preparing. So let’s get it out of the way. Here goes:

What is the location of the conversation between Jesus and Peter in John 21? Most likely, it seems, this dramatic event took place on a beach near the city of Tiberias.

In John 6:1, apparently having just come from Jerusalem, Jesus sails across the Sea of Galilee. This is the first of three references to Herod Antipas’ city of Tiberias on the southern point of the Lake. It is also natural that Jesus heading north would sail across from Tiberias to Bethsaida, which is where the synoptics place the next event, feeding 5,000. Further, Cheney’s blended chronology of all four gospels shows Jesus laying low during the winter (as he almost always did in winter) between Tabernacles in autumn of 30 AD (Jn.5) and the execution of John the Baptist by early spring of 31 AD (the only other event recorded before the sailing to Bethsaida – that news also coming when his disciples found him after their winter spent going out in pairs, after which Jesus left the place he had been).

Assuming all details are historical, the natural blending together of data suggests Jesus just as likely laid low in Tiberias during that winter and then sailed from there in the spring. And if Jesus wintered [incognito] at Tiberias, then the text of John 6:1 chose no random moment to rename the Sea “of Tiberias”. In fact, 22 verses later, John says boats from Tiberias traced Jesus to Bethsaida, and then further traced his steps from there west to Capernaum. With the double reference to the city in this chapter, it seems more likely the boats followed Jesus from Tiberias, than to be sailing from a random location. In conclusion, John does not ever specifically say Jesus was IN Tiberias, but it seems strongly suggested by all the circumstances just related.

Of course, none of this touches John 21 directly. However, it may set a precedent for a similar inference of the third and final reference to Tiberias in scripture, which comes at John 21:1. Once again, there are also sequential story elements favoring Tiberias as the location, mainly stemming from the fact that Peter left Jerusalem over a week after Resurrection Sunday, eager to go fishing. With no notable sense of direction as yet for his own future, Peter would likely not prefer to go all the way home. More significantly, the distance to Tiberias was closest, near the southernmost point of the Lake. Finally, the likelihood of Peter finding a boat and fishing gear to rent would be best if he went near the city, as opposed to some random point down the southern coastline.

All of this strongly suggests the events of John 21 took place near the shores of Tiberias.
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