Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Jesus’s Alleged Deception

In John 7:8-10 did Jesus mislead his brothers, or simply change his mind, or is there something about the account we might be missing? The greatest challenge in our attempts to understand this passage is the ambiguity of what it actually says due to variant readings among the Greek manuscripts. 

Contextually in the 7th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are in Galilee as the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles draws near, and the Lord’s unbelieving brothers tell him to go ahead and make the pilgrimage to Judea. His verbal response, in part, is recorded in v. 8, followed by a report of his seemingly capricious actions in v. 10.

The ESV reads: “‘You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come’ …. But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.” 

The NKJV reads: “‘You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come’ …. But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.”

The Textual Issue

The first ambiguity is created in v. 8 by the presence in some manuscripts of the adverb οὐκ (“not”),1 whereas in others οὔπω (“not yet”) occurs.2 If the former reading is correct, why did Jesus say he was not going to the feast but then he went? If the latter reading is correct, it was just a matter of timing (a delayed departure), but how is the more difficult variant to be explained? If the scribal amendment was intentional, it makes no sense to replace a fairly harmonious reading with an apparent discrepancy.

The other ambiguity is created in v. 10 with the positioning of the phrase, “up to the feast.” In some manuscripts this is descriptive of the Lord’s brothers, while in others it applies to Jesus. If the former reading is correct (as in the ESV), then Jesus simply went up to Jerusalem but not necessarily to the feast in which his brothers were participating. If the latter reading is correct (as in the NKJV), then Jesus did attend the feast, albeit later and in a different manner than his brothers expected.

Tackling the Textual Issue

The problem for text critics, translators, and exegetes is weighing the external documentary evidence against the internal evidence, while trying to account for textual variation in the transmission process. If each of these factors is granted equal value, we seem to be at an impasse.  

Reasoned transmissionalism considers both internal and external information, giving more weight to the documentary evidence. The earliest extant confirmation (closest in time to the original) supports the reading οὔπω (“not yet”) in John 7:8. Documents inclusive of this version of the text, dating back as early as the 2nd century,have been recognized as the “best witnesses.”4

Reasoned eclecticism considers both internal and external information,5 giving more weight to internal evidence. Proponents of this approach regard the reading οὔπω to have been “introduced at an early date … in order to alleviate the inconsistency between ver. 8 and ver. 10.”6 Leon Morris, for example, reasons, “If the original read οὔπω, why should anyone alter it to οὐκ? I cannot find any convincing answer, so I incline to the reading οὐκ.7 Philip Comfort adds further, “the variant [οὐκ] is the more difficult reading (Jesus eventually went to this festival) and therefore a candidate for being the original wording.”8

In seeking to trace the transmissional history of any textual variant, of paramount concern is which reading best explains the existence of the others. Preference is usually given to the more difficult reading, the assumption being that copyists would ordinarily prefer smoothness, harmony, and clarity over a presumed inconsistency and have little to no apprehension about altering the biblical text. It further assumes the changes were on purpose, even though unintentional scribal error was all too common. 

There is no solid consensus among NT scholars as to what was first penned and subsequently changed in John’s text. Since the manuscript evidence can be more objectively scrutinized than the somewhat subjective evaluation of internal issues, I tend to lean in favor of the οὔπω (“not yet”) reading in John 7:8. At the same time, however, I struggle to come up with a reasonable explanation for the scribal change to οὐκ unless it was accidental rather than determined (i.e., confusion of letters in the uncial script). Perhaps the best exegetical approach is to consider the question from all angles and find a solution that is consistent with what we know about the integrity of Christ and the biblical record. 

A Parabolic Play on Words?

It has been suggested that the tension between vv. 8 and 10 of John 7 is simply one of multiple occasions in John’s Gospel of two levels of meaning.9 Thus the words, “not going up to this feast” (v. 8), were intended parabolically rather than literally. The Lord’s brothers, as earthly-minded unbelievers, may have inferred the uphill climb toward Jerusalem, but since Jesus did in fact make the journey in v. 10, this is not what he meant in v. 8. The real meaning, as the argument goes, concerns the timing of his death, resurrection, and subsequent return to heaven (vv. 1-8, 19, 25, 33-34). In other words, it was not going to happen at the upcoming Feast of Tabernacles (vv. 30, 44; cf. 8:59). As a play on words, the “going up” in v. 8 is a veiled allusion to his ascension to the Father (cf. 3:13; 6:62; 20:17), perhaps even including his elevation on the cross (3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34). 

As insightful and creative as this explanation is, however, it does not readily correspond to the actual wording of the text. Jesus’s reference to “going up,” whether parabolically or topographically, was not “at” or “during” the feast but εἰς (“to,” “unto,” “toward”) the feast. It would be less of a stretch, granting the words “not yet” and “this feast,” to take the Lord’s statement as anticipatory of “the next paschal journey,” when “the time was fulfilled.”10   

Operating on His Own Timetable?

If the original text of John 7:8-10 included “not yet” and “he went up to the feast,” there is no inconsistency between Christ’s words and actions. He intentionally delayed his departure from Galilee because of impending dangers (vv. 1, 6-9), arriving in Jerusalem by “the middle of the feast” (v. 14). The harmony of the text supported by the weight of manuscript evidence makes a solid case for this interpretation. The only nagging concern, then, is how to account for the textual variant.   

Did Not Necessarily Attend the Feast?

The prepositional phrase “to the feast” in v.10 has been mispositioned in a number of manuscripts. If the biblical record states, “his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up,” Jesus made his way to the city of Jerusalem but not to engage in the festivities. This is consistent with what he told his brothers in v. 8, particularly if οὐκ is the original wording. 

The Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) started on the 15th day of the 7th month (Tishri = September/October), lasted seven days, and officially ended on the 8th day (Lev. 23:34-36). John reports that Jesus was in Jerusalem “about the middle of the feast” (John 7:14), as well as “the last day” (v. 37), presumably having missed the first few days. While others were celebrating, Jesus was about his Father’s business, teaching in the temple, and avoiding a premature death (John 7:10–8:59). Even if credence is given to the textual variant, “he went up to the feast,” he apparently did not go up as one who kept the feast.11


This is one of those passages I wish was more straightforward than it actually is. Nonetheless, any alleged incongruity is easily resolved, albeit with multiple possibilities. The primary concern, at least for Bible believers, is that the integrity of our Lord and the biblical record remains intact. 

--Kevin L. Moore


     1 This is the reading of the standard text of NA28 and UBS5. See ASV, ESV, H/CSB, NASB, NET, NIV(2011), N/RSV.

     2 This is the reading of the Byzantine Majority Text and Textus ReceptusSee ERV, N/KJV, NIV(1978), WBT, WEB, YLT. Despite the English translation in more recent editions, the NT text upon which the NIV was originally based favors οὔπω (see R. J. Goodrich and A. L. Lukaszewski, A Reader’s Greek New Testament [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003]: 221).

     3 In addition to the 2nd-century Bodmer papyri P66 and P75, the following also support the οὔπω reading: codices Vaticanus (B), Borgianus (T), Washingtonianus (W), as well as L X Γ Δ Λ Θ Ψ 070 0105 0250 f113 Maj syrh,p copsa,ac2.

     4 Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John (I-XII), AB (NY: Doubleday, 1966): 307. See K. L. Moore, A Critical Introduction to the NT: Study and Lecture Notes (Henderson, TN: Hester, 2006): 26-32. Proponents of the more extreme historical-documentary eclecticism would rely almost exclusively on the external textual evidence.

     5 The οὐκ reading is supported by the 4th and 5th century codices Sinaiticus (א) and Bezae (D), as well as K M Π it syrc,s copbo. Based on this reading, Porphyry of Tyre (ca. 234-305) accused Jesus of vacillation.

     6 Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1994): 185. Advocates of the more extreme thoroughgoing or rigorous eclecticism rely almost exclusively on the internal evidence.

     7 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, Rev. ed. NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995): 354 n. 21.

     8 Philip Wesley Comfort, A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2015): 257.

     9 See R. Brown, op. cit. 308; R. H. Lightfoot, St. John’s Gospel: A Commentary (Oxford: Clarendon, 1957): 175-76.

     10 B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (London: James Clarke, 1958): 117; also F. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1877): II: 270-72. Another textual variant is the dual usage of the pronoun ταύτην (“this” feast) in the Byzantine Majority Text, supported by א* Γ Δ Λ, along with eight uncials, numerous miniscules, and some ancient versions, whereas a lone appearance in NA28 and UBS5, based on א a b B D K L T X Π, along with a number of minuscules and quotations.

     11 B. F. Westcott, op cit. 117. J. H. Bernard offers as a possibility that Jesus merely altered his plans (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John ICC [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1953]: I:270).


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Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Why Did My Savior Come to Earth?

In 1892 James G. Dailey, Sr. published a hymn entitled, “Why Did My Savior Come to Earth?” Each stanza and refrain repeatedly answers, “Because He loved me so.” While acknowledging the hymn’s beauty and soul-stirring effect, technically this is not a biblical answer. Scripture clearly affirms God’s love for us,1 but whenever we read of our Savior Jesus Christ’s love, the emphasis is on what he did while living on earth rather than the express purpose of his coming.2

If we allow the Lord himself, in his own recorded words and through his inspired agents, to answer the “why” of his coming, here is what we learn: 

·      To fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17).

·      To proclaim God’s kingdom (Luke 4:43).

·      To call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).

·      To seek and save lost sinners (Luke 19:10; 1 Tim. 1:15).

·      To bring conflict among the noncompliant (Matt. 10:34-38).

·      For judgment, giving spiritual sight to the receptive and blindness to the resistant self-reliant (John 9:39).

·      To provide the abundant life (John 10:10). 

·      To serve others, giving his life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45).

·      To suffer and die (John 12:27); to taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:9).

·      To destroy the works of the devil and the power of death (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8).

·      To release the captives of sin (Heb. 2:15).

·      To be a merciful and faithful high priest, make atonement/appeasement for sins, and help those who struggle with temptation (Heb. 2:17-18).

While Dailey’s hymn reminds us of the motivating power of Christ’s love (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14a), when biblically defined love is so much more than an emotionally stirring prompter. The life and teachings of our Savior demonstrate that genuine love is always active and outwardly focused, having the recipients’ best interests at heart. Why did my Savior come to earth? The Bible provides a number of reasons, but maybe love is the best single-word summation of them all.

--Kevin L. Moore


     1 John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:4; 1 John 3:1; 4:9-11, 19.

     2 Mark 10:21; John 11:3, 5, 36; 13:1, 23, 34; 15:9, 12, 13; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20; Rom. 8:35, 37; 2 Cor. 5:14; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:19; 5:2, 25; 1 John 3:16; Rev. 3:9; also John 14:21 with reference to what he will do.


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Tuesday, 17 November 2020

When God is Able But Not Willing (Isaiah 59:1-2)

About seven centuries before Christ, Assyria was rising as a world power hostile to God’s covenant people, who had shamefully divided into two dysfunctional kingdoms, each drifting farther and farther away from the Lord’s standard of righteousness. During this period Isaiah the son of Amoz is called to be God’s spokesman. Along with a message of messianic hope for the future, he issues warnings of impending judgment against Israel and Judah, as well as surrounding nations.

In the 1st verse of the 59th chapter Isaiah announces: “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear” (NKJV, emp. added). God’s lack of response to the cries of his people and refusal to deliver them from their oppressive enemies has nothing to do with whether or not he is capable. He is neither powerless nor indifferent. But there is something keeping him at bay. The next verse reads: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.” 

The English word “hear” in this text is translated from the Hebrew שָׁמַע [shema],

with nuances including hear, listen, understand, heed, and hearken unto. The Jewish confessional prayer, known simply as the Shema, declares: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut. 6:4). This speaks of a receptive and responsive hearing.

God is omniscient. He sees, hears, and knows all things. However, for those who are unreceptive and disobedient, he will not hear responsively, i.e., he will not hearken unto their pleas. It is not because he does not care. It is not due to a lack of love. “For God so loved the world …” (John 3:16a); “But God demonstrates his own love toward us …” (Rom. 5:8); “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us” (Eph. 2:4). 

Why, then, does God allow this separation from those he loves? Why does he close his ears to their calls? Could it be because of his holiness? As Habakkuk observes, concerning God, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness” (Hab. 1:13a). God is so holy and infinitely pure, he can have no close association with that which is sinful. His very nature demands this separation.

But God still loves us anyway. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:6-11).

Sin separates. The love of God through Christ reconciles. When we are not as close to the Lord as we would like to be or ought to be or used to be, he is not the one who has moved (Heb. 13:5). Although God is able to do extraordinary things, he will not hear and he will not save when his just and holy nature does not allow it.

The good news is, we do not have to be estranged from God because of our sins. He offers forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ. As penitent believers we can have our sins washed away by Christ’s blood in baptism, raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). If your sins are causing a separation between you and God, take advantage of his gracious offer of forgiveness and reconciliation.

--Kevin L. Moore

* FHU chapel talk 19 Oct. 2020


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Image credit: Tran Tuan Viet’s photo of Vietnam’s “Golden Bridge,”