I read nice little article on the Gospel of John this morning on the website of Biblical Archaeology Review (my favorite magazine, but I missed a month because of the move–drats!) that roots around at Johannine authorship.  John never self-identifies, but maintains literary distance by describing himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” or the “beloved disciple.”  The article is nice, but it doesn’t explore some of the nuances of John the person.  Here is my brief profile of this very influential theologian and historian.

1.  Before he followed Jesus, he was a follower of John the Baptist.

2.  His brother James died very early in the Christian movement, leaving him as the only “Son of Thunder” that remained.

3.  He had a pushy mom and apparently a well known father, for why else would his parentage be so well attested to.

4.  He was young when he started following Jesus.

5.  Somehow he had access to the high priest (John 18) so maybe he was related.

6.  As the only Gospel writer who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ entire ministry he holds a place of historical priority.

7.  Jerusalem, Jewish festivals, and Jewish symbolism meant more to John than to the other evangelists.  As such, he was a revolutionary with a traditionalist streak.  That indicates an affinity for the Essenes.

8.  He was probably related to Jesus, therefore he was related to John the Baptist.  Note, this means that Jesus was related to James and Zebedee and the pushy mother.

9.  John wrote the Fourth Gospel as well as 1 John.  I’m not so certain about 2nd and 3rd John.

Number 8 is the touchy one.  I once mentioned this in a sermon and was subsequently challenged by my deacons of its veracity.  Below is the biblical exegesis that I gave them in a piece called “There is Something About Mary” and it is a simple exegesis of the visitors to the Tomb and the people at the cross and who they must be and how they are related.  Pay careful attention to the end, where I include the numerical tag to note the person it is talking about.  All of this is very confusing because apparently every third woman in 1st Century Palestine was named Mary.

Mark 15:40
“Some women were watching from a distance.  Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.”

Matthew 27:56
“Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”

John 19:25
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

If we can assume some type of eyewitness consistency, and there is no reason we can’t, then there is no reason why we cannot deduce the following about who visited the tomb.

1.  Mary the mother of Jesus was there.

2.  Mary Magdalene was there.

3.  Mary the mother of James and Joses was there.

4.  Mary the wife of Clopas (could be the mother of James and Joses-not necessarily but probably)

5.  Salome was there.

6.  The mother of Zebedee’s sons was there (who could be Salome).

7.  Jesus’ mother’s sister was there (who could be Salome)

Marking the Text:

1=Mary Magdalene,

2=Mary the mother of James and Joses and the wife of Clopas,

3=Salome the mother of Zebedee’s sons and the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus.

Now, let’s look at it again with the text tagged.

Mark 15:40
“Some women were watching from a distance.  Among them were Mary Magdalene (1), Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses (2), and Salome (3).”

Matthew 27:56
“Among them were Mary Magdalene (1), Mary the mother of James and Joses (2), and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (3)”

John 19:25
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother (4), his mother’s sister (3), Mary the wife of Clopas (2), and Mary Magdalene. (1)”

There is a good bet that Jesus and John were related, which gives extra insight into the way Jesus talked to John at the cross about the care of Mary his mother, who was probably his aunt.


Merry Christmas everyone!  Tonight is Christmas Eve, and in order to finish all my Advent translating I worked through thirty verses yesterday and then another thirty today.  I really feel like I’m inside Luke’s head.  The reading for this week moved away from Matthew and into familiar Christmasy passages from Luke 1.  Tomorrow I will finish the journey at church where we will read Luke 2:1-20.

Advent week 1

Advent week 2

Advent week 3

Luke 1 contains lengthy poems, both the Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecy.  There are also some very interesting angelic visits.  As always, my commentary is in italics in the brackets.


Luke 1:1-80

I noticed that many undertook to compile an account of the events which have happened among us.  They became servants of the word and handed down to us eyewitnesses from the beginning.  It seemed good to me, after studying it, to write you everything accurately, structured, and from the beginning, noble Theophilus that you might learn the word with certainty.

It happened in the days of Herod, King of the Jews, that there was a priest whose name was Zechariah, from the order of Abijah and his wife was from the daughters of Aaron.  Her name was Elizabeth.  They were both blameless servants before God keeping all the commandments and the pronouncements of the Lord.  They had no children because Elizabeth was barren.  Both of them were old.

Now the time for his group in the order to serve before God came.  It was the custom of the order to determine by lot who went into the Temple of the Lord to burn incense.  All the people were outside praying when the hour of the incense came.

An Angel of the Lord appeared to him standing at the right of the incense altar.  Zechariah was troubled when he saw it and fear fell upon him.  Then the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid Zechariah because your prayers were heard and your wife Elizabeth will have a son and you will name him John.  He will be a joy and gladness to you and many will rejoice at his birth.  He will be great before the Lord.  He shall not drink wine or liquor for he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb.  He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.  In the Spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him [The him here is the Lord—He will go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah] to return the hearts of parents to children and the disobedient to righteous wisdom, to get people ready to prepare for the Lord.  [There are two different verbs which mean ‘prepare’ here.  Both must refer to the people and the work John will do.  Neither verb is an infinitive, but I have tried to capture the feeling.]

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can this happen?  I myself am old and my wife is also old.”

The angel answered and said, “I myself am Gabriel, who stands before God and he sent me to speak to you and to bring this good news to you.  Behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day this happens for you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their time.”  [I never realized just how long Gabriel’s speech is in this passage.  His language has a formality to it that feels very much like pronouncements, not dialogue.]

And the people were waiting for Zechariah and they wondered at his delay in the Temple.  When he came out he was unable to speak to them and they realized that he had seen a vision in the Temple.  He kept making signs to them and he remained mute throughout.  He did fulfill the days of his service and then went home.  Now, right after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived but she hid it for five months, saying, “So this is how the Lord has worked in these days.  He looked upon me to take away my shame before people.”

Then in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to the city of Nazareth in Galilee to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph who was from the house of David.  The name of the virgin was mary [Actually, Mariam in the GNT.  Both Joseph and Mariam are very Hebrew names.  Likewise, for reasons beyond me Zechariah in the earlier text ought to be Zachariah, but traditionally it is rendered Zechariah.]  he went into her and said, “Rejoice you who have been graced.  The Lord is with you.”

At this word she was deeply disturbed and wondered what this type of greeting might mean?  The angel said to her, “Do not fear Mary for you found grace from God.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and you will bear a son and name him Jesus.  This one will be great and he will be called an exalted son and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will never end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be since I’m not sexually active?”  [the actual wording in Greek is “since a man not I know.”  In the Bible, the verb ‘to know’ is an idiom for sex.  This is true in the Hebrew as well as Greek, hence Adam “knew” his wife.  The other problem here is the tense.  Mary speaks in the present tense, which makes English options difficult, although in Greek it makes perfect sense because it speaks of a present situation.  That is why I opted for ‘sexually active.’  I know that it is a jarring phrase, but keep in mind, regardless of what violence we do to the Bible stories in church children’s literature, the Bible is an adult book with adult themes.  Mary’s statement is supposed to be unnerving.]

The angel answered and said, “Holy Spirit will come to you and overshadow you with exalted power, therefore the child being born is holy.  He will be called Son of God.  Behold, your relative Elizabeth, the one called ‘barren’ has conceived a son in her old age.  She is six months along.  It is not impossible for God to do all these things. [things=words (rhema) in GNT]

Mary said, “Behold I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me according to your words,” and the angel left her.

Mary rose up in those days and traveled with haste to a Judean city in the hill country.  She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.

Then what happened is that as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant jumped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  She screamed a loud shout and said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And how is it that the mother of my Lord might come to visit me?  For it happened at the sound of your greeting in my ear the infant jumped with gladness in my womb.  Blessed is the one who believes that it will be completed what has been spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit is gladdened by God my savior because he looked upon the humility of his servant.  For behold, all generations will say [There is no verb here in the Greek for “say” or “call” so something has to be added to smooth it over.  The lack of a verb her is not an omission or a sign of chopped speech, but instead reflects careful poetic thought for word choice.  The verb is assumed.] I am blessed from now on because of the great things The Almighty did for me.  His name is holy.  His mercy to those fearing him is from generation to generation.  He strengthened his arms and scattered those with arrogant thoughts in their hearts.  He deposed the powerful from thrones and exalted the humble.  He filled those who were hungry with good food and he sent away the wealthy empty handed.  He took care of Israel his child, remembering mercy.  Just as he said to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.” [In translating the Magnificat, two things are apparent.  One, Luke did not compose this.  The language, style, and vocabulary are not from his hand.  He was obviously using a written source.  Two, the language is careful and poetic, artistic and theological.  Some have argued a young Jewish girl could not have written this.  That is a different argument.  However, it was composed by someone who knew what she was doing.]

She remained with her three months and returned to her own home.

Then Elizabeth’s time came to give birth and she had a son.  Her neighbors and relatives heard about the Lord’s magnificent mercy to her and so they rejoiced with her.

The eighth day came and they went to circumcise the child and they named him after his father Zechariah.  His mother answered and said, “No, name him John!”

They said to her, “There is no one from your family that is called by that name.”  Then the father nodded his head that this is what they wished to name him.  Asking for a writing tablet he wrote saying, “His name is John,” and everyone marveled.  His mouth and tongue were opened and immediately he spoke blessings to God.  Fear came as their neighbors and the whole Judean hill country as they heard these words.  It settled on all of them as they heard about it such that in their hearts [heart is singular in GNT] they were saying, “What then will this child be?”  For the hand of God was with him.

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied saying,

“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel for he visited and ransomed his people.  He raised up a horn of salvation in the house of David, his child to us.  Just as he spoke by his prophets, the holy ones from the past.  Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of everyone who hates us.  To have mercy on our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham to give to us.  Not to fear the hand of our enemies for we will be rescued to serve before him in holiness and righteousness all our days.  And you, child, will be called a prophet of the most high for you will lead before the Lord to prepare his way to give knowledge of salvation by forgiveness of their sins to his people.  By the compassionate mercy of our God he will look upon us as the dawn from above to shine in the darkness and upon those sitting in the darkness of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.”

The child grew and became strong in the Spirit and was in the desert until the day of his proclamation to Israel.


I apologize for the tardiness of this blog.  It was supposed to be posted last week, but, alas, many things emerged which prevented that.  I will be running silently for the next week or so but I wanted to get these wonderful Advent passages, especially the Magnificat, posted first. 

John 5:30-37

I am not able to do anything myself. I judge just as I hear, and my judgment is righteous, because I do not seek my will but the will of the one who sent me. If I bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. But if there is another who bears witness about me, he knows the testimony is true and is a witness about me. You have sent to John, and he has born witness to truth. But I myself do not receive from any man’s witness, but these things I say so that you may be saved. This one was a burning, shining lamp and you were willing for a little while to exult in his cry. But I myself have a greater witness than John, the works I have done by my Father so that I might complete them. These works I do testify about me that the Father has sent me. The Father who sent me has testified about me, neither have you heard his voice nor seen his likeness. His word you do not have abiding in you, because this one, this one you do not believe. Research the scriptures, so that you yourself suppose to have eternal life in them; these also testify about me. But you do not wish to come to me so that you may have life. I have not received glory from men. But I know you that the love of God you do not have in yourselves. I have come in the name of my Father, and you do not accept me. If another should come in his own name, this one you would accept. How are you able to trust in receive praise from one another and the praise from the only God you do not seek? Do not think that I myself will accuse you to the Father when the one accusing you is Moses, and he is the one you have hoped in. For if you believed in Moses, you would believe in me; it was about me Moses wrote! But if you do not believe the scripture, how will you believe in my words?

Luke 1:5-25

It happened in those days that Herod was king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah from the Abijah division whose wife was from the daughter of Aaron and her name was Elizabeth. Now both of them were righteous before God, following all the commandments and pronouncements blamelessly. They had no children because Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years. It came time for his scheduled service with his division before God. According to custom, he was chose by lot to be the priest who would go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. All the multitude of the people was praying at the hour of the incense. But he saw an angel of the Lord standing at the right of the incense altar. He was troubled, and fear fell upon Zechariah. Then the angel said to him, “Do not fear, Zechariah, because your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you will call his name John. He will be your joy and exultation and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great before the Lord, and wine and strong drink he may not drink. The Holy Spirit will fill him even from his mother’s womb. Many of the children of Israel will turn to the Lord their God. The spirit and power of Elijah will go before him, to return the hearts of parents to their children and to a knowledge of righteousness; to prepare a people to the Lord who have been prepared.” And Zechariah said to the angel, “How can anyone know this? For I myself am old and my wife is advanced in her days.” The Angel answered, he said to him, “I myself am Gabriel, the one standing before God and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring good news to you. Behold, you will be silent and not able to speak until these days are finished, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in due time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah and marveled at the time he was in the sanctuary. Now when he came out he was unable to speak to them, and they knew he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was making signs to them and remained dumb. After his term of service was fulfilled, he returned to his house. After these days, Elizabeth, his wife, conceived and hid herself away five months saying, “That the Lord has acted in this way to me, he looked upon me to remove my shame among people.”

Luke 1:26-38

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph. He was from the house of David and the virgins name was Mary. Coming toward her he said, “Rejoice! Grace has been given to you. The Lord is with you.” Now at these words she was disturbed and wondered what kind of greeting this was. The angel said to her, “Do not fear, Mary, for you found grace from God. Behold, you yourself will conceive in the womb and bear a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great and a son of The Most High and the Lord will give to him the throne of David his father. He will reign upon the house of Jacob in this age and his reign will never end.” Now Mary said to the angel, “How is this, since I know no man?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit, he will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the one born will be called Holy Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth, who was called barren has conceived a son in her old age and is six months along because no word from God will be impossible.” Now Mary said, “Behold, I am a servant of the Lord; may it happen to me according to your word.” And the angel went away from her.

Luke 1:39-56

 Now in those days Mary set out with haste to go to a city of Judea that was out in the highlands. She went to the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard the greeting from Mary, the baby in her womb jumped, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she called out loudly and said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how is this that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ear, the baby in my womb jumped in exultation. Happy is she who believed that the Lord will accomplish what he has told her.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit exults upon God my savior. That he saw the humility of his servant, for behold, from now on all generations will call me happy, for the Almighty did great things to me. Holy is his name. His mercy is given in generation after generation to those fearing him. He acted by his power and might, he scattered those who were arrogant in their own mind and heart. He deposed rulers from thrones and lifted up the humble. He filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty handed. He took in Israel as his child, remembering mercy, just as he said to our fathers, “In Abraham and in his seed forever.” Now Mary remained with her three months and then returned to her house.

Luke 1:57-66

 Now when Elizabeth’s time came to give birth she had a son. Her relatives and all those living nearby heard that the Lord multiplied his mercy toward her and they rejoiced together. On the eighth day they went to circumcise the child and to name him by the name of his father, Zechariah. But the mother answered, saying “No, he will be called John.” They said to her that, “There is no one from your family called by that name.” Then his father nodded that was his wish as well. He asked for a writing tablet. He wrote saying, “His name is John.” Everyone marveled. Instantly his mouth and tongue now was opened and he spoke a blessing to God. Fear came upon everyone of those living nearby. The whole highlands of Judea kept talking about it. Everyone who heard about it took it to heart saying, “What is this child to be? For the hand of the Lord was with him.”


The third week of Advent focuses very heavily upon the repentance and baptism message of John the Baptist.  It was very exciting to translate Matthew, Mark, and Luke all telling the same thing but with slightly different tellings.  There are so many hermeneutical things which could be addressed in these passages–from the conclusion of the Olivet Discourse to the conversations about John in Matthew 11–these are theological rich texts.  For now, it is enough to translate them into what I hope is clear English.

Luke 22:39-53

And following on he traveled according to his custom to the Mountain of Olives.  The disciples followed him.  It was at this place that he said to them, “Pray that you yourselves do not go into temptation.”  Then he separated himself from them, about a stones throw, and bending his knee he prayed saying, “Father, if you wish, take this cup from me.  But, it is not my will but instead yours that must happen.”  And he saw angels from heaven strengthening him.  But, being in agony he prayed, straining so earnestly that his sweat was as clots of blood falling upon the ground.  He rose up from prayer and came to his disciples.  He found them sleeping from the sorrow.  He said to them, “Why are you sleeping?  Get up, pray, so that you do not go into temptation.”

While he was saying this, behold a crowd appeared and with them the one called Judas, who was drawing near to kiss him.  Then Jesus said to him, “Judas, you betray the son of man with a kiss?”  Then, seeing what was happening, those near him said, “Lord, shall we strike with swords?”  Someone among them struck the servant of the chief priests and sliced off his right ear.  Jesus answered, “Stop!  Enough,” he said.   He touched the ear healing him.  Then Jesus said to those coming upon him; chief priests, soldiers of the temple and elders, “Am I a bandit that you come after me with swords and clubs?  Every day I was with you in the temple and you did not seize me, but now is your hour, in the power of darkness.” 

Luke 22:54-69

Then they arrested him, led him and brought him into the house of the chief priest.  Peter followed at a distance.  Now a fire lit up the middle of the palace courtyard and people were together sitting there.  Peter sat in their midst.  But a female slave who was sitting near the light saw him and stared at him, said “You are one of those with him.”  Peter denied it saying, “I do not know him, woman.”  After a short time others seing him said, “You are one of them.”  Peter again said, “I am not.”  And as an hour or so passed on another one of those insisted saying, “It is true that you were with him, for he is a Galilean.”  Then Peter said, “Man, I know not what you say.”  Immediately as he was saying it the rooster crowed.  The Lord himself turned, looked straight at Peter and Peter remembered the words of the Lord, how he said to him that, “Before the rooster crows today you will deny me three times.”  He went out weeping bitterly. 

Those men in charge ridiculed and beat him.  Blindfolding him they asked him, “Prophesy!  Who is it striking you?”  And many other blasphemies they said to him.  As it became day, the elders of the people, chief priests, and the scribes gathered together and they led him to the Sanhedrin.  They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.”  But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe.  But if I should ask, you would not answer.  From now it is ‘The son of man sitting at the right hand of the power of God.”

Mark 1:1-8

Genesis of the gospel of Jesus Christ, son of God.  Just as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my angel before your face so as to build your road; a voice in the wilderness crying out, ‘You prepare the road of the Lord.  You make straight his path.”  John, the one baptizing, came preaching a baptism of repentance in forgiveness of sins.  And all the Judean countryside and all those living in Jerusalem went out to him confessing their sins and being baptized by him in the Jordan river.

John was wearing camel hair clothes and girdled with leather around his waist and eating locust and honey.  He preached saying, “One is coming after me stronger than me, who I am not worthy to stoop loosing the thongs of his sandals.  I baptize you myself in water, but he will baptize you in Holy Spirit.” 

Matthew 3:1-12

Now in those days John, the one baptizing, appeared preaching out in the wilderness of Judea saying “You repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  For this is spoken of through Isaiah the prophet saying, “A voice in the wilderness crying out, ‘You prepare the road of the Lord.  You make straight his path.”

Now this man John had on clothes of camel’s hair, girdled with leather around his waist, and his food was locust and wild honey.  At that time Jerusalem and all Judea went out to him as well as all the surrounding countryside and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan river, confessing their sins.  And behold, the Pharisees and Sadducees were approaching near to his baptism spot when he said to them, “Offspring of serpents!  Who suggested that you flee from the coming wrath?  Therefore you do fruit worthy of repentance.  And, do not even think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as father,’ for I say to you God is able to raise up children of Abraham from these stones.  The axe is already now at the root of the tree to fell it.   Therefore, every tree that does not do good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  I baptize you myself in water for repentance, but behind me one is coming who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am unworthy to carry.  He will baptize you in Holy Spirit and fire.  The winnowing fork is in his hand and he will clean his threshing floor and gather his grain into the barn, and the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew 11:2-11

Now John heard from prison the works of Christ by means of sending his disciples.  They said to him (Jesus), “Are you the one coming or should we look for another?”  Jesus answered them saying, “When you go back to John report the things you hear and see:  Blind recovering sight, lame walking, lepers being cleansed, deaf hearing, dead raised up, and poor people evangelized.  Blessed are those who are not scandalized over me.”

Now as those departed Jesus began to speak to them about John.  “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?  A reed shaken by wind?  And who did you come out to see?  A man having been clothed in luxury?  Behold, those wearing luxurious clothes are in the homes of kings.  But who did you come out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and the greatest of prophets.  That place where it is written, ‘Behold, I myself will send my angel before you, who will construct your road before you,’ is about him.  Truly I say to you no one has arisen born of women greater than John, the one baptizing.  But a least person in the kingdom of heaven is greater than him.”

Luke 3:1-9 

Now in the fifteenth year of the hegemony of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate was governing Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee and Philip his brother was tetrarch of Iturea and that region of Trachonitus, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.  Under the chief priests Annas and Caiphas, the word of God came upon John, son of Zachariah in the wilderness.  He went out into all the surrounding countryside of Judea preaching baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.  Just as it is written in the book of sayings of Isaiah the prophet, “A voice in the wilderness crying out, ‘You prepare the road of the Lord.  You make straight his path.  Every ravine will be filled in and all mountains and hills will be leveled, and it the crooked places straight and the rough places in the road smooth.  And all flesh will see the salvation of God.”  Therefore he said to the crowd coming out to be baptized by him, “Offspring of serpents!  Who suggested that you flee from the coming wrath?  Therefore, you do fruit worthy of repentance and do not even start saying to yourselves ‘We have Abraham as father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise children of Abraham from these stones.”  Already now the axe is pointed toward the root of the tree.  Therefore, every tree not doing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into fire.”