Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Death By Suspension in the Bible

Hanging by the neck as a mode of execution can be traced as far back as Homer’s 8th-century-BC epic poem the Odyssey (Book 22), but not commonplace until the Middle Ages. In the biblical record this method of ending one’s life was more likely to be suicide (2 Sam. 17:23; Matt. 27:5), while executions involving bodily suspension were typically impalement or crucifixion. 

According to Jewish law, if a man is hanged on a tree (whether affixed by ropes or nails?) after his execution (by whatever means), his body was not to be left hanging overnight (Deut. 21:22-23). This seems to address the humiliation or desecration of a corpse rather than the mode of execution (cf. Josh. 8:29; 10:26; 2 Sam. 4:12). 

As for the ancient Egyptians, Genesis 40:19 apparently refers to exposing the dead body on a tree after beheading. The hangings in the book of Esther (2:23; 5:14; 7:9, 10; 9:13-14) probably refer to the Persian practice of impaling or crucifying. The Hebrew עֵץ [ets], rendered “gallows” (CSB, ESV, N/ASV, N/KJV, N/RSV) or “pole” (NIV), simply means “tree” or “wood.”

When Jesus was hanged on a tree (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24), he was in fact crucified (Matt. 20:19; 23:34; 26:2; 27:22-44; 28:5; Mark 15:13-32; 16:6; Luke 23:21, 23, 33; 24:7, 20; John 19:6-41; Acts 2:23, 36; 4:10). Although the particular shape of the apparatus upon which he died is not specified in scripture (the English word “cross” is rendered from the less descriptive Greek term staurós), early ecclesiastical writers unanimously describe it as an upright post with a crossbeam (e.g. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 15; cf. Epistle of Barnabas 9.7-8). 

--Kevin L. Moore

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Wednesday, 23 December 2020

And It Was Night …

In the setting of his final Passover meal, which he shared with twelve friends who had been his closest companions on earth, Jesus instituted the sacred memorial of his impending death and washed their dirty feet. Aware of the treacherous intent of one of these men, Jesus was “troubled in spirit” (John 13:21). Judas Iscariot, who was sitting close enough to receive a piece of bread from his hand, exited the room to carry out his dastardly plan of betrayal. Although this scene is reported by all four Gospel writers, it is only John who adds, “And it was night” (13:30).1

While indicative of an eyewitness account, this brief observation seems to add very little to the storyline unless there is an underlying message John is trying to convey. In John’s Gospel there are multiple references to “night” as a time reference (3:2; 19:39; 21:3; cf. 6:17; 20:1), so we should be careful about reading too much into the text. However, the same Gospel places much emphasis on the notable contrast between spiritual “light” and spiritual “darkness” (1:4-9; 3:19-21; 5:35; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35-36, 46), including the metaphoric sense of “night” (9:4; 11:9-10). 

Perhaps as a deeper meaning of the current text, Judas has made room in his heart for the evil influence of Satan (13:2, 27), essentially trading the light of the world for the world of darkness. Could there have been a darker period in his life as he entered the night, turning his back on the Lord to sell him out for meager monetary gain? As a result Judas misses out on the instruction, the promises, and the blessings of John 13:31–16:33 and beyond.

Never lose sight of what we gain in Christ and forfeit if we follow Judas’s path. Paul reminds us: “giving thanks to the Father, the one having qualified you for the share of the inheritance of those set apart in the light, who has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:12-14). What a tragedy when the final chapter of one’s life reads, “And it was night.”

--Kevin L. Moore


     1 Unless noted otherwise, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.

*Appearing in The Estes Echo (weekly bulletin of the Estes Church of Christ) 16 Oct. 2020.

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Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Call No One on Earth “Father” (Matthew 23:9)?

Jesus says, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matt. 23:9, NKJV). In the context of Matthew 23 Jesus is rebuking the Jewish scribes (recognized scholars) and Pharisees of his day for their hypocrisy and prideful arrogance. Among other things they loved to be honored with lofty titles (vv. 5-10). 


The English word “father” in this passage is rendered from Matthew’s Greek translation of the Aramaic term in Jesus’s verbal rebuke. The Lord is not denouncing this word as a reference to one’s male parent (see Matt. 15:4-6; 19:29; 21:31). 


Paul later applies the basic meaning of the word metaphorically to himself (1 Cor. 4:15), not as a religious title but as a descriptive term, seeing that he had “begotten” these Christian converts through the gospel, comparable to other metaphors used in the same epistle (1 Cor. 3:5, 6, 10; etc.). Elsewhere Paul applies the honorific use of the designation only to God the Father (1 Cor. 1:3; 8:6; 15:24).


What Jesus condemns is the misappropriation of the word “father” as a religious title of veneration for prideful men, the application of which ought to be reserved for the heavenly Father.  


--Kevin Moore


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Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Baptism into Moses, the Rock was Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

In the 10th chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul points to the examples of ancient Israel to illustrate that privileged status does not guarantee acceptance with God. He writes, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:1-4 ESV). 

Biblical typology employs physical, earthly symbolism to represent a greater spiritual truth. Moses is a “type” of Christ (cf. Deut. 18:15-19; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37), in that Christ now fulfils in a much greater way what Moses was and did in the past, i.e., leader of God’s people, covenant facilitator, lawgiver, and mediator. The Israelites were “baptized into Moses” as they were encompassed by water, crossing through the divided walls of the Red Sea and under the cloud (cf. Ex. 14:1-31). On the other side was deliverance as the wicked pursuers were swept away, corresponding to baptism into Christ that takes a penitent believer from the bondage of sin to spiritual salvation (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:35-39; 10:47-48; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Pet. 3:20-21).

When Paul says, “they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them,” he is using familiar symbolism alluding to God and his providential care (cf. Deut. 32:15, 18; Psa. 18:2; 95:1; Isa. 17:10). Provision (water) from the desert rock was ultimately from God (“the Rock”), not directly supplied by the physical rock itself (Ex. 17:5-6). The food and drink were “spiritual,” not in composition but with reference to the heavenly source. Paul is not saying that Jesus was a literal stone or bolder rolling behind the Israelites, but he was “the Rock” in the sense of divine protector and provider. Applying this metaphor to Christ affirms his pre-existence, divine nature, and active role in the history of God’s people.  

--Kevin L. Moore


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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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