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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 18 November 2017 to 17 January 2018.

Angelus

General Audiences

Homilies

Messages

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “If we fail to suffer with those who suffer, even those of different religions, languages or cultures, we need to question our own humanity.” @Pontifex 11 January 2018
  • “The encounter with God and our brothers and sisters cannot wait just because we are slow or lazy. We are called to that encounter today!” @Pontifex 12 January 2018
  • “We must not wait to be perfect before responding to the Lord who calls us, but rather open our hearts to His voice.” @Pontifex 13 January 2018
  • “We should work to accommodate, to protect, to promote and to integrate whoever is forced to leave their own home and undergo moments of real difficulty. @M_RSection” @Pontifex 14 January 2018
  • “I ask you to accompany me on my journey to Chile and Peru in your prayers.” @Pontifex 15 January 2018
  • “We pray to God for the courage to ask forgiveness and to learn how to listen to what he is saying to us.” @Pontifex 16 January 2018
  • “Listening to religious teaching or learning a doctrine is not enough. What we want is to live as Jesus lived.” @Pontifex 17 January 2018

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 4 January 2018 to 10 January 2018.

Homilies

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “God became a child to be closer to the men and women of every time, and to show us His infinite tenderness.” @Pontifex 4 January 2018
  • “God walks along the dusty paths of our lives and responds to our longing for love and happiness by calling us to joy.” @Pontifex 5 January 2018
  • “Like the Magi, believers are led by faith to seek God in the most hidden places, knowing that the Lord waits for them there.” @Pontifex 6 January 2018
  • “Baptism is also called ‘illumination’, because faith illuminates the heart and allows us to see things in a different light.” @Pontifex 7 January 2018
  • “Let us share the joy of our Christian brothers and sisters of the East who are celebrating Christmas today.” @Pontifex 7 January 2018
  • “Joy, prayer and gratitude are three ways that help us live authentically.” @Pontifex 8 January 2018
  • “A joyful soul is like healthy soil in which life can thrive and produce good fruit.” @Pontifex 9 January 2018
  • “The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we rediscover interior peace, even in the midst of daily challenges.” @Pontifex 10 January 2018

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timeIn the Back to the Future movies, Doc Brown chides Marty McFly for not thinking fourth-dimensionally.

He means that Marty—like most of us—is letting his options be limited too much by the here and now.

Marty’s not taking into account the possibilities that open up if we’re not stuck in that one moment of time we call the present.

Something similar happens in theology . . .

 

God and Time

We cannot grasp the full reality of who and what God is. He is infinite, and our minds are only finite.

As a result, we often depict God as if he were a human being—just as a way of helping us understand him.

That’s why Scripture talks about him having a strong right arm (a symbol of his omnipotence) and eyes that survey the whole earth (a symbol of his omniscience).

But in reality, apart from the Incarnation, he doesn’t have body parts.

One of the ways we picture God is as an old man—“the Ancient of Days,” to use Daniel’s phrase. We also picture him as an immortal Being who will live on and on into the endless future.

This envisions God as if he is bound by time the same way we are, and it has implications for how we relate to him.

If God is bound to time like us, always stuck in the present as that moment rolls ever forward into the future, then it would make no sense to pray for certain things.

Suppose that someone has died. In the here and now, that person’s eternal fate is sealed, for “it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

If God is bound by time the way we are, it would make no sense to pray for the person to be saved in the moment he died. He either was or wasn’t.

But things are not so simple.

 

God and Eternity

In reality, God is not bound by time. He is completely outside of time. All of history is simultaneously present to him like a giant mural.

From his eternal perspective outside of time, God simultaneously knows everything that exists, whether in the past, the present, or the future.

He is also capable of interacting with history at any point. This is illustrated by the fact that he not only created the universe in the beginning, he also—from his eternal perspective—sustains it at every moment of its existence.

The consequences of these facts are significant: If God is aware of everything in history then he knows it if on April 15 I am praying for a man who died on April 12.

Further, if he is capable of interacting with every point in history, he can give his grace to that man—as he is dying on April 12—in light of the request I make on April 15.

It thus can make sense for me to pray for the salvation of someone who is already dead.

Usually, our prayers concern the future, but they can also concern the present, and as this illustration shows, they can even concern the past.

We are thus capable of praying across the fullness of time—for things past, present, and future.

 

C.S. Lewis and Padre Pio

The idea of praying across time in this way is not something unique to me.

C.S. Lewis famously discussed it in his book Miracles (see Appendix B: “On ‘Special Providences’”).

A while back, a friend asked if I could name any Catholic figures who had discussed the idea, and off the top of my head, I couldn’t, though I was sure there were.

Recently, I came across a reference to such a figure: Padre Pio is reported to have made such prayers. Susanne Tassone writes:

A doctor who was very close to Padre Pio received a letter from a woman whose daughter was near death. The mother implored the future saint for his priestly prayers and blessings. The doctor was unable to get this letter to Padre Pio until several days after he had received it. After reading the letter to Padre Pio, this physician asked how should he answer it. Pio responded, “Fiat.”

The doctor knew that some time had passed since he had received the letter, and that the girl was at death’s door. He was perplexed by Padre Pio’s assurance that all was done, that the request for prayer would work. The Capuchin priest continued, “Maybe you don’t know that I can pray even now for the happy death of my great-grandfather.” “But he has been dead for many, many years,” replied the doctor. “I know that too,” said Padre Pio. “Let me explain by giving you an example.

“You and I both die, and, through the good fortune and the goodness and mercy of the Lord, we are obliged to stay in purgatory for 100 years. During these years nobody prays for us or has a Mass offered for the release of our souls. The 100 years pass, and somebody thinks of Padre Pio and the good doctor and has Masses offered. For Our Lord, the past does not exist; the future does not exist. Everything is an eternal present. Those prayers had already been taken into account so that even now I can pray for the happy death of my great-grandfather! . . . ”

The little girl in need of prayer, by the way, was healed (Praying with the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, 71-72).

I’m sure that the concept of praying for past events has been discussed by various Catholic authors, and perhaps someone can point to additional examples, but the logic behind such prayers is sound.

In fact, it would be sound even if God were not outside of time.

 

The Core of the Issue

All that is needed for requests concerning the past to be efficacious are two things:

  1. Knowledge of what a future request will be, and
  2. Possession of this knowledge when it is needed to affect matters.

A being does not have to be outside of time to have these two things. It is quite possible for us to have them in the here and now.

Suppose that every Tuesday when you get home from work, your spouse asks you to order a pizza for dinner. It’s now a Tuesday, so you know (for practical purposes) that when you get home your spouse will ask you to do this. You have foreknowledge of the request.

But suppose that this particular Tuesday there is some reason you won’t be able to order the pizza once you get home. You therefore order it in advance and schedule it to arrive at dinnertime.

When you get home, your spouse makes the request, and you’re able to announce, “Already taken care of!”

In this case, you had both of the things you needed: Knowledge of the future request and possession of this knowledge in time to affect matters.

Of course, one could quibble about whether one really had “knowledge” of the request, since humans don’t have infallible certitude regarding what their spouses will ask in the future.

But this objection would not apply to God, who does have infallible certitude regarding the requests that will be made to him. His omniscience guarantees that.

Thus even if God were not outside of time—if he were stuck to the present the way we are—then he would still be able to affect matters based on his omniscient knowledge of what people will ask him in the future.

Unlike Marty McFly, God has no problem thinking fourth-dimensionally.

 

The Practice of Praying Across Time

The possibility of praying about things in the past raises the question of when it is appropriate to do so.

I would answer this question by dividing things in the past into three categories:

  1. Things we know happened
  2. Things we’re uncertain about
  3. Things we know didn’t happen

 

Things That Didn’t Happen

The most straightforward answer concerns the last category—things we know didn’t happen.

It is not appropriate to pray for these things.

The reason is that we know it was God’s will to allow our history to unfold in a way that didn’t include them. To pray for something we know didn’t happen would be to pray contrary to God’s known will.

For example, we know that the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. We know that God allowed that to happen as part of his providence, and it would be contrary to God’s known will to pray for the Twin Towers never to have fallen.

It would be equally improper to pray for things we know won’t happen in the future, because they are also contrary to God’s known will.

Thus God periodically told Jeremiah not to pray for the welfare of the people because he was determined to bring judgment on them (Jer. 7:16, 11:14, 14:11).

In the same way, it would be in appropriate for us to pray contrary to things we know will happen in the future (e.g., that the end of the world not happen).

 

Things That Did Happen

The answer for the first category—things we know did happen—is more complex.

Suppose you are considering praying—all these years later—that at least some people survive the 9/11 attacks.

Well, we know that some people did survive the attacks, so we know that it was God’s will to allow this to happen.

Praying that some survive thus is not praying contrary to God’s will. In fact, it’s praying in accordance with his known will.

It could even be that God allowed some of the people who survived the 9/11 attacks to do so because you are praying for them now.

I thus can’t say there’s anything wrong with praying for things that you know to have happened.

I do, however, have a note of caution: God has designed us as time-bound creatures to be principally oriented toward the future, not the past.

There is a sense in which, like St. Paul, we need to be “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13).

Spending too much time thinking about the past can lead us to neglect the attention we need to give to future concerns.

I can’t rule out that some might grow closer to God by praying for something they know God allowed to happen in the past, but it’s easy to see how this kind of prayer could become a spiritual distraction from more urgent concerns.

 

Things We’re Uncertain About

The case where praying concerning past events is most appropriate is the middle one—things we aren’t certain about.

Suppose it is 9/11 and you’ve just watched the Twin Towers go down on television.

You know someone who worked in one of the towers, and that person either died in the collapse or he got away, but you don’t know which.

Because you don’t know, it’s appropriate for you to say, “God, please let him have escaped!”

In this case, you don’t know whether it was or wasn’t God’s will, so you’re neither praying against God’s known will nor praying for something you already know happened.

That’s the situation we’re in with most of our prayers: We don’t know whether God will grant them or not, but he encourages us “always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

This principle has a special application to the dying.

We can’t objectively tell whether a person is in a state of grace at the point of death, so this knowledge is by its nature inaccessible to us.

It thus makes sense, whenever someone has died, to ask God to have given the person the graces he needed for salvation at the moment of death.

In view of the stakes involved—eternal life and eternal death—I regularly make this prayer when I hear of someone dying, and especially if it is a friend or loved one.

Care to join me?

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abraham_and_stars_1xThere’s a famous passage in Genesis that often comes up in discussions of salvation. It says Abraham “believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).

Protestant pastors frequently preach on this passage, and they frequently get it wrong.

Really wrong.

Here’s why . . .

 

Why It Comes Up

This passage frequently comes up in preaching about salvation because it’s used that way in the New Testament.

Paul quotes it in two places (Rom. 4:3-25, Gal. 3:6), and James quotes it once (Jas. 2:23).

This makes sense, because the Genesis passage connects faith and righteousness.

It was thus logical for the New Testament authors to use the passage in discussions of how we become justified (righteous) through faith in Christ.

It’s also logical for us today to also use the passage—whether we’re Protestant or Catholic.

But we need to use it the right way.

Unfortunately, that’s not always done.

 

The Wrong Way to Use It

Protestant preachers frequently use Genesis 15:6 (and Paul’s quotations of it) to argue for the classical Protestant understanding of justification. That model goes something like this:

  1. We are all sinners and therefore unrighteous before God.
  2. In our sinful state, we can’t become righteous before God by good works.
  3. However, if we place our faith in God, he will forgive our sins and reckon us righteous even though we are not.
  4. This reckoning is something that happens as a once-for-all event in the Christian life known as “justification.”

Points 1 and 2 are true, and points 3 and 4—though flawed—contain elements of truth.

The problem that concerns us here is that Protestant preachers tend to assume Genesis 15:6 maps onto the classical Protestant model in a straightforward way.

At first glance, this isn’t unreasonable, for Paul uses the verse to support justification by faith rather than works.

But the matter isn’t as straightforward as people assume.

 

A One-to-One Mapping

If Genesis 15:6 mapped directly onto the classical Protestant model of justification, the following would result:

  1. Abraham was a sinner and therefore unrighteous before God.
  2. In his sinful state, Abraham could not become righteous before God by good works.
  3. But Abraham came to have faith in God in Genesis 15:6, so he forgave Abraham’s sins and reckoned him righteous even though he was not.
  4. This reckoning was a once-for-all event in Abraham’s life, his justification before God.

But when you read Genesis 15, this is not what is happening.

Not. At. All.

 

Read the Context

To understand what’s happening, you need to start by reading the events that led up to it. Those are found in Genesis 14.

Basically, a war started between two groups of kings, one of whom was the king of the wicked city Sodom. During the war, Abraham’s kinsman Lot—who had been living in Sodom—was taken captive.

When Abraham heard about this, he mustered a group of more than three hundred fighting men from his own household and defeated the opposing kings. He thus rescued Lot, the other captives, and their goods.

Afterward, in thanksgiving for his victory in battle, Abraham went to Melchizedek—a priest of God most high—and gave him a tenth of all the spoils.

Then the king of Sodom offered Abraham a reward, telling him, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself” (Gen. 14:21).

Abraham refused this reward, saying that he’d sworn an oath not to take anything from the king of Sodom.

God then comes to Abraham in a vision and says, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (Gen. 15:1).

Abraham asks how this will be, for he has no children, and his current heir would be Eliezer of Damascus, a slave born in his household.

God tells him, “That man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” Then he takes Abraham outside and has him look at the stars, telling him, “So shall your descendants be” (Gen. 15:4-5).

At this point we read: “And he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

 

An Initial Question

We should note there is an ambiguity in Genesis 15:6—it says that “he reckoned it to him” as righteousness.

This can be read two ways: (1) God reckoned Abraham righteous or (2) Abraham reckoned God righteous.

The latter has been supported by some interpreters, including Jewish ones, and it makes sense in context: Abraham believed that God would give him a multitude of descendants, and he regarded this this as a sign of God’s righteous goodness.

However, this is not the way the New Testament takes the verse. On all three occasions where it’s quoted, the authors understand God as reckoning Abraham as righteous.

For Christians, that guarantees that this is a proper way of looking at the text (even if it is not necessarily the only way of looking at it, since Scripture operates on more than one level).

 

A Very Different Picture

If we understand God reckoning Abraham righteous, how well does the passage match the classical Protestant view of justification?

Not well at all.

Notice how different the whole approach of the text is. Abraham is not being presented as a sinner who can’t redeem himself by good works but who then comes to have faith in God and who is then forgiven his sins and declared righteous (even though he is not) in a once-for-all, life-changing event.

Quite the opposite is true! Abraham is already a follower of God, someone who already has faith in him, and the context stresses Abraham’s good works and righteousness:

  • He defeated the evil kings.
  • He rescued Lot and the other captives.
  • He went to a priest of God and gives thanks for the victory.
  • He refused any reward from the wicked king of Sodom.
  • And so God himself promised to give Abraham a reward instead.

The fact God is rewarding Abraham for what he has done shows this isn’t a case of a sinner coming to God and repenting so he can obtain forgiveness. It’s God rewarding a follower for faithful service.

That means Abraham isn’t acquiring righteousness here for the first time. He is already righteous, as his actions have shown.

Then Abraham believes the incredible promise that he will have a multitude of descendants, despite his age (cf. Rom. 4:19, Heb. 11:12), and God reckons that act of belief as a new act of righteousness on Abraham’s part.

Some translations bring this aspect out better than others. The New American Bible does a particularly good job. It says that the Lord: “attributed it to him as an act of righteousness.”

Notice, by the way, that Abraham’s act of faith also wasn’t generic in nature. Abraham already believed in and trusted God in a general way. Here he is believing something very specific: that God will give him a multitude of descendants—a point Paul recognizes when he uses the verse (Rom. 4:17-22).

And notice the righteousness isn’t a counterfactual, purely legal thing: Believing God when he tells you he will do something is a righteous act. Abraham did something actually righteous here.

All of this means that we need to be careful when we apply this verse to discussions of justification.

It is relevant to the subject. Thus Paul makes the point that Abraham wasn’t circumcised at the time this happened (Rom. 4:9-12), so God can view someone as righteous even though he’s not circumcised and thus doesn’t have works of the Jewish Law (Rom. 3:28-30).

But it’s a mistake to map the passage onto the classical Protestant view of justification.

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Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration mass on 19 March 2013.This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 16 November 2017 to 3 January 2018.

Angelus

General Audiences

Homilies

Prayers

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “Today we pray for all the children who are not allowed to be born, who cry with hunger, who hold weapons in their hands instead of toys.” @Pontifex 28 December 2017
  • “Modesty is a virtue that is essential for anyone who wants to be like Jesus, who is meek and humble of heart.” @Pontifex 29 December 2017
  • “During these days let us give space to attitudes and gestures that favour peace.” @Pontifex 30 December 2017
  • “The Family is the harmonious union of differences between a man and a woman. When it’s open to life and to others it’s even more authentic.” @Pontifex 31 December 2017
  • “Let us nurture the seeds of peace as they grow and let us transform our cities into workshops of peace.” @Pontifex 1 January 2018
  • “In the simplicity of the nativity scene we encounter and contemplate the tenderness of God which reveals itself in the Baby Jesus.” @Pontifex 2 January 2018
  • “In the name of Jesus, with our witness, we can prove that peace is possible.” @Pontifex 3 January 2018

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francis-reading

This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 21 December 2017 to 27 December 2017.

Homilies

Messages

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “Without love, both life and faith are worthless.” @Pontifex 21 December 2017
  • “Let us free Christmas from the worldliness that has taken it hostage! The true spirit of Christmas is the beauty of being loved by God.” @Pontifex 22 December 2017
  • “If we really want to celebrate Christmas, let’s contemplate this image: the fragile simplicity of a new-born baby. That’s where God is.” @Pontifex 23 December 2017
  • “Contemplating the Baby Jesus, with His humble and infinite love, let us say to Him, very simply: “Thank you for doing all this for me!”” @Pontifex 24 December 2017
  • “Stop and look at the nativity scene: let us enter the true spirit of Christmas with the shepherds, bringing Baby Jesus all that we are.” @Pontifex 25 December 2017
  • “Today we want to remember all those who suffer persecution. We want to be close to them with our affection and our prayers.” @Pontifex 26 December 2017
  • “God is in love with us. He draws us to Him with tenderness by being born poor and fragile among us, like one of us.” @Pontifex 27 December 2017

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beloved discipleSomething very strange happens in John’s Gospel.

Unlike any of the other Gospels, it indicates—directly—who its author is.

And yet it also doesn’t tell us who he is.

At the very end of the Gospel, we are told that it was written by a figure who has become known as “the beloved disciple.”

But he never names himself. That’s something everyone agrees on: The text of the Gospel never directly tells us the name of this disciple.

The author chose to remain anonymous or “not named” (Greek, a(n)- “not” + onoma “name”).

That creates a mystery around him—and it’s a mystery that he chose to create, for whatever reason he had.

Most people, for most of Church history, have thought it was the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee and brother of James.

There is, however, a vigorous debate about this in some quarters.

Regardless of who you think the beloved disciple was, it’s worth looking at how he handles the issue of his identity and what light this may shed on the question.

So let’s look at the appearances of the beloved disciple in the Gospel . . .

 

Before We Begin

We should say a word about how we should look at these passages.

To fully appreciate their significance, to avoid coloring them with other ideas we may have, we should put ourselves in the position of an early reader who didn’t know anything else about this Gospel.

Treat it like a document that just fell into your hands—without “The Gospel of John” written at the front, the way it appears in modern Bibles.

Ancient documents didn’t have titles at the front like that. They just started with the text.

Also, forget that you know that the beloved disciple will eventually be revealed as the author.

Imagine mentally reading the document from the beginning—without knowing anything else—and watch the clues that accumulate.

Let’s get started . . .

 

A Man “Whose Name Was John”

In the first chapter of the Gospel, we learn about John the Baptist, only he isn’t called “the Baptist.” He’s just called “John”:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John (John 1:6).

We are expected to already know about this figure. For example, we are expected to know that he was eventually sent to prison—a fact that the author drops on us without any further explanation, at one point simply saying, “John had not yet been put in prison” (John 3:24).

From one perspective, this is not surprising since the fourth Gospel appears to have been written as a way of supplementing the information found in other Gospels, such as Mark’s (see here).

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell the story of John the Baptist’s imprisonment, so the fourth Gospel can assume that we know about it.

But early Christian tradition contained multiple figures named “John,” which was one of the most common Palestinian Jewish male names in the first century. Individuals who bore it included John the Baptist, John son of Zebedee, and John Mark, the author of the second Gospel.

It’s thus surprising that the fourth Gospel simply refers to the Baptist as “John,” without adding “the Baptist” the way the Synoptics do.

In fact, this John is the only person called “John” in the entire fourth Gospel.

This is potentially significant, and it suggests that the author—for some reason—wanted to keep the name “John” focused exclusively on the Baptist.

 

  1. Meeting Jesus

A bit later in the first chapter of the Gospel, we learn that John had disciples:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus (John 1:35-37).

We thus encounter two anonymous disciples who begin following Jesus and presumably become Jesus’ disciples.

We also learn one of their names. One is “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother” (John 1:40). But the other disciple remains unnamed.

Why is that?

If Andrew isn’t the only one who has a future with Jesus, why isn’t the other one named? This is a mystery later passages may shed light on.

 

  1. At the Last Supper

Another very strange thing happens in the final third of the fourth Gospel.

We’ve been reading about Jesus and what he did and said for more than two thirds of the book in our hands. After Jesus announces, at the Last Supper, that one of his disciples will betray him, we suddenly read:

One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks” (John 13:23-24).

Wait. What? A disciple “whom Jesus loved”? Who is that?

If Jesus loved him in a special way, that suggests he’s important. But if he’s important, why hasn’t he been mentioned before in this Gospel?

Or has he?

In this passage, we see Jesus interacting with an anonymous disciple—just like he did back in chapter 1. Could the two anonymous disciples be one and the same?

We’ll have to see . . .

 

  1. In the High Priest’s Courtyard

We encounter another anonymous disciple after Jesus has been arrested:

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. As this disciple was known to the high priest, he entered the court of the high priest along with Jesus, while Peter stood outside at the door.

So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the maid who kept the door, and brought Peter in (John 18:15-16).

It is very strange that “the other disciple” remains unnamed. He was obviously important—for he was personally known to the high priest, and it was this fact that allowed Peter to gain access to the high priest’s courtyard.

Yet he remains anonymous and is simply described as “another disciple” (v. 15) and as “the other disciple” (v. 16).

In Greek, these phrases are very close. “Another disciple” is allos mathētēs, but once he has been introduced, the author adds the definite article (“the”/ho) in front of the phrase: ho allos mathētēs.

Does anything else in the Gospel shed light on who he is?

Keep reading.

 

  1. At the Foot of the Cross

The next time the beloved disciple appears is at the foot of the Cross:

When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”

Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home (John 19:26-27).

Here we have another indication of the importance of the beloved disciple: Jesus entrusts the care of his mother to him.

And the disciple lives up to the commission Jesus gives him, beginning to care for Mary “from that hour.”

 

  1. At the Tomb

The beloved disciple is also mentioned when Mary Magdalene runs to tell the disciples that Jesus’ tomb is empty:

So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb.

They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.

Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead (John 20:2-9).

Notice how the beloved disciple is first introduced: He is initially described (v. 2a) as “the other disciple,” and the Greek phrase is ho allos mathētēs (though here put in the accusative case).

We’ve heard that phrase before. It was how the disciple who got Peter into the high priest’s courtyard was described back in John 18:16.

The fact John uses this phrase first suggests that he expects us to recognize this person as “the other disciple” who was with Peter at the high priest’s house.

This impression is reinforced because John keeps referring to this figure as “the other disciple” (vv. 3, 4, and 8).

But now John further identifies him (v. 2b) as “the one whom Jesus loved”—the beloved disciple from the last supper and the foot of the cross.

The passage also reveals that the beloved disciple and Peter were together, and it appears that the beloved disciple is fleeter of foot than Peter (which some have suggested may mean he is younger, though Peter was not old at this time).

The beloved disciple also defers to Peter, allowing him to enter the tomb first, and he is quick to believe.

 

  1. At the Sea of Galilee

The beloved disciple also had a personal encounter with the risen Jesus when a group of disciples decide to go fishing. Notice who is present:

Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together (John 21:2).

There were seven people present:

1) Simon Peter
2) Thomas
3) Nathanael
4-5) The sons of Zebedee
6-7) Two unnamed disciples

Seven is a significant number in the Bible in general and in the Johannine literature in particular.

Also, we are here at the very end of the Gospel, and we are encountering two anonymous disciples—just like we did at the very beginning of the Gospel.

Could they be the same two? Andrew and one other?

The disciples spend all night fishing, and in the morning Jesus appears on the shore, but in the distance they don’t recognize him.

Jesus then asks them if they have caught anything. When they say they haven’t, he tells them to cast the net on the right side of the boat, and they miraculously get a huge catch.

That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea (John 21:7).

Afterwards, they all get to shore and have breakfast with Jesus, who has Peter confess his love for him three times as a way of undoing the threefold denial Peter made in the high priest’s courtyard.

Then Jesus tells Peter about the way he will die, and we read:

Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”

Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”

The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:20-23).

Here we learn that the beloved disciple wasn’t just important when the events of the Gospel were transpiring. He continued to be well-known in the Christian community afterward, as there was a rumor he wouldn’t die.

The fact he takes the time to debunk this rumor—to assure the audience that Jesus didn’t say he wouldn’t die—indicates that the rumor still had currency.

Presumably the audience, or at least a notable number of its members, had heard the rumor and knew who the mysterious disciple was.

This makes the Gospel’s refusal to name the disciple all the more mysterious.

 

  1. The Author Revealed

There is one more thing that the Gospel tells us about the beloved disciple: He’s it’s author.

Immediately after learning about the rumor concerning the beloved disciple, we read:

This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:24-25).

For someone reading this Gospel for the first time, not knowing anything else about it, this would be mind-blowing!

The enigmatic disciple about whom mystery has been building for chapter after chapter suddenly turns out to be the author! Wow!

The author even steps out of the shadows, dropping his previous habit of referring to himself in the third person (“the disciple whom Jesus loved,” “the other disciple”) and suddenly using the first person: “I suppose the world itself could not contain the books.”

This is carefully crafted literary artistry, and that may help us put a few additional pieces in place.

 

Putting It All Together

For a reason the Gospel does not tell us, the author has chosen to keep himself unnamed throughout his work.

He’s also used a careful, “slow build” literary strategy to gradually fill in our picture of who he is. It’s a strategy that fosters a sense of growing mystery about him:

  • We first have a definite indication that something is up in chapter 13—two thirds of the way through the Gospel—when we suddenly hear about a mysterious disciple “whom Jesus loved.”
  • Then the author reintroduces himself in chapter 18 under the title “the other disciple,” where we learn he was personally known to the high priest and played a key role in getting Peter admitted to the courtyard.
  • In chapter 19 we learn that the beloved disciple was at the foot of the cross and that Jesus entrusted the care of his own mother to him.
  • In chapter 20 we learn that he was present at the empty tomb, and he was apparently the first disciple to believe in the Resurrection. We also learn that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and “the other disciple” are one in the same.
  • In chapter 21, we learn that there was a rumor about him that he would never die.
  • Finally, we learn that he is the author of the Gospel itself.

This carefully constructed, “slow burn” pattern invites us to consider whether we may have missed anything, whether there are other pieces of the puzzle that also need to be fit in.

Earlier we noted that, given the sudden appearance of a disciple “whom Jesus loved” in chapter 13, we would have expected an account of how such a disciple first met Jesus—and that impression is strengthened even further once we know he is the actual author of the Gospel.

How could a disciple who felt so close to Jesus, who cared for his own mother, not tell us how he met Jesus? He told us about how other people (Andrew, Peter, Nathanael, Nicodemus, etc.) met Jesus.

But maybe the deliberately unnamed author did tell us: There are those two unnamed disciples in chapter 1, and—surprise, surprise—there are two unnamed disciples in chapter 21.

This suggests that the unnamed author was one of the two unnamed disciples in both cases. He was Andrew’s companion in chapter 1, and that was the story of how he first met Jesus.

Quite possibly, Andrew was the unnamed disciple in chapter 21. It would be very natural for Peter and the sons of Zebedee to be accompanied by Andrew, the fourth member of their fishing partnership. The beloved disciple simply kept Andrew unnamed on this occasion to mirror chapter 1.

We would then have seven appearances of the beloved disciple in the Gospel:

  1. His first meeting with Jesus (John 1:35-37)
  2. His appearance at the Last Supper (John 13:23-24).
  3. His appearance at the high priest’s house (John 18:15-16)
  4. His appearance at the foot of the Cross (John 19:26-27)
  5. His appearance at the empty tomb (John 20:2-9)
  6. His appearance at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:2-23)
  7. His self-revelation as the author (John 21:24-25)

This arrangement is not certain, because there are other ways one could divide the material (some of which also would add up to seven).

However, the prominence of the number seven (including the seven disciples mentioned at the Sea of Galilee) and the author’s clear literary artistry, indicate that a deliberate seven-fold pattern of appearances may be indicated.

It’s also worth noting that all but the last of these appearances occurs in Jerusalem or the vicinity of Jerusalem. (John 1:28, as well as Matt. 3:1 and Mark 1:5, place the location of John’s baptizing ministry near Jerusalem.)

This pattern of events around Jerusalem is consistent with someone who would be personally known to the high priest. Indeed, it would suggest not just a Jerusalemite but a member of the Jerusalem aristocracy and possibly a priest himself.

It is less consistent with the profile of a Galilean fisherman like John son of Zebedee.

Also pointing in this direction is the suggestion that the author is one of the two unnamed disciples at the Sea of Galilee. If that is the case then he is not one of the sons of Zebedee, who were also present.

This does not mean the beloved disciple can’t be John son of Zebedee, but it does mean there are indicators pointing in a different direction.

This only continues the mystery surrounding the author—a mystery produced by the fact that he never names himself, not even in the last verses of his Gospel when he reveals himself as author.

For more on the debate about who wrote John’s Gospel, see here.

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popr-francis-teachingThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 2 December 2017 to 20 December 2017.

Speeches

Papal Tweets

  • “I encourage all of you to live the joy of your mission by witnessing to the Gospel wherever you are called to live and work.” @Pontifex 14 December 2017
  • “Even if there were no one else left to remember us, Jesus would always be there at our side.” @Pontifex 15 December 2017
  • “We become holy when we work for others. When we do so, we continue the creative action of God in history.” @Pontifex 16 December 2017
  • “May the Lord grant us the wisdom to seek that which is worthwhile and to love, not with our words but with our actions.” @Pontifex 17 December 2017
  • “Every stranger that knocks at our door is an opportunity to meet Jesus Christ.” @Pontifex 18 December 2017
  • “Go out to meet Jesus, spend time with Him in prayer, and entrust your whole life to His merciful love.” @Pontifex 19 December 2017
  • “Heaven doesn’t value what you have, but what you give.” @Pontifex 20 December 2017

Papal Instagram

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john the evangelistIt sounds like a trick question. You’re tempted to say, “Uhh . . . that would be John?”

Yes, but which John?

A handful of names were extremely popular in first century Israel. These included Simon, Judas, James, and, John. The frequency with which they occurred sometimes makes it hard to sort out who is who.

Worse, first century Jews didn’t have last names, and sometimes a person went by multiple names (Simon, Simeon, Cephas, Peter, Simon Peter, Simon son of John, Simon son of Jonah—all the same guy).

So who wrote John’s Gospel?

There have been a number of proposals, and, as we will see, Pope Benedict makes an interesting one.

 

The Anonymous Author

John’s Gospel indicates it was written by an eyewitness to the ministry of Christ: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things” (John 21:24).

It is ironic that John’s Gospel—of all the four—is the only one that so explicitly points to its author, yet it does not name him.

Why?

The author was known to the first readers, so in a sense it wasn’t necessary to say his name, but there may have been other reasons. One possibility is that the author keeps himself anonymous out of humility, identifying himself simply as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Another is that he is making himself a symbol—a stand-in for all of his readers, all of whom Jesus loves.

Since he was writing in dangerous times, he might want to be anonymous so that he didn’t get in trouble with the authorities, and the strategy may not have worked. If he is also the author of Revelation, as commonly supposed, he ended up being exiled to the island of Patmos. It’s interesting to note that Revelation, of all the books attributed to John, is the only one that explicitly names its author (Rev. 1:4), and it was written after he had been exiled.

 

The Case for John the Apostle

The most common view, historically and today, is that the Gospel was written by John the Apostle. What evidence is there for this?

The author describes himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the [Last] Supper” (21:20).

This seems to put the author among Jesus’ core group of disciples, and it is an easy step from there to conclude that he was one of the twelve apostles. But which one?

Here we can use the process of elimination. John’s Gospel names several figures and thus distinguishes them from “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Here is a list, along with their first mention in the Gospel:

  1. Andrew (1:40)
  2. Simon Peter (1:40)
  3. Philip (1:43)
  4. Nathaniel (i.e., Bartholomew) (1:45)
  5. Judas Iscariot (6:71)
  6. Thomas (11:16)
  7. Judas (not Iscariot) (14:22)

The fact seven of the Twelve are named may be intentional. Seven is a significant number that crops up in unexpected ways in John’s Gospel (and in Revelation).

If none of the above are the beloved disciple, that leaves the following members of the Twelve: James, John, Matthew, James the Less, and Simon the Zealot.

If the beloved disciple’s relationship is meant to be an especially close one (as opposed to a symbol of the love Jesus has for all his followers) that might mean he was one of the inner circle of apostles, which we know from the other Gospels to have been Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

Peter and Andrew have already been eliminated, and James the son of Zebedee was the first apostle to be killed (Acts 12:2), so there would scarcely be an enduring rumor that he would live until the Second Coming, as there was for the beloved disciple (John 21:22-23).

With the other three core disciples eliminated, that would point to John the son of Zebedee.

This is a compelling case, and it is no surprise that the dominant view historically has been that John the Apostle was the author of this Gospel.

 

Testing the Assumptions

The case above depends on certain assumptions—that the author was one of the Twelve and that he was among the core group within the Twelve. Both assumptions are reasonable, but are they certain?

There were other important followers of Jesus.

Two were Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias, the two proposed as Judas Iscariot’s replacement precisely because they had followed Jesus from his baptism to his Ascension (Acts 1:21-26). Yet they are not mentioned in the Gospels at all.

There is also Joseph of Arimathea, who donated his own tomb for Jesus to be buried in (Matt. 27:60).

Nicodemus also went with Joseph to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus, and he later helped with the burial (John 19:39).

John’s Gospel prominently features a disciple who was not a member of the Twelve but who was close enough to Jesus that others commented on how much Jesus loved him: Lazarus (11:36). As a result, some have even proposed Lazarus as the author of the fourth Gospel.

This is unlikely, one reason being the anonymity that the beloved disciple uses for himself. It is improbable that he would carefully craft the anonymous, beloved disciple identity for himself and then casually name himself in other passages.

The same reasoning makes it unlikely the beloved disciple is any of the other non-Twelve disciples mentioned in John (e.g., Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus).

But the point remains that there were important disciples who were not members of the Twelve. Given that, is there any reason to think that the beloved disciple might not be John son of Zebedee?

 

Not a Fisherman from Galilee?

Several reasons have been suggested. First, the beloved disciple does not appear clearly until chapter 13 of the gospel, when he is reclining by Jesus at the Last Supper (13:23). But James son of Zebedee had been a disciple as early as Peter and Andrew (Matt. 4:18-22, cf. John 1:40-42).

Second, the Gospel of John focuses largely on Jesus ministry around Jerusalem rather than in Galilee. This is what one would expect of a native of Jerusalem but not a native of Galilee like John son of Zebedee.

Third, the beloved disciple’s residence in Jerusalem may be shown by the fact that he was personally known by the high priest. This enabled him to enter the high priest’s court with Jesus. Peter, however was stopped, and the disciple had to intervene to get Peter access to the courtyard (18:15-16). The same high priest (Caiaphas) does not appear to recognize John son of Zebedee when he and Peter are brought before him in Acts 4.

Fourth, the beloved disciple may have been a priest himself, as illustrated by the fact that he knew the high priest. The second century Christian writer Polycrates agreed: “John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and being a priest wore the sacerdotal plate . . . also sleeps at Ephesus” (quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3:31:2). But John the son of Zebedee was a fisherman rather than a priest.

Fifth, John son of Zebedee and Peter are specifically said to be “uneducated, common men” by Luke (Acts 4:13). But priests were educated, and the Gospel of John displays significant literary qualities that would not be expected from an uneducated, common man.

Sixth, at the end of the Gospel, there is a fishing expedition that includes “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples” (21:2). These seven disciples (note the number) include the beloved disciple. But since he has kept himself studiedly anonymous, we might expect him to be one of the two unnamed disciples mentioned at the end, not one of the sons of Zebedee.

As we will see, none of these objections is insuperable. There are ways John son of Zebedee could be the beloved disciple. But they have led some scholars to wonder if the beloved disciple might be someone else.

 

The Name John

The fact the fourth Gospel is known as John’s is important.

Though none of the Gospels explicitly name their authors, their original audiences knew who had written them, and these traditions circulated in the early Church. It is hard to imagine personal names becoming attached to the Gospels if the names were totally inaccurate.

As a result, we should look for someone named John as the author of the Gospel.

John was a common name in first century Palestine. About one in twenty men bore it, so among the seventy disciples Jesus sent out on a preaching mission (Luke. 10:1) or among the 120 core disciples present at the election of Judas’s replacement (Acts 1:15), there should have been several Johns.

 

John Mark?

An interesting case is John Mark. We know that he lived at Jerusalem, where his mother had a house (Acts 12:12). Because it is described as his mother’s house rather than his father’s house, his father was likely dead.

This could make John Mark the eldest male in the household, which could explain why the beloved disciple was seated next to Jesus as the Last Supper. Even as a non-member of the Twelve, if he was the official host representing the family that owned the house, he might well be seated next to the guest of honor.

In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict notes that, “According to the Jewish custom, the host or, in his absence, as would have been the case here, his firstborn son sat to the right of the guest, his head leaning on the latter’s chest” (v. 1, p. 225).

That could apply to the beloved disciple if he were someone other than John Mark, though. The beloved disciple appears in a clear way for the first time at the Last Supper, and if he were also the owner of the house where it took place, or the eldest male of the family present, he could end up seated next to Jesus even though he was not a member of the Twelve.

The main problem with supposing him to be John Mark is that John Mark is usually identified with Mark the Evangelist, the author of the second Gospel, not the fourth. The tradition in the Church Fathers on this point is very strong.

It also is commonly thought that John Mark appears as one of the unnamed characters in his own Gospel, such as the man who runs away without his clothing on the night Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:51-52).

His case does demonstrate, though, that there were other early disciples, not members of the Twelve, not mentioned by name in the Gospels, who were nevertheless in a position to write Gospels—and even ones named John!

Some have suggested that the beloved disciple was a priest who lived at Jerusalem but who is otherwise unknown to us. Hypothetically, this is possible, but it seems unlikely. Someone important enough to write a Gospel should have left some trace in history. So does history record any other Johns who could have written the fourth Gospel?

 

The Case for John the Presbyter

In the first half of the second century an author named Papias wrote a work on the sayings of Jesus. It is now lost, but quotations survive in works by other early authors, such as the second century bishop Irenaeus and the fourth century Church historian, Eusebius.

Papias lived early enough that he was in contact with people who had actually known Jesus. Although many had passed away by his time, some were still alive, and he names two: Aristion and a figure known as John the Presbyter (also called John the Elder and John the Priest, depending on how the underlying Greek word is translated). Note the contrast between what Aristion and John the Presbyter “say” and what the other disciples, including John the Apostle, “said” (see below).

Both Johns were associated with the city of Ephesus, and Eusebius cites Papias’s statement as evidence for the claim of those “who say that there were two persons in Asia that bore the same name, and that there were two tombs in Ephesus, each of which, even to the present day, is called John’s” (op. cit. 3:39:6).

He went to say that “it is probable that it was the second [i.e., the Presbyter], if one is not willing to admit that it was the first, that saw the Revelation” (ibid.).

St. Jerome records a common view that 2 John and 3 John were written by John the Presbyter, saying that these two letters “are said to be the work of John the Presbyter, to the memory of whom another sepulcher is shown at Ephesus to the present day, though some think that there are two memorials of this same John the Evangelist” (Illustrious Men 9). Note that the opening verse of both letters lists the sender simply as “the Presbyter.”

Scholars who favor the idea that John the Presbyter wrote the fourth Gospel have produced a number of arguments for their position.

A noteworthy one is that John the Presbyter evidently lived to a very old age. Otherwise, he would not have acquired the nickname “the Presbyter,” which in Greek means “the Elder.” If he is addressing his letters simply as “the Elder,” that would indicate an advanced age.

That harmonizes well with the rumor that the beloved disciple would live until the Second Coming (21:15-23).

This, as well as literary similarities between the Gospel and the epistles of John, suggest a common author.

 

Papias on John the Presbyter

Papias writes:

“If, then, any one came who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders—what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say” (Papias of Hierapolis, quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3:39:4).

 

John the Presbyter Speaks?

In the opening verses of 2 and 3 John, we read:

The Presbyter to the chosen Lady and to her children, whom I love in truth—and not only I but also all who know the truth [2 John 1].

The Presbyter to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth [3 John 1].

 

Pope Benedict’s Solution

In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict takes up the question of who wrote John’s Gospel and proposes a solution that other scholars have advocated.

He notes that “the Gospel never directly identifies [the beloved disciple] by name. In connection with the calling of Peter, as well as of other disciples, it points toward John, the son of Zebedee, but it never explicitly identifies the two figures. The intention is evidently to leave the matter shrouded in mystery” (v. 1, p. 223).

Pope Benedict acknowledges the difficulty some have had with seeing John son of Zebedee as the author of the Gospel: “Can he, the Galilean fisherman, have been as closely connected with the priestly aristocracy of Jerusalem, its language, and its mentality as the Evangelist evidently is? Can he have been related to the family of the high priest, as the text hints (cf. John 18:15)?” (p. 224).

He concludes that “that such an identification is actually quite possible. The priests discharged their ministry on a rotating basis twice a year. The ministry itself lasted a week each time. After the completion of the ministry, the priest returned to his home, and it was not at all unusual for him also to exercise a profession to earn his livelihood. Furthermore, the Gospel makes clear that Zebedee was no simple fisherman, but employed several day laborers, which also explains why it was possible for his sons to leave him” (ibid.).

While it was possible for a Galilean fisherman to also be a priest at Jerusalem, Pope Benedict thinks John the Presbyter had a role as well.

In his view, John’s Gospel was based on the memories of the Apostle but put into its final literary form by the Presbyter, who served as “the literary executor of the favorite disciple” after his death (v. 1, p. 227).

He also sees John the Presbyter as the author of 2 and 3 John (see below).

These views are not magisterial teaching. As Pope Benedict famously said in the preface to Jesus of Nazareth, “this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord’ (cf. Ps. 27:8). Everyone is free, then, to contradict me.”

The seriousness with which Pope Benedict takes the traditions connecting John son of Zebedee and John the Presbyter with the fourth Gospel, though, should not be lightly dismissed.

 

Pope Benedict on John the Presbyter

In Jesus of Nazareth, volume 1, Pope Benedict writes:

In Ephesus there was something like a Johannine school, which traced its origins to Jesus’ favorite disciple himself, but in which a certain “Presbyter John” presided as the ultimate authority.

This “presbyter” John appears as the sender and author of the Second and Third Letters of John (in each case in the first verse of the first chapter) simply under the title “the presbyter” (without reference to the name John).

He is evidently not the same as the Apostle, which means that here in the canonical text we encounter expressly the mysterious figure of the presbyter. He must have been closely connected with the apostle; perhaps he had even been acquainted with Jesus himself.

After the death of the apostle, he was identified wholly as the bearer of the latter’s heritage, and in the collective memory, the two figures were increasingly fused.

At any rate, there seem to be grounds for ascribing to “Presbyter John” an essential role in the definitive shaping of the Gospel, though he must always have regarded himself as the trustee of the tradition he had received from the son of Zebedee [Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, v. 1, p. 226].

 

Conclusion

Our purpose here is not to settle the question of which John wrote the fourth Gospel, but it is to illustrate the lively debate that has emerged on the question and to indicate some of the factors that need to be taken into consideration.

We’ll have more to say on the subject in the future.

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Akin-TEMPLEMany people have the idea that, in biblical times, the Jerusalem temple was exclusively for Jewish use.

This is a natural assumption, given the hostilities that led to the Jewish War of the A.D. 60s, as well as the attitude of some Jewish Christians who thought salvation was impossible for Gentiles.

But the historical evidence shows otherwise.

This is a subject I’ve written about before, but here are some interesting examples that further illustrate the actual situation . . .

 

The Emperor Augustus

The first century Jewish sage Philo of Alexandria (c. 25 B.C. – c. A.D. 50) was caught up in a controversy involving the Roman emperor Caligula (aka Gaius, reigned A.D. 36-41).

This incident occurred after Caligula fell ill in early in his reign and recovered, but with a drastic personality change.

He became very cruel, started demanding to be worshipped as a god, and announced that a statue of himself (depicted as Zeus) would be placed in the Jerusalem temple for Jews to worship.

Philo wrote an account of this controversy in his work On the Embassy to Gaius.

During the course of the work, he compared Caligula’s treatment of Jews to that of previous Roman individuals, including their treatment of the temple.

He thus reported on how the emperor Augustus (reigned 27 B.C-A.D. 14) and his family supported the Jerusalem temple:

So religiously did [Augustus] respect our interests that, supported by wellnigh his whole household, he adorned our temple through the costliness of his dedications, and ordered that for all time continuous sacrifices of whole burnt offerings should be carried out every day at his own expense as a tribute to the most high God.

And these sacrifices are maintained to the present day and will be maintained for ever to tell the story of a character truly imperial (On the Embassy to Gaius 23[157]).

Here Philo reports that Augustus:

  • Adorned the temple with costly decorations
  • He was supported in this by “wellnigh his whole household” (i.e., family)—meaning others did the same (see below)
  • He arranged that sacrifices of “whole burnt offerings” would be offered to the Jewish God every day by the Jewish priests
  • That he paid for this out of his own pocket
  • That these sacrifices were still being offered, with no planned ending date for them

 

Temple Access for Gentiles

Philo later refers to the fact that portions of the Jerusalem Temple complex were open for Gentiles worshippers:

Still more abounding and peculiar is the zeal of [all the Jewish people] for the temple, and the strongest proof of this is that death without appeal is the sentence against those of other races who penetrate into its inner confines.

For the outer are open to everyone wherever they come from (31[212]).

This refers to the fact that the temple was built as a series of zones that different classes of people could access:

  • The outermost area (the Court of the Gentiles) was open to everyone
  • The next area (the Court of Women) was open to Jewish men and women
  • The next area (the Court of Israel) was open to Jewish men
  • The next area (the Court of Priests) was open to Jewish priests
  • The final area (the Holy of Holies) was open to the Jewish high priest once a year

These zones were places where the designated people went to worship—so the Court of the Gentiles was where Gentiles could go to worship God.

This is why Isaiah refers to the temple as “a house of prayer for all nations” (Is. 56:7).

And it is apparently the area from which Jesus drove out the money changers: They were taking up space that was reserved for Gentile worshippers (see Mark 11:17).

 

Sacrifices on Behalf of Caligula

Sacrifices were offered on behalf of Gentiles at the temple.

In fact, it was normal to offer sacrifices on behalf of Gentile rulers, including Roman emperors.

This had already been done on behalf of Augustus and Tiberius, and Philo refers to the fact that, as soon as Caligula’s reign began, the Jewish priests offered sacrifices to God on his behalf:

Was our temple the first to accept sacrifices in behalf of Gaius’s reign only that it should be the first or even the only one to be robbed of its ancestral tradition of worship? (32[232]).

These sacrifices were to ask God to bless the new ruler and to ask him to help the ruler govern wisely and justly. As St. Paul says:

For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (Rom. 13:1-2; see 1 Pet. 3:13-14).

Philo refers to this matter again later, when he recounts how—in a meeting with Caligula—an anti-Jewish man named Isidorus accused the Jewish people of refusing to offer sacrifices on Caligula’s behalf.

Philo reports that they defended themselves by saying:

We cried out with one accord, “Lord Gaius, we are slandered; we did sacrifice and sacrifice hecatombs [large sacrifices of multiple bulls] too, and we did not just pour the blood upon the altar and then take the flesh home to feast and regale ourselves with it as some do, but we gave the victims to the sacred fire to be entirely consumed, and we have done this not once but thrice already, the first time at your accession to the sovereignty, the second when you escaped the severe sickness which all the habitable world suffered with you, the third as a prayer of hope for victory in Germany” (45[356]).

He thus indicates that large sacrifices of bulls were made on Caligula’s behalf three times:

  1. When he began to reign
  2. When he had his severe illness (that drove him crazy)
  3. When he was in a conflict with the German tribes

 

Marcus Agrippa and the Temple

Philo also quotes from a lengthy letter that King Herod Agrippa I sent to Caligula during the crisis regarding his statue.

(This Herod is the one who put St. James son of Zebedee to death in Acts 12. He was also the grandson of Herod the Great and a friend of the emperors Caligula and Claudius. He’s the Herod who appears in the BBC drama I, Claudius.)

In the letter, Herod refers to how Caligula’s own grandfather—Marcus Agrippa—honored the temple when he was in Jerusalem. He reports that he was very impressed by the temple and its priesthood (37[294-296]) and that he made gifts to the temple:

After decking the temple with all the dedicatory gifts which the law made permissible and benefiting the inhabitants by granting every favor which he could without causing mischief and paying many compliments to Herod and receiving a host of the same from him, he was escorted to the harbors not by one city only but by the whole population of the country amid showers of posies which expressed their admiration of his piety (37[297]).

 

More on Augustus’s Gifts to the Temple

In his letter, Herod Agrippa also gives more detail on the gifts that Augustus supplied to the temple:

Another example no less cogent than this shows very clearly the will of Augustus.

He gave orders for a continuation of whole burnt offerings every day to the Most High God to be charged to his own purse.

These are carried out to this day. Two lambs and a bull are the victims with which he added luster to the altar, knowing well that there is no image there openly or secretly set up.

Indeed this great ruler, this philosopher second to none, reasoned in his mind that within the precincts of earth there must needs be a special place assigned as sacred to the invisible God which would contain no visible image, a place to give us participation in good hopes and enjoyment of perfect blessings (40[317-318]).

Livia’s Gifts

Finally, Herod Agrippa notes that Augustus’s wife—Julia Augusta (commonly referred to as Livia; she’s also the Livia in I, Claudius)—made costly gifts to the temple:

Under such an instructor in piety your great-grandmother Julia Augusta adorned the temple with golden vials and libation bowls and a multitude of other sumptuous offerings (40[319]).

These golden vials and libation bowls were liturgical furnishings that would have been used in the temple ceremonies.

 

Conclusion

There certainly was an undercurrent of hostilities on the part of many Jews regarding their Roman overlords, but the idea that the Jerusalem temple was exclusively for Jewish use is not true.

From the beginning, it had been meant as a house of prayer for all nations, with its outermost (and largest) court reserved for Gentile worshippers.

Many of the Gentile worshippers were polytheists, but they did not deny the existence of the Jewish God or refuse to give him worship.

In fact, they made costly gifts to the temple—both in terms of decorations, liturgical furnishings, and underwriting of the costs of the daily sacrifices.

The Jewish priests not only accepted these offerings—recognizing them as permitted by the Jewish Law—they also made special offerings on behalf of the rulers, asking God to bless them with things like health and victory.

The situation may have been tense, and there certainly was Jewish resentment of the Romans, but overall the situation was more cordial than we commonly suppose.

Ultimately, those who were hostile to the Romans got the upper hand and stopped these sacrifices—and that was one of the incidents that led to the Jewish War and the destruction of the temple.

 

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