Saturday, February 18, 2023

“Money is a God Term”--Prestige (Money 2)


Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds.

                                                               (Acts 5:1-2 NKJV)              

According to Kenneth Burke, while he was teaching a course at the University of Chicago, as a visiting professor, the conservative rhetorical scholar Richard Weaver (who was, at the time, a full professor at the University of Chicago) sat in the back of Burke’s classroom, each day, taking notes. In that course, Burke introduced his notion of what he called “God terms.” After Burke concluded his course at Chicago, Weaver published a work describing as his own concepts: “God terms” and “devil terms.” Burke was angry with Weaver, believing that Weaver had stolen his terminology, without crediting Burke. Their feud, developing from this issue, lasted throughout both of their lifetimes. Although I like Weaver (and agree with his Conservatism more than with Burke’s liberalism), I find Burke’s notion of “God terms” to be much more useful (and original) than Weaver’s, so in this blog, I use Burke’s definition of “God terms, not Weaver’s.


In The Complete White Oxen (293), Burke equates “God term” with a “summarizing title.” In The Rhetoric of Religion (2-3), he equates it with “summarizing,” then equates it with a “title of titles” (33). In “Tactics of Motivation,” Chimera 1 (1943): 28, he calls it an “ultimate title.” I take Burke to mean, by all this, that there are certain “terms” that many other terms may be translated into. I think Burke’s best example of such a summarizing or ultimate title of titles is the term “money.” Burke is not suggesting that money is somehow a “God.” It is only a ”God term.” In A Grammar of Motives (355), discussing capitalist systems, Burke comments: “Money would be … [a] ‘God term.’ For a God term designates the ultimate motivation, or substance.” (Capitalists are ultimately motivated by money.) Money is a summarizing title, because virtually anything may be translated into money. “Time Is Money is an aphorism that is claimed to have originated … in ‘Advice to a Young Tradesman,’ an essay by Benjamin Franklin that appeared in George Fisher’s 1748 book, The American Instructor: or Young Man’s Best Companion” (Wikipedia). What this means is: I can buy someone’s time by offering them money, when I hire them to complete a project or to do something for me. In the same sense of using money to buy things, food is money, clothing is money, shelter (a home or apartment) is money, health (even longer life) is money (I buy the services of a doctor or pharmaceutical products), transportation (whether car, gas, airplane, train, bus, etc.) is money, security (and peace of mind) in retirement is money, security (and peace of mind) against criminals (whether robbers, murderers, or rapists, etc.) is money. Some might even suggest that love is money—that it can be bought—although the Beatles’ song disagrees: Money Can’t Buy Me Love!

Obviously, even in Luke’s writings, despite
emphasizing “Blessed are you ‘poor’” (Luke 6:20 NKJV) and “Woe to you who are rich” (Luke 6:24 NKJV) and “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13 NKJV), not every use of money is condemned. For example, Luke 7:37-38 speaks approvingly of:

[A] woman in the city who was a sinner [who], when she knew that Jesus sat at the table … brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil [which Matthew identifies as a ‘precious ointment’] … and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.

Spending money exorbitantly in the service/worship of Jesus is not wrong. (Hence, the Magi who gave exorbitant gifts to Jesus in Bethlehem were acceptable.) In Acts 4:34-35 (NKJV), Luke reports: “all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.” Therefore, for Luke, the use of money to handle the “needs” of each Christian is an acceptable and positive use of money. In the next blog, we will consider what might constitute actual “needs.” As an example, par excellence, of the early church’s practice of selling real estate and giving the proceeds to the apostles to distribute, Luke mentions Barnabas in Acts 4:36-37 (NKJV):And … Barnabas … a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Apparently, this selfless act (at least, in part) produced some “prestige” for Barnabas, since Barnabas shows up in the church history of Acts multiple times, thereafter (9:27; 11:22, 30; 12:25; 13:1, 2, 7, 43, 46, 50; 14:12, 14, 20; 15:2, 12, 22, 25, 35-37, 39). Paul mentions him in his letters (1 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 2:1, 9, 13; Colossians 4:10). In the previous post, I mentioned that, in Acts 13, Barnabas was Paul’s companion when the two of them encountered the magus Elymas, while they were on a missionary journey together (Acts 13-14). The story of Barnabas’s relationship with Paul begins in Jerusalem in Acts 9:26-27, as Barnabas vouches for Paul’s conversion when the leaders of the church, there, had been afraid of him. Barnabas seems to carry a lot of influence (or prestige), because the church, then, accepts Paul. After that time (Acts 11:22-25), the church at Jerusalem sends Barnabas to the newly developing church in Antioch to establish the church. Barnabas feels he could use the assistance of Paul, so he travels to Tarsus to fetch him and, together, they establish the Antioch church. When a prophecy, later, foretells a coming famine in Israel, the Antioch church sends financial help to Jerusalem, by the hands of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 11:30). In Acts 15, they travel together to Jerusalem to defend their mission work with the Gentiles.

With all of this prestige bestowed upon Barnabas, a married couple in Jerusalem (Ananias and Sapphira) attempt to replicate Barnabas’s self-less act of selling real estate and donating the proceeds to the apostles to distribute. But their “motivation” was not identical to Barnabas’s. Recall Burke’s definition of a “God term” in A Grammar of Motives (355): “For a God term designates the ultimate motivation

.” Barnabas’s donation of all of the proceeds of his real estate sale to the church is motivated by a concern to share with his fellow Christians, with no regard to his own financial well-being. That he did not keep back any of the proceeds from his real estate sale is evidenced by the implication in 1 Corinthians 9:6 that Paul and Barnabas, alone among the leaders of the church, find it necessary to “work” for their living, while preaching the Gospel. This self-less motivation of Barnabas in selling real estate and giving away the proceeds is not the motivation
of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. They sell real estate, and pretend to donate the full proceeds to the apostles, but secretly “keep back” part of the proceeds. What is their motivation? Apparently, it is purely to gain the prestige that Barnabas has. They both deny to the apostles that they kept anything back; thus, they lie to God (5:4); they lie to the Holy Spirit (5:3). Why would they lie about it? The apostles tell them that it would have been acceptable for them to keep the proceeds (5:4), but they lie, no doubt, because they covet the prestige given to Barnabas.

Motivation is often the key to understanding Luke’s emphasis on money. In the previous post, Simon (Magus) is motivated to use his money to buy “power” in the church—the capacity to grant miraculous spiritual gifts. In this post, Ananias and Sapphira are motivated to use their money to buy “prestige” in the church. Is the purchase of anything that supplies prestige a fatal sin? From athletic shoes to jeans to handbags, Americans engage in the purchase of prestigious brands. In 2020, I bought my first “Lincoln” automobile. Prior to this time, I had purchased many new vehicles (plus used vehicles), and then driven them until they wore out, usually putting 300,000 or 400,000 miles on each vehicle before it dropped. My business practice required an exorbitant amount of travel and I “needed” reliable transportation. The new vehicles generally carried the “Ford” trademark, although there were a couple of Chevys, plus a Mercury, a Buick, and an Oldsmobile, along the way. One used vehicle I bought, my wife and I nicknamed the “crunch.” It was a tiny Ford Festiva that had been involved in an accident and was smashed in on all sides, the back, and the top, but, it only had 40,000 miles on the engine and I got it for almost nothing. I replaced the broken window glass with Plexiglass that I fastened to the frame by screws. I used a crowbar to bend the wheel wells out enough to accommodate the free movement of the wheels—but if someone rode in the backseat, the wheel wells would rub on the tires. I filled in the spaces where the doors didn’t quite fit close together with foam insulation. I (and my son Tristan) drove the vehicle until it quit. In other words, I have driven cars that supplied no prestige, whatsoever (the Festiva, for one)! However, in 2020, I retired from full-time teaching at Florida State University, and I found a super deal on a new Lincoln MKZ. $9000.00 off list price! I couldn’t resist it. I sold my Ford that had only 300,000 miles on it and bought the Lincoln. Was I motivated by the “prestige” of owning a Lincoln? Yes, I honestly think I was, even though I was also motivated by the super deal. Have I witnessed increased prestige in they eyes of my neighbors and friends? Yes, I have. Many more compliments! To keep me humble, I park it alongside my 2009 Ford Ranger pickup truck, so no one will think of me as a snob. Did it buy me any new prestige in the church? No, I don’t think so. Did I “need” a vehicle that was reliable (even if it also supplied a little “prestige,” along the way)? Yes, I think I did. As mentioned, my next blog will discuss that issue of “needs” and how Luke interprets Jesus’s teaching, there.

Nevertheless, it is clear, even in New Testament times, that money was used to obtain prestige (even privilege) in the church. James 2:1-4 (NKJV) cautions:

My brethren, do not hold the faith … with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

James, being Jesus’s brother, might have held some added insight into what Jesus may have meant by his “Blessed are the poor” beatitude. In the situation James describes, the rich do not even need to sell their property and give it away to receive prestige, even though Luke emphasizes the superiority of the prestige for those (like Barnabas) who do so (with the proper motivation). Perhaps, Matthew’s version of the beatitude (“Blessed are the poor in spirit”) correctly indicates that those who may have money should not flaunt it (gold rings, fine apparel) or accept deference because of the size of their bank accounts. They should exercise a “spirit” of being poor, even if they are not. They should not be motivated by the prestige of having money or of giving money away. We should check our motives.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

The Other Magi—Simon and Elymas (Money 1)


Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem.”

                                                                (Matt 2:1 NASV)       

Now a man named Simon had previously been practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria.

(Acts 8:9 NASV)

Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them

(Acts 13:8 NASV)


Tomorrow (January 6th) is Three Kings Day. Have you ever noticed that Matthew is the only gospel that provides an account of the Magi at Jesus’s birth (Matt 2:1-12). The number three became attached to the group, since they brought three gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In light of these gifts, they were, apparently, rich guys. However, we do not actually know the exact number of the Magi; Matthew never informs us of that, but that’s not the point of this post. I’m beginning a series of posts on Luke’s teaching about Christians and money. For Luke, there are several monetary landmines Christians need to avoid, if they wish to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. While Luke’s infancy narrative does not mention the Magi at Jesus’s birth, Luke mentions another magus (singular of magi), as he writes in Acts 13:8 (NASV): “But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” The Greek word translated “magician” in 13:8 is the same word—magi—as in the birth narrative in Matt 2:1-12—magus/μάγος. While Luke does not use the term magus/μάγος to describe Simon (often referred to elsewhere as “Simon Magus,” in Acts 8:9-25, he uses the cognate noun mageia/μαγεία in Acts 8:11 to refer to Simon’s “magical arts.” He is also called “Simon the Sorcerer.” Elymas and Simon, the magi, both appear to be “rich guys,” as were the Magi in Matthew’s account, but they are presented (only by Luke) in negative contexts.


As I mention in my article in the KB Journal, “Epideictic oratory [which I argue is the genre of the gospels] … strengthens the disposition toward action by increasing adherence to the values it lauds.”  Matthew has no problem lauding the “rich guys”—the Magi.  Luke, however, does not even mention them, and, instead, lauds the “humble” (poor man’s) view of Jesus’ birth. In Luke 1:48, before Jesus is born, Mary comments on her own “low estate.” In 1:52-53 (CEB), she exalts God: He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.” Luke 2:7 says that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Since God saved the first-born sons of the Israelites, Exodus 13 demands that the first-born males (even of livestock) be redeemed by a sacrifice.  The first-born male donkey, for example, was to be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb. When Jesus was redeemed (being Mary’s first-born son) in Jerusalem, Luke 2:24 reports that Joseph and Mary offered up two turtle doves or two young pigeons, as the price of his redemption—a poor man’s redemption price. Matthew includes none of these humble origins of Jesus.


Why is this true? As I mentioned in a previous post, Luke lauds the value of EXTREME IMPOVERISHMENT.  By comparing the Beatitudes in Luke with the Beatitudes as Matthew presents them, we see that Luke lauds poverty more than does Matthew.  Luke’s beatitude “Blessed are you who are poor” becomes Matthew’s “poor in spirit.”  Luke’s “Blessed are you who are hungry now” becomes Matthew’s “hunger after righteousness.”  Luke follows-up his Beatitude with the statements, “Woe to you who are rich . . . woe to you who are full now.”  Matthew does not. Luke is the only gospel to provide the Good Samaritan parable.  Acts (also written by Luke) tells of Christians like Barnabas who sold their possessions and brought the money to the apostles.


Hence, we come to a differentiation between Magi in Matthew and Luke. Dispensing with the good Magi who brought gifts to the baby Jesus and the bad magus Elymas who opposed Paul and Barnabas, and whom Paul temporarily blinded for that opposition, we turn for an understanding of Luke to the one who is called in history “Simon Magus.” Much legendary material was produced in the second century concerning Simon, which I do not trust. Looking only at the biblical account in Acts 8:9-24, we find the account, written by Luke.

To summarize the account: the apostles Peter and John came to Samaria after the deacon (from Jerusalem) Philip had evangelized and converted the first Samaritans to Christianity. Philip had baptized the new Christians, but none of them had received a charismatic gift—a miraculous gift of the Spirit, such as Philip and Peter and John had. (Philip, apparently, had no ability to confer these gifts of the Spirit to anyone. Then, the apostles Peter and John laid hands on some of the new Samaritan Christians and those who had received the laying on of hands of apostles received miraculous charismatic gifts (8:13). “Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” these spiritual gifts were conferred, so he offered to buy this ability to confer spiritual gifts on people from the apostles (8:18-19). Peter blasted him (8:20 NKJV): “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!” Peter told him to repent, and apparently, he did. End of story.

In addition to offering another indication of Luke’s attitude toward money, this passage is the clearest evidence that modern-day spiritual gifts are non-existent. Spiritual gifts can only be conferred by the laying on of apostles’ hands.  Since there are no apostles alive, today, there are no spiritual gifts, today. While I don’t always agree with Calvinists, I do agree with John Calvin who wrote: “It pleased the Lord that those visible and admirable gifts of the Holy Spirit, which he then poured out upon his people, should be administered and distributed by his apostles by the laying on of hands . . . since that gift has ceased to be conferred, to what end is the laying on of hands? . . . Assuredly . . . those miraculous powers and manifest operations, which were distributed by the laying on of hands, have ceased. They were only for a time” (Inst. 4.19.6). 

I turn, now, to the monetary implications of Luke’s message, with some trepidation. For a decade of my life, I earned a living as a financial planner—primarily, as a life insurance agent. I sought to persuade mostly young college graduates that they should plan for their financial future, especially for the prospects of unexpected illness, disability, or death, plus the more expected needs of retirement. I recommended products that I also purchased for myself, my wife, and my children. I still have these products in force, on my family, forty years later. I wrote a book regarding my persuasion methods and my products that has been used (with a few upgraded editions) as a college text at multiple universities. The current title of the book is Making Offers They Can’t Refuse: The Twenty-One Sales in a Sale, 3rd ed. My trepidation comes as I begin this series on Luke’s theology of money. Jesus says, in Luke 18:25 (NKJV), “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24 and Mark 10:25 record the same saying of Jesus, but with different Greek words for “the eye of a needle.” (Interestingly, the three gospels used three different Greek words for “eye,” but that’s insignificant since Jesus spoke in Aramaic and, hence, all Greek is translation.) What is significant, however, is that being “rich” is everywhere presented as being an extreme barrier to entering the Kingdom of God.

I might be wading into a mine field by considering the monetary teachings of Luke. Perhaps, I will step on landmines that could be devastating to myself, as well as my readers, but, wade we must! For the next several posts, we will consider Luke’s monetary teachings, one-by-one, starting here with Simon Magus. Contrary to those who later coined the term “simony,” meaning “to buy a religious office,” Simon was not attempting to purchase any ecclesiastical office. He just wanted power and he believed that everything was for sale. Once he determined who held the source of miraculous power—the apostles—he was willing to offer “the big bucks” in exchange for some of that power. Kind of a quid pro quo.

I cringe when I have witnessed church boards and ministers who were unwilling to confront the sinful behavior of certain members of the church, on the grounds that they are “such good givers.” I worry that multi-million-dollar church building programs, with the attendant debt, create scenarios in which the church owes its soul to the congregational wealthy. What happens if the rich in the church get offended and pull the plug? What happens if the “wealthy woke” decide that the church should accept abortion or homosexuality or living together before marriage or adultery or transgenderism among its members? (Not accepting these behaviors does not mean we should not love the sinners, by the way.) Are the wealthy, in those instances, not exerting a Simon-like attempt at buying power?

The Magi who visited the baby Jesus may have been wealthy, but they sought no quid pro quo from the baby or Mary or Joseph. Their purpose in giving was to worship, not to purchase power or influence. Lest we be tempted to expect some quid pro quo from our giving, we should be on constant vigil to avoid stepping on the Simon Magus landmine in our financial dealings with God. Next, we consider the landmine of buying prestige.

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Importance of His Flesh in Entelechy (Gospels 11)


And the Word became flesh.”

(John 1:14 NKJV)

“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”

(John 6:53 NKJV)



Imagine that you are Jewish, at the time of Jesus.  Like Peter, in Acts 10:13, you refuse to eat any foods that are not kosher.  No pork, no shellfish, no rabbit, not even Jello (if it had been invented back then; it’s made of pig parts).  No catfish, shark, or sturgeon.  No escargots, no insects (other than certain varieties of locust).  You can’t eat an egg that has blood in it, because the blood indicates an unborn embryo that was not properly killed, and, besides, you cannot eat anything with blood in it.  Then, along comes Jesus who tells his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  Not only is drinking any blood a violation, but eating his flesh even smacks of cannibalism.  Justin Martyr’s First Apology (Chapter 5 & 6) indicates that the Romans accused the early Christians of cannibalism, perhaps, based somewhat on this passage.  Jesus’ saying even scandalized many of his disciples in Capernaum who heard it: “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’ . . . Jesus . . . said to them, ‘Does this offend you?. . .  From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.(John 6:60-61 NKJV).


Many commentaries on John have wrestled with the John 6:53-61 passage, but my purpose, here, is to see if the concept of entelechy sheds any new light on its meaning.  It is possible that the John 6:51-63 passage is where the concept of hulē/ὕλη plays a most important role.  As I mentioned in my post The “Form” of God and Entelechy (Gospels 6), “all (natural) material/hulē/ὕλη (including “flesh”) was “made” by (or through) the Logos.”  Although the New Testament only once uses the term hulē/ὕλη, John makes considerably more use of the term flesh/sarx/σὰρξ, using the term eleven times.  Of those eleven times, eight are in the John 6:51-63 passage, now under consideration, where Jesus also claims to be the living bread that came down from heaven. 


It is not enough to say that John’s account of Jesus is employing the trope of metaphor.  It clearly is.  The question is how extensive the metaphor is.  Certainly, Jesus’ body is not literal bread or manna (John 6:31-33), yet he does assert that he literally did come down from heaven.  His use of the verbs to eat and to drink pertain to the bread and manna metaphor, so they are not literal, either.  Importantly, however, when Jesus refers to his own flesh/sarx/σὰρξ (and blood), he is being quite literal. 


Other than the John 6 passage, perhaps, the most important (entelechially-enlightening) passage in John is 1:14, where John tells us that the Logos became flesh/sarx/σὰρξ.  We celebrate this verse at Christmas time, calling Christmas the “incarnation.”  In-carn-ation, features the flesh element, since the root “caro/carnis-” is Latin for “flesh/sarx/σὰρξ,” as in “carnivore” and “carnival.”  The combination of Logos and flesh/sarx/σὰρξ, according to 1:14, allows us to see/theaomai/θεάομαι his glory—as of the only begotten of the Father—full of grace and truth. This “seeing” (or perception of Jesus’ glory) is the more literal equivalent of “eating” and “drinking.”   The metaphor of eating and drinking indicates “ingesting” into one’s own flesh/sarx/σὰρξ the nutrients that are, then, to be “assimilated” into one’s own flesh/sarx/σὰρξ.  John uses three Greek words meaning “to see” interchangeably:

(1)   theaomai/θεάομαι,

(2)   horaō/ὁράω, and

(3)   theōreō/θεωρέω.

/θεωρέω may have the etymological implication of seeing as God helps one to see, according to Wiktionary’s notes on θεωρός.  Note the prefix “the-” at the first of the word theōreō.  “The-” is the first part of the words theos/θεὸς  (God) and theology (the study of God).  The English words “theory,” “theorist,” and “theorize” come from the word see/theōreō/θεωρέω.  The word see/theōreō/θεωρέω is employed by Aristotle in On Rhetoric, to suggest that the discipline of rhetoric helps one to “see/theōreō/θεωρέω” the available means of persuasion in any given situation.  Aristotle is not interested in mere spectatorship on the part of his readers.  He is interested in truly in-depth “seeing,” the kind of seeing that would enable one to fully grasp all implications of an issue, “theoretically, so to speak.”  Likewise, John, in his gospel, wants his audience to fully grasp all implications of Jesus and his work as Logos-become-flesh: specifically, his glory—as of the only begotten of the Father—full of grace and truth.  He wants his disciples to ingest and assimilate the implications of what they “see” him accomplish in his flesh/sarx/σὰρξ.  As Odeberg (p. 36) puts it, “they will see the conne[ction] being brought about between the celestial appearance, the Glory, δόξα [doxa], of Christ and his appearance in the flesh.”  This connection, according to Odeberg, is what the disciples will observe when they “see the angels of God ascending and descending on the son of man,” as discussed in the previous post.  Even as it pertains to the simplest term for seeing (to “see”/horaō/ὁράω), Odeberg (p. 40) credits Abbott with showing that, in John, “the choice of the verb ὁράω . . . always refers to the spiritual sight, the spiritual perception . . . [which] in [John] presupposes the entrance into the spiritual reality.”  It is as when one says “Oh, I see!” to indicate that one, at last, fully comprehends all of the implications in something that has been said or done.


When John states that people believed-in/followed him when they saw/theōreō/θεωρέω the signs he did (2:23, 6:2, 40), or the Samaritan woman saw/theōreō/θεωρέω that he was a prophet (4:19), he indicates what Jesus says in 12:45: “whoever sees/theōreō/θεωρέω me sees/theōreō/θεωρέω Him who sent me.”  In contrast to his disciples, Jesus says in 14:17 that the world cannot receive the Spirit of Truth because it neither sees/theōreō/θεωρέω him nor knows Him.  In 16:10, 16, and 19, Jesus tells his disciples that, when he goes to the Father, they will see/theōreō/θεωρέω (interchangeably phrased: see/horaō/ὁράω) him no longer, but then in a little while, they will see/theōreō/θεωρέω him again.  Perhaps, Jesus is clarifying this “in a little while” reference in 17:24 when Jesus prays to his Father that his disciples might be where he is, to see/theōreō/θεωρέω his glory, just as John 1:14 says we saw/theaomai/θεάομαι his glory—as of the only begotten of the Father.


In other uses of to “see”/theaomai/θεάομαι, John 1:32 states that John the Baptist saw/theaomai/θεάομαι the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove on Jesus.  In John 4:35, Jesus calls upon his disciples to see/theaomai/θεάομαι that the fields are white unto harvest, as the Samaritans were coming out to him.  In John 11:45 many Jews who had seen/theaomai/θεάομαι him resurrect Lazarus believed in him.  This word for seeing also implies great depth of understanding, and ingesting and assimilating.


It is not enough to have great understanding of Jesus; eating his flesh involves bearing “witness” to what one has seen.  In John 1:34, the word “to see”/horaō/ὁράω‎ is connected with bearing “witness.”  John the Baptist says that he has seen/horaō/ὁράω‎ and borne witness that Jesus is the Son of God.  In 1:50-51, Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see to see/horaō/ὁράω‎ greater things; he will see/horaō/ὁράω‎ angels ascending and descending on Jesus.  In John 3:11, Jesus connects his own “witness” with what he has seen/horaō/ὁράω‎ with God above.  In the primary passage under consideration in this post (in 6:46), Jesus says he is the only one who has seen/horaō/ὁράω‎ the Father.  In 8:38, those things he has seen/horaō/ὁράω with his Father are what he speaks about.  In 11:40, before he raises Lazarus, he tells Lazarus’s sister Martha that, if she believes, she will see/horaō/ὁράω‎ the glory/δόξα/doxa of God.‎  In John 14:9, Jesus tells Philip that whoever has seen/horaō/ὁράω him has seen/horaō/ὁράω the Father.  In 19:35, John summarizes why he has written his gospel: “He who saw/horaō/ὁράω it [i.e., John] has borne witness . . . that you also may believe.”


The three words for seeing, as John uses them, are virtual synonyms.  As noted, it is necessary, but not enough, for his disciples to “see” the things that Jesus did in the flesh.  As I wrote in the previous post, Odeberg connects the testimony/martyria/μαρτυρία of Jesus with the believer’s testimony.  

As Odeberg notes in his comments on Lazarus’s resurrection (pp. 120-121), those who are eye witnesses of the resurrection supply testimony/martyria/μαρτυρία concerning the Divine power of Jesus, emanating from a personal experience of that power.”  His disciples could not have supplied “eye witness” testimony, if they had not “seen” Jesus, in the flesh, doing his works. As they “see” Jesus’ mighty works and ingest and assimilate the truth about him and his glory as a result, they engage in the process (entelechy/ἐντέλεχεια) of eating his flesh (sarx/σὰρξ) and drinking his blood.  Jesus’ words may be spirit, but what humans actually “saw” him do was in his flesh (sarx/σὰρξ).  One cannot “see” spirit, but one can “see” flesh.  John 3:8 points out that, like the wind, one cannot “see” spirit, even though it is active around one.  Jesus’ flesh—the hulē/ὕλη—is supremely important in order for his disciples to “see,” ingest, and assimilate.  Furthermore, Jesus’ spirit was not tempted; his flesh was tempted, as when he hungered after fasting in the desert, but he did not sin.  His spirit did not die; his flesh died on Calvary.  Were it not for the death of his flesh, there would be no forgiveness of sin—no sacrifice.  When priests offered a sin offering for the people, they would eat of the flesh (Leviticus 10:12-15).  When Israelites offered an acceptable sacrifice of thanksgiving, they themselves ate all of it on the same day (Leviticus 22:30).  John is unique among the gospel writers in asserting that Jesus was crucified on the very day that the Passover lamb was slain.  John the Baptist asserts:  Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the world’s sin (John 1:29).  Once Jesus died on the cross, his body was placed in a tomb for three days, then resurrected and ascended.  No one ever literally ate his flesh, but those who saw his flesh, believed in him, and witnessed to his deeds in the flesh ingested and assimilated his flesh and blood into their own lives.  His flesh was of the utmost importance!

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Jacob’s Ladder and the Locomotion Entelechy (Gospels 10)

“Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

(John 1:51 NKJV)



While most other interpreters (including visual artists of the last few thousand years) depict Jacob’s Ladder as angels climbing up and down on a ladder, the Gospel of John cites Jesus as saying that the angels would be ascending and descending on a person, instead of a ladder (specifically, on Jesus Himself).  At first glance, one might think that John and Jesus must be making a very loose application of the Jacob’s Ladder incident in Genesis 28:12 by having the angels ascend and descend on a person.  Hugo Odeberg (p. 35), however, instructs that “there is the record of the two variant interpretations put upon the [Hebrew word commonly translated ‘on it’] of Gen. 28:12, one taking it in the sense of ‘on the ladder,’ the other in the sense of ‘on [a person].’”  Specifically, this second variant would be literally translated “on him.”  If one looks only at the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), the translation must be “on it.”  Nevertheless, the Hebrew word is בו.”  Writes Odeberg: “Burney has pointed out that the [Johanine] interpretation presupposes a direct reference to the Hebrew original, and cannot be derived from the LXX [Septuagint].”  Like the interpretation in the rabbinic text, Genesis Rabbah, John and Jesus are translating the Hebrew word as “on him.”  Jesus is the ladder (or train track, a slightly updated metaphor) to and from Heaven on whom angels are ascending and descending (in a locomotion sense).  Train tracks have the railroad ties that cross the tracks at intervals, resembling the rungs of

a ladder, so the updated metaphor may be easily visualized.

The clearest Aristotelian entelechial language in Jesus’ John 1:51 comment to is Aristotle’s description of the fourth type of  kinēsis/κίνησις: “in respect of locomotion, upwards and downwards” (Physics 201a5ff.).  Hugo Odeberg (p. 38) observes that the Johannine interpretation of Jacob’s ladder “is necessarily and essentially bound up with the Son of Man . . . there is no ascent and descent of the angels, no ‘heaven opened,’ no union of the celestial man with the terrestrial without the Son of Man.”  Jesus is, most likely, understood to be the “gate of heaven” referred to by Jacob in Genesis 28:17.  Odeberg (p. 36) quotes Bauer who says, “the from heaven descended one (3:13) . . . will also be elevated thither again (3:14, 6:62, 8:28, 12:34) in order to receive the glorification (12:23, 13:31).” There is a “locomotion” entelechy when one “descends” from heaven (to earth) and another “locomotion” entelechy when one is “elevated thither [to heaven] again.” 

The angelic descending and ascending, however, is different from that of Jesus’ descending and ascending.  My uncle Beauford H. Bryant, in his commentary on John (p. 68), draws my attention to the extraordinary (opposite) directional sequence of the ascent and descent of the angels.  One might typically think of angels, first, descending to Earth from Heaven PRIOR TO their ascending back to Heaven from Earth, but the Genesis 28:12 and John 1:51 accounts both have the angels “ascending,” first, and then, “descending,” second.  The order of Jesus’ own (circular?) locomotion entelechy appears to be a “descending” to Earth, first, followed later by His “ascending” back into Heaven.  

·         In John 3:13 (NKJV), Jesus says: No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” 

·         In John 6:32-33 (NKJV), Jesus says: “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 

·         In John 6:38 (NKJV), Jesus says: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” 

·         In John 6:42 (NKJV), the Jewish skeptics ask concerning Jesus: “How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 

·         In John 6:50-51 (NKJV), Jesus says: “This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven.” 

·         John 6:60-62 (NKJV) reports: “[M]any of His disciples . . . said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’  . . . Jesus knew . . . that His disciples complained . . . He said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?’”


Angels, God’s Word, and God’s Work


John’s record of Jesus’ descent to Earth uses telos/τέλος-related entelechial language as Jesus views his being sent (down to earth) to achieve an end/telos/τέλος for God’s “work.”

·         In John 4:34 (NKJV), Jesus says: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish [teleiōsō/τελειώσω from the root telos/τέλος] His work.” 

·         In John 5:36 (NKJV), Jesus says: “[T]he works which the Father has given Me to finish [teleiōsō/τελειώσω from the root telos/τέλος]—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.” 

·         In John 17:3-4 (NKJV), Jesus says: “[T]hat they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent . . . I have finished [teleiōsas/τελειώσας from the root telos/τέλος] the work which You have given Me to do.”

In the previous blogpost, I note that John 19:30 (NKJV) indicates the precise end/telos/τέλος of Jesus’ race (or course) to Earth, when Jesus, on the cross, declares “It is finished [tetelestai/τετέλεσται from the root telos/τέλος]!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”  In answer to the question posed at the end of the previous blogpost, Jesus begins His Race when He comes down from Heaven.

What is the Father’s work that Jesus is finishing?  Odeberg (pp. 191) is certainly cognizant of the fact that, according to John, “the Son does the Father’s ‘works’” which Odeberg identifies: “he gives life, ‘makes living’ the dead’ . . . executes judgement [sic], is the judge of the world,” based on John 5:22-29.  If giving life to the dead is one of the works of God, then Jesus accomplishes this same work.  He raises the widow’s son in the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), the daughter of Jairus (8:40-56), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44), not to mention himself.  If executing judgment is one of the works of God, not only will Jesus execute judgment in the future (John 5:27-29), but He also “forgives sins” (and, thus, executes judgment) while He is on Earth for the woman who anoints His feet (Luke 7:48) and the paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12).  Note that the scribes remark, in Mark 2:7 (NKJV): “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

The Rabbis could agree with Jesus that God’s work of judgment “is continually active from the beginning of time unto eternity,” according to Odeberg (p. 202).  The Rabbis, however, think God’s works of “creative fiats” are no longer in progress.  They think God has “rested” on the seventh day (Sabbath) from those works.  Therefore, God would not allow any “work” to be done (such as healing) on the Sabbath.  Jesus, however, claims in John 5:17 (NKJV): “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” The work of “executing judgment,” which Jesus (and God) do, involve Him making “pronouncements” or using “words,” such as “your sins are forgiven you.”  Giving life to the dead typically involves Jesus making “pronouncements” or using “words,” such as “Lazarus, come forth!”  The biblical understanding of God’s creative and life-giving work is that it was accomplished by making pronouncements, using creative fiats or “words.”  In my book, Angels and Demons:  The Personification of Communication—Logology (p. 153) I cite Kenneth Burke regarding “Words” used by God.  Burke calls the type of words God uses in creating the world (capitalized) “Word”: 


If God speaks a “Word,” that Word has “omnipotence” (or, at least, the total power necessary to complete its task).  In Genesis 1:3, God speaks a Word (“And God said, ‘Let there be light’”).  The very Word he speaks has the “omnipotence” to produce light.  Psalms 33:9 confirms the power of this (capitalized) Word: “He spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and [the universe] stood fast.”  The Word of God has tremendous power.  Isaiah 55:11 goes so far as to suggest that God’s Word is infallible--it cannot fail: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”


Furthermore, these creative fiats/Words are understood by the Rabbis to generate angels who accomplish the works demanded by the fiats.  On pages 155-156 of Angels and Demons, I connect the Rabbinic teaching on angels with God’s spoken Words:

[A]ngels were considered by Jewish teachers to be . . . generated by God’s use of “Word” (capitalized).  When [Louis] Ginzberg [vol. V, p. 21] states, "Out of every word uttered by God angels are created," he is picturing angels as the personification of God’s creative fiats.  He presents these angels, not as the free moral agents humans are, but as the commissioned forces that are charged with making certain that God’s Words are infallibly fulfilled.  . . .  When God says, “Let there be light,” an Angel of Light (Gabriel?) is created who infallibly produces light.

In his Dictionary of Angels (p. 25), Gustav Davidson describes angels, in the rabbinic fashion, as nothing more than personified spirit forces that are charged with carrying out the terms of God’s creative fiats.  Hence, whenever Jesus pronounces creative fiats, He also generates angels who would, then, ascend to Heaven (after accomplishing their explicit tasks).

Consider the “creative fiats” of Jesus on Earth.  From the time of Jesus, and down to the present day, the blessing Jews recite at their meals make two basic acknowledgements: (1) It is God who “brings forth bread from the earth” and (2) It is God who “creates” the “fruit of the vine.”  (Compare these two creations—bread and wine—with the Lord’s Supper.)  Note that, in the very first “sign” that John lists in his gospel, Jesus changes water into wine at Cana of Galilee.  This is evidence that, like God, Jesus creates the fruit of the vine.  In another sign, the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus creates enough bread to feed the multitude and, then, take up twelve baskets of left-overs.  This is evidence that Jesus, like God, brings forth bread from the earth.  Jesus accomplishes this sign by a pronouncement (blessing) over the five loaves belonging to a boy in the crowd.  A Christian Rabbi might say that by speaking “Words,” Jesus generates angels who fulfill the works of the Words He has spoken.

Furthermore (illustrating another approach to “words” as “angels”), Odeberg (p. 217) credits J. Lindblom with pointing out how important for John was the “conception of ‘the testimony’” (martyria/μαρτυρία), which would also be “words.”  According to Odeberg, Lindblom “lays stress on [Jesus’] function as bearer of the testimony from the celestial to the terrestrial world.”  Odeberg also connects the testimony/martyria/μαρτυρία with “the believer’s testimony” and classifies it with descending and ascending (κατάβασις and ἀναβασις).  Odeberg juxtaposes: “[T]he Divine μαρτυρία . . . the Divine-spiritual reality, brought down to earthly men (κατάβασις) . . . [with] the self-expression of that reality in man (ascending ever upwards in his experience of Jesus (ἀναβασις).”  As Odeberg notes in his comments on Lazarus’s resurrection (pp. 120-121), those who witness the resurrection supply “testimony [martyria/μαρτυρία] concerning the Divine power of [Jesus], emanating from a personal experience of that power.”  Testimony (especially Divine testimony), whether it emanates from God (and descends to man) via Jesus or whether it emanates from the believers who have witnessed the Divine power of Jesus, exists as words (that are, effectively, personified as angels).  Odeberg (p. 218) writes, further: “The Son gives μαρτυρία (to the world), he receives μαρτυρία (from the Father on one side, and from the believer . . . on the other).”

Why, then, do angels “ascend” first and “descend” second?  Angels are God’s Words personified.  If God the Father were the only one whose Words become personified, then the angels would naturally “descend” first.  But, Jesus, who is already on Earth when he meets Nathaniel generates His own angels of communication with God (thus, His angels ascend).  This ascent is followed by God’s communication back with Jesus (thus, descending), and so on, back and forth.  Jesus’ identity as God is indicated by the “ascending” of angels.  Jesus and his Father are communicating back and forth with each other (their Words personified as angels).  As Odeberg’s comments (in the previous paragraph) seem to suggest, Jesus can be both the creator of angels (the Word/Logos) and the Way by which His angels “ascend” to God.  This is a Locomotion entelechy.  Since I use the word “connectivity” to describe Jesus as He relates to humans and God, we might even attempt even more modern metaphors, however reductionist, of a spiritual telephone wire (or internet cable) to describe Jesus as Jacob’s Ladder.  Messages (Word/Logos) are sent both ways, using the same telephone line/internet cable.  As Odeberg’s comments suggest, Jesus may be understood as both the creator of the messages He sends to God and the metaphorical-phone-line-connection that delivers that message.  The point is: Jesus is “connected” to both God and man.  Jesus, both “delivers Words” to God and “receives Words” from Him, delivering them on to man.  Put more plainly, the words Jesus teaches on Earth are the angels that Jesus receives from above and His words to God on behalf of His believers are the angels Jesus sends back to God.  What kinds of messages (angels) does Jesus communicate from God to us and from us back to God (on our behalf)?  Most importantly, Jesus communicates to us God’s love for us and He communicates back to God that we believe in Him. 

The locomotion entelechy of angels, however, is not the primary interest of John’s Gospel.  The back-and-

forth locomotion of angels is designed to communicate between God and man.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” not to save angels. Rather, angels ascend and descend on the Word-become-flesh in order to connect God with man, to communicate God’s “love” for the world and to allow mankind’s “faith” to be communicated back to God, in order to “save” mankind:

·         In John 3:13-17 (NKJV), Jesus says: No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven . . . that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

·         In John 3:35-36 (NKJV), John the Baptist testifies: The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life.”

·         John 20:31 (NKJV) states: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Can you personally see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man?  Can you see the love of God being sent to you via Jesus?  Are you sending back your faith testimony through Jesus?  Jesus assured Nathaniel that he would see the angels.  We need to see them, as well.  Jesus and God are both working identical works for an identical outcome.  As Jesus said: 

“Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.  For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.  For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.  Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:19-24 NKJV).

Jesus, in John 5:36 (NKJV), pulls it all together, entelechially: “But I have a greater witness (martyrian/μαρτυρίαν) than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish (teleiōsō/τελειώσω from the root telos/τέλος)—the very works that I do—bear witness (martyrei/μαρτυρεῖ) of Me, that the Father has sent Me.”