Rumyana Hristova, Deborah Gill
Arts and Humanities, Religious Studies
Material Type:
College / Upper Division, Graduate / Professional
  • Christian Life
  • Christianity
  • Discipleship
  • Evangel University
  • Faith Development
  • Jesus Christ
  • MOBIUS Arts and Humanities
  • MOBIUS Theology
  • New Testament
  • Spiritual Formation
  • Theology
  • Theology of Faith
  • evangel-university
  • License:
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives
    Media Formats:
    eBook, Text/HTML

    New Testament Theology of Discipleship: An Anthology

    New Testament Theology of Discipleship: An Anthology


    This is a textbook by and for students at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) in Springfield, Missouri, New Testament Theology of Discipleship course. 



    This is a textbook by and for students at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) in Springfield, Missouri, New Testament Theology: A Discipleship Focus course. Fourth enlarged edition 2014. Open Access edition 2020.

    Edited by Deborah M. Gill and Tae W. Kang


    Last technical editing done by Rumyana Hristova and Shem Chin, July 2020. Open access edition.  All broken Internet links have been changed to reflect the current publication status of the online materials, while the original dates of access have been preserved.



    Melody Bianchi, Dick Brodgden, Jenny Fernanda Vielma Caceres, Stephen W. Casey, Amy deVries, Montra Estridge, Starla Gooch, Katherine (Scott) Groce, Daniel Guy, Tae W. Kang, Sierra McCabe, Jerry Orf, Julia Ramos, Nikki Revees, Jason Seaman, Laura da Silva, Carrie Stewart, George True, John Ulrick, Cheng (Cara) Zhang, Christopher Zwemer


    Cover image:

    Pantokrator” (The Almighty [Christ]) from the ancient church, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), in Istanbul, Turkey (ancient Constantinople), taken by Jan R. Gill, Springfield, MO

    Cover design and ebook formatting by Tae W. Kang, Ellicott City, MD



    Some Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Some Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

    Some Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (

    Some Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.















    Toward a New Testament Theology of Conversation

    Stephen W. Casey

    The art of communication between individuals and groups of people is a pathway for relationship. However, sin has tainted all of creation, turning the tongue into a restless evil. Jesus Christ, conversely, provides the model of conversation apart from the taint of sin. The historical context in which Jesus held conversation establishes the underpinning for a New Testament theology of conversation. Jesus’ example exemplifies how conversation flows from personal integrity, humility, and identity in Christ and establishes relationships that usher newcomers into the Kingdom of God in love.

    A Theology of Paul’s Expectations for Discipleship of Speech in the Prison Epistles

    Starla Gooch

    In discipleship, every area of a person’s life must be exposed to the grace of God and His transforming power, which includes a believer’s manner and content of speech. Though few people would contest that a disciple’s speech should be transformed and made Christlike, little agreement exists regarding what kind of speech transformation should occur. Because of the vast content regarding speech in the Bible, this paper explores and interacts specifically with Paul’s instructions regarding speech in the Prison Epistles of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, which—in comparison to other writings from Paul—contain his strongest imperatives about speech.

    A Matthean Theology of Faith Development Based on the Model of Christ with His Disciples

    John Ulrick

    Most believers desire to have great faith, to trust God for provision and guidance in their lives, as well as to stand firm during turbulent times; but how do people develop great faith? Based on the Gospel of Matthew, this chapter discusses: how faith naturally develops, how it can be fostered in people, and how Jesus strengthened the faith of his disciples during his time with them on earth. From these findings, the chapter concludes with an application of Jesus’ methods to strengthen our faith and others’.

    A Marcan Theology of Compassion and Holistic Ministry

    Katherine (Scott) Groce

    This chapter is an overview of the theology of Jesus’ acts of compassion in his ministry throughout the Gospel of Mark. It looks at his holistic approach to ministry. The paper addresses three areas: to whom Jesus is compassionate; why Jesus is compassionate; and how Jesus shows compassion. The chapter explores many different passages throughout the Gospel of Mark that portray Jesus’ acting compassionately towards people. The chapter concludes by looking at the servanthood of Jesus, and how this portrayal of compassion should impact the way believers interact with people in their community and around the world.

    A Marcan Theology of Faith

    Carrie Stewart

    This chapter explores the theme of faith in the Gospel of Mark. It explains the meaning of the word, “faith,” as it is used throughout the gospel and presents as well an overview of the historical and literary context of Mark. The purpose of Mark’s motif of faith in the narrative is to encourage persecuted believers to stand strong without fear of the future. This chapter surveys eight pericopes in which faith is portrayed as the evangelist’s narrative progresses to the Cross. We focus on Jesus’ response to people’s faith in Him and how He intervenes to meet their needs.


    A New Testament Theology of Koinonia

    Montra Estridge

    Koinonia is a cycle that starts with God’s fellowship with the believer, continues in the believers’ fellowship with one another, and then facilitates the drawing of others into fellowship with God. Beginning with a lexical study of the word, “koinonia” and an examination of several concepts of koinonia (including its secular background use, New Testament uses, and how it was displayed in the early church), the goal of the study is to arrive at a New Testament theology of koinonia and steps for developing true fellowship in order to find a deeper understanding of the fellowship God has called Christians to as believers.

    Jesus’ Theology of Believer’s Prayer

    George True

    Communication between two parties serves as the most important element undergirding their entire relationship. Proper communication lies at the heart of any healthy connection between two persons. In his teachings, the divine-human, Jesus Christ, presents foundational principles that strengthen and enhance the relationship between the believer and their Father in heaven, and allow them to live freely and move powerfully in the Kingdom of God. This paper contends that Jesus’ theology of believer’s prayer finds its basis in proper relationship to God and expectant faith in him. The heavenly Father loves to hear and answer His children’s desperate cries.

    A Lucan Theology of Being Full of the Holy Spirit

    Jason Seaman

    Luke and Acts inform us, not only of the history and activity of the early church, but also of the theology of their author, Luke. In this chapter, the author endeavors to define a Lucan theology of being full of the Holy Spirit. Derived from his primary study of Luke-Acts, which explains what it means to be full of the Holy Spirit, he identifies biblical characteristics of being full of the Holy Spirit; who can be full of the Holy Spirit; how one becomes full of the Holy Spirit; and why one needs to be full of the Holy Spirit.

    A Johannine Theology of the Sources of Spiritual Authority

    Sierra McCabe

    The writings of John overflow with authority, the authority of Jesus Christ as He walked this earth and the authority of His disciples as they followed in His footsteps. By examining the works of John it is possible to determine to source of this authority, which is made up of four components: identity, mission, empowerment and obedience. Christ’s identity as the Son of God, His mission on Earth, His empowerment through the Holy Spirit and His obedience to the will of the Father allowed him to exercise limitless authority. Furthermore, the authority believers is founded upon the exact same principles.

    A Lucan Theology of Demons and Evil Spirits

    Julia Ramos

    This chapter examines the accounts in Luke and Acts from which can be drawn a theology of demons and evil spirits. First, we examine those passages that demonstrate the authority of Christ over demons and evil spirits (and the awareness on the part of the powers of evil of Christ and His power). Second, we study those passages that show the consequences of being demon possessed, the results of deliverance for the afflicted, and the spread of the gospel through deliverance. This chapter concludes with implications for the modern church regarding the importance of a believer’s authority in Christ.




    A Matthean Theology of Cultural Formation

    Daniel Guy

    The mutual abiding of the Christian in and with Jesus, and of Jesus in and among His followers, necessarily produces an ongoing transformation of the believer. This transformation, however, is not limited to an individual’s existential experience. As Christ-followers live and worship together in a community of faith, the values and ethics they share result in the formation of a distinctly Christian culture. This chapter explores Jesus’ ethical expectations for His followers, the emergence of a shared culture, and the nature of this new culture’s effect on the larger surrounding society as presented in Matthew’s Gospel.

    A Lucan Theology for First Responders

    Nikki Reeves

    What is the right way to respond to someone’s need? This chapter focuses on principles derived from the books of Luke and Acts. In the book of Luke, the gospel author describes how Jesus personally responded to the needs of others and what He taught on that same subject. In the book of Acts, Luke continues this thread by showing how the disciples, specifically Peter, followed Jesus’ example and teaching. The last section of the chapter ties these Lucan principles to modern-day living and spotlights the surprising similarities between the New Testament example and secular training given to medical first responders.

    A Lucan Theology of a Christ-Like Attitude Regarding Wealth: Looking at the Parables

    Cheng (Cara) Zhang

    By examining three parables of Jesus recorded in Luke, this chapter presents aspects of a Christ-like attitude toward wealth. 1. Consider the peril of wealth, for wealth can easily cause wrong motivations and become a stumbling block to one’s eternal life. 2. Recognize the realities of wealth. Wealth is a gift from God.; it does not belong to his disciples; and it does not provide eternal security. 3. Make the right investment of wealth, investing with a view toward God and toward others. The chapter concludes with implications for disciples of Jesus today.

    A Lucan Theology of Giving

    Laura da Silva

    This chapter explores a theology of giving in Lucan writings to derive three points. First, it considers, according to Luke, the correct attitude a believer should have towards wealth and possessions, along with the consequences. Second, the chapter reflects on the Lucan motivations for giving: repentance, an experience of grace, and love. Third, it concludes with a discussion of Luke’s perspectives on whom and how believers should help.

    A Lucan Theology of Christian Response to Poverty

    Jerry Orf

    Lucan literature often pays close attention to the plight of people trapped by poverty and the resulting suffering induced by poverty. The goal of this chapter is to examine the writings of Luke in order to develop a theology of Christian response to poverty. The author approaches this goal, methodologically, with research to locate the various portions of Luke’s writings that emphasize poverty; an examination of those passages in light of a wide array of scholarly resources; an integration of the findings; and, finally, a Christian response to poverty based on Lucan literature. The study concludes that the biblical responsibility of the Christ-follower is to practice stewardship and share resources with the poor and needy people of the world.






    The Correlation Between Abiding in Jesus and Making Disciples

    Dick Brogden

    John’s Gospel develops the missionary motif common to all Scripture. John 15:1-17 in particular highlights the harvest goal of God and the means by which this goal shall be obtained—the goal centers on many disciples made and the means centers on abiding in Christ. The disciples who abide in Christ will, in turn, make lasting disciples. Not all who are in Christ are abiding; not all who abide produce the disciples they should. John reveals remedial measures for both those categories. A third category of disciple includes those who refuse Christ’s mission which results in removal from the vine and utter destruction. This chapter examines what abiding actually is and how it shapes discipleship and mission.

    A Theology of Kingdom Inclusion from the Matthean Parables of Jesus

    Melody Sharon Bianchi

    Matthew narrates Jesus' ministry and teachings to an audience of Jewish Christians, who were at that time grappling with the recent prospect of inviting Gentiles to enter into the kind of relationship with the God that they had always considered to be exclusive to the Jews. Jesus, knowing all along that His gospel would spread throughout all nations, creatively addressed such questions in His parables as, "Who receives invitation to enter the kingdom of God?" and, "What criteria do God's servants use to decide whom to exclude from fellowship?" The insights Christ offered apply to those asking the same questions today, as the Church delivers the same good news to the world today.

    The Kingdom According to Paul: A Pauline Theology of the Kingdom of God

    Christopher Zwemer

    Jesus emphasizes the Kingdom of God in his teachings. Paul, by contrast, seems to rarely mention the topic. Why does Paul seem so silent on such a central topic to both Old and New Testaments? This paper examines passages with direct relationship to Paul that explicitly reference the Kingdom of God (basileia tou theou) or the concept of “reigning” (basileuō). This analysis will reveal that the Kingdom of God in fact rests at the heart of Paul’s theology and is in conforms to the same understanding of the Kingdom of God as the rest of scripture.




    A Pauline Theology of Missions Motivations

    Tae W. Kang

    Why do Christians reach across cultures to share the good news of Jesus? Motivation matters to God! The goal of this chapter is to examine Paul’s motivations for missions in order to inform contemporary disciples of Jesus Christ how to do God’s work in ways that please God. The author approaches this goal, methodologically, by conducting primary research from Paul’s speeches in Acts and Paul’s thirteen epistles; by comparing these findings with contemporary scholarship; and thus collecting evidence for Paul’s motivations for missions. As a result, the author is convinced that four motivations seemed to drive Paul to do missions: a divine call, grace as God’s enabling power, a strong desire for the salvation of others, and the Great Commission.

    A Pauline Theology of Local Church Participation in Missions

    Jenny Fernanda Vielma Caceres

    God not only calls the missionary, but also calls the local church to participate in cross-cultural outreach. This chapter, therefore, answers the question: in what ways did Paul expect the church to participate? After a careful study of all the passages in the New Testament in which the Apostle Paul addressed, called, or taught individual congregations regarding their corporate responsibilities in the Great Commission, the author summarizes Paul’s instructions in five principles of local church participation in missions: praying, visiting and helping, communicating mutually, giving financial support, and sending missionaries.




    A Theology of Leadership Development Based on the Practice of Paul

    Amy deVries

    The Apostle Paul is a remarkable example of a powerful, “powerless” leader. He gained fame and respect as a traveling preacher, church planter, and disciple-maker yet he made it a habit to consistently give away power as often as he received it. He built the Kingdom of God by building people. Through his practice of engaging, equipping, and encouraging, he demonstrated his theology of leadership development. Paul built leaders intentionally. He did not focus on building a personal spiritual empire, but on pouring himself into the lives of men and women.

    A Theology of Discipleship Coaching

    Amy deVries

    Discipleship is not a neatly packaged program that produces mature followers of Christ. It is not a slick four-step process that the disciple-hopeful can master and then graduate from. Discipleship is a life-long journey of walking with Jesus in the real world. Practices from the emerging field of coaching offer exciting tools that potential “disciple-makers” can use to help move disciples one step closer to Jesus. Each of the eleven “Coaching Competencies” endorsed by the International Coaching Federation align with scriptural principles that lay out a clear biblical theology behind the theories of discipleship coaching.











    A Matthean Theology of Faith Development Based on the Model of Christ with His Disciples

    John Ulrick

    A Theology of Kingdom Inclusion from the Matthean Parables of Jesus

    Melody Sharon Bianchi

    Jesus’ Theology of Beliver’s Prayer

    George True

    A Matthean Theology of Cultural Formation

    Daniel Guy



    A Marcan Theology of Compassion and Holistic Ministry

    Katherine (Scott) Groce

    A Marcan Theology of Faith

    Carrie Stewart



    A Lucan Theology of Being Full of the Holy Spirit

    Jason Seaman

    A Lucan Theology of Demons and Evil Spirits

    Julia Ramos

    A Lucan Theology for First Responders

    Nikki Reeves

    A Lucan Theology of a Christ-Like Attitude Regarding Wealth: Looking at the Parables

    Cheng (Cara) Zhang

    A Lucan Theology of Giving

    Laura da Silva

    A Lucan Theology of Christian Response to Poverty

    Jerry Orf



    The Correlation Between Abiding in Jesus and Making Disciples: A Missiological Reflection on John 15:1-17

    Dick Brogden

    A Johannine Theology of the Sources of Spiritual Authority

    Sierra McCabe



    A Pauline Theology of Missions Motivations

    Tae W. Kang

    A Pauline Theology of Local Church Participation in Missions

    Jenny Fernanda Vielma Caceres

    A Theology of Leadership Development Based on the Practice of Paul

    Amy deVries

    The Kingdom According to Paul: A Pauline Theology of the Kingdom of God

    Christopher Zwemer

    A Theology of Paul’s Expectations for Discipleship of Speech in the Prison Epistles

    Starla Gooch



    Toward a New Testament Theology of Conversation

    Stephen W. Casey

    A Theology of Discipleship Coaching

    Amy deVries

    A New Testament Theology of Koinonia

    Montra Estridge




    It is with joy and thanksgiving that we offer this anthology of seminary-student papers on whole-life discipleship! Here is the story of how this anthology came into being.


    In an effort to make the study of New Testament theology (NTT) more relevant to living every aspect of life as a disciple of Jesus Christ— 24:7 in 2011, I (Deborah M. Gill) began giving the masters-level NTT class (which I teach annually at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary [AGTS]) a discipleship focus. I re-designed the class into three main units.

    1. The students review the entire spectrum of NTT from the work/s of leading contemporary biblical scholars (such as Thielman, Schreiner, Marshall, or Ladd, etc.);

    2. They read one biblical theology specific to discipleship (by Michael J. Wilkins). All the while throughout the semester, they participate in classroom lectures, discussions, and demonstrations. All of these activities aim toward fulfillment of my four-part goal, that the students

    (a) learn to practice the discipline of NTT on their own, in order

    (b) to apply the truths of the New Testament to every-day life,

    (c) so as to follow Jesus more closely, and

    (d) to lead others to do the same.

    3. For their semester term-paper and final project, each student chooses a topic related to discipleship and writes their own NTT treatment of it. A highlight of the course is when the students make their in-class presentations on these discipleship topics.


    At AGTS, we have a policy that students may not earn an A+ on a paper unless it is publishable. Since a number of these student papers deserved that distinction, I set out to see if we could publish them.

    The Kern Family Foundation (KFF) is a great supporter of whole-life discipleship and has been a gracious friend to our seminary. One of their initiatives, “The Oikonomia Network: Theology that Works,” helps theological educators equip the church for whole-life discipleship. We at AGTS agree with the KFF that Christianity should not be disconnected from life, but be integrated with it—penetrating and transforming every aspect of life, including work, the economy, and culture.

    We wish to thank the Oikonomia Network of the KFF, and specifically Dr. Greg Forster, Program Director, for funding this publication of New Testament Theology of Discipleship, An Anthology. Because of their interest and special focus, we anticipate that in the future more NTT student papers (and thus chapters in subsequent editions of this book) will be written on work, economy, and culture.


    We wish to acknowledge all the students in the various classes of “New Testament Theology: a Discipleship Focus” at AGTS, from whom we selected the papers in this anthology. They are a great group of Christ followers and my dear friends.

    The class of Spring 2011 (First Edition):
    Larry A. Anoa’i, David L. Atkins, Annie S. Bailey, Sergio L. Bastian, Eli J. Brooks, C. Craig Burns, Stephen W. Casey, Patrice N. Chinje, Stormy M. Davis, Amy J. deVries, Robert E. Ferguson, Michael J. Fullerton, Tae W. Kang, Heather R. Lassiter, Sung Min Oh, Jerry L. Orf, Guy M. Parrish, Timothy B. Smith, Timothy E. Stagner, Timothy K. Teague, John H. Tilden, Juliana J. E. Tilden, John D. Ulrick, Jenny F. Vielma, and Robyn M. Wilkerson.


    The class of Fall 2011 (Second Edition):
    Lynnea K. Chasteen, Ronald G. Meador, Laura J. da Silva, Katherine E. (Scott) Groce, Ryan L. Harris, S. Scott Harrup, Derek M. Henson, Michael W. Holsomback, Michael J. Johnson, Hannah L. Jones, Erin L. Joseph, Jana L. Justman, Joel T. Lafferty, Seth A. Lingenfelter, Keith L. Morris, Yvette A. Morris, Gary B. Ortego, Jenni L. Paul, Jason L. Seaman, Rommy E. Singletary, Travis L. Skavhaug, and Coby D. Smith.


    The class of Fall 2012 (Third Edition):
    Garet Arnold, John Bartlett, Melody Bianchi, Montra Estridge, Brian Filipek, Jonathan Hallgren, Sungchul Kim, Dickson Marfo, Sierra McCabe, Julia Ramos, Jason Reeves, Nikki Reeves, Luis Soto, Carrie Stewart, Cara (Cheng) Zhang, Christopher Zwemer.


    The class of Fall 2013 (Fourth Edition):
    Brian (Bez) Benson, Jason Brodhagen, Jordan Cameron, Andre Davis, Anthony Doan, Raymond Donat, Starla Gooch, Daniel Guy, Gavin Hovland, Alex Limonchenko, Jose Lopez, Christopher Parkinson, Kendi Satterfield, Mary-Jo Sedenquist, and George True.


    (Most of the original NTT student papers were fifteen pages long; a few students who opted for additional credits submitted longer papers.)


    I am also very appreciative to Dick Brogden, one of my students in the Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies Program at AGTS, for permitting us to include a portion of the biblical theology chapter of his dissertation. (This paper comprised seventy pages before formatting for electronic publication.)


    Finally, I am most grateful to my teaching assistant in NTT, Tae W. Kang, for his gracious willingness and conscientious excellence in offering the final edits on these papers and for formatting them as chapters for this electronic publication. There is no way I could have this without him! Thank you, Tae.


    May the grace and truth of Jesus be with you all!


    Deborah M. Gill and Tae W. Kang

    4th enlarged ed., May, 2014

    Springfield, MO


    Deborah Menken Gill has ministered as a teacher, pastor, in missions, and directing Christian Education and Discipleship for the Assemblies of God USA. With a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, she serves today as Professor of Biblical Studies and Exposition at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS). Her husband, Jan, is an architect specializing in church design.


    Tae Wook Kang is an ordained pastor. When God called him to be a minister/pastor, he gave up pursuing a Ph.D. in Optical Sciences and came to the AG Theological Seminary to be equipped for his blessed call. He acquired a M.Div. from AGTS in 2012. Currently, he is the pastor at the Young People’s Church in Silver Spring, MD. He holds a M.S. from University of Arizona and published a couple of articles in a peer-reviewed monthly scientific journal.






    Toward a New Testament Theology of Conversation

    Stephen W. Casey





    Table Fellowship

    Oral Society




    Equality in Conversation

    Character in Conversation

    Conversation in the Kingdom of God

    Conversation is Connection

    Discipleship Focus








    In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In six days, God completed His labor and all things that He created He deemed good. From the fish and the sea, to the birds and the air, to man and the garden, all things God created were good. He created all things ex nihilo, out of nothing, as God alone has the capability of creating from nothing (Hebrews 11:3). Therefore, since God alone created all things, and brought all things forth from nothing, God alone holds the capability of giving each piece of creation purpose. The first chapter of Genesis recounts that God intends the greater and lesser lights to “govern” the day and night, the plants and trees purpose to be food for humankind, and humans to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth and ruling over all living things within it.1 God created all things with purpose. God created nothing pointlessly; not the stars in the sky, mosquitoes buzzing around us, or even the words that flow from our lips.

    Turning to the Gospel of John, it reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).2 Through the Word, all things came into being, “and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). Paul, in Colossians 1:13-16, echoes John’s claims of Creation through the Divine Word, adding in verse seventeen that, “in Him3 all things are held together” (Colossians 1:17). As God created all things through the Divine Word of Jesus Christ, and the Word holds all things together, all things become best understood through Jesus Christ. Therefore, each and everything’s purpose also has a unique tint through Jesus Christ and each purpose, including the lights governing the day and night, becomes better viewed through the Divine Word.

    God purposed within Creation that humanity should engage in relationship with one another. People ought to live out their lives in relationship not only vertically with God, but also horizontally with each other. Paul teaches that we should not forsake assembling together (Hebrews 10:25), but that each of us together in relationship form the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12). Paul, teaching about relationship within the church, creates a dynamic of interpersonal relationship that illustrates the truth that God intends people to live out their lives together. In order properly to fulfill this God intended purpose of interpersonal relationship, God opened the mouths of people and gave language so that communication might be achievable. A relationship between individuals, therefore, becomes attainable through a cross communication more simply called conversation. However, James in his epistle illustrates how sin has tainted conversation (James 3:1-12).

    According to James, the tongue, by which humans engage in conversation, “is a restless evil and full of deadly poison” and “with it we curse men” (James 3:8, 9). Therefore, the intended purpose of conversation also tastes the taint of sin. Since God created all things, and created a purpose for all things, He therefore created conversation and its relational purpose of cross communication. Furthermore, as all things came into being through the Divine Word of Jesus Christ, the purpose of conversation apart from the taint of sin surveys best through Jesus Christ. A New Testament theology of conversation develops through a look into the community and culture of which Jesus Christ engaged in conversation whereupon God’s view of conversation finds extrapolation.


    A New Testament theology of conversation extrapolates best out of the historical context in which Jesus held conversation. Without first looking at the context from which the theology of conversation derives, it would be difficult to comprehend fully the theology. Not only do the words Jesus spoke hold importance, but also why and how He spoke those words retains meaning. Jesus’ words in teachings and conversations did not merely flow from nothing, but occur often within a larger context, whether answering a question, or responding to a situation. The contexts of the conversations of Jesus Christ hold significance as well as the words.

    Table Fellowship

    During the New Testament period, conversation occurred most often during ritual social gatherings. One of the most prominent social gatherings of the time occurred during the social meals often referred to as table fellowship. These meals gathered social equals into ceremonies for celebration of social status. The table fellowship acted as a ceremony occurring on a regular basis wherein the roles and statuses of people in a community find affirmation. As table fellowship operated as a ceremonial meal, each aspect of the meal’s structure held meaning. The typical meal, including nine attendees, reclined around a low table where servants would place the various courses of the meal. Within this setting, three sections enclosed the table (See Fig. 1). The sections: in summo, in medio, and in imo, each held a different distinction of social


    Figure 1. Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 366.


    rank.4 The section of in summo held the highest honor, in medio the mid-honor, and in imo, the lowest honor, which the meal’s host occupied. Each section contained three seats: ­summus, medius, and imus. Again, each held particular distinctions of rank and honor with summus holding the most, medius the middle honor, and imus the lowest honor. Within this context, the seat of summus inside the section of in summo was the seat for the most honored guest. Politesse did not allow an incoming guest to take this seat, lest a person of higher rank should come in after the person, forcing that person shamefully to relinquish the seat of highest honor.

    The important aspect of the table setting was the recognition of social rank. As such, any cross-social interaction between high and low classes within a table fellowship became inconceivable. An individual of higher rank would never eat at the table of a social pariah. Eating with a person of lower rank would shame the social elite, bringing devastating results to their social rank. However, individuals of lower rank might try to gain a higher social rank by inviting people of a higher status to their table fellowship. If those of the next rank accept the invitations of the lower, this would elevate the lower person’s social standing. More likely, however, a lower rank person would gain social status through accepting invitations to prestigious social tables. This never crossed wide degrees of social strata, but only between those of neighboring social ranks. An elite person who invited non-elite people to a table fellowship has sharply broken ranks with family members and elite friends.5 If seen eating with those of lower rank, the family members and social networks would cut the elite person out of elite social circles. This especially rang true in the cities “where status stratification was sharp and members of the elite were expected to maintain it.”6 Table fellowship became an important aspect of the culture, established in ritual, meant to cement social relationships within social ranks, and to divide people into segregated groups of social bearing.

    Jesus often entered into table fellowship situations to engage people in conversation. The Gospel of Luke describes several of Jesus’ table fellowship interactions.7 These settings of table fellowship, which Jesus entered into, would cross social ranks. Jesus would eat these meals with the elite and the non-elite alike. In Luke 14:1, Jesus entered into “the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees . . . to eat” at a table fellowship meal, while in Luke 19:1-10 Jesus ate at the house of Zaccheus, a rich chief tax collector. Within the social context of the religious elite, Jesus found himself at the table of the leaders of the Pharisees, and within the social context of the wealthy elite, Jesus found himself at the table of Zaccheus, a very wealthy man. Within these contexts of elitism alone, Jesus found himself in various social domains. However, Jesus also ate at the table of unsavory people, such as tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners and other social outcasts (Luke 5:29-30, 15:2).8

    Luke 15:2, understood in the light of table fellowship restrictions, gives a great understanding of Jesus’ cross-social bearing. In the passage, the scribes and Pharisees grumbled that Jesus “receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). To the Pharisaic mind, Jesus slapped the faces of the Pharisees and their social customs. The leaders of the Pharisees considered Jesus on the social level of the elite leaders of society since they invited Jesus to their table (Luke 14:1). However, when Jesus ate with sinners, He showed no favoritism, and illustrated that He held the sinners and the Pharisees on equal social ground, thus insulting the Pharisees’ social pride. In stark contrast to the social ranks, Jesus illustrated the hospitality of God to the rejected world that the elite, including the Pharisees, often withheld.9 To Jesus, no social distinction partitions people. In the mind of Christ, the worst of the sinners in the lowest ranks of society, and the people of the social and religious elite, found equality. All the regulations of the table fellowship meals meant nothing, as they only increased pride and created social segregation. When Jesus entered into conversation within these contexts, He devaluated markedly these human distinctions of pride.

    John chapter thirteen describes a unique table fellowship gathering. In this chapter, John describes the Passover meal that Jesus ate with His disciples. The Passover meal remains one of the most important events to the Jews. The meal remembers the salvation that God brought the Hebrews as He delivered them from the bondage of Egypt. This particular table fellowship holds several meanings. In John 13:3, Jesus, knowing who He was as the Son of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2:6), but chose to humble Himself in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7) and eat with His disciples, and even wash their feet. Jesus did not hold that the rituals of table fellowship should dictate social importance. As God made flesh, He held the most honor, and yet He chose to humble Himself in the form of the incarnation and eat with sinful men. This exceptional divide of rank did not occur important to Jesus as He could have sought the honor due Him. However, Jesus chose not to require any great honor, choosing humility instead. Social rank does not exist as an aspect of Jesus’ Kingdom.

    Furthermore, the Passover meal was a familial meal.10 Jesus, by eating the Passover meal with His disciples, entered into a deeper relationship with them. Jesus illustrated a distinction of family that the disciples would carry into the foundation of the church, where family became more than blood relatives, as believers become brothers and sisters of the faith. Jesus defined a counter-culture relationship in this setting to the disciples, while creating a new definition of social interaction and conversation between people. In the proper context, according to Jesus’ actions, conversation should not segregate people, but bring them together in a familial bond.

    Oral Society

    Jesus lived in an oral society. The people of the day interacted together through oral communication brought out in conversation. The Jews of Jesus’ day understood speech, or conversation, as the primary ingredient for their lives in society.11 The people in the oral communities often felt a sacred tie between oneself and one’s words. Within this context, truth merits solely on the integrity of the individual. “The truth and the truth giver are intimately connected.”12 Therefore, the reliability of the message depended upon the credibility of the messenger. To deny the credibility of an individual discredits any message that they might bear, however truthful it might be. If the message relates truth, but the person’s behavior does not, the message holds no weight. Therefore, to deliver any form of truth in conversation a person needed a credible character. When a person of credibility spoke truth, that truth mirrored an aspect of their nature. While parents today often spout the idiom, “do as I say, not as I do,” this ideal would not register in an oral community. The truth that an individual declared became the same truth that the individual speaking upheld in their daily lives.

    In Colossians 3:17, Paul declares that “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Oral cultures deemed it inconceivable that the two elements of word and deed could find separation. Paul alludes that both word and deed in unison find their true essence in a person’s companionship with Jesus Christ.

    Jesus displayed just such a manner of unity between word and deed. In Luke 4:36, the Pharisees comment that Jesus spoke with a level of authority that they had never before encountered. In this instance, they implied more than that Jesus spoke compellingly. The power generated by the unison of word and being in Jesus, not simple mastery of the Law or a skilled gift of persuasion, left the best speakers of the Law speechless when Jesus spoke. Jesus displayed a level of integrity in His conversations and actions where the complete merging of person, spirit, and message became visible.13 The Jews of the day held the belief that encountering truth ultimately became an encounter with the Creator through the presence of the messenger.14 Jesus brought an encounter of the Creator into people’s lives, not only because of His divinity, but because His truth, brought out in conversation, became inextricably linked to His very being.


    Society consists of several different elements that comprise the whole. The anti-society develops as one such element of society. When members of a society remain in society “but are opposed to and in conflict with it” (in the words of John, they are “in the world but not of it”), they form an anti-society.15 The members of an anti-society remain in society but their loyalties do not stay with it. The anti-society is a hollowed out social space within the larger society, which it stands in opposition, as a conscious alternative to it.16

    Anti-societies often consist of people displaced in one way or another by the larger society. The larger society considers these social outsiders deviant. Since the larger society deems them deviant, anti-societies often face hostility by the larger social system. In response, the deviant social outsiders form intense in-group loyalty (John’s term of “love”) that centers on the key figure in the group (Jesus). Emphasis in such an anti-society remains on relationships in the in-group and social contrast with the out-group. The larger society consists of ideas, such as status, distinctions of rank, care for personal appearance, and selfishness, whereas the anti-society alludes to placement, anti-distinction of rank, care not to shame the in-group, and other centeredness.17

    Jesus and His disciples established an anti-society in opposition to “the world.” In John 8:23, Jesus reminds the Pharisees that while they remain a part of the larger society, He does not. While they are of this world, Jesus declares His alienation to this world. The Gospel of John points to an audience of individuals who emerged from, and stand opposed to, society and its competing groups. In concrete terms, the larger groups, which John’s collectivity opposes, include “the (this) world” (seventy-nine times in John; nine times in Matthew and three each in Mark and Luke), and “the Judeans” (seventy-one times in John; five times in Matthew and Luke; seven times in Mark).18 These groups refused to believe in Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and, therefore, the Johannine group stands over against them.

    In Gospel terms, the anti-society that Jesus establishes can best be understood as the Kingdom of God, or even later in Acts and beyond as the church. The entrance of the Kingdom of God into society creates a new anti-society that remains in opposition to society. While the world and the Judeans hold tightly to social establishments of rank and distinction, the Kingdom of God creates equality for all people. The lowest member of society becomes empowered in the Kingdom of God, able to be an active member in the anti-societal gatherings (church), and even attain to a leadership role.19 These disenfranchised members of society find a voice in the anti-society of Jesus that they could never attain in the larger society. Distinctions of race, sex, or nationality no longer distinguish an individual. According to Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The main importance entails loyalty to the anti-society (Kingdom of God) and its central figure (Jesus Christ).

    The Kingdom of God, as an anti-society, creates a hollowed out social space where interpersonal relationships, established in love, find unity and equality in the centrality of Jesus Christ, and where the disenfranchised find a voice previously unavailable to them.


    Conversation and communication within an anti-society often utilizes a new grasp on language called anti-language. This anti-language will not be simply a specialized or technical variety of ordinary language used in a special way (e.g., technical jargon, court language, short hand). Rather, an anti-language arises among persons in groups espousing alternate perceptions of reality that have been set up in opposition to some established mode of conception and perception.20 The new anti-language stands not in opposition to the language of the larger society, nor becomes a formulation of new words and linguistics, but results in a reinterpretation of words from the larger society to assist in the interpretation of the anti-society.

    John in his Gospel, for instance, redefines several words from the viewpoint of his anti-society of the presence of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. Terms, such as light and darkness (1:5), born of water/spirit and born of flesh (1:13), spirit and flesh (3:6), life and death (3:36), truth and lie (8:44-45), not of this world and of this world(17:1), find reinterpretation in the new anti-society of the Kingdom of God where the first word in each pairing depicts inherent traits of the in-group dimensions of the Kingdom of God and the second word describes out-group elements of “the World.” In the anti-language, that John creates, “light” in John 1:5 becomes a description of goodness and truth, and “darkness” relates synonymously with evil and falsehood.21 Rather than “light” defined as a luminary source and “darkness” defined as the absence of light, the two words gain a new spiritual definition in the anti-society that John portrays.

    In his first epistle, John writes, “God is Light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). While John’s description can describe God as a luminary source, “light” and “dark” relate the dualism between good and evil as John asserts that the light without darkness in 1 John 1:5 refers to the ethical purity of God.22 Within John’s context, “light” and “dark” become anti-language because the words gain new meaning for interpreting the spiritual anti-society of the Kingdom of God. In John 3:6, “life” and “death” become more than physical life and death; they become a spiritual life and death. “The flesh” in John 3:36, as opposed to the spirit, becomes more than the physical body; “the flesh” becomes a descriptor of the sinful characteristics of humanity. John redefines words to assist his readers and the adherents of the anti-society to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of the anti-society of the Kingdom of God.

    Jesus himself used a form of anti-language when he told Nicodemus that he must be “born again” to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). The term “born again,” while common in the church today, revealed a new religious term to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews and a Pharisee. Jesus reinterpreted the language of the larger society to create the term “born again” so that He might build a better understanding of how one would enter the anti-society of the Kingdom of God.

    Anti-language, therefore, becomes a vehicle of resocialization into the anti-society.23 Just as Jesus used the term “born again” to facilitate Nicodemus’s entrance into the Kingdom of God, anti-language becomes the means by which people begin to understand the nature of the Kingdom of God and its central figure Jesus Christ. Anti-language becomes crucial for the social reinterpretation of the alternate reality and the resocialization of the newcomers as it builds a bridge for them to cross out of “the world” into the Kingdom of God. The anti-language becomes a fundamental element in the existence of the “second life” phenomenon in the anti-society of the Kingdom of God.24 Not only does anti-language facilitate entrance into the anti-society, it also facilitates interpersonal bonding between the members of the anti-society. In the face of opposition from the larger society, the anti-language of an anti-society assists a person in maintaining solidarity with fellow adherents so that they will not fall back into the margins of the society from which they departed as the anti-language creates an alternative ideology and an emotional anchorage in the new collectivity of the anti-society.25 The anti-language of the Kingdom of God creates a cementing bond between the followers of Christ, newcomers and old, so that returning to the world becomes infeasible.


    The historical context of Christ in conversation builds a comprehension for a theology of conversation. Without understanding the context from which the theology extrapolates, it becomes difficult to comprehend the theology itself. The theology, therefore, extrapolates the truths that the historical context of Christ in conversation illuminates. These truths, taken from the historical context of Christ in conversation, illustrate God’s intended purpose for conversation.

    Equality in Conversation

    A theology of conversation understands that the Christian community becomes the surrogate family where conversation occurs. Jesus illustrated in His interactions of table fellowship this theological principle. Conversation creates a bridge to cross social boundaries, not limiting people to their perceived social status. Conversation does not limit itself to a hierarchy of human distinctions, but creates an equality of humanity for interpersonal interaction. The poor and the wealthy, and the elite and the outcast sit as equals around God’s Table fellowshipping with Jesus Christ. It becomes a breaking away from the former family of the world to join the family of God. People choose to break ranks with human statuses of being of “the world” to become not of this world, leaving behind any debase languages of the world to accept a more pure and encompassing language of conversation found in Jesus Christ.

    While this conversation unites in equality those in the community, it divides severely the community from the outside society. Conversation in this instance does not build peace, but divides like a sword between social standards and Christian ideals (Matthew 10:34). The withdrawal from society’s hierarchies into equality of Christian community will affront the larger society of “the world.” However, the language of conversation should be an inclusive language that allows everyone access to God’s Table. God necessitates no social requirements to gain access to His Table and salvation, as all have free access. Conversation in this Christian community flows from an equal sense of identity rooted in Christ.

    Character in Conversation

    The truths extrapolated from the aspects of an oral society illustrate that, in a theology of conversation, the person and their words link interminably. The reliability of a person’s words in conversation connects to their personal credibility. For there to be an acceptance of truth by others, the truth and the truth giver must be in unison. The message must be visible in the life of the messenger as an accepted way of life. Character in conversation speaks better and holds more impact than any form of dialectical and communicational training. A person who speaks truth in conversation, but does not embody that truth in their daily life, does not truly believe the truth of the message.

    For the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to find root in the lives of unbelievers, the messengers who deliver the truth must embody the truth of Jesus Christ. Through a merger of word and deed, the messenger attains an authority, compellingly articulating the Gospel of Jesus Christ. An encounter with the Creator only realizes through an encounter with a messenger bearing truth in credibility. A person’s trustworthy character becomes essential for the truth to be relatable and accepted in conversation. A theology of conversation realizes that truth cannot find acceptance in conversation apart from our character.

    Conversation in the Kingdom of God

    The anti-society created by Jesus is the Kingdom of God among people. When Jesus became incarnate in the earth, He created a hollowed out social space where the Kingdom of God manifested. The Kingdom of God became a conscious alternative to the society that human beings created. All who are weary and heavy laden, all who suffer oppression and marginalization, and all who feel downcast and cast out of society are capable of finding new life within the Kingdom of God. All who enter into the Kingdom of God become extremely devoted to the Kingdom, intensely loyal to Jesus Christ, and continually desire the betterment of the community and its adherents. Devotion to the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ, and the anti-societal community institutes in love through a conversation that seeks to strengthen, and expand the Kingdom of God beyond the anti-society into the larger society.

    Since there remain no distinctions of sex, race, or nationality between individuals in God’s Kingdom, all are welcome, and all have equal status and availability for leadership. In this Kingdom, the marginalized find a voice and can gain leadership previously unavailable to them within the larger society. The former disenfranchised, empowered with the Holy Spirit in the anti-society of the Kingdom of God, gain leadership roles that not merely remain within the in-group. Conversation leaks out of the anti-society, seeking to affect the lives of others and the status of the dominant society. Through conversation, the anti-society engages the larger society with the truth of Jesus Christ, seeking the salvation of humanity, and the expansion of the Kingdom of God. Throughout, the main importance entails loyalty and faith in the Kingdom of God and devotion in love to Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God becomes the new social stratum in which conversation takes place and truth speaks out.

    Conversation is Connection

    Within the anti-society of the Kingdom of God, an anti-language formulates that cements and supports the relationships of the in-group. The anti-language enables deeper relationships between the adherents of the anti-society through love. Love, not as the world defines it, but how Christ, the central figure of the Kingdom of God, redefines it as a love deep enough that a person would lay down their lives for a friend just as He did (John 14:12-13).

    The anti-language provides the language of the core values of the Kingdom of God. Newcomers begin to understand the dimensions and aspects of the Kingdom of God through the redefinition of words, which facilitate entrance into the Kingdom of God. Conversation, therefore, becomes the vehicle for resocializing newcomers into the Kingdom of God. The anti-language provides newcomers with a bridge to understand what the Kingdom of God means for their lives, redefining words, not starkly, but softly (such as light for goodness and darkness for evil), so that they can feel connected to the anti-society and its fellow members.

    Using anti-language in conversation, believers become so deeply socialized into the relationships of the anti-society of the Kingdom of God; it becomes nearly impossible to fall back into the margins of the larger society. The anti-language creates a unity between people, anchored emotionally in the new collectivity of the anti-society. The persecutions of the larger society cannot bear against the bonds built through the anti-language, and all believers, new and old, become incapable of returning to the margins of the world’s societies. Conversation provides the anti-language necessary to facilitate entrance into the Kingdom of God while cementing relationships in the Kingdom against the persecutions of the world.

    Discipleship Focus

    An aspect of discipleship always remains in conversation. People in oral cultures taught by mentoring and learned through discipleship. Masters, people respected for their skills and knowledge, as living embodiments of wisdom, became mentors to those seeking discipleship.26 Discipleship meant abiding in the presence of the master, forming a relational connection, and learning by working alongside the master, under his guidance and in conversation.

    The master, or discipler, following a theology of conversation, effectively disciples young believers into Christ-like maturity. A discipler should reach out to a disciple in an effort to establish familial bonds of love and acceptance. Equality in conversation affords the disciple equal treatment with fairness and respect in all opportunities with the disciple, never allowing status or achievements to determine the worth of a disciple. Conversation should always tend toward acceptance of the disciple in love as a fellow member of the family of God.

    The master demonstrates for the disciple the importance of an inseparable integrity of person and word for the disciple. Only a discipler who merges word and deed has the influence necessary to affect the spiritual growth of a disciple. Character in conversation creates a spiritual authority and an encounter with the Creator, which realizes through a discipler who bears truth in credibility. Conversation exemplifies character and integrity to a disciple.

    A master chooses to participate in discipleship through the Kingdom of God (anti-society). The role of a discipler predisposes toward instilling devotion in the disciple for the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ, and the Christian community. A discipler effectively mentors the disciple into leadership roles previously unattainable to the disciple in the larger world. The discipler enables the disciple to gain a bold voice capable of extending the Kingdom of God into the larger society. Conversation in the Kingdom of God, therefore, inclines the disciple to devotion in Jesus Christ and inculcates leadership potential, which can affect the outside world.

    The master incorporates the disciple into the Christian community. Through a conversation of connection, the discipler facilitates an understanding of the Kingdom of God, effectively uniting the disciple with a fellowship of believers. Using anti-language, the mentor effectively socializes the disciple into the body of Christ. A disciple, through the aid of the discipler, unites in deep relationships within the community. These established bonds protect the disciple from the harsh persecution of the larger society, while keeping the disciple from returning to the margins of the world. Conversation builds and maintains relationships cementing new believers in the Kingdom of God.


    Conversation remains the lifeblood of interpersonal interactions in any given society. God created conversation so that people could live harmoniously with one another. However, pride, blasphemy, and a multitude of other sins have poisoned God’s intended purposes for conversation. Too many times conversation becomes gossip that can destroy the interpersonal relationships that conversation establishes. People and their words do not coincide, hypocrisy infects humanity, and nobody can trust another’s word. Talk has become cheap, and the idea that people “do not care how much you know until they know how much you care” becomes a reality because conversation does not always reflect truth. Sin has tainted the God intended purpose of conversation.

    A New Testament theology of conversation becomes the reality that talk is not cheap, but that conversation flows from personal integrity, humility, and identity in Christ, through relationships, to usher newcomers into the Kingdom of God in love. Conversation remains a gift from God to deepen interpersonal relationships. Although sin has tainted conversation, conversation becomes the gateway through which individuals find relationship with God and His followers. It remains a primary means of discipleship in the Kingdom of God providing deeper revelations of Jesus Christ in the midst of the community of believers. Conversation becomes the cement of this Christian community, spoken through humility and acceptance of others in love. Within the Christian community conversation should always flow from love, never be selfishly abused, and should fortify hearts together, wherein this true form of conversation can be a light of the Kingdom of God to the unsaved world.


    1Genesis 1:18, 26, and 29.

    2All Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.

    3“Him” refers to God’s beloved Son (1:13), the firstborn of all creation (1:15), and John’s “Word” (John 1:1).

    4Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 366.


    6Ibid., 365.

    7Luke 5:27-38; 7:18-35; 9:10-17; 14:1-24; 15:1-2, 11-32; 19:1-10.

    8Eugene H. Peterson, Tell it Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 78.

    9Arthur A. Just Jr., The Ongoing Feast: Table Fellowship and Eschatology at Emmaus (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1993), 78.

    10F. F. Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John (Grand Rapids. MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1983), 278.

    11Sheldon A. Tostengard, The Spoken Word (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1989), 33.

    12M. Rex. Miller, The Millennium Matrix (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 27.

    13Ibid., 34.


    15Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh. Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), 59.

    16M. A. K. Halliday, Learning How to Mean (London, UK: Edward Arnold, 1975), 581.

    17Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, 61.

    18Ibid., 10.

    19Onesimus, the slave of Philemon, is a prime example of this, where he, as a slave, becomes released from slavery and later becomes the bishop of Ephesus following the Apostle Timothy.

    20Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, 10.

    21Bruce, 14.

    22Robert James Utley, vol. 4, The Beloved Disciple's Memoirs and Letters: The Gospel of John, I, II, and III John (Study Guide Commentary Series. Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1999), 197.

    23Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, 46.

    24Halliday, 570.

    25Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, 11.

    26Miller, 24.


    Bruce, F. F. The Gospel and Epistles of John. Grand Rapids. MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1983.

    Halliday, M. A. K. Learning How to Mean. London, UK: Edward Arnold, 1975.

    Just, Arthur A., Jr. The Ongoing Feast: Table Fellowship and Eschatology at Emmaus. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1993.

    Malina, Bruce J. and Richard L. Rohrbaugh. Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998.

    ________. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Minneapolis, MN: FortressPress, 1992.

    Miller, M. Rex. The Millennium Matrix. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2004.

    Peterson, Eugene H. Tell it Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008.

    Tostengard, Sheldon A. The Spoken Word. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1989.

    Utley, Robert James Dr. Vol. 4, The Beloved Disciple's Memoirs and Letters: The Gospel of John, I, II, and III John. Study Guide Commentary Series. Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1999.



    A Theology of Paul’s Expectations for Discipleship of Speech in the Prison Epistles



    A Theology of Paul’s Expectations for Discipleship of Speech in the Prison Epistles

    Starla Gooch





    Speech with Theology: Speak Truth

    Speech with Others: Build Up

    Speech with God: Give Thanks


    Speech with Insiders: Unity and Maturity in the Body

    Speech with Outsiders: Light and Salt








    In discipleship, every area of a person’s life must be exposed to the grace of God and His transforming power, which includes a believer’s manner and content of speech. Though few people would argue with the fact that a disciple’s speech should be transformed and made Christlike, little agreement exists regarding what kind of speech transformation should occur. Many Christians attempt simple rules like “Don’t use curse words and foul language,” or adopt common phrases like “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” but neither of these grasp the significance of speech found in Scripture.

    From Genesis, when God uses words to create the entire created order out of nothing, to Revelation, when John’s last command is for no one to add or subtract words from his prophecy, Scripture consistently demonstrates the power of speech. Because of the vast content regarding speech in the Bible, this chapter explores and interacts specifically with Paul’s instructions regarding speech in the Prison Epistles of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians,1 which—in comparison to other writings from Paul—contain his strongest imperatives about speech. Part One extracts negative and positive instructions Paul gives for how believers should be transformed in three specific areas of their speech: speech with theology, speech with others, and speech with God. Part Two addresses how the Christian’s transformation in these three areas impacts his or her discourse with insiders and outsiders. After delving into Paul’s instructions and purpose for change, this chapter reflects on the key principles for transformation of speech that relate to the discipleship of every believer.


    Throughout the Prison Epistles, Paul strongly exhorts his fellow followers of Christ to live lives that reflect their faith and beliefs. In these discourses, Paul includes speech as a significant component of a believer’s life that must be affected and transformed by Christ. Paul gives both negative and positive charges as he stresses elements from which believers must refrain along with those that believers must actively embrace.

    Speech with Theology: Speak Truth

    The first imperative regarding speech that Paul gives in the Prison Epistles comes from Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor.” This command carries two aspects: refraining from falsehood and engaging in truth.

    The Greek word translated as truth, alētheia, appears approximately forty-seven times in Paul’s writings, making it a dominant theme. When Paul uses alētheia, he is not merely advocating for the importance of honesty like the English translation might suggest. Rather, he refers to the word of truth that leads to salvation through Christ Jesus.2 Paul asserts that speaking the truth of Christ is essential to Christian maturity. Because false teachings and lack of understanding characterized the major problems within the church of Ephesus, Paul writes to correct the erroneous theology along with its ensuing problems. The first three chapters of Ephesians are rooted in Christology, addressing the sovereignty and work of God through Christ and His plan for believers’ lives.3 After infusing accurate teaching about Christ, in order to fix the faulty ideas that were rampant among the Ephesian Christians, Paul uses the latter half of his letter to emphasize the importance that community plays in identifying false doctrine and sharing correct teaching. He explains that when the truth is spoken in love, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14).

    Unfortunately, the truth (alētheia) of the gospel can be suppressed and opposed by those with depraved minds who have gone astray from it.4 For these rebellious people, choosing to exchange God’s truth for a lie leads to the wrath of God and righteous judgment.5 Since diverging from the truth is so dangerous, Paul urgently commands believers to “put off falsehood” (Eph 4:25) which holds perilous consequences. Throughout Paul’s writings, along with the rest of the New Testament, falsehood (pseudos) is consistently contrasted with truth and connected with the activity of Satan.6 Brought to their ultimate end in Revelation, those who practice falsehood do not have access to God and experience eternal judgment apart from His presence (21:27; 22:15). Thus, there is no room for falsehood within the body of Christ—those who have put off the old self and replaced it with the new self, which is righteous and holy (Eph 4:22-24)—and it must be extinguished from the lives and speech of believers.

    In Ephesians 5, Paul delves in further by describing those who are in Christ as “children of light” (5:8), who were once in darkness but are no longer. Because of their complete transformation in Christ, the believers experience the fruit of the light “in all goodness, righteousness and truth” (5:9). Not only does being the children of light in Christ leave no room for darkness, but Paul also calls Christians to expose what is dark and make it visible. He later continues his exhortation, saying “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (5:18b-19). In these verses, Paul provides an illustration, describing falsehood as darkness and truth as light. Likely, Paul charges the Ephesians—and the Colossians to whom he gives a very similar command (Col 3:16)—to speak to each other in psalms, hymns, and songs because these held rich theology and teaching of Christ,7 through whom darkness is exposed and light is revealed.

    When it comes to speech, Paul’s appeal for truth speaking is not an option for those who are in Christ. Rather, casting off falsehood and speaking truth are essential in order to experience transformation into Christlikeness. Christians must rid themselves of all things connected with the deception of Satan, which are opposed to the truth of God, and intentionally align themselves with the gospel of Christ. Then, Paul calls followers of Christ to actively engage in the lives of other believers by speaking sound doctrine, in order to facilitate their transformation.

    Speech with Others: Build Up

    While Paul’s first commands regarding speech have to do with theological issues, his second set of exhortations addresses interaction with others on a personal level. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29 “do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Thus, Paul exhorts believers to refrain from unwholesome speech, choosing instead to positively engage in speech that edifies the body of Christ.

    Though the New International Version translates the Greek word sapros as “unwholesome,” it is much better translated “corrupt.”8 The most basic meaning is related to “the process of decay,”9 while all other uses in the New Testament refer to a corrupt—or “bad”—fruit or tree.10 Just as Paul made clear earlier in the passage that the Ephesians must not continue in their former way of life (4:22), they likewise must not have any connection with their former ways of speaking. The speech of the old self was speech full of corruption and decay, and thus unfit for the new self in Christ. Beyond being merely unsuitable for those in Christ, sapros talk also proves unbeneficial for the community of faith. Paul, therefore, instructs believers to monitor their speech in accordance to what is helpful to their brothers and sisters in Christ. According to Paul, corrupted speech takes away from the faith community in the same way that stealing depletes the fellowship (4:28). Christians should instead be marked by their contributions and edification to the body.

    Paul particularizes the contrast between actions of the old self and the new self by providing specific attributes of corruption that should not be evident among believers: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Eph 4:31). A very similar list exists in Colossians, where Paul also clarifies the inappropriateness of actions due to their connection with the old self: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Col 3:8-9). Each of these imperatives reminds believers of Paul’s instruction to guard against anger, which gives the devil a foothold (Eph 4:26-27). As the devil gains ground in a believer’s life through expressions of anger, other believers are torn down and the Holy Spirit of God is grieved (4:30). Here, Paul focuses on anger as the prominent kind of corrupted speech amongst the both the Ephesians and Colossians.

    While malicious speech towards other followers of Christ creates division in the body, Paul calls for unity. In both Ephesians and Colossians, Paul orders Christians to be compassionate and kind, and to forgive each other just as they have received forgiveness from God through Christ (Eph 4:32; Col 3:12-13). Paul continues, “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col 3:14). These virtues exist as fruits of the new self in Christ, directly replacing and counteracting all forms of corrupted speech.

    Christian speech is not merely characterized by theological correctness, for it also must result in the edification and building up of the body of Christ. This primarily occurs on a personal level through relationships. Unity in the body of Christ stands apart as one of Paul’s primary concerns throughout the Prison Epistles because of the division being caused by corrupted speech. Paul emphatically asserts that malicious speech, which results in division, has no place within the body of Christ. Rather than be angry and hold grudges, Christians must forgive and love each other, choosing to build each other up with their words rather than tear each other down. Edifying and unifying speech is essential to Christian discipleship.

    Speech with God: Give Thanks

    Along with theological speech and speech with others, Paul addresses a third component of speech which focuses primarily on a believer’s relationship with God. While the first two categories of speech are important for building up and maturing the body of Christ, this third appeal deals with believers’ position in Christ as God’s holy people in whom His Spirit dwells. As with the first sets of imperatives, Paul focuses on speech from which believers must abstain as well as that which they must engage.

    After giving instruction regarding inappropriate behavior in Ephesians 5:3, Paul addresses three areas of inappropriate speech for Christians: obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking (5:4). Each of these Greek words (aischrotēs, mōrologia, and eutrapelia) finds its single New Testament usage in 5:4, making the meaning somewhat obscure for modern readers. Most likely, Paul is addressing crude talk of sexual immorality that was common in the Gentile world.11 Paul describes such talk of sexual perversion for entertainment as unnaturally ugly, being often associated with nonsensical drunkenness and misusing the typically good trait of quick-wit for vulgar purposes.12 No such talk is fitting for those whom God has called out to be in relationship with as His holy people. Instead, Paul charges Christians to substitute their perverse speech with thanksgiving to God.

    Thanksgiving may seem like an odd antidote to sexual innuendos. However, Paul is subtly urging believers to shift from focus on self to a focus on God. Thielman writes, “Speech oriented toward God should replace the self-indulgent, self-promoting speech that Paul has described in the first part of the verse.”13 Similarly, Walter Liefeld describes the shift as believers moving away from their desires and search to find their own satisfaction to declaring satisfaction in God alone.14

    Thanksgiving and worship are significant themes throughout all of Paul’s writings and the Prison Epistles are no exception; “The mood of worship and praise dominates the presentation.”15 Paul calls forth thanksgiving and worship by appealing to several varieties of speech including singing and music (Eph 5:19b; Col 3:17); teaching and speaking to others using psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19a; Col 3:16); and prayer and petition (Phil 4:6). William R. Baker emphasizes the value of music to express thanksgiving in that it primarily originates from joy, it gives believers a means to share their emotions, and it helps reveal a person’s true thoughts and feelings.16 Each of these benefits emphasizes the personal and relational qualities of thanksgiving and worship to God. Paul does not exhort Christians to give thanks out of obligation, but to worship out of a heart of gratitude to a personal God.17 Having a relationship with God produces a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving within the hearts of Christ’s followers. In hearts that are full of thanksgiving, no room is left for obscenity and perverse talk. Rather than being full of worldly affairs, lives are so filled with the Spirit of God that His glory overflows out of mouths and onto the lives of others.


    Beyond giving instructions to believers about content and manner of speech, Paul also explains the purpose for experiencing transformation of speech. He focuses on speech with two distinguished groups: fellow members in the body of Christ (insiders) and those who are not a part of Christ’s body (outsiders).

    Speech with Insiders: Unity and Maturity in the Body

    One of Paul’s main purposes for writing Ephesians was to address the hostility and division that existed between the Jews and converted Gentiles. The Jews, in particular, sought to distinguish themselves from the Gentile believers by calling themselves “the circumcision” and the Gentiles “the uncircumcised” (Eph 2:11). However, Jewish pride was not the only issue. Anti-Jewish sentiments were prevalent and growing throughout the Roman empire, and—as an ethnically diverse city—Ephesus would have been no exception.18 But within the body of Christ, there is no room for disunity resulting from ethnic and racial diversity. Such brokenness creates the need for theological correction “that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 3:6, emphasis added). Dr. Walter L. Liefeld, professor emeritus of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, comments “It is not only that two formerly hostile groups have been reconciled to each other (and to God) but that together they form a new entity.”19 Paul goes one step further in Colossians by saying “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all,” (Col 3:11). Because those who are found in Christ experience no difference in standing based on earthly distinctions, followers of Christ must actively pursue and practice unity, and one vital means to accomplishing unity is speech. Among all three types of speech—theological speech, speech with others, and speech with God—unity and maturity in the body of Christ are essential goals.

    Speaking correct theology of Christ actualizes the truth of being one body and members of one other. Coming to Christ means recognizing the oneness of God and joining Him on His single mission of redemption. As this is communicated and understood, action must follow. Diversity of gifts among believers is then encouraged as each person receives purpose from being joined with the rest of the body and given a function that works in harmony with the whole body (Eph 4:11-13). Without receiving correct doctrine, people are left ignorant to their place in the body, and no growth, function, or maturity within the body can be accomplished.

    After untruthful theological speech, improper speech with others is the greatest barrier to unity. Paul describes the role of the Holy Spirit as the facilitator of unity and the bond of peace (Eph 4:4). Therefore, when Paul admonishes believers to avoid specific types of behavior and speech, his command explains that these are practices that grieve the Holy Spirit. From the context, the Holy Spirit is not grieved simply because these practices are sinful and oppose God’s holiness. Rather, Paul’s plural use of sphragizō—saying “you all were sealed” by the Holy Spirit (4:30)—carries a corporate idea. Paul suggests here that the seal of the Spirit for redemption resides on the church as a whole, rather than on the believers as individuals. The Spirit’s seal can only be experienced in a unified body—which is not limited to the mere Ephesian church.20 Therefore, the Spirit grieves over the sinful speech because it brings division to the body. Division in the church directly opposes God’s nature and the Spirit’s work, making unifying speech amongst the body of Christ utterly necessary.

    Lastly, just as theological speech and interpersonal speech are important for unifying and building the body of Christ, the communication between believers and God is equally—if not even more so—important to the body. For a believer’s relationship with God finds expression not only with God but also in community with fellow believers. Speech with other members of the body is a natural overflow from thanksgiving and worship unto God. Paul’s first particularization of being filled with the Spirit is “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Eph 5:19). Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are joyful expressions of a relationship with God that “characterize the corporate life of truly Spirit-filled people.”21 These elements of worship lose the richness of their value when separated from Christian community; they are not designed to occur in isolation. A similar communal exhortation from Paul is his request for the church to pray for “all of the Lord’s people” (Eph 6:18) and to pray for him (Eph 6:19-20; Col 4:3-4). This affirms that a Christian’s relationship with God is not a private affair, but takes place within—and is spurred on by—Christian community. A relationship with God that is separate from relationships with other worshippers is frail and largely misses the focus of God’s work. God’s redemption is less about the individual than it is about community.

    The goal of all speech between believers—whether it is theological speech, interpersonal speech, or worship toward God—is to unify and edify the body of Christ. Speech amongst Christ’s followers that produces any other result directly contradicts Paul’s commands.

    Speech with Outsiders: Light and Salt

    Communication does not only exist between believers, but is also essential to drawing and discipling those outside of Christian circles. Though Paul does not say as much about speech with outsiders as he does about speech with insiders, he does pay special attention to it in both Philippians and Colossians as he calls believers to be light and salt in the midst of unbelievers.

    In Philippians, Paul exhorts “Do everything without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (4:14-15, ESV).22 The Greek word for “grumbling” (goggysmos) was often used by translators of the Old Testament to reference the complaining and murmuring that the Israelites engaged in against Moses while wandering in the desert.23 Paul is likely suggesting a parallelism between the Israelites’ behavior under the old covenant and the dissension occurring in the Philippian church. New Testament scholar Dr. Frank Thielman highlights this connection:

    Israel was supposed to be “a light for the Gentiles” (Isa 49:6; cf 42:6-7), calling them to the worship of the one God. It failed in this vocation, however, and became itself a “warped and crooked generation” (Deut. 32:4-5). Here Paul calls on the Philippian church to drop their differences and to fulfill their calling as God’s people.24

    Just as the Israelites lost sight of their purpose to be a blessing to other nations, the Philippian church was in danger of losing their appeal to the world because of complaining. This directly contrasts with both of Paul’s calls to unity and to give thanks to God. Here Paul demonstrates that unity and thanksgiving to God have benefit outside of the community of faith as well as inside. When Christians partake in both of these, they are living as children of the light who expose darkness.

    In Colossians, Paul gets even more specific in regard to the unevangelized: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone,” (4:5-6). While Paul only admonished negative speech patterns with outsiders in Philippians, here he only exhorts positive practices. In every other occasion that Paul mentions wisdom in Colossians, wisdom is directly connected with Christ and cannot be separated from Him.25 Therefore, just as speech among believers flows out of a believer’s relationship with God, speech with outsiders must do the same. Christians must be Spirit-led with outsiders as well as insiders, since the Spirit reveals the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4) who is the source of wisdom.

    Paul uses the Jewish term outsiders to refer to those who are in Colosse and the surrounding area, people with whom the Colossian believers would interact with regularly, who are not followers of Christ. Since the Colossian believers had experienced drastic transformation and conversion in their lives, “new believers would be under scrutiny by people wondering why they have left the synagogue or have forsaken their allegiance to the local cults.”26 Rather than being isolated from the world, Paul urges the Colossians to intentionally engage in “salty” conversations. Thielman describes such discussion as “an interesting, stimulating, and enjoyable conversation or discourse.”27 Similarly, New Testament scholar David Garland refers to the salty speech as “witty, amusing, clever, humorous speech.”28 With grace and salt, Paul paints a picture of lively conversation that exhibits the presence of God.

    Speech with unbelievers must be an outflow of communion with God and fellowship with His people. Conversations must exhibit the unity and thanksgiving that characterizes speech among Christians.29 Most importantly, Christians must be infused with the Spirit of God so as to follow His lead, share His presence, and experience His empowerment to engage in intentional and intriguing conversation with outsiders. This distinguishes the Christian community as light and salt among outsiders.


    For a true follower of Christ, discipleship results in a transformation of speech, involving both manner of speech and the content thereof. In the Prison Epistles, Paul clearly defines specific areas where believers’ speech must be affected.


    Paul exhorts believers to experience transformation in their speech in three key areas. First, believers must transform their theological speech by speaking truth. Second, they must transform their speech with others by only using speech that edifies. Third, believers must transform their speech with God by giving thanks. As these three transformations occur, a Christian’s purpose for speech will also change the way they speak with insiders and outsiders. With insiders, speech must focus on bringing unity and building the body. With outsiders, believers must be filled with the Spirit and engage in lively conversations in order to exude light and salt in a dark and dying world.


    Discussing theology of speech and discipleship without including its application for real people in normal life renders the subject utterly futile. Therefore, to make biblical theology practical, consider the hypothetical story of a woman named Julie.

    After becoming a successful journalist, Julie discovered that work could not provide the fulfillment she wanted. Instead of feeling energized, Julie felt constantly constrained by editors and deadlines. Her only highlight of the day came when she got to talk with her coworker Kyle. Kyle was different from everyone else. He was smart, interesting, and found enjoyment in life—even when things were rough. Soon after meeting, Julie learned that Kyle was a Christian. Though she had never been religious, Julie was intrigued by the way Kyle’s eyes lit up when he talked about his faith. So when Kyle invited Julie to visit his church, she said yes.

    At church, though Kyle was the same as he always was, there was something different about how he interacted with his fellow church members—almost like they were family. It started to make sense why Kyle was the way he was, because every person that Julie met had the same genuineness and encouraging spirit as Kyle. The way the people interacted with one another seemed so different from how her family and other friends communicated. Kyle’s friends seemed to truly care for and support each other. They exuded a spirit of camaraderie.

    The service began, and two main things struck Julie. First, there was an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude among the crowd. Second, Julie had never heard people talk about God with such poignancy. The church service challenged everything Julie thought she knew about God as she learned about Jesus and his incredible love. After a few weeks, Julie decided to make Jesus the Lord of her life. As people from the church encouraged her personally and spiritually, she began to notice changes in her life—and her family noticed too. When Julie visited her parents for Christmas, they said that she talked and acted differently. It was not just her language that had changed; her entire demeanor was different. She was more patient, kind, grateful, and loving. Though her circumstances had not changed, the way she viewed and talked about them did. Eventually, Julie’s parents agreed to meet some of her new friends and visit church. Shortly after, they received Christ just as Julie did.

    Discipleship of speech begins with an outsider who experiences attraction to the Christian community and message, enters into relationship with God, receives edification from the body, and becomes a light to invite outsiders into the same journey. Such transformation is the beautiful process, empowered by the Holy Spirit, into which Christ welcomes His disciples.


    1Philemon is also a Prison Epistle, but since it does not include instructions for speech, it will not be discussed in this chapter.

    2See 2 Cor 6:7; 11:10; Gal 2:5, 14; Col 1:5; 2 Thess 2:10.

    3The Ephesian believers seemed to underestimate the power of Christ. Paul discusses Christ’s power several times throughout this letter. See 1:18-23; 3:20; 6:10-17.

    4See Rom 1:18, 25; 1 Tim 6:5; 2 Tim 3:8.

    5See Rom 1:25; 2:2, 8.

    6See Thess 2:9, 11-12; John 8:44.

    7Clinton E. Arnold, “Colossians,” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, edited by Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 396.

    8Based on the ways that sapros is used in the writings of Paul, its use within the rest of Scripture, and its most basic etymological meaning, the NIV translation as unwholesome fails to grasp the meaning of the word. Sapros has to do with corruption and rottenness, carrying a weightier and more depraved meaning than “unwholesome.”

    9Bauernfeind, “σαπρός, σπω,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 97.

    10See Matt 7:17-18; 12:33; 13:48; Luke 6:33

    11Clinton E. Arnold, “Ephesians,” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, edited by Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 330.

    12Frank Thielman, Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 330-331.

    13Ibid., 331.

    14Liefeld, Ephesians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1997), 125.

    15Ian Howard Marshall, A Concise New Testament Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008), 150.

    16William R. Baker, Sticks & Stones (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 132-133.

    17Paul’s admonition to give thanks “for everything” in 4:20 suggests that Christians are giving thanks at all times and for all blessings they receive from God. This should produce within the life of a Christian an abundance thanksgiving from a grateful heart, rather than sheer adherence to a discipline or religious practice.

    18Arnold, “Ephesians,” 315-16.

    19Liefeld, 73.

    20Marshall, 151.

    21Liefeld, 138.

    22Unlike other passages in the Prison Epistles where Paul gives refraining commands along with positive ones, here he gives only a refraining command—though he also includes a purpose.

    23Frank Thielman, “Philippians,” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, edited by Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 357.


    25See Colossians 1:9, 28; 2:3, 23; and 3:16.

    26Thielman, “Philippians,” 399.


    28David E. Garland, Colossians/Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 274.

    29Talk may involve less doctrinal discussion with outsiders than with insiders. However, Paul’s instruction for believers to know how to answer outsiders suggests that talk about Christ is still a significant aspect of speech with outsiders.


    Arnold, Clinton E. “Colossians.” In Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, edited by Clinton E. Arnold. Vol. 3, 370-403. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

    _______________. “Ephesians.” In Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, edited by Clinton E. Arnold. Vol. 3, 300-341. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

    Baker, William R. Sticks & Stones: The Discipleship of Our Speech. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996.

    Bauernfeind, Otto. “σαπρός, σπω.” In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Vol. VII, 94-97. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971.

    Bultmann, Rudolf. “λήθεια.” In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel and Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Vol. I, 232-247. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964.

    Garland, David E. Colossians/Philemon. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

    Hultin, Jeremy F. The Ethics of Obscene Speech in Early Christianity and Its Environment. Supplements to Novum Testamentum 128. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008.

    Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament: Revised Edition, edited by Donald A. Hagner. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

    Liefeld, Walter L. Ephesians. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series 10. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1997.

    Marshall, Ian Howard. A Concise New Testament Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008.

    Moritz, T. “Ephesians.” In New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy. 315-319. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000.

    O’Brien, Peter T. Colossians, Philemon. Word Biblical Commentary 44. Waco, TX: Word, 1982.

    Ragsdale, J.D. “Relational Communication Competence in High and Low Christian Religious Commitment.” Review of Religious Research 35 (March 1994): 268-274.

    Silva, Moises. Philippians. Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005.

    Thielman, Frank. Ephesians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.

    ______________. “Philippians.” In Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, edited by Clinton E. Arnold. Vol. 3, 342-369. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

    Wan, Sze-kar. “Ephesians.” In Theological Bible Commentary, edited by Gail R. O’Day and David L. Petersen. 407-413. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009.

    Whiteman, Darrel L. “Effective Communication of the Gospel Amid Cultural Diversity.” Missiology: An International Review 12 (July 1984): 275-285.

    A Matthean Theology of Faith Development Based on the Model of Christ with His Disciples


    A Matthean Theology of Faith Development Based on the Model of Christ with His Disciples

    John Ulrick





    Various Theories of Faith Development

    Method and Scope

    What is Faith?


    How Jesus Helped His Disciples Grow in Faith

    What Jesus Taught About Faith


    How Leaders Can Apply the Faith Development Methods of Jesus

    A Paradigm Change Resulting From Understanding the Methods of Jesus





    Pastors want the members and attendees of their churches to have a strong faith in God, specifically in His Son, Jesus Christ. They long to develop people who confidently believe that Jesus is the Savior, sent by God, who died and rose again to save and forgive them of their sins. One of the goals of pastoral ministry is to help people trust God for provision and guidance in their lives, without worry or fear of current life circumstances or the future. Pastors want people within their congregations to stand firm during turbulent times in their lives. Although pastors have the goal or instilling faith, the question remains, “How do people develop great faith?”

    This chapter will discuss the natural development of faith and how one can foster faith from a psychological perspective. However, this chapter assumes the existence of timeless theological truths found in the Scriptures regarding how pastors and other leaders can help strengthen the faith of those to whom they minister. Specifically, this chapter seeks to describe how Jesus strengthened and developed the faith of His disciples. Based on these findings, this chapter will draw appropriate conclusions as to how contemporary pastors and leaders can apply Jesus’ methods to their own ministries in order to strengthen the faith of people under their spiritual care.


    Before discussing Jesus’ methods of developing faith within His own disciples, this section will discuss various theories of faith development as taught by experts in the field of developmental psychology. In addition, this section will describe the method and scope used to determine Jesus’ methods of developing the faith of His disciples. Finally, this section will briefly introduce the reader to the major faith related vocabulary used in the Gospel of Matthew, helping the reader understand the nuances between various Greek words relating to faith.

    Various Theories of Faith Development

    Several psychological and theological theories of faith development exist. Each one seeks to explain how faith naturally develops in people. Erik Erickson and James Fowler, two renowned psychologists, discuss faith development from a psychological perspective. Erickson is most well known for his Eight Stages of Psycho-Social Human Development. According to Erickson’s theory, people go through eight predictable life stages, from birth to death. During these stages, they face unique tasks. According to Thomas Droege, one of Erickson’s students, faith plays an important part in each stage; how a person handles each stage affects his or her faith development.1 According to Erickson’s theory, Trust versus Mistrust is the first stage a person goes through. During the first year of a child’s life, an infant may face times when he or she feels abandoned, mistreated, or unprotected. In such cases, the child can develop a sense of mistrust for his or her caregiver. This initial lack of trust can later lead to a lack of faith in God. To the contrary, an infant who experiences nurturing care learns that he or she is loved and cared for by a loving caregiver. Infants who learn to trust during this stage, due to receiving proper nurture from a loving caregiver, develop a basis for trusting relationships in life. This, in turn, can establish a foundation for trusting God more easily.2

    Fowler developed a theory of faith which includes seven stages. According to Fowler, these seven stages are: (0) primal faith, (1) intuitive-projective faith, (2) mythic-literal faith,
    (3) synthetic-conventional faith, (4) individuative-reflective faith, (5) conjunctive faith, and
    (6) universalizing faith.3 Fowler’s assessment of the primal stage is similar to Erikson’s first stage of psychosocial development; however, this primal stage lasts until age four rather than age one, as in Erickson’s description. In the intuitive-projective stage, between ages three to eight, a child’s religious faith is very impressionable. In this stage, iconic religious symbols and liturgy can contribute in strong and lasting ways to the faith of children. In the mythical-literal stage, between ages six to twelve, children begin to think more logically and concretely, which effects how they order their life and religious experiences.4 During the individuative-reflective stage of faith (age seventeen and older), a young person begins to evaluate his or her own beliefs and decides what to believe. The young adult begins to choose what he or she will believe rather than simply believing something because his or her parents handed it down to them.5

    Concerning Christian theories of faith development, James Engle developed the Engle Scale that describes fourteen stages of spiritual growth. According to Engle, people begin at -7, having no knowledge or understanding of Christianity. After becoming aware of Christianity   (-6); understanding the gospel (-4); recognizing a personal need (-2); and repenting of one’s sins (-1); a person becomes a Christian (0). After this, the person may continue to grow by being incorporated into a Christian fellowship (+2); communing with God (+4); fulfilling the Great Commission; and by making other disciples (+6).6

    Method and Scope

    In some ways, developmental psychology can help a person understand how faith naturally develops in people by studying the human mind, peoples’ emotions, and how these relate to faith throughout the various stages of life. It can also identify the various ways in which one can either foster or hinder faith by studying human reactions to various positive and negative experiences. These could include interactions with the physical world, people, or major life events. However, this chapter will focus on developing a theology of faith development based on the model Jesus used with His disciples as seen in the Gospel of Matthew. In other words, this chapter seeks to find timeless truths regarding how God, through his Son Jesus, fostered faith in the first disciples so that Christians can apply the same principles in their own disciple-making efforts.

    This study focuses on Jesus’ teaching regarding faith, as illustrated in the Gospel of Matthew, with particular attention on three areas: (1) Jesus’ interaction with His disciples,
    (2) narratives which include elements of faith or belief, and (3) Jesus’ direct teachings regarding faith. While Jesus taught widely regarding faith, this chapter will focus specifically on how Jesus developed the faith of His disciples. In order to establish a theology of faith development, the discussion of what Jesus actually taught about faith will be limited to narratives which focus expressly on His method of building faith in His disciples.

    What is Faith?

    Matthew uses several different words for faith, such as “faith” (pistis), “believe” (pisteuo), and “faithful” (pistos). This section will briefly define and discuss each of these words. First, the Greek word for “faith” is pistis and is found in Matthew’s Gospel eight times (8:10; 9:2, 22, 29; 15:28; 17:20; 21:21; and 23:23). Pistis is a noun used to describe a conviction or trust held in Jesus’ ability and willingness to meet one’s physical and spiritual needs. It also applies to one’s confidence in His ability to fulfill the promises given by the prophets.7

    The actual root word for “faith” comes from the Greek verb pisteuo, which means “believe.” This word is used in the Gospel of Matthew eleven times (8:13; 9:28; 18:6; 21:22, 25; 24:23, 26; 27:42, and three times in 21:32). In Matthew’s Gospel, to believe is to express active confidence in something, specifically to be confident in Jesus.8 In Matthew 21:22, Jesus states, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”9 Therefore, according to Jesus, one’s faith must be active through believing as a necessary condition for effective prayer.

    Pistos, the third word for faith, is often translated as “faithful.” This adjective describes a person as trustworthy, faithful, reliable, credible, and trusting. Matthew uses this word five times (24:45; twice in 25:21; twice in 25:23). All of these references are found in the context of Jesus’ final discourse. He taught the people to be faithful stewards in His absence and to be found faithful when He returns. Essentially, Jesus used the word pistos to describe the character of people who do their master’s will, even in His absence.10

    In summary, faith can be one of the following: (1) a noun, something one has (pistis, e.g. to have “faith”), (2) a verb, something one does through the act of believing (pisteuo, e.g. to “believe”), or (3) an adjective, describing someone’s character (pistos, e.g. to be “faithful”).


    A careful study of the Gospel of Matthew shows several distinct actions Jesus took in order to develop the faith of His disciples. This section will discuss each of Jesus’ different methods, providing scriptural support for each method, as well as briefly address some of Jesus’ specific teachings about faith.

    How Jesus Helped His Disciples Grow in Faith

    Jesus Called His Disciples to Follow Him in Faith

    The first thing Jesus did in order to build His disciples’ faith was to call them to follow Him in faith. In Matthew 4:19, Jesus called Peter and his brother, Andrew, saying, “Come, follow me ... and I will make you fishers of men.” Verse 20 shows their first step of faith in obediently leaving their nets and following Jesus. According to R. T. France, students customarily sought out and volunteered to follow a rabbi. However, in the calling of Peter and Andrew, Jesus goes beyond offering an unsolicited invitation and summons them to follow Him—almost with the force of a command.11 The accounts of the calling of James and John, the sons of Zebedee (Matt. 4:21-22; 9:9) are almost identical. Jesus called them; they immediately left what they were doing to follow Him.

    What is also of interest in these occurrences is the “call” and “follow” language Jesus used. In the account of James and John’s call (Matt. 4:21), “Jesus called [kaleo] them.” Furthermore, in Matthew 9:9, Jesus called Matthew by saying “Follow [akoloutheo] me.” In doing so, He used the imperative tense; thus, Jesus commanded Matthew to follow Him. John Nolland, in his commentary on Matthew 9:9-13, rightly emphasizes that Jesus’ purpose was “not to call the righteous, but sinners,” beginning with people like Matthew, a tax collector.12 Therefore, Jesus’ first step in building His disciples faith was to call them from their sin to follow Him.

    Jesus Taught His Disciples about Faith

    Jesus taught His disciples about faith in several ways. First, in Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus taught directly about faith through preaching. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught about having faith and not worrying. He illustrated His point by using the flowers of the field and birds of the air as reasons to have faith in God. In another incident (Matt. 21:18-22), Jesus caused a fig tree to wither in order to teach His disciples about having faith and not doubting.

    Second, Jesus often commented on the faith or lack of faith of others in order to teach His disciples about faith. Matthew 8:5-13, one of the earliest examples of this principle, tells of Jesus’ strong and emotional appraisal of the Centurion’s faith. It was as if Jesus was saying, “Look at the great faith of this man and follow suit.”13 When Jesus healed the woman with the issue of blood, He explicitly states that the woman’s faith healed her (9:18-26). Two additional examples include the healing of two blind men (9:27-31) and Jesus’ comments on the faith of the Canaanite woman (15:21-28).

    Third, Jesus used parables to teach His disciples about faith. In Matthew 24, Jesus taught that no one would know the day or hour of His return. In chapter 25, He told the Parable of the Ten Virgins and the Parable of the Talents to teach His disciples what faithfulness was and how to be found faithful when He returned.

    Jesus Proved His Divinity by Performing Miracles in order to Build Their Faith

    Jesus performed miracles in order to build His disciples’ faith. Matthew 4:23-25 describes the first occurrences of His healing ministry. David Hill notes that Jesus’ ministry of healing was to be a sign of the inauguration of the Kingdom.14 Certainly, the faith of the disciples would grow through each experience of healing they witnessed.

    In Matthew 9:1-8, Jesus healed a paralytic in order to convince him that He had the authority to forgive sins. Through this experience, the disciples’ faith in Jesus as the Son of God, who had the authority to forgive men of their sins, grew. According to Mounce, a widespread thought in the ancient world existed that purported sickness was a result of sin; therefore, people could only be healed if their sins were forgiven. In healing the paralytic, Jesus actually built up His disciples’ faith in His ability to forgive sins.15

    Jesus Tested His Disciples’ Faith and Called Them to Exercise Their Faith

    In addition, Jesus tested His disciples’ faith by calling them to exercise their faith in service and unusual circumstances. For example, Jesus sent His disciples out to “drive out evil spirits and heal every disease and sickness” (10:1), a task which certainly would have required the exercise of faith (cf. 17:19-20). Successful completion of this task would certainly help build the disciples’ faith in the authority Jesus had given them to proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom of God.16

    Furthermore, Jesus tested His disciple’s faith in unusual circumstances. After a short discussion on the appropriateness of the temple tax (Matt. 17:24-26), Jesus asked Peter to obey an outrageously unusual request: “Go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours” (v. 27).

    R. T. France believes the miraculous catch of the fish never actually occurred. He supports his claim by citing that Matthew omits Peter’s response and the result. Furthermore, he points to folklore stories, as told by Polycrates, regarding people finding treasures in fish.17 Other scholars, such as John Nolland and Robert Smith, believe the miraculous catch actually occurred and that Matthew’s omission only means that the realization of the miracle is to be assumed or inferred.18 Smith asserts that this event implies that “God will empower the disciple’s every act of submitting.”19 Clearly, Jesus used unusual circumstances to build the faith of His disciples and their trust in Him.

    Jesus Encouraged and Exhorted His Disciples to Have Faith

    Another of Jesus’ methods was simply to encourage His disciples to have faith. While the words “encourage” and “exhort” are not found in Matthew’s Gospel, this is clearly what Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus encouraged people not to worry about life (Matt. 6:25-34). Furthermore, much of Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve in Matthew 10 include exhortations for the disciples to “not worry” (v. 19) and “not be afraid” (vs. 26, 28, and 31), but rather to trust Him for provision and guidance.

    Jesus Inquired of His Disciples’ Faith

    Jesus inquired of His disciple’s faith in order to obtain confessions of faith. This can be seen in Matthew 16:13-20. In verse 15, Jesus asked Peter a direct question, “Who do you say I am?” After Peter positively affirmed Jesus’ messiahship and divinity, Jesus affirmed Peter for his newly revealed understanding. Nolland brings attention to the fact that the chapters preceding this incident (specifically from 13:54 to 16:13) are filled with miracles, which point to the messiahship of Jesus.20 Therefore, by asking for a confession of their belief, Jesus was helping His disciples’ faith grow by forcing them to reach conclusions regarding Him.

    One cannot underestimate the importance of the correlation between one’s confession of who Jesus is and one’s faith. According to Wilkins, as Jesus traveled, “the sign of faith was when one came out of the crowd and called Jesus ‘Lord.’”21 This can be seen in the faith of the Centurion (Matt. 8:5-13), the healing of two blind men (9:27-34), and the faith of the Canaanite woman (15:21-28). Furthermore, quoting Ralph Martin, Wilkins points out that one should not be surprised that Judas was the disciple who betrayed Jesus by bringing attention to the fact that “rabbi” was the highest title Judas ever ascribed to Jesus (26:25 and 49).22 In the same way, it can be seen that the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the rich young man also only referred to Jesus as a teacher (12:38; 19:16; 22:16, 24, 36).

    Jesus Confronted and Corrected His Disciples’ Lack of Faith

    Jesus directly confronted and corrected His disciples’ lack of faith. Although Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount to a crowd, His disciples were also present and would have received His words in Matthew 6:30-34 for themselves. In the account of Jesus calming the storm (8:23-27), Jesus corrected their lack of faith by saying, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid” (v. 26)? Jesus used similar language in the account of Peter’s attempt to walk on water when He said, “You of little faith …. Why did you doubt” (14:31)? Finally, when the disciples questioned why they were unable to drive out a demon, Jesus rebuked them saying it was because that they had “so little faith” (Matt. 17:14-23). Jesus then used this opportunity to coach His disciples regarding their faith.

    Jesus Worked Tirelessly to Remove His Disciples’ Cognitive Dissonance

    In addition, Jesus understood how hard it would be to convince His disciples that He must suffer, be crucified, and be raised from the dead three days later. Therefore, He worked tirelessly to remove their cognitive dissonance. According to Merriam-Webster, cognitive dissonance can be defined as a “psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.”23 In other words, the disciples had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, came not to advance His Kingdom by force, but rather to die for the sins of the world. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus predicts His death in the presence of His disciples no less than twelve times (12:40; 16:4, 21; 17:9, 12, 23; 20:18-19, 28; 26:2, 12, 24, and 26-29).

    Jesus Understood that His Disciples Would Waiver in Their Faith

    After His death and resurrection, Jesus took His disciples up a mountain in Galilee. In his account of this experience, Matthew says, “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted” (28:17). Some scholars believe the English translation is an attempt to reconcile the apparent incongruity in the Greek, meaning “some worshiped, while some doubted.”24 Other scholars argue that the Greek is inclusive. In other words, “they all worshiped, but some of those who worshiped also doubted.”25 Distazo, the Greek word most commonly translated as “doubt,” comes from two Greek words, dis, meaning “double” and stasis, meaning “standing.” Therefore, a more complete definition of this type of doubt would be: to stand in two ways, to be double-minded, to be uncertain, to waiver in opinion, to think twice, to hesitate, and to pause.26 This particular word for doubt is only used twice in the New Testament (Matt. 14:31; 28:17). In the account of Peter walking on water (14:31), Jesus said, “You of little faith … why did you doubt (distazo)?” This is not the doubt which says, “I do not believe.” Rather, this is the kind of doubt which takes courage and faith and says, “I am not fully confident and have reasons both to believe and not to believe.” Jesus understood this type of doubt as a natural response to circumstances, which required great faith.

    While the story of the healing of a boy with an evil spirit is found in Matthew 17:14-23, Mark provides additional information in Mark 9:14-27, providing a clear example of a father who was cognizant of his own double-mindedness. After interviewing the father regarding the condition of his son, Jesus stated, “Everything is possible for him who believes,” to which the father replied, “I do believe [pisteuo]; help me overcome my unbelief [apistia]” (Mark 9:23-24)!

    What Jesus Taught About Faith

    Jesus taught that people express varying degrees of faith. One Greek word Jesus used to describe the faith of some people was oligopistia, a compound word meaning “little faith,”27 from oligos [meaning little or few]. This word is used only once in Matthew 17:20, where Jesus used it to describe the minute size of His disciples’ faith in connection with their inability to drive out the evil spirit in the story above. Another word Jesus used was oligopistos, an adjective which described someone as “one of little faith” or one who lacks trust, namely in Jesus. He used this word to describe people four times in Matthew’s Gospel (6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8).28 Jesus also taught His disciples to be faithful in His physical absence, and to be found faithful when He returns (24:36-25:30).

    Jesus also used several words to describe the size of people’s faith. For example, commenting on the faith of the Centurion, Jesus said “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great [tosoutos] faith” (Matt. 8:10, emphasis added). In His encounter with the Canaanite woman, Jesus said “Woman, you have great [megas] faith” (15:28, emphasis added). When healing two blind men, Jesus said, “According to [kata] your faith it will be done to you” (9:29, emphasis added). Finally, Jesus taught His disciples that they could move mountains if they only had faith “[as small] as [hos] a mustard seed” (17:20).

    Finally, Jesus taught His disciples not to doubt. In Matthew 21:18-22, Jesus paired the noun, pistis, with the verb, diakrino, which is often translated in English as “doubt.” However, as a verb, diakrino more fully means to decide or judge.29 In other words, while Jesus understood the inevitable wavering of one’s certainty, which naturally accompanied stepping out in faith, Jesus taught His disciples not to decide not to trust him. This is reinforced by Jesus’ use of the verb “believe” (v. 22), saying, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Therefore, while Jesus allowed people to waver in their faith, He taught them to step out in faith by believing.


    After having surveyed the methods Jesus used to build faith in His own disciples, this chapter now concludes with a discussion on how leaders can apply Jesus’ methods of faith development in their own disciple-making efforts.

    How Leaders Can Apply the Faith Development Methods of Jesus

    First, as Jesus called His original disciples to follow Him in faith, believers need to call other people who do not know Jesus to follow Him as well. Second, just as Jesus taught His disciples about faith, leaders should also plan time within their preaching and teaching schedules to teach about faith. Since the Gospel of Matthew alone provides several passages where Jesus taught His disciples principles about faith, one can turn to these passages in order to teach the same principles. Third, since Jesus used miracles to build the faith of His disciples, leaders ought to walk in the power of the Spirit, exercising the same faith the disciples exercised when Jesus sent them out to preach and heal the sick (Matt. 10). Furthermore, spiritual leaders ought to pray for miracles in their churches in order to build the faith of people within their churches.

    Fourth, just as Jesus called His disciples to exercise their faith in service and unusual circumstances, leaders ought to encourage Christians to exercise faith in the ministries to which God is calling them. Often feeling inadequate for ministry, this will teach believers to trust God for provision and guidance as they step out in faith to serve God in ministry. Furthermore, pastoral leaders ought to teach people how to hear and discern the voice of God. In doing so, when believers hear God ask them to do what may seem ridiculous, they can learn to trust Him and obey Him in all things.

    Fifth, just as Jesus continued to encourage and exhort His disciples to have faith and not doubt, leaders ought to also encourage people to have faith and remain faithful. This can be done by giving them reasons to trust God, just as Jesus did in Matthew 6:25-34. This could include providing periodic reminders that they should not worry, but trust God.

    Sixth, just as Jesus sought confessions of faith from His disciples, leaders also ought to ask people what they believe about Jesus. If one is applying Jesus’ methods, over time, the confessions people make should resound of Jesus’ lordship. Seventh, spiritual leaders ought to be bold enough to confront and correct a lack of faith. However, this must always be done in love and with tact, using every opportunity to teach and encourage people about their faith.

    A Paradigm Change Resulting From Understanding the Method of Jesus

    In addition to applying some of the more tangible methods, as described above, ministry leaders need to experience a paradigm shift in their thinking regarding how faith develops. Just as Jesus recognized how strong the cognitive dissonance was in the minds of His own disciples, spiritual leaders must also recognize the cognitive dissonance in the people to whom they minister. Therefore, leaders must not grow weary in sharing the same gospel truths over and over, becoming frustrated because the people “aren’t getting it.” Rather, leaders need to understand that if Jesus’ own disciples had a difficult time trusting that Jesus was resurrected, having seen Him themselves, it is only natural for people living 2000 years later in another land to experience doubt and need reassurance. Therefore, leaders must be patient and acknowledge that faith is dynamic and, at times, even good and faithful servants will be “of little faith.”30


    1Thomas A. Droege, Faith Passages and Patterns (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1983), 30.

    2Ibid., 33-34.

    3Jeff Astley and Leslie Francis, eds., Christian Perspectives of Faith Development (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), xxi-xxii.

    4Ibid., xxi.

    5Ibid., xxii.

    6Calvin Ratz, Frank Tillapaugh, and Myron Augsburger, Mastering Outreach and Evangelism (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1990), 104.

    7Ralph W. Harris, Stanley Horton, and Gayle Seaver, eds. The Complete Biblical Library: The New Testament Greek-English Dictionary (Springfield, MO: The Complete Biblical Library, 1990), 15:192-195.

    8Ibid., 188-191.

    9All Scripture references, unless otherwise stated, are from the New International Version.

    10Harris, Horton, and Seavers, 15:195-197.

    11R. T. France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 147.

    12John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 385-388.

    13Ibid., 356.

    14David Hill, The New Century Bible Commentary: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 107.

    15Robert H. Mounce, Matthew: A Good News Commentary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 80-81.

    16France, 377.

    17Ibid., 670-671.

    18Nolland, 728; Robert H. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1989), 214.

    19Smith, 215.

    20Nolland, 661.

    21Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master: Discipleship in the Steps of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 109.

    22Ibid., 166.

    23Merriam-Webster, I. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2003).

    24Jennifer Gale, Sermon, “They Worshiped Him, But Some Doubted,” Evangel Temple Christian Center, Springfield, MO, May, 3, 2009.

    25France, 1110-1112.

    26Harris, Horton, Seaver, 12:151-152.

    27Ibid., 14:335.


    29Ibid., 12:82-83.

    30Nolland, 1263.


    Astley, Jeff, and Leslie Francis, eds. Christian Perspectives of Faith Development. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992.

    Droege, Thomas A. Faith Passages and Patterns. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1983.

    France, R. T., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.

    __________. The Gospel According to Matthew, An Introduction and Commentary. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.

    Harris, Ralph W., Stanley Horton, and Gayle Seaver, eds. The Complete Biblical Library: The New Testament Greek-English Dictionary. Vols. 1-16. Springfield, MO: The Complete Biblical Library, 1990.

    Hill, David. The New Century Bible Commentary: The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981.

    Mounce, Robert H. Matthew: A Good News Commentary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.

    Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

    Ratz, Calvin, Frank Tillapaugh, and Myron Augsburger. Mastering Outreach and Evangelism. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1990.

    Smith, Robert H. Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1989.

    Wilkins, Michael J. Following the Master: Discipleship in the Steps of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

    A Marcan Theology of Compassion and Holistic Ministry

    A Marcan Theology of Compassion and Holistic Ministry

    Katherine (Scott) Groce




    Research Interest

    Research Method











    St. Thomas Aquinas says it’s the fire that Jesus came to set on the earth. It disturbs, it surprises, it ignites, it burns, it sears, and it warms. Compassion incinerates denial; it especially warms and melts cold hearts, cold structures, frozen minds and self-satisfied lifestyles. Those who are touched by compassion have their lives turned upside down. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.1

    Compassion is a word that is used often in many circles. Jesus is an example of perfect compassion. What can a believer learn from the Gospel of Mark about compassion and holistic ministry in the life of Jesus?

    Research Interest

    Mark 12:31 records, “The second [commandment] is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”2 Throughout Mark, acts of compassion point to ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ and desire to see a fuller picture of why Jesus is compassionate. Why He is compassionate? Who is He compassionate to, and how does He show compassion to others?

    Research Method

    For discussion on a Marcan theology of compassion and holistic ministry, the author of this paper studied the text of the Gospel of Mark. After studying the text, observing and noting primary principles, the author consulted various other authors on the subject. As a result of this research, the author is convinced that Jesus calls believers to be compassionate and that the Gospel of Mark points to what compassion is, why compassion is needed, who to act compassionately to, and how to carry out acts of compassion.


    Who is the recipient of the acts of compassion that Jesus performs in the Gospel of Mark? Jesus is compassionate on everyone with no discrimination. He does not discriminate based on ethnic group. Jesus was compassionate to Jewish people in Mark 5:22-23, “Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.’” Jesus was also compassionate on Gentiles. In Mark 7:26 it says, “Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.” Jesus goes on to cast the demon out of her.

    In the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter, it is stated that Jairus is a Jewish synagogue ruler. This most likely means he was responsible for things like the building and other administrative activities.3 “Jairus’ need was so urgent that he jettisoned all dignity and pride, fell at Jesus’ feet and begged for help. Jairus had apparently heard about Jesus and believed that he could heal his child.”4 Lane discusses the abnormality in this being that Jairus had confidence that Jesus could and more importantly would heal his daughter. Lane also states that most likely Jairus had been around Jesus in the synagogue.5

    Mark presents healings that allude to the inclusion of the Gentiles in the salvation story of Jesus. In speaking of the healing of the Gentile man who was deaf and mute,6 Kernaghan says, “The man Jesus healed here was also deaf in a spiritual sense. As a Gentile, he could not hear the Word of God, and without some understanding of God’s Word he could not speak sensibly.”7 Again the importance of Jews not associating with Gentiles is challenged here by Jesus. “Jews normally had no relationship with Gentiles because associations with them made Jews ritually unclean. Jesus now shows by example that those oral laws are invalid and deliberately associates himself with a Gentile woman.”8

    Jesus also does not discriminate based on gender. He elevates women in the way that He treats them. He gives them value. Mark 1:30-31 says, “Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” He also acts compassionately to men. Mark 2:11-12 says, “‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’ And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” Women were treated as a lower status than men in the time of Jesus. In Hendriksen, it is said that the woman who was hemorrhaging had much courage when she spoke up. In that time, it was improper for a woman to speak in public.9 Boring also concludes, “Her faith had caused her to violate conventional social constraints by appearing in public and especially by touching the revered holy man.”10

    Finally, Jesus did not discriminate against the young either. Mark 5:40-42 says,

    And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

    Mark 10:13-16 shows Jesus having compassion on children and laying his hands on them. “Jesus was indignant that anyone should think children unimportant.”11 Jesus crossed all the lines of ethnic diversity, gender, age, and economic status. Jesus acts compassionately on those who are unclean and unwanted in society. He crosses all the boundary lines that have been set up by society.

    In the gospel of Mark, the stories of healings and expulsing demons have a similar thread. The individual receiving the compassionate act sought out Jesus or the disciples for the miraculous act. The individual displayed faith that Jesus or the disciples would be able to complete the action they were requesting. Many times throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus makes the connection that the faith of the individual impacts the healing. Mark 10:52 says, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.” These individuals came to Jesus or were brought to Jesus. There was a faith that Jesus had something that would help those in need.

    Cooper concludes, “I think this is what the man on the pallet did. By letting his friends take him to Jesus, he was admitting his need. Sometimes this takes a lot of faith.”12 It is necessary for a person to want to be helped before they can be helped. Jesus requires individuals to admit their need, to ask for help, and then He is able to show that human need takes precedence of rules and regulations and cultural standards.13 In the story, of the paralytic man,14 Kernaghan states of the faith of the friends, “It is obvious from the intrusive behavior of these four men that they expected something powerful to happen when Jesus preached, which was exactly what he was doing when they began to tear the roof apart.”15


    Why does Jesus have compassion on people in the Gospel of Mark? There are two main reasons that Jesus has compassion on people. One of the reasons Jesus shows compassion is to meet a physical need of an individual or group. Mark 8:1-9 says, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” Jesus desires to meet basic needs for people. He desires to provide for His people. In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, it is apparent that Jesus was the one who recognized the needs of the people who were following Him. “Jesus, not the disciples, recognized the physical needs of the crowds. He was moved with compassion for them because they had not had anything to eat for three days.”16

    Matthew Henry agrees that Jesus responds to needs and adds that Jesus had compassion on these people because of their desire and willingness to follow him. Henry points out that these individuals most likely brought food with them when they began their journey; however, after three days their supplies had run out. The individuals here were zealous for learning more from Jesus. Henry states most likely those individuals had no intentions of returning home until Jesus had dismissed them.17

    Another reason that Jesus has compassion on people is found in Mark 6:30-44, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” Jesus desires to meet spiritual needs for people. He does this by shepherding individuals. He wants to bring people along with him, transform lives and bring his kingdom to society.

    He desires to bring justice where there is oppression. This is demonstrated in the healings that Jesus performs. Many of those who are in need of healing are poor and oppressed by society. Jesus heals them and allows them to reenter society and make a living again. This helps to overcome the oppression. The man who had a legion of demons in him is an example of someone who was restored from oppression back to having a livelihood. Mark 5:15 says, “And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.”

    Kernaghan says, “The kingdom of God is not a prop for the status quo; it is the power of God at work in history to bring wholeness and healing to people and the structures of power and culture in which they live.”18 In this commentary, Kernaghan supports the principle that Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to change society and stop oppression in communities. There is another example of bringing the kingdom to someone who is oppressed when Cooper discusses the story of the hemorrhaging woman found in Mark 6:30-44. “This woman was an outcast. Because of her condition, she would not have been allowed to approach Jesus. To talk to him would be unthinkable. So she approached him in the only way she could—secretly. And it was enough. At once, she was freed from her distress.”19


    Throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus addresses needs of people that he encounters on multiple levels. He addresses social, emotional, biological, psychological, and spiritual needs. Jesus addresses more than one need each time. He meets a spiritual need of some form but also meets at least one of the other needs. Jesus takes time to look at the whole person. He practices holistic ministry and compassion. His compassionate acts address the whole of a person.

    Two concerns of the human spirit that Jesus addresses are demon possession and fear. There are various accounts of demon possession and expulsion in Mark. Mark 1:21-28, 32-34; 5:7-13; 7:25-30; and 9:25-29 all recount examples when Jesus cast out demons. Fear is a psychological issue and is addressed on different accounts in the Gospel of Mark including in 4:35-41 and 6:48-51. Jesus addresses and calms the fears of the fisherman in both these accounts.

    Kernaghan describes the mental state of the man who was demon possessed in Mark 5:7-13.

    He was an antisocial outcast who did not stray far from the centers of population. He lived in the place of the dead, within screaming distance of a tormented village. He abused himself either because of a fascination with death or because of morbid impulses that he could not control, yet he went on living. He could not be bound even with iron shackles, but he was not free in any sense.20

    He was in a fragile state of mind and had no freedom. Christ steps on to the scene and not only frees him from the demons that control him, but also set him free spiritually. Wessel suggests the same, “Though we are not tortured by the devil [I wonder?] yet he holds us as his slaves, till the Son of God delivers us from his tyranny. Naked, torn, and disfigured, we wander about, till he restores us to soundness of mind.”21

    When discussing Mark 4:35-41, Moloney states, “Jesus’ peaceful sleep already indicates his lordship over a seemingly chaotic situation.”22 This chaos was causing fear. So often, individuals who are living in poverty are living in chaotic states. These individuals are struggling to put food on the table and not worried about the other day to day activities, but only about basic needs. Boring states that Jesus takes the time in Mark 4:35-41 to address the fear of the disciples and he addresses it with severity and compassion. He is compassionate in that he rebukes the wind and waves, however is severe when he discusses their little faith.23 As stated above, Jesus cares about psychological needs of individuals, whether that is fear or something else.

    Jesus also takes the time to reconcile person’s social standing and create community which provides companionship and stability in life. In the narratives of Mark 1:16-20, 40-45; and 5:29-34, Jesus fills a social need that these individuals desire. In Mark 1:16-20 Jesus calls together the twelve to create a community. He begins creating a family sense. In Mark 3:35 it says, “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus begins setting up the community of faith and the family that will sustain believers throughout life.

    Jesus also creates a new community for believers as mentioned in Mark 3:35. Many of the individuals who were healed by Jesus were ostracized by their families and friends, however, “In place of broken family relations, ostracism and persecution, was the close and intimate relation to the Son of God.”24 Jesus creates a new family for believers, one that includes all believers and gives community to all who have been cast out.

    In Mark 1:40-45 and 5:29-34 Jesus performs healings. The first is the healing of a leper, and the second is the healing of a hemorrhaging woman. The culture of that day deemed these two individuals as unclean because of their diseases. When Jesus acts compassionately and heals these individuals it pronounces them as clean and able to interact with society once again.

    In discussing the hemorrhaging woman, Cooper says that because of her disease she was considered unclean in that society. This status of unclean would forbid her to participate in social events or even feasts and sacrifices. When Jesus chose to heal her, he restored her to society. He gave her back a status of clean and allowed her to re-enter the religious community. The hemorrhaging woman is also like the leper who Jesus healed in Mark 1:40-45.25 The leper was also considered unclean to society and an outcast. Again, when Jesus chose to heal the leper, the man was able to participate again in the religious community and was restored to society.

    Jesus also meets emotional needs. Some of these emotional needs include meeting the need for friendship and companionship and also giving comfort to others in their time of need. Jesus meets the emotional needs of friendship and companionship in Mark when He calls the disciples together. He also meets emotional needs when He heals those who are deemed unclean by society because once healed those individuals are able to become a part of society again. Another way Jesus meets emotional needs is by comforting those in need. He brings comfort when he meets a biological need with a healing such as in the case of Jairus’ daughter or Simon Peter’s mother. He restores health and brings comfort to a family who was expecting to mourn a loss.

    Many of these emotional needs could also be considered social needs and have been previously addressed. The other way Jesus meets emotional needs is by being a comforter. Many times in society comfort is associated with the touch of a hand or an arm on the shoulder. Kernaghan observes,

    Placing his hands on sick people to heal them lies at the heart of many accounts of Jesus’ miracles. Jesus took the hand of Peter’s bedridden mother-in-law and helped her up. He reached out his hand to touch the leper. The woman who touched his cloak was healed of a chronic hemorrhage. And in the preceding passage Jesus took a lifeless child by the hand and said: Little girl, I say to you, get up!26

    Stein agrees with Kernaghan on the principle addressed above, about Jesus being a comforter. He states, “In other healings in Mark, Jesus also “grasps the hand,” “lays his hands on”, “touches,” or is touched by the person seeking healing.”27

    Jesus also acted compassionately on the biological being. He performed many healings and provided basic needs such as food in multiple accounts. Mark 1:21-34, 40-45; 3:1-12; 5:1-43; 6:1-6, 53-56; 7:24-37; 8:22-26; 9:14-29; and 10:46-52 are all healings that Jesus performed in the Gospel of Mark. These healings meet a biological need or a physical need that the individual had. There are also accounts that Jesus met biological needs by providing food for individuals. These accounts are found when Jesus fed the five thousand in Mark 6:30-44 and when he fed the four thousand in Mark 8:1-9.

    When individuals are sick they most often go to the doctor seeking wellness through medication, natural remedies, or other means. Mark 5 tells the story of the hemorrhaging woman. She had been to many doctors, however, received no reprieve from her symptoms. Lane states, “She had consulted a number of physicians, had endured a wide variety of treatments, and had spent all of her money in a desperate attempt to better her condition. All this was in vain; in fact, her condition grew worse.”28 Jesus had created a reputation for healing people. The last healing miracle in the Gospel of Mark is that of the blind Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus has heard of Jesus’ reputation and takes advantage of Jesus coming by him and receives his sight.29

    Looking at Mark 8:1-9, Cooper states, “Jesus had probably gone without food for this time as well. But it was for his flock that he was concerned and felt compassion. He was also concerned about sending them home. Many of them had traveled great distances and might not make it home without fainting or becoming ill.”30 Kernaghan expands on this thought saying that the real question was one of whether the disciples would choose to tend to the people or not. Jesus has just made the analogy of the people being like sheep without a shepherd and so the question Jesus eludes to, is whether the disciples will follow His lead and care for the sheep by feeding them physically.31

    Finally, Jesus meets spiritual needs. Jesus meets spiritual needs all throughout the Gospel of Mark. His imprint is on every story, and his teaching is in every moment. He meets needs that increase faith in the individuals impacted by them, those observing, and the disciples. He leaves a desire in all those who are impacted by an act of compassion to know more about whom He is and how He has the power to perform such miracles. Marshall states, “Jesus’ recorded actions are principally mighty works, culminating in raising to life a child who died before Jesus could reach her through whom God would exercise his transforming power to bring about well-being (peace).”32 Jesus’ mighty works are done to bring the Kingdom of God into the current reality. Jesus stands to remove oppression and bring healing to all people. In His acts, faith is increased in individuals who are healed. In Mark 2:1-12 Jesus heals a paralytic, and Kernaghan states, “When Jesus said, Son, your sins are forgiven, he gave the man on the mat the key to entering a world that was bigger than the world where everyone else walked, earned a living and held a place of some respect in the social order.”33 Cooper says of this same story that Jesus cared not only for the man spiritually but also for the man’s body and healed his body as well as forgave his sin.34 Whether Jesus is healing or casting out demons or teaching the crowds, He is always teaching something for someone to learn and to grow spiritually.

    He sets the example of servanthood in Mark 10:45 which says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 8:35 says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Jesus asks individuals to pour out compassion and their life for others. He is the example for believers to follow.

    Finally, Jesus gives the greatest commandments in Mark 8:31, stating “The second [commandment] is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Jesus asks believers to be compassionate and love their neighbors. This is the basic guideline for living compassionately as Jesus was in the Gospel of Mark. “Mark writes to people who need to experience the stark reality of Jesus, who need to have their lives touched and challenged by his message and his ministry.”35 Jesus addresses multiple needs and tries to allow people to see their need for God and their sin before God.36 “Jesus’ basic teaching is about the rule of God, understood as God’s sovereign, gracious power operating through himself to create a sphere of blessing for humankind and to overcome the power of Satan and destroy evil; it will be fully manifested in the near future but is already at work.”37


    Jesus certainly was compassionate. Who was he compassionate to? What was his compassion about? Finally, why was he compassionate?


    Compassion is part of the essence of Jesus. He did not allow social or religious constraints prevent Him from demonstrating compassion. He worked to obliterate oppression and elevate those whom society deemed unworthy. Jesus met many different needs. He met biological, psychological, social and emotional needs. In meeting these, faith always played a part and was increased with the compassionate act.

    Jesus’ compassion stems from his mission. He always met a spiritual need when meeting another need. He came into the world to serve and pour out his life for others. He came to bring a glimpse of heaven to the harsh reality of a broken world. Finally, He came to show the example of how believers are to love their neighbors.


    Jesus commands believers to love their neighbor as themselves. Believers must pursue the example Jesus set in Mark. It is vital for believers to be servant-hearted when caring and interacting with humankind. In Mark, Jesus is seen bringing the Kingdom into the present reality. He challenges believers to put human need above rules and regulations of society, culture, and religious rules.

    Believers should work to prevent and challenge oppression of others. They should meet needs not only spiritually but should allow Christ to use them to also meet social, emotional, biological, and psychological needs. Christ empowers believers to meet the needs of others and exhorts believers to do just that. Christ calls believers to meet needs not only for those like them, but for all people that they encounter regardless of gender, race, culture, religion, or any other categorization. Believers are to meet needs for others because Jesus gave the example to follow of meeting needs. Believers must be like Jesus in compassion, and they must be holistic in caring for others just as the Gospel of Mark shows Jesus acting holistically. Jesus mission was to be a servant of all and pour out his life. Believers must also do this in learning to be more like Jesus.


    1Rich Heffern, “Kindling the Fire of Compassion,” National Catholic Reporter, September 2002,, (accessed November 2, 2011).

    2All Scripture is quoted from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

    3Walter W. Wessel, “Mark,” vol. 8, in The Expositor's Bible Commentary with the New International Version, ed. Frank Gaebelein, 601-796 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 660.


    5William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1974), 190.

    6Mark 7:31-37

    7Ronald J. Kernaghan, Mark, IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010), 144.

    8Wessel, 681-82.

    9William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975), 209.

    10M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 160.

    11Wessel, 713.

    12Rodney L. Cooper, Mark, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2000), 32.

    13Cooper, 48-9.

    14Mark 2:1-12

    15Kernaghan, 55.

    16Wessel, 686.

    17Matthew Henry, Commentary on Mark, (accessed November 2011).

    18Kernaghan, 47.

    19Cooper, 87.

    20Kernaghan, 104.

    21Wessel, 658.

    22Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 99.

    23Boring, 147.

    24Wessel, 646.

    25Cooper, 87.

    26Kernaghan, 115-16.

    27Robert H. Stein, Mark, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 94.

    28Lane, 191.

    29Wessel, 722.

    30Cooper, 132.

    31Kernaghan, 126.

    32I. Howard Marshall, A Concise New Testament Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 22.

    33Kernaghan, 56.

    34Cooper, 33.

    35Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 195.

    36Marshall, 31.



    Boring, M. Eugene. Mark: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

    Cooper, Rodney L. Mark. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2000.

    Heffern, Rich. “Kindling the fire of Compassion.” National Catholic Reporter, September 2002.

    Hendriksen, William. Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark. New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975.

    Henry, Matthew. Commentary on Mark. (accessed November 2011).

    Kernaghan, Ronald J. Mark. IVP New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

    Lane, William L. The Gospel According to Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.

    Marshall, I. Howard. A Concise New Testament Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.

    Moloney, Francis J. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.

    Stein, Robert H. Mark. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

    Wessel, Walter W. Mark. Vol. 8 of The Expositor's Bible Commentary with the New International Version, edited by Frank Gaebelein, 601-796. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.

    Wilkins, Michael J. Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

    A Marcan Theology of Faith


    A Marcan Theology of Faith

    Carrie Stewart





    What is Faith?

    Gospel of Mark


    Faith in Action

    Faith Uncertain

    Unconventional Faith

    Absence of Faith

    Audacious Faith

    Help in Unbelief

    History of Faith

    Declaration of Faith







    In the face of persecution and imminent death, what would sustain a first-century Christian to remain steadfast in their identification with Jesus Christ? One does not endure brutal hardships and accusations for a person who was simply a teacher of morality or another religious philosopher. They must have seen and believed that He was something more. They possessed something greater than admiration for a moral teacher. They had faith in the Son of God.

    Faith is the undercurrent of assurance that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and the redeemer of humankind. Mark was the first of the Gospel writers to communicate the life of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and he did so in order to bolster the faith of those facing persecution. Mark’s unique storytelling techniques conveyed the message of faith in Jesus Christ poignantly to his audience of first-century Gentile Christians and many more generations of believers.

    Faith is essential for the believer. It gives reason for discipleship. An absolute trust in Jesus is crucial if one is going to surrender his or her life to the cause of Christ. One must trust in His character, but also in His claim of divinity. One must have complete belief in the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the one to reconcile the world to the Father. Sharing an affinity with His teaching and following His commands does not adequately portray a life of faith. Faith involves completely identifying oneself with Jesus as the Son of God. It moves beyond saying in word that one believes in Him; faith is proven in one’s actions.


    Before one studies instances of faith in Mark, one must have an understanding of the concept of faith as it is used in Mark and in the Gospels. Unbelief is important to study as well since it is the opposite of faith and is also an issue dealt with in Mark.

    What is Faith?

    The English noun “faith” comes from the Greek word pistis. It means complete belief and reliability in someone’s character.1 During the Hellenistic period, the term developed religious undertones as it described trust and belief directed toward a deity. To have this faith in a god meant giving their words, abilities and character total credence in one’s estimation.

    In the Synoptic Gospels, pistis focuses on Christ. Faith is one’s trust in Jesus’ ability to meet needs, whether spiritual or physical. Moreover, it shows one’s belief in who He is and that God would fulfill His Messianic promises in Scripture in the person of Jesus Christ. It is dependence on God’s provision and divine ability to perform miracles. Faith is trusting in Jesus’ claim of who He is.2 Jesus wanted people to not merely have faith in Him as a healer, but to go a step further and have faith in Him as the Christ. Belief in His healing power was what lead people to have faith in Him as the Messiah.3 The concept of faith is central to Christian theology. It represents the right relationship one must have with God.4 It moves beyond trust; it represents trust in someone, or rather in God.

    In the Synoptics, faith precedes the miracles performed by Jesus. Healings come as a result of existing faith. Where faith is demonstrated in the Gospels, people do not ask for signs in order to believe; they already believe, and Jesus grants that for which they ask.5

    Conversely, as pistis means faith and belief in God, apistia means the opposite, or unbelief. It negates faith. In the Gospels, it means a negative response to Jesus’ ministry.6 Belief is central to the Christian faith, and not to believe is to reject God’s truth. Apistia also refers to a lack of faith in the power God to intervene in one’s life. It involves a mistrust, or a lack of trust, in Jesus and His authority, it is actually disbelief

    Gospel of Mark

    With an understanding of faith as it is used in the Synoptic tradition, one can better appreciate its usage in a particular book. The book of Mark has its unique attributes. It has traditionally been attributed to Mark, also known as John Mark, who was a relative of Barnabas, a traveling companion on the first missionary journey of Paul (with that apostle and Barnabas), and later, an associate of the Apostle Peter. The Gospel itself is anonymous, but the history of the early church credits Mark with the authorship.7 Since he was closely tied with Peter, one of Jesus’ close disciples, the accounts given in the narrative are Peter’s recollections of Jesus’ ministry.

    Mark’s is considered the earliest Gospel written. It was likely written in Rome after Peter’s death between 67 and 70 AD. Its original audience was the Gentile Christians in Rome, so they were likely not familiar with the Jewish background of the narratives. This group of Christians was undergoing brutal persecution after the rule of Nero, who had wrongly accused them of starting the great fire in Rome. Mark’s Gospel was meant to encourage them through that time, and many of the episodes that will soon be discussed contributed to that encouragement.

    Mark’s style of writing is distinct from the other gospel writers. The narrative is action-packed and informally written. He uses the word “immediately” numerous times, giving the sense of urgency and swiftness. It is the shortest gospel with only sixteen chapters, but the last six are dedicated to the last week of Jesus’ ministry before the crucifixion. It is as if Mark hurried through Jesus’ first years of ministry in order to get to Passion Week. His vivid imagery and swift narration made for a good piece of writing to be read out loud.

    His choppy structure and action-packed narration could also be attributed to copying Peter’s preaching. Since Mark was his transcriber, his recollection of the stories of Jesus could have been collected from Peter’s unsystematic way of communicating. However, because of such detail, Mark’s account must have come from being intimately involved in the scenarios.8


    Faith in Action

    The first pericope that mentions faith is Mark 2:1-13, which gives the account of Jesus’ healing a paralytic man. Jesus was teaching in a house in Capernaum and people packed into the place to the point that no one else could gain access. A group of men brought a paralytic man on a stretcher and could not enter the house because of the crowds. Determined to present their friend to Jesus for healing, they took him to the roof of the dwelling, dug a hole through the roof and lowered the man in front of Jesus. Their action of bringing the man to Jesus by unconventional means prompted Jesus to meet the man’s need. Rather than giving him immediate healing, though, Jesus declared his sins forgiven. It was the showcase of faith that led Jesus to do it. He did eventually heal the man of his paralysis to prove to the scribes present that He had the authority to forgive sins—something that only God could do.

    Jesus addressed the man’s spiritual and physical condition in response to the faith shown by the group of men (cf. v. 5). They likely heard of Jesus’ reputation of healing throughout the region and knew that He was capable of healing their friend. This was a declaration of faith in action rather than in words.9 Their belief in Jesus’ power was evident in their action of getting their friend to Jesus by whatever means possible. Determined to see him healed, they defaced someone’s home just to get him to the One they knew could help. Their faith changed this man’s life. Jesus responded to their faith in action. Mark used vivid imagery of the men tearing apart a roof just to get to Jesus in order to emphasize their faith and determination. He showed that faith is an attitude that results in certain conduct.

    This episode of healing was early on in Jesus’ Galilean ministry. He was gathering his disciples to him, teaching in synagogues, and healing people. His disciples witnessed these happenings, yet their hearts still lacked faith in who Jesus said He was. This is evident in the instance of Jesus calming the sea in 4:35-41, which is the next pericope that mentions faith.

    Faith Uncertain

    Jesus had been teaching in parables about the kingdom of God while near the Sea of Galilee. Later that day He suggested to His disciples that they cross to the other side of the sea in a boat. On their way, a windstorm came up and rocked the boat around terribly. Water filled the boat and the disciples struggled to get it under control. Meanwhile, Jesus was sleeping in the back of the boat. They woke him up, asking if He even cared that they were perishing. He got up, rebuked the wind and the sea. Suddenly both were calm. He then reproved the disciples and questioned whether they still had no faith. They were astonished that even the sea obeyed Him, and they questioned among themselves who this man was who had power over the elements.

    Jesus’ reproof of their lack of faith came at a time when they should have believed in who He was as the Christ. Jesus had called them to follow Him, they witnessed His miracles, and listened to His teaching. Yet they had not allowed the truth of who Jesus was to penetrate their hearts; instead, they questioned His concern for them in the midst of their peril. Jesus contrasted fear with faith in that situation, and it was obvious that they did not believe in who He claimed to be. The dire circumstances of a sinking boat in the middle of a storm showed that those closest to Jesus were lacking in faith and understanding of Him.10

    Intense conditions can bring out the true state of a person’s convictions. The disciples still had not come to a complete belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and the storm brought that to the light. Mark’s message in this pericope could be mirroring the situation that the Christians in Rome were facing. Intense persecution would have brought their faith, or lack of faith, to the surface. This episode showed that Jesus was compassionate and still in control of the storm. Therefore, He was worthy of one’s trust.

    Unconventional Faith

    The next episode in the narrative that exemplifies faith in Jesus is the dual story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the issue of blood in 5:21-43. This pericope is often referred to as a Markan sandwich11 where the narration starts with a particular story, is interrupted by another narration, and then finishes with the resolution of the first story. Interpolations appear in various areas in the book of Mark, and it is often the story in the middle that proves the point of the original story and ties it all together to prove a point. Because the book of Mark was likely read out loud, this technique would have been an effective storytelling element to hook the audience and then hold their attention to the end.

    After healing the Gerasene demoniac, Jesus and His disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee again back into the Jewish town of Capernaum. Upon their return, a crowd gathered around Him. A synagogue leader named Jairus came up to Him and implored Him to see his daughter who was ill and on the brink of death. Jesus agreed, and they started out for Jairus’ house.

    Then that narrative is interrupted as focus shifts on another person in need of healing. While on the way to Jairus’ daughter, the crowd continued to press in on Jesus. Among them was a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for the past twelve years. She had spent all she had on physicians, yet they were not able to help her. Determined for Jesus to heal her, she pushed her way through the people and reached out to touch Him, believing that if she only touched the fringe of His garment, she would be healed. She did just that and immediately felt within her body that the bleeding had stopped.

    Having felt the power leave Him, Jesus stopped and asked who had touched Him. The woman was afraid to be known since she was ritually unclean because of the flow of blood. Yet she confessed to Jesus what she had done. Jesus declared her well because of her faith.

    During this time, someone from Jairus’ house came to tell him that his daughter had died and that it was no longer necessary to bother Jesus. Jesus assured him not to fear and to instead believe. They arrived at the house and were met by a crowd of mourners. Jesus assured them all that the little girl was only sleeping and not dead. He went inside to see her, commanded her to get up, and she rose. Everyone was astounded.

    Mark’s juxtaposition of these two narratives into one episode illustrated how faith brought healing to both the woman and the little girl. In both instances, they were at the end of their rope and had no other option. Both went against the norm in imploring Jesus for help. The woman was ritually unclean and not supposed to be in a public setting, let alone touch a man. Yet her desperation drove her to go against the norm. She must have already known Jesus’ reputation of healing, and she knew that if she could just get close enough to Him, He would make her whole. Likewise, Jairus went against what was likely unexpected of him as a synagogue leader by imploring Jesus for help. In doing so, he was acknowledging Him as the Son of God. In both cases, their belief in Jesus was expressed in their initiative of imploring for help. Sandwiching these two narratives together illustrated how faith in Jesus is expressed in actions.

    The storytelling technique also involves the audience in a faith-building exercise. It causes them to consider Jesus’ past actions and how that influences present faith. The reader is left hanging after Jairus is introduced and wondering how the little girl will fare. However, after the audience sees the woman healed, their faith is strengthened and they become confident that Jesus can heal the little girl because we see that He just healed someone else on the way.

    Absence of Faith

    Up until this point in the narrative, Jesus had been healing in response to people’s demonstration of faith. In the episode following these two healings of females, the opposite happens. The text illustrates an instance where Jesus does not perform miracles in response to a lack of faith. Mark 6:1-6 is the account of Jesus and his disciples going to His hometown of Nazareth. He taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and many people expressed their astonishment at His wisdom, remembering His humble beginnings and His family. People were offended by him and did not believe in what He stood for. Jesus was amazed at this, and because of their unbelief, did not perform mighty miracles.

    This is not to say that Jesus was unable to perform miracles because of a lack of faith. The episode in 4:35-41 where Jesus calms the sea illustrated that despite the disciples’ lack of faith, Jesus was still able to perform a miracle. Also, in the healing of the paralytic in 2:1-13, Jesus actually healed the man to prove to the scribes who He was because of their unbelief. Unbelief does not stymie Jesus’ power. Rather, in this episode of not performing miracles in His hometown, it is evident that one’s unbelief will hinder their capacity to experience God’s redemption. Miracles do not happen in the absence of faith.12

    It is ironic, however, that those who were considered closest to him—his family—were the ones who did not understand Him. In reality, they knew Him the least, despite knowing Him for His entire life.13

    Audacious Faith

    Jesus continued performing many miracles, including feeding the five thousand, walking on the water, and healing in crowds of people. In Mark 7:34-27, He encountered a Gentile woman while in the region of Tyre. This episode illustrates the audacity of faith. Even though the pericope does not use the word “faith” explicitly, it is still implied in the dialog.

    The Syrophoenician woman asked Him to heal her daughter who was suffering from an unclean spirit. Initially, Jesus declined her request because He knew He was sent to the Jews first and salvation would come to the Gentiles later. Her response to His refusal showed her faith in Him, and it showed her boldness in insisting that He touch her daughter. He granted her request because of her answer. This episode shows that faith requires boldness.

    Help in Unbelief

    As the narrative continues and Jesus nears His time to go to Jerusalem, He performs more miracles, Peter confesses Him as the Christ, and He is transfigured on a mountain top. The next instance that deals with faith is in the healing of a demon-possessed boy. Mark 9:19-29 tells of a father bringing his son to Jesus and asking Him to deliver him from demon possession. He said that Jesus’ disciples had tried to remove the demon, but it did not come out. Jesus said that anything was possible if he would believe. The father replied that he did believe, but asked for help with his unbelief. Jesus commanded the spirit to come out of the boy and he was healed.

    The unbelief of the father probably came from the disciples’ inability to cast the demon out. Yet he put his unbelief at the feet of Jesus, which was the proper place.14 Jesus took the faith he had, and with the benefit of Christ’s own prayer and fasting, was able to cast the demon out of his son. Faith unleashed the power of God.15

    History of Faith

    The narrative continues to follow Jesus as he heals and teaches through Galilee and Judea on His way to Jerusalem. As He and His disciples leave Jericho, which was not far from Jerusalem, one last incident, specifically mentions faith, occurs before Jesus enters His final week. In Mark 10:46-52, Jesus and His followers encounter a blind man named Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus was begging at the side of the road, and as soon as he heard that Jesus was coming, he started shouting out to Him for mercy, calling Him the Son of David, which had Messianic undertones. Jesus asked him what he wanted, and Bartimaeus replied that he wanted his sight. Jesus healed him because of his faith, and he followed them along the road.

    Since the man was specifically named, it is possible that he became a well-known figure in the early church.16 If the original audience of the book of Mark was familiar with Bartimaeus in his later years, then this episode would have been encouraging to them to hear that he was once blind but had been healed by Jesus Himself.

    Again in this instance, one’s belief in who Jesus claimed to be was what caused Jesus to grant his request for healing. Bartimaeus declared Jesus to be the Messiah, and by asking Him for his sight, he acknowledged that Jesus had the ability to heal him. Interestingly enough, a blind man is the one to acknowledge Him as the Messiah when many others before him could not see Jesus for who He truly was.17 After experiencing first-hand His healing power, Bartimaeus followed Jesus on to Jerusalem. Discipleship followed his faith.

    After surveying Jesus’ ministry in the book of Mark for instances of faith, it is clear that Jesus responded positively to those who declared Him to be the Son of God and acknowledged that He had the ability to intervene in their hopeless situation. Healings occurred as a result of someone’s faith in Jesus. Whether that faith was displayed through actions or declarations, Jesus knew the hearts of those who showed faith and met their needs. Faith, or lack thereof, surfaced at the onset of a dire need.

    Declaration of Faith

    Lastly are two episodes where faith is implied in people’s words through their declarations. In Mark 8:27-30, Jesus and His disciples were traveling when Jesus asked them who people said He was. They gave Him various answers, such as Elijah or John the Baptist. Jesus asked who they thought He was. Peter declared Him to be the Christ.

    “Christ” was a Messianic title. In calling Him the Christ, Peter was acknowledging that Jesus was the Messiah. He believed in what Jesus said, in who He was, and that He was the promised one. It was a declaration of his faith. Considering how he and the disciples doubted who Jesus was earlier in the narrative when he had calmed the sea in Galilee, this declaration from Peter meant that He finally understood who Jesus was. The disciples did not yet fully grasp his identity as the Son of God. In his acknowledgement of who Jesus was, however, Peter declared His faith. It was a sign of growth in his understanding of the Kingdom of God.

    Another declaration of faith came near the end of the narrative in Mark 15:39 at the crucifixion. After Jesus breathed His last on the cross, the Roman centurion said that He was truly the Son of God. To have a Gentile make such a declaration is significant because it represents how salvation through Jesus had become universal. While Mark did not record this incident with an explicit use of the word “faith,” such a declaration was filled with faith and belief. The centurion’s declaration would have been important to the Gentile Christians for whom the gospel was originally written because it opened the possibility of salvation to them. Jesus mission and ministry was no longer exclusive to the Jews. This is a climactic declaration spiritual recognition of and full of belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and that from a Gentile!


    Not only can a survey of faith and unbelief in the Gospel of Mark contribute to a theology of faith, it can also help identify elements of discipleship for a believer today. Simply put, discipleship is identifying with Christ. Once a believer surrenders his or her life to Him and chooses to follow His ways, discipleship is the process of abiding in Christ. Discipleship is a lifestyle of abiding in the Word, loving other disciples, and bearing fruit.18

    Faith plays an integral part in this process of discipleship. It is the motivation for a life of Christian discipleship. Based on a solid belief in everything Jesus said, faith fuels the drive to live for Him. If Jesus was not who He said He was, then one’s process of becoming more like Him would have been meaningless. Because of faith in God and His character, a believer’s walk becomes meaningful. Faith is believing in what Christ stood for, what He taught, and believing in His future plans. Discipleship is not being a good person just for the sake of being moral. It is because God is the object of one’s faith. Faith in Him gives reason for discipleship. It gives credence to what one does as a disciple.

    In terms of the connection between faith and discipleship in individuals, the Gospel of Mark demonstrates two different kinds of responses. One kind of response is an immediate declaration of faith, such as that which came from many of who experienced healings. Their understanding of Jesus was often quick. Another kind of response, more typical of the those close to Jesus, such as His disciples and family, was a much slower to acceptance to believe in who He was. Their faith came slowly but eventually by hearing, receiving, they, too, bore fruit. That kind of faith is genuine, too.19

    Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Mark 4) demonstrates that faith which springs up quickly—if not rooted deeply—is not the most desirable response (cf. vv. 5-6 and vv. 16-17). True faith as a disciple is the deep reception of the Word: hearing, understanding, coming to know its mystery (vv. 11, 13, 20), and responding in wholehearted obedience to it.


    Faith was an important motif to communicate with Mark’s original audience since they were facing persecution during the time his gospel was written. It was meant to encourage and strengthen them as they were living under dangerous and trying circumstances. Mark wanted them to hold fast to their belief in Christ and not to fear for the future. Mark’s description of miracles showed the reader that Jesus cared both about their physical state as well as their spiritual condition. Jesus can heal a mortal body, but He does more than that. He brings restoration to the whole person. He healed aliments, but He did not stop there. He brought the ultimate restoration by forgiving sins, thus ensuring the person a place in the Kingdom of God. It was all as a result of faith.20

    A theology of faith in the book of Mark emphasizes how belief in Jesus as the Son of God can fortify a believer in the face of persecution. Vivid imagery and fast-paced narration contribute to the various themes discussed, such as the importance of having an unshaken faith in the Lord. Jesus responds to showcases of faith, grieves at unbelief, and strengthens waning faith. Those who put their absolute trust in Him are commended, but those who do not miss out on the blessing of identifying with the Son of God.


    1Gerhard Barth, “pistis,” in Horst Balz, ed. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), Vol. 3, 92-95.

    2Otto Michel, “faith,” in Colin Brown, ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1967), Vol. 1, 593-595.

    3Ibid., 600.

    4Barth, 3:92.

    5Ibid., 3:92.

    6Thoralf Gilbrant, ed.“apistia” in The New Testament Greek-English Dictionary, Complete Biblical Library (Springfield, MO: World Library, 1990), 11:343-344.

    7Robert Guelich, Mark 1-8:26,World Biblical Commentary, Vol. 34A (Dallas, TX: Word, 1989), xxvi.

    8R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 9.

    9France, 124.

    10Ibid., 221.

    11Ibid., 18.

    12Guelich, 31.

    13Mary R. Thompson, The Role of Disbelief in Mark (New York: Paulist, 1989), 123.

    14France, 368.

    15Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 34B (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 52.

    16R. E. Nixon, “Bartimaeus,” in I. Howard Marshall, J. I. Packer, D. J. Wiseman, A.R. Millard, eds., The New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 1:124.

    17Larry Hurtado, Mark, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1983), 175.

    18Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 236-238.

    19James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002), 17.

    20Augustine Stock, Call to Discipleship: A Literary Study of Mark’s Gospel (Wilmington, DE: Glazier, 1982), 148.


    Alexander, T. Desmond and Brian S. Rosner, eds. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

    Barth, Gerhard. “Pistis,” in Horst Balz, ed. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990, Vol. 3, 92-95.

    Edwards, James R. The Gospel According to Mark, Pillar New Testament Commentary. Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002.

    Evans, Craig A. Mark 8:27-16:20, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 34B. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011.

    France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark, The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

    Guelich, Robert. Mark 1-8:26, World Biblical Commentary, Vol. 34A. Dallas, TX: Word, 1989.

    Gilbrant, Thoralf, ed.“Apistia” in The New Testament Greek-English Dictionary, of the Complete Biblical Library. Springfield, MO: World Library, 1990, 11:343-344.

    Hurtado, Larry. Mark, New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1983.

    Michel, Otto. “Faith,” in Colin Brown, ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1967, Vol. 1, 593-595.

    Lane, William L. The Gospel According to Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Erdmans, 1974.

    Nixon, R. E. “Bartimaeus,” in I. Howard Marshall, J. I. Packer, D. J. Wiseman, and A. R. Millard, eds., The New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996.

    Stock, Augustine. Call to Discipleship: A Literary Study of Mark’s Gospel. Wilmington, DE: Glazier, 1982.

    Thompson, Mary R., The Role of Disbelief in Mark. New York: Paulist, 1989.

    Wilkins, Michael J. Following the Master. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

    A New Testament Theology of Koinonia


    A New Testament Theology of Koinonia

    Montra Estridge







    Sharing and Contribution











    Some societies are comprised of self-centered individuals. There is no strong sense of community and fellowship. People look for a place to belong, yet their individualistic attitude keeps them isolated from each other. Christians should maintain an attitude of fellowship even in the face of individualism. The way Christians act toward others should reflect what the Bible teaches about community. This type of relationship is called koinonia. The term koinonia is used to describe how the early church interacted with God and with each other, giving the modern church a model for a godly community. Koinonia is at the heart of true Christian fellowship. James Evans says “Koinonia refers to the internal character of the church community. It is the solidarity of that community in which a common purpose is strong enough to render all other stratifications among human beings of only secondary importance … . Koinonia refers to the character of the church as the embodiment of the reign of God.”1

    The purpose of this chapter is to prove that koinonia is the cycle that starts with God’s fellowship with the believer, the believers’ fellowship with one another, and then facilitates the drawing others into fellowship with God. This will be done by taking a closer look at the word koinonia, the fellowship of believers with God and each other. Several aspects of koinonia will be explored, including the secular background use, the New Testament uses, and how it was displayed in the early church. The theology behind koinonia will be discussed by looking at the steps for developing true fellowship. The intent of this chapter is to find a deeper understanding of the fellowship God has called Christians to as believers.


    The Greek word koinonia is translated fellowship, participation, sharing, or contribution in the New Testament. It encompasses the idea of taking part in something with someone. This is not merely spending time together, but a commitment to each other. True understanding of the meaning of koinonia requires a look at what fellowship meant in a historical context.

    The Old Testament Jew would have had no word to describe fellowship with God. They relied on God and worshipped Him, but there was no sense of fellowship with Him. They would not have considered themselves important enough to be companions of God.2 The lack of the use of terms indicating fellowship with God in the Old Testament is in stark contrast with the assurance of it in the New Testament. This did not mean there was no fellowship among the Jewish community in the Old Testament. God put a system in place for His people to teach them how to live in a Godly community. The Law insured His people would have the foundation needed for growing together in a common purpose.

    In Rabbinic Literature, fellowship is used to show general relationships such as companions and colleagues. The only religious meaning it takes is when table fellowship is mentioned during the feasts, like Passover.3 The Passover was one of three main feasts all Jewish males were required to attend. The purpose of these feasts was to encourage the spiritual wellbeing of the community, to allow the people to meet in holy fellowship for a time of sacred worship.4

    The Greeks used the word koinonia to denote sharing in business, legal matters, marriage, and relationships. It has a connotation of a deep commitment to one another. For a Greek individual, the absolute expression of fellowship was friendship. Philosophers believed the most rewarding type of relationship a person could have was a Platonic friendship in which there was a strong emotional and intellectual connection.

    The Greeks also used the word in a religious connotation that had to do with sacrificial feasts, at which they believed they communed with the gods during the meal. There are several occasions when these feasts would have been held: during times of difficulty when the people needed the gods’ favor, when they felt the gods gave them a sign of their presence, or if they won a great battle. The meat offered at these feasts was from an animal sacrificed to the gods. This allowed people to partake in the sacrifice to the gods.5

    New Testament writers used the word koinonia from the Greek historical context. Many of the same concepts are used; however, there is one common concept used in the New Testament that is rarely used in the Greek the idea of giving a share in something. This concept becomes a vital part of fellowship in the New Testament churches.


    The New Testament authors use fellowship in three distinct ways. They use it as a sense of sharing in something or participation, giving a share in something, and a complete sense of fellowship.6 These three uses of koinonia will be explained in this chapter.


    There are two verses in the New Testament where koinonia is translated as participation. In 2 Corinthians 8:4, the churches of Macedonia gave an offering to the saints in Jerusalem, even though they were in what Paul describes as deep poverty. They “begged us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints” (2 Cor. 8:4).7 The use of the word “begged” shows the attitude of the believers was such that they yearned to help other believers.

    The other use of participation is in Philippians 1:5, where Paul is thanking God for the believers in Philippi “in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.” The use of koinonia here shows an action. The believers in the early churches are actively involved in caring for others, and in the works of the gospel.8

    Sharing and Contribution

    Two scriptures translate koinonia as sharing. The first is I Corinthians 10:16, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” Paul goes on to warn believers not to eat pagan sacrifices since koinonia here would hold the same meaning as for the Greeks who believe they commune with the gods during the sacrificial feasts. Paul is informing Christian believers not to partake in those feasts because they are not to commune with demons since they commune with Christ during the Eucharist.

    The second passage is Hebrews 13:16, which states “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” The author tells the readers to share, not referring to just material possessions, but also of themselves, their time, and friendship with others. This means going outside the boundaries of individual interests to show love and care toward others.9

    Koinonia is also translated as contribution twice in the Scriptures. Romans 15:26 “For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.” Paul’s use of the term koinonia for a financial gift is interesting. He goes on to explain that since the Jews have shared in their spiritual blessing with the Gentiles, then the Gentiles should share in their material blessings. “In this case, each offered what they were able to offer to benefit others: Jewish Christians their spiritual blessings, Gentile Christians their material blessings. Such mutual sharing of one's blessings is a clear and profound expression of Christian fellowship.”10

    The other verse translating koinonia as contribution states, “Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all” (2 Cor. 9:13). This has the same connotation has the Romans passage, where they share what they have with each other. The Gentiles share their material blessings, and the Jews are praying for the Gentiles.


    There are eleven uses of koinonia as fellowship in Scripture. Believers are to have fellowship with Jesus (I Cor. 1:9, I John 1:6-7), fellowship with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14, Phil. 2:1), fellowship with others (Acts 2:42-47, 2 Cor. 6:14, 1 John 1:3), extend the right hand of fellowship (Gal. 2:9), fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10), and fellowship of faith (Phil. 1:6). Looking at each of these areas gives a stronger understanding of what is meant by fellowship.

    Koinonia is used to describe fellowship with the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 1:9, Paul is telling us God is the one who calls the believer into fellowship with Jesus. 1 John 1:6-7 takes it farther by stating fellowship with God and walking in His ways equals having fellowship with other believers. In 2 Corinthians 13:14 and Philippians 2:1, Paul uses the term koinonia to express fellowship of the spirit. He wants believers to be of one mind, love, and united in spirit. This use shows fellowship with Holy Spirit should also be creating fellowship or unity among the believers.

    Not only is fellowship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit expressed, but also fellowship among the believers. Acts 2:42-47 describes the first church and koinonia shows fellowship within the community of believers. Two other passages use koinonia as fellowship with others. In 1 John 1:3, the author wants the audience to have fellowship not only with other believers, but also with God and Jesus. 2 Corinthians 6:14 is a warning to believers that they should not enter into fellowship with unbelievers who might lead the believer into compromising their Christian principles or hurting their testimony.11

    There are three other uses of koinonia in the New Testament. In Philippians 3:10, Paul speaks of the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. This does not mean the actual sufferings of Christ, but the expectations that persecutions will happen because of commitment to Christ. Those who have fellowship with Christ will also find that the world is hostile to them, just as it was towards Him. Philemon 1:6 mentions fellowship of faith. This passage is to Philemon, concerning his runaway slave Onesimus. Paul is requesting that Philemon take Onesimus back without punishing him by appealing to their mutual faith. This shows the commonalities of believers, despite their vastly different social statuses. The right hand of fellowship was extended to Paul in Galatians 2:9 by the pillars of the church. They agreed with and supported Paul’s calling to preach to the Gentiles.12

    All of the uses of the word koinonia in the New Testament help us see that it means more than just fellowship. Koinonia is the participation in works of the gospel and charity towards others. It is the sharing in the body of Christ and the contribution of whatever blessings one has with others. It is also a deep, committed fellowship between Christ and His believers, as well as believers with one another.


    Koinonia is first introduced in the New Testament in Acts 2:42-47, when describing the first church. The characteristics of the first church included learning apostolic teachings, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. The early believers sold their material possessions and shared as there was a need. They worshipped together, ate meals together, and found favor with others while their numbers increased daily. Koinonia is a community. The believers are caring for each other; they are spending time with one another, and growing spiritually together. It is not simply a friendship among the believers, but “a personal partnering to meet people’s needs. The Early Church was a community of compassion. Not mandated by a higher up, koinonia is a voluntary, sacrificial act of love.”13

    In this passage, the Early Church accepted salvation through Jesus Christ and entered into the new covenant. The law is now written on the hearts and minds of people, and the Spirit has been poured out (Heb. 10:16; Acts 2:17). God is making Israel a new people. This new community of believers is transformed by the working of the Spirit. They are showing an outward expression of the essential elements of this new plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.14 Through the living out of their faith together as a community, they are finding favor with others and people are being drawn to join them daily.

    Even after the expansion of the Church throughout the world, the fellowship of the believers was very important. The lifestyle promoted by the first church in Acts was upheld by the teachings of the early church fathers. Throughout history, there are writing from Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian to encourage fellowship and unity among the believers. The Didache, which was one of the earliest instructional writings of the church, admonishes believers to:

    Seek out the faces of the saints every day so that you may rest upon their words. You shall not long for division, but shall bring those who contend to peace. …You shall not turn away from him that is in need, but you shall share all things with your brother and shall not say that they are your own. For if you share what is immortal, how much more things which are temporary?15

    The idea of koinonia is still being emphasized in learning from the saints, caring for each other, and unity among the believers.


    Koinonia starts with fellowship with God. The beauty of koinonia is that God is the one who calls the believer into fellowship with Him and with each other.16 He wants to share with them His character and qualities, and He does this through the Holy Spirit. When a believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, they experience koinonia with God. This has a life changing effect because now they are able to experience the very heart of God. It is only by having fellowship with God that people are able to have it with one another.17

    The next step is koinonia among the believers. The power behind this is amazing since it is an outward expression of the believers’ relationship with God.18 The believer is no longer in an isolated, individualistic mindset but is now part of a community of faith (Phil. 1:6). The fellowship the believer has with God is shown by participation in caring for others and in the works of the gospel. The sharing of whatever they are able to offer to assist others, not just the sharing of possessions, but of themselves (Rom. 15:26-27, 2 Cor. 9:12-14). It is an unselfish outpouring of love and care toward others.

    The final step in true koinonia is the witness it shows to nonbelievers.19 The early church in Acts 2:47 demonstrate the draw of true koinonia by “having favor with all the people” and “adding to their number day by day.” The deeper believer’s relationship with God, the more love He pours out into the believer’s life (1 John 4:12). The more in love with God the believer becomes the more that love finds expression in unselfish service of the believer to others (Acts 4:32-35). In a community of believers, the expression of that love is overwhelming. The heart of the believer looks not at their own self-interest but in how they can help each other. It is a noticeable difference from the world around them. The early church father Tertullian said: “The heathen are wont to exclaim with wonder, ‘See how these Christians love one another,’ for they hate one another; ‘and how they are ready to die for one another,’ for they are ready to kill one another.”20

    Koinonia should have a circular effect, starting with God’s fellowship with the believer, moving to the believers’ fellowship with one another, and then facilitating the drawing of others into fellowship with God. Christian koinonia should be irresistible to the unbeliever. The very act of fellowship and love among the believers should bring the unbeliever into fellowship with God. The koinonia shown toward one other becomes a witness to those who do not believe. This begins the cycle again.



    The background of koinonia shows the Old Testament believer did not have a word for fellowship with God. In Rabbinic Literature, the use of fellowship is to show relationships such as companions and colleagues. The Greeks used koinonia to express a sharing in business, legal matters, marriage, and relationships. The word also had a religious connotation with the sacrificial feasts, where the Greeks believed they communed with the gods during the meal.21

    The New Testament authors uses fellowship in three distinct ways. They use it as a sense of sharing in something or participation, giving a share in something, and a complete sense of fellowship. Participation was shown through the financial support of each other as well as the participation of the works of the gospel. They shared what they had with each other whether material blessings or spiritual blessings. The use of koinonia as fellowship is the most common occurrence in the New Testament, and can refer to fellowship with Jesus, fellowship with the Holy Spirit, fellowship with others, extending the right hand of fellowship, fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, or fellowship of faith.

    Koinonia in the first church was expressed by the believers caring for one another; spending time with one another, and growing spiritually together. They sold material possessions and shared as there was a need. They worshipped together, ate meals together and found favor with others while their numbers increased daily. Koinonia is a community. They accepted salvation through Jesus Christ and entered into the new covenant. This new community of believers is transformed by the workings of the Spirit. The living out of their faith together as a community allowed them to find favor with others and add more people into the community.

    Koinonia starts with a relationship with God. The expression of the relationship is an outpouring of love, which in turn allows the believer to have fellowship with others. The depth of this committed fellowship with one another draws more people into fellowship with God. It should be a continuous cycle of fellowship.


    Koinonia should be as important to modern churches as it was to the early church. Modern culture has resulted in a very individualistic society. It goes against our culture to express koinonia, even within the church. We need each other; together we grow and can show the love of Jesus through our fellowship with one another. David Gill said it best:

    We must have the community to support and correct our discipleship in the world. This seems so obvious, but our practice is so frequently individualistic. Christian discipleship is not for Lone Rangers (though in all fairness, even the masked man had Tonto as his sidekick). We must resist the individualism of our culture and cultivate deep and strong relationships with others. The challenges we face are formidable; without community they become impossible.22

    The other reason koinonia is important to modern churches is they are called to koinonia by God, for His glory, and for the benefit of the world. This fellowship affects every area of Christian lives and must be seen not only as a sharing of individual lives in Christ, but also as incorporating koinonia in faith and witness of God’s grace to the world. The koinonia shared by the church should bring hope to the world. To do this, it is necessary to acknowledge the different gifts of the members of the church and work towards strengthening relationships with other believers in all other churches.23 “True Christian fellowship is foundational to effective witness.”24 Winning the world to Christ will not happen by force or argument, but by love and loyalty to each other and to God.

    Unfortunately, some churches today show disunity instead of fellowship. They are divided over issues of doctrine, and instead of turning to each other in love schisms develop. The goal in the churches needs to be to treat each other with the love of God and the right hand of fellowship. Realizing even if individuals do not agree they can still have koinonia with one another (Eph. 4:31-32). This action would show the world Christians are indeed different; Christians are in the world, but not of the world.25

    The model of koinonia from the early church is essential when looking at how to incorporate koinonia in churches today. The early church showed that koinonia is more than just socialization, it is a deep commitment to each other and a selfless meeting of the needs of the entire person, whether it is spiritual or physical. They met the needs of each other not because they were forced to, but because it was what they wanted. It was a heart decision. They were growing together spiritually, and the more a person grows spiritually the more fruit of the spirit they will bear (Gal. 5:22, 1 Cor. 13:13). The greatest of these is love, and what more profound way of showing love than by providing for the needs of others. Churches need to teach how to have a relationship with God and grow spiritually as the first step in developing true koinonia (Acts 2:42).

    The next thing learned from the early church is they spent time with each other outside of religious settings (Acts 2:46). They got to know one another on a personal level. This is how they learned of the needs of other believers. It would not have been brought up in the temple but at a meal in someone’s home. This teaches that Christians need to make time for each other, and get to know one another in a personal way so they can start having a heart that suffers when they suffer and rejoices when they rejoice.

    The third lesson is praying together (Acts 2:42). Christians need to align themselves with God’s will. When an individual lifts others up in prayer, he or she is completing the circle of koinonia, God with people, people with people, and people to God (Matt. 18:20). He or she is inviting the Holy Spirit in and allowing Him to work through him or her. He changes hearts so individuals can truly show love towards each other.

    Koinonia is not practiced in many places today. In most modern cultures, families do not spend time together nor do they show commitment to each other. Friends betray each other without a second thought. It becomes necessary now for church leaders to step in and begin to disciple Christians on how to show true koinonia to each other. This type of discipleship would be mentoring. The leaders would show by their actions how to express love to others. They would teach, council, and pray over those being mentored. This would be much like what Jesus did with the twelve apostles, teaching them and preparing them to go out and make disciples. They would then have those they trained training others in koinonia. As Christians move into koinonia with one another, it is important to remember this is what Jesus prayed for in John 17:21: “that they may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they may also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” This is the true purpose for koinonia, becoming one so the world may believe in Jesus.


    1James Evans, We Have Been Believers, In Robert Longman, “Koinonia Community and Fellowship In Christ (accessed November 16, 2012).

    2Geoffrey Bromiley, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985), 448.

    3Ibid., 448.

    4J. D. Douglas, The New International Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 350.

    5Ibid., 448.

    6Ibid., 449-450.

    7All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New American Standard Bible.

    8Gaebelein, Expositor’s Commentary, Vol. 11, 105.

    9Gaebelein, Expositor’s Commentary, Vol. 12, 152.

    10Bradley Chance, Holman’s Bible Dictionary. In Stan Cox, “Lesson 1: The Use of the Greek Term ‘Koinonia’ in the New Testament Scriptures.” (accessed November 12, 2012).

    11Gaebelein, Expositor’s Commentary, Vol. 10, 359.

    12Ibid., Vol. 11, 141, 156-157.

    13Deborah Gill, “‘One in the Apostles’ Teaching, Fellowship, Breaking of Bread, and Prayer.’ Fruits of the Unified Practice of Discipleship,” Scriptural Commentary on Acts 2:42-47 for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011, Ecumenical Trends, 40, no. 2, (February 2011): 1-9, 14-15.

    14George Panikulam, Koinonia in the New Testament, (Italy: Rome Biblical Institute Press, 1979), 124.

    15The Didache, in Paul F. Pavao, “Christian History for Everyman,”, (accessed November 16, 2012).

    16Ralph Martin, The Family and the Fellowship: New Testament Images of the Church (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 37.

    17Donald Bubna, Building People Through a Caring Sharing Fellowship (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), 38-40.

    18Ibid., 42.

    19Ibid., 44.

    20Michael Wilkins, Following the Master A biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing, 1992) 233.

    21Bromiley, TDNT, Abridged in One Volume, 448.

    22David Gill quoted in Michael Wilkins, Following the Master a Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing, 1992), 244.

    23Margaret Jenkins, “Towards Koinonia in Life” Ecumenical Review 45 no.1, Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost, 93,97 (accessed November 1, 2012)

    24Howard, The Koinonia Principle, 20.

    25Terry Brown, “Personhood as a Tool to Reflect upon Koinonia” Anglican Theological Review 88 no.2, Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost. 166-167 (accessed November 1, 2012).


    Bromiley, Geoffrey, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in one Volume (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985).

    Brown, Terry, “Personhood As A Tool To Reflect Upon Koinonia” Anglican Theological Review 88 no.2, Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost. 166-167 (accessed November 1, 2012).

    Bubna, Donald, Building People Through a Caring Sharing Fellowship, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983).

    Chance, Bradley, Holman’s Bible Dictionary. In Stan Cox, “Lesson 1: The Use of the Greek Term "Koinonia" in the New Testament Scriptures.” (accessed November 12, 2012).

    The Didache, in Paul F. Pavao, “Christian History For Everyman,”, (accessed November 16, 2012).

    Douglas, J. D., The New International Dictionary of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987).

    Evans, James, We Have Been Believers. In Robert Longman, “Koinonia Community and Fellowship In Christ” (accessed November 16, 2012).

    Gaebelein, Frank, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vols. 10-12, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978).

    Gill, Deborah, “‘One in the Apostles’ Teaching, Fellowship, Breaking of Bread, and Prayer,’

    Fruits of the Unified Practice of Discipleship,” Scriptural Commentary on Acts 2:42-47 for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011, Ecumenical Trends, 40, no. 2, (February 2011): 1-9, 14-15.

    Howard, Rick, The Lost Formula of the Early Church The Koinonia Principle: Fellowship for a Purpose, (Woodside, CA: Naioth Sound and Publishing, 1996), 20.

    Jenkins, Margaret, “Towards Koinonia in Life” Ecumenical Review 45, no.1, Religion and

    Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost, (accessed November 1, 2012).

    Martin, Ralph, The Family and the Fellowship: New Testament Images of the Church, (Grand

    Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979).

    Panikulam, George, Koinonia in the New Testament, (Rome, Italy: Rome Biblical Institute Press, 1979).

    Michael Wilkins, Following the Master, A Biblical Theology of Discipleship, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1992).

    Jesus’ Theology of Believer’s Prayer


    Jesus’ Theology of Believer’s Prayer

    George R. True, III









    The Father-Son Relationship

    The Character of the Father







    Communication between two parties serves as the most important element undergirding their entire relationship. Proper communication lies at the heart of any healthy connection between two persons. The same principle at work in human interactions holds true in that between the divine and the human, God and humanity. In his teachings, the divine-human, Jesus Christ, presents foundational principles that strengthen and enhance the relationship between the believer and their Father in heaven, and allows them to live freely and move powerfully in the Kingdom of God. This paper contends that Jesus’ theology of believer’s prayer finds its basis in proper relationship to God and expectant faith in him. Understanding prayer’s place in their lives and their position in relation to the Father empowers believers into a kingdom lifestyle of faith-filled, powerful prayer.

    The primary passages under study focus on those tied to the giving of the Lord’s Prayer. Attention is given to the historical and cultural setting of the texts in order that they may be understood appropriately. The prayer itself, while valuable and deserving of study, will not be examined in this paper. Relevant passages from Mark and John, while valuable, also lie beyond the scope of this paper. The study will begin by taking up the foundational principles of believer’s prayer, proceed to discuss the importance of a proper relationship with the Heavenly Father in prayer, and end with a study on the nature of faith in the prayer life of followers of Jesus.


    In Matthew chapter 6, one encounters one of the most well-known passages regarding prayer, commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. In the prayer itself, Jesus teaches his followers how to pray, offering them a model for their own prayers. A study of Matthew 6 shows the type of prayer that Jesus expected his followers to practice, containing the basic foundations necessary for entering into the place of prayer. The opening part of Jesus’ teaching reads this way:

    And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matt. 6:5-8).1


    The first step in understanding Jesus’ theology of believer’s prayer lies in understanding the importance Jesus places upon it. While most Christians would not debate the importance of prayer in their lives, they could not articulate the significance Jesus places on this discipline. An examination of Matthew chapter 6 demonstrates that the opening three sections, detailing the spiritual disciplines of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, show a linguistic unity that sets them apart from the other sections of the Sermon on the Mount. Each section closes with the refrain, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”2

    The rabbis of the first century employed a practice in which they summarized the essence of their message by identifying core practices, which they believed to encapsulate the essence of what God requires from humanity.3 An example of this can be found in the words of Shimon the Just, recorded in The Mishnah, where he states, “By three things is the world sustained: by the Law, by the Temple-service, and by deeds of loving-kindness.”4 The author of Tobit, an apocryphal text from first century Judaism, wrote, “Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than wealth with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold. For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life.”5

    Jesus employs this practice in his discussion of the disciplines, presenting what scholar Marc Turnage identifies as his “three pillars of faith”6 According to Turnage, “Evidence from contemporary Judaism suggests that Jesus ordered His three pillars according to the priority he gave to each.”7 In the light of this interpretation, Jesus gives prayer an important place in the lifestyle that he seeks to instill in his followers. Theologically speaking, the discipline of prayer should occupy a significant place in the lifestyle of disciples.


    The place of prayer in the life of the believer should not only occupy a place of priority, but it should also represent an expression their devotion to God. The heart of those who pray should focus upward towards God and not outward towards the praise and applause of people. Jesus states, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners that they may be seen by others” (Matt. 6:5).

    Correct interpretation of this text necessitates understanding what Jesus means. Jesus, here, condemns not the location of such prayers, but the heart behind them which sought the recognition of others for its piety. As a practicing Jew of his day, Jesus would have engaged in prayers in the synagogues and the streets. In fact, prayers in the synagogues held a special place in ancient Judaism, for they thought that such prayers gained a better chance of being heard by God.8 Jews also engaged in prayer in the streets during the days of their various feasts and public fasts.9 Jesus here addresses the issue of motivation in prayer.

    Believers must not engage in the discipline of prayer as a show of outward piety seeking the honor and applause of others, but to enter the place of authentic, heartfelt engagement with their Heavenly Father, knowing that genuine interaction lies at the center of what he desires. As A. W. Tozer writes in his classic, The Pursuit of God, “God formed us for His pleasure, and so formed us that we, as well as He, can, in divine communion, enjoy the sweet and mysterious mingling of kindred personalities.”10 A devoted heart desiring to enjoy the presence of God and engage in communion with him should characterize the place of prayer in the believer’s life.


    In Matthew’s text, Jesus not only addresses the heart behind believer’s prayer but also speaks to the words that are used in practice of the discipline. The text states, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:7-8). Interestingly, Jesus highlights the Gentiles in this reference, referring to their tendency to utter repetitive prayers in hopes that such prayers would gain the attention of their particular deity and receive an answer from them.

    Historical records indicate just how repetitive Gentile prayers could be, “Antoninus the pious, the gods keep thee. Antoninus the merciful, the gods keep thee. Antoninus the merciful, the gods keep thee.”11 One source records this prayer to Caesar,

    Let the parricide be dragged: we beseech thee, Augustus, let the parricide be dragged. This is the thing we ask, let the parricide be dragged. Hear us, Caesar. Let the false accusers be condemned to the lion. Hear us, Caesar. Let the false accusers be condemned to the lion. Hear us, Caesar.12

    Some Jews, however, actually repeated this mistake of the Gentiles believing that “Everyone that multiplies prayer is heard.”13

    In contrast to such practices, Jesus seeks to remind his followers that such words were not necessary, for the Father already knew of their situation (Matt. 6:8). Jesus took issue with such “empty phrases” (Matt. 6:7) as the basis of being heard by God.  As Lightfoot comments, “Christ, therefore, does not so much condemn the bare saying over again of the same petitions, either in the same words, or in words of the same import,” but “a  false opinion, as if there were some power, or zeal, or piety, in such kinds of repetitions.”14

    Jesus should not be understood as against all types of regular structured prayer, because, as a faithful Jew, he would have participated in the regular prayers of the Jews.15 Jewish piety would have necessitated praying three times a day. This practice held such significance for them that, after the destruction of the temple in AD 70, they believed it fulfilled the requirement for temple sacrifices, rendered impossible by the temple’s destruction.16 In the early stages of the Christendom, the Lord’s Prayer, given by Jesus here in this context, substituted for the Jewish tefilla in being prayed three times daily.17

    Instead of the repetition of the right phrases, Jesus points his followers to one of the most significant and privileged positions that they have as his followers, that of sons and daughters of God. Scholar Brad Young notes “The supreme barrier one faces during prayer is not the words or the liturgy, but rather the way one understands the nature of God.”18 Jesus understood this and wanted to make sure that his followers related correctly to God. His followers have the wonderful privilege of approaching him as their Father, a title Jesus emphasizes in verses 8 and 9. Believer’s prayer finds its basis in this relationship to God as Father. A powerful life of faith filled prayer begins with the proper view of God and relationship to him.


    Relationship to God as Father served as a foundation for the prayer life of believers in Jesus’ teachings. As opposed to religions where adherents would attempt to appease their deity through their repetitions, Jesus invites his followers into a more intimate connection to the Heavenly Father, rendering such vain words unnecessary. As theologian Wayne Grudem states, “We now relate to God not as a slave relates to a slave master, but as a child relates to his or her father.”19 Believers avoid such manipulative techniques by remembering the blessing given to them by God, namely knowing him as their Father.  The construction used in the Matthew 6:9 reads “Abba, ho pater,” placing the Semitic language and Greek together in one phrase.20 This construction appears only three times in the entire New Testament, and all three are in the context of “fervent prayers.”21 According to Bailey, the early church preserved this Semitic terminology despite writing in Greek because “the word Abba was so important to the apostolic community.”22

    The Father-Son Relationship

    In order to understand the supreme importance of the father-son dynamic in the prayer life of Jesus and his teachings, one should understand one of the prevailing mindsets at work in the first century that influenced the words of Jesus. Jesus’ personal lifestyle resembles first-century Jewish holy men known as the Hasidim, or men of deeds.23 The lifestyle of the Hasidim included characteristics such as: secret piety, fear of sin, charity, and an intimate relationship to God.24

    These men utilized a title for God, Abba, portraying “a warm, close address similar to ‘daddy’”25 This intimate connection to God served as the basis for their expectant prayer life that often witnessed the miraculous hand of God. One of the most well-known of these figures appears in the writings of Josephus as Onias the Circle Maker. Josephus writes, “Now there was one, whose name was Onias, a righteous man he was, and beloved of God, who, in a certain drought, had prayed to God to put an end to the intense heat, and whose prayers God had heard, and had sent them rain.”26 The Mishnah expands on this story, illustrating the importance of Onias’ relationship to the Father: “Hadst thou not been Onias I had pronounced a ban against thee! But what shall I do to thee?—thou importunest God and he performeth thy will, like a son that importuneth his father and he performeth his will.”27

    Jesus, like Onias and the other Hasidim, related to God as a son relates to his father, and this provides the backdrop for understanding why Jesus specifically calls God Father in verses 8 and 9 of Matthew chapter 6. According to Shmuel Safrai, “the relationship of a Hasid to God was not just one of child of God, but of a son who can brazenly make requests of his father that someone else cannot make.”28 This intimate connection to God allowed the Hasid to operate with a special openness and boldness in prayer, founded on their special relationship. David Flusser notes, “These charismatic pious men believed that their ties with God were stronger than those of other men, although they certainly did not exclude the possibility that others were able to attain a similar position.”29 By his introduction of the Lord’s Prayer with the two, specific references to the Father, Jesus invites his followers into this place of intimacy with God that enables bold expectant prayer.

    The Character of the Father

    Not only does Jesus demonstrate the importance of a relationship with God, but he also shows the necessity of understanding his character. In Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus immediately follows the prayer with the Parable of the Friend at Midnight.

    And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:5-13).

    Jesus helps his audience gain a proper perspective of the character of God and its impact on prayer.

    As with any teaching of Jesus, the impact gains power when one understands the culture of the teacher and his or her audience. In this story, a man goes to his friend at midnight, in need of bread for a guest who recently arrived from his journey. The picture painted portrays interactions between neighbors, something likely to have taken place in the first century, at midnight, denoting a sense of urgency.30 In the culture of the first century, the value of hospitality put an obligation on both the friend and the neighbor, such that the friend’s obligation to receive his visiting friend and the neighbor’s obligation to assist his friend would be understood by the crowd. The visitor in such a case was a guest, not only of his friend, but also of the entire village.31 In such a setting, the neighbor’s rejection would be overwhelmingly shocking to such a crowd, violating every cultural standard of hospitality, thus creating the full impact of the story and enraging the multitudes.32

    Jesus uses role-play in this parable to demonstrate God’s character “by the exaggerated characterizations of actions unlike God” which would “make the listener understand the divine image.”33 The neighbor’s actions represent the antithesis of God’s character, such that one should understand God’s willingness and goodness as strongly as the neighbor’s unwillingness and rejection. God gladly and willingly helps those who approach him in prayer, because of his goodness. As John Nolden writes, “The role of the parable is to encourage the praying of the Lord’s Prayer, with the confidence that God will, as we lay our needs before him, respond positively to our requests.”34

    God’s willingness again receives attention in verses 11-13, where Jesus highlights the fact that the basis of their expectation for answered prayer can be shown by another portrait, that of a father giving gifts to his children. Jesus asks a rhetorical question: “When your child asks you for bread, will you give him a stone? Or if he asked for some fish, would you give him a snake?” Jesus bases the question on the assumption that a normal, earthly father would never give such things to his child. How, then, could God whose character consists of absolute goodness?  This goodness should be firm in believer’s minds when they approach God, emboldening and solidifying the foundation of their expectation of receiving from him when they approach him in prayer. God’s “bounty thus transcends that of earthly parents because he is essentially good and not evil, as they are known to be.”35 God, who hears prayers and petitions from believers, “does not need to be importuned, but is only too eager to give the best of answers.”36 Living in the intimacy of the father/son relationship and resting in his character of absolute goodness should prepare believers to live a life of expectant prayer.


    At the center of the passage considered in the last section, specifically following Jesus’ parable, Jesus invites his followers to this life of prayer. He states, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you…” (Luke 11:9). Luke uses the Greek word aiteo, meaning “to ask, request,” to communicate Jesus’ message.37 Robert Stein notes, “This is best understood not as an imperative of command (‘You must ask in order to receive’) but as an imperative of condition (‘If you ask, you will indeed receive;’ cf. 6:37-38).”38 Jesus displays the fact that those who pray and request from their Heavenly Father will receive an answer from him. Stein comments that to add qualifications to the statement would displace the “focus from God’s gracious response to believers’ prayers to the qualifications.”39 Based on the character of God, elaborated in the surrounding parables, Jesus invites believers into a place of faith-filled prayer that expects and receives answers from the Heavenly Father.

    Closely tied to this teaching in Luke 11, Jesus tells another story that strengthens his call to expectant prayer in Luke 18, that of the Unjust Judge. The call to faith cannot be separated from a proper view of God, for as Brad Young notes, “True faith focuses on an awareness of what God is like,” and this faith in a good God serves as the basis for true prayer.40 Within both the parable of the Contemptible Friend and the Unjust Judge, a bold, tenacious faith takes focus. In 11:8, Jesus states that even the friend of questionable character would answer his neighbor’s request because of his “imprudence.” Luke uses the Greek word anaideia, which translates as “persistence, importunity.”41 It should be understood as tenacity, bold persistence, or shamelessness. The Hebrew term for the bold faith presented in both parables, chutzpah, expresses determined persistence, perhaps “raw nerve,” relentless diligence.42 Young notes that “One without shame will do anything to achieve his or her purpose…a person with brazen tenacity demands what he requires without shame.”43

    Within ancient Judaism, such boldness was celebrated as a quality of religious commitment, to the extent that the culture “extolled perseverance to the edge of blasphemy in the struggle contained in the relationship between God and humanity.”44 Because of the high value placed on the father/child relationship with the Father in Judaism, they recognized that “the strong-willed tenacity” exhibited by a child with their parent to get what they want was appropriate in some situations.45 Jesus shows this bold faith particularly in the parable of the Unjust Judge, where the widow’s boldness in prayer “wears out” the judge until he relents and gives her what she wants. The original language uses a boxing term, which speaks of striking your opponent under the eye, resulting in a black eye.46 Young expresses the strength of this statement when he summarizes the judge’s response: “I will grant her justice lest in the end she comes and gives me a blow in the face.”47 In the parable of the Contemptible Friend, determined persistence got the neighbor exactly what he needed, solely because he kept knocking. In both stories, a bold, shameless, persistent request received God’s response.

    Jesus teaches that believers should exhibit a boldness and shameless confidence in their interaction with their Father in heaven, requesting from him whatever they need and expecting him to respond favorably. Because of Jesus’ comparison of the incredible goodness of God’s character in relation to both the unjust judge and the contemptible friend, one should expect that such boldness and persistence will receive an answer. As believers, we should continue in prayer until the Father answers. Kenneth Bailey notes on this parable, “Persistence in prayer is appropriate for the believer up until there is an answer…before the answer is given, persistence in prayer is part of genuine piety.”48 Until the Father speaks, expectant prayer should continue.


    In the light of the Jewish culture and the teachings of Jesus, believers should engage in a powerful life of faith-filled prayer, founded in God’s character and their relationship with him as his child. Their position in relation to the Father with such a strong character should lead them to have no problem making bold and shameless requests, and to seek to do so persistently until he answers. Understanding Jesus’ theology of prayer should lead believers to ask, seek, and knock knowing that the perfect Heavenly Father desires to give good gifts to his children.

    Jesus’ theology of believer’s prayer applies directly to the prayer life of the contemporary believer. First of all, it directs their faith towards God the Father, and his perfect and loving character as the giver of good gifts to his children. Understanding this should make prayer a safe place to be bold, honest, and shameless, discussing whatever need may be weighing down the heart. Second, it lends toward a relational prayer life of communion rather than simply a dutiful prayer life of obedience. Love and relationship between Father and child should create an atmosphere of care and acceptance rather than one of fear or duty. Lastly, Jesus’ theology should embolden believers to expect answers to prayer and see the miraculous hand of God move on a regular basis.

    A church culture built around this prayer relationship with the Heavenly Father should be one of the most powerful, loving, and miraculous communities in the world. May this discipline, rightly understood, take its place of priority in the individual lives of Christ’s followers everywhere as they seek to live and practice the lifestyle of the kingdom of God.


    1Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

    2Gerald Friedlander, The Jewish Sources of the Sermon on the Mount, The Library of Biblical Studies, ed. Harry M. Orinsky (New York: Ktav, 1969), 93.

    3Marc Turnage, “The Three Pillars of Jesus’ Faith,” Enrichment Journal 16 (Fall 2011): 101.

    4The Mishnah, Avot 1:2; All Mishnah quotations are taken from The Mishnah, trans. Herbert Danby (New York: Oxford, 1933).

    5Tobit 12:8-9, New Revised Standard Version.

    6Turnage, Three Pillar’s, 101.


    8John Lightfoot, “Matthew,” in Matthew—Mark, vol. 2 of A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 143.


    10A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Rockville, MD: Serenity, 2009), 32.

    11Galliean, Avidio Cassio: quoted in Lightfoot, 145.

    12Lamprid, Commodo; quoted in Lightfoot, 145.

    13The Mishnah, Taanith 67:3.

    14Lightfoot, 145.

    15Ibid., 146.

    16Lawrence Schiffman, From Text to Tradition (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1991), 246.

    17David Flusser and Huub Van  De Sandt, The Didache (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 294.

    18Brad H. Young, The Parables (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 42.

    19Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 739.

    20Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 96.



    23Marc Turnage, “Jesus and the Hasidim,” (lecture, Center for Holy Lands Studies Summer Institute, July 22, 2013).


    25Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Christology: A Global Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 25.

    26Flavius Josephus, The Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. William Whiston (Auburn and Buffalo, NY: John E. Beardsley, 1895), E-Sword, v. 10.2.1.

    27The Mishnah, Taanith 3:8.

    28Shmuel Safrai, “Jesus and the Hasidim,” Jerusalem Perspectives Web site; accessed 9 November 2013; available from:

    29David Flusser and R. Steven Notley, The Sage From Galilee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 100.

    30Young, 45.

    31Ibid., 45-46.

    32Ibid., 46.

    33Ibid., 42.

    34John Nolden, Luke 9:21-18:34, vol. 35B of the Word Biblical Commentary, gen. eds. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word, 1993), 626.

    35Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, Luke 10-14, vol. 28A of The Anchor Bible, gen. eds. William F. Albright and David N. Freedman (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1985), 914.

    36Michael Wilcock, Luke, The Bible Speaks Today, gen. ed.  John R. W. Stott (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1979), 126.

    37George Abbott-Smith, A Manuel Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd ed. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1937), 14.

    38Robert H. Stein, Luke, vol. 24 of The New American Commentary, gen. ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 327.

    39Ibid., 328.

    40Young, 44.

    41Ibid., 48-49.


    43Ibid., 49.




    47Ibid., 58-59.

    48Bailey, 267.


    Abbott-Smith, George. A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament. 3rd ed. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1937.

    Bailey, Kenneth E. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008.

    Fitzmeyer, Joseph A. Luke 10-14. Vol. 28A of The Anchor Bible. General editors William F.

    Albright and David N. Freedman. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1985.

    Flusser, David, and Huub Van De Sandt. The Didache. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002.

    Flusser, David, and R. Steven Notley. The Sage From Galilee. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.

    Friedlander, Gerald. The Jewish Sources of the Sermon on the Mount. The Library of Biblical Studies. Edited by Harry M. Orinsky. New York: Ktav, 1969.

    Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

    Josephus, Flavius. The Works of Flavius Josephus. Translated by William Whiston. Auburn and Buffalo, NY: John E. Beardsley, 1895. E-Sword, v. 10.2.1.

    Karkkainen, Veli-Matti. Christology: A Global Introduction. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003.

    Lightfoot, John. “Matthew.” In Matthew-Mark. Vol. 2 of A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979.

    The Mishnah. Translated by Herbert Danby. New York: Oxford, 1933.

    Nolden, John. Luke 9:21-18:34. Vol. 35B of the Word Biblical Commentary. General editors David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Dallas: Word, 1993.

    Safrai, Shmuel. “Jesus and the Hasidim.” Jerusalem Perspectives Web site. Accessed 9 November 2013. Available from:

    Schiffman, Lawrence. From Text to Tradition. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1991.

    Stein, Robert H. Luke. Vol. 24 of The New American Commentary. General editor David S. Dockery. Nashville: Broadman, 1992.

    Tozer, A. W. The Pursuit of God. Rockville, MD: Serenity, 2009.

    Turnage, Marc. “Jesus and the Hasidim.” Lecture, Center for Holy Lands Studies Summer Institute, July 22, 2013.

    ____________. "The Three Pillars of Jesus' Faith." Enrichment Journal 16 (Fall 2011): 100-101. Wilcock, Michael. Luke. The Bible Speaks Today. General editor John R. W. Stott. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1979.

    Young, Brad H. The Parables. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998.

    A Lucan Theology of Being Full of the Holy Spirit


    A Lucan Theology of Being Full of the Holy Spirit

    Jason Seaman













    What does it mean to be “full of the Holy Spirit?” Some believe it means that one is perfect, above mistakes, and is always “winning.” What are the characteristics of the being full of the Holy Spirit? Some might say they are super spiritual experiences, hell-fire and brimstone preaching, or health and prosperity. Who can be full of the Holy Spirit? Some believe there are only a select few, like pastors and missionaries, who can actually be full of the Spirit. How does one become full of the Holy Spirit? Some would say by holding on, letting go, or saying “Untie my bow-tie” over and over again as fast as one can. Why does one need to be full of the Holy Spirit? Some believe it is required in order to be saved and go to heaven.

    The answers to these questions can be found in the theology Luke provides concerning being “full of the Holy Spirit.” There are some who only regard Luke as a historian, which he definitely is. One of Luke’s purposes in writing Acts is to provide a written record on the history and activity of the church. However, Luke was more than just a historian. Luke was also a theologian. Throughout his historical narrative Luke is providing the reader with his theology.1 It is in the Gospel of Luke and Acts that one will find Luke’s theology concerning the fullness of the Spirit.

    This chapter is broken down into five parts, which ask the five questions listed above. The author will provide answers to these questions, which were derived from his primary study of Luke-Acts. The author first focused on the places where the phrase “full of the Holy Spirit” is mentioned, and what is meant by the phrase. Second, the author focused on the people the phrase referred to and the things that characterized them. Third, the author looked for clues in the text that would point to those whom could be full of the Spirit, how they could be full of the Spirit, and why they needed to be full of the Spirit.


    The phrase “full of the Holy Spirit” or “full of the Spirit” is unique to the writings of Luke. The word for “full” in the Greek that Luke uses is plērēs and means “full, complete, or full-grown”;2 “a quantity of space completely occupied by something.”3 According to Arndt, Luke uses the adjective plērēs to speak of the person or persons “who are complete in a certain respect or who possesses something fully.”4 The first time Luke uses this adjective is in Luke 4:1, in reference to Jesus; “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness … .”5 Luke is saying that when Jesus returned from being baptized in the Jordan he fully possessed the Holy Spirit. Jesus was in a state of fullness and was filled to capacity with the Spirit. Luke also uses this same adjective when he refers to Stephen and Barnabas being full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5; 11:24). According to Luke, these men were saturated with the Holy Spirit, like a sponge that has been immersed in water.

    This raises an interesting point in Luke’s theology of being full of the Spirit. In order for someone to be “full” of the Spirit, they must first be “filled” with the Spirit. While Luke does not explicitly say when Jesus, Stephen and Barnabas were filled with the Spirit, it is apparent by his use of the adjective pleres that they had been filled. Flattery provides James Dunn’s explanation of this; “When Luke wants to indicate a lasting state of ‘fullness’ resulting from a past ‘filling’ the word he uses is pleres.”6

    However, this state of fullness is not the result of a one-time filling, but the result of being continuously filled with the Holy Spirit. The norm in Acts is for believers to be filled and re-filled again and again. In 2:4 Peter, along with the other apostles and disciples, is filled with the Holy Spirit. Then, later on in chapter 4, Peter is once again filled with the Spirit (v. 8), as well as the other believers (v. 31). In Acts 9:17 Ananias is sent by Christ to pray for Saul so that he would receive his sight and “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Then, in Acts 13:9, Paul is again filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul was being continually filled with the Holy Spirit, and would later direct the Ephesians to be continually filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). Luke refers to this continual filling of the Spirit in Acts 13:52 when he says, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” The word “filled” here is the Greek verb eplērounto. Because this is an imperfect passive verb, it represents a state of being that occurred in the past and continues into the present.7 This verse could also be translated, “And the disciples were filled continuously with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

    Therefore, according to Luke, being full of the Holy Spirit means living in a state of fullness or completeness in the Spirit, which is the result of continually being filled with the Spirit. However, this does not mean that one has “arrived” or is now in a state of flawlessness. Barnabas and Paul had “sharp disagreement” and ended up separating because they could not overlook the other’s difference of opinion (Acts 15:36-40).


    In Acts 6:1-7, Luke tells of a conflict that arose in the church. Some of the Hellenist Christians complained that their widows were being overlooked when food and supplies were being given out to those in need. So the twelve gathered the all the believers together and directed them to select seven men from among the congregation whom they would appoint to manage the distributions of goods to the needy. However, before the congregation made their selections, the twelve provided them with certain qualifications that these seven were to meet; they were to be men of good reputation; “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3). So how did the congregation know if someone was full of the Spirit? What distinguish a person who was full of the Spirit from someone who was not? For Luke and the early church, Jesus was the prime example of one who was full of Spirit. In his life, they found the things that characterized a person who possessed the fullness of the Spirit.

    As stated earlier, Luke portrays Jesus as being “full of the Holy Spirit” (Lk 4:1). From this point on, everything Jesus does throughout the rest of Luke’s gospel is a result of this fullness. Right after Luke makes this statement about Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit, he says that Jesus was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (v.1).

    The first characteristic of someone who is full of the Spirit is the leading of the Spirit. We see this characteristic exemplified in the life of Philip, one of the seven appointed to oversee the distribution of goods to those in need. In Acts 8:29 we see Philip is being led by the Spirit, and eventually, even carried away by the Spirit (v. 39). Paul is another person Luke portrays as being led by the Spirit. Paul followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit in his missionary endeavors (Acts 16:6-7). Later on in his letter to the Galatians, Paul would exhort them to do the same and follow the guidance of the Spirit (Gal 5:25). In these passages, Luke shows us that those who are full of the Spirit are led by the Spirit.

    The second of characteristic of someone who is full of the Holy Spirit is the active presence of the power of the Spirit. When Jesus returned from his time of temptation in the wilderness, Luke says that “… Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit …” (Lk 4:14). Jesus’ life and ministry were marked by the power of the Spirit. The people were astonished and amazed at the authority of his teaching and the power he exerted over demons (Lk 4:32, 36). Stephen was also a person who demonstrated the power of the Spirit in his life. Luke says that Stephen was full of power and performed “great signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 5:8, 10). So for Luke, a person who is full of the Spirit will have the power of the Spirit.

    The third characteristic of someone who is full of the Holy Spirit is prayer, and very likely, it is their life of prayer that keeps them full of the Spirit. More than any other gospel writer, Luke places great emphasis on the prayer life of Jesus. Throughout his gospel, Luke shows Jesus taking time away from the ministry in order to devote himself to prayer. The following chart found in Table 1 lists the references Luke makes to Jesus’ prayer life in his gospel.8

    Table 1.



    The apostle Peter displayed this characteristic of a consistent life of prayer throughout the book of Acts. We find he is among those who committed themselves to prayer after the ascension of Jesus (1:13-14). He is on his way with John to the temple to pray when he heals the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate (3:1-10). He is among the believers who pray for boldness (4:23-31), and among the Twelve who pray for the seven appointed to manage the daily distribution of goods to the needy (6:6). He and John go to Samaria to pray for those who have believed in Jesus so that they may receive the Holy Spirit (8:14). During his stay in Joppa, he goes to the rooftop of the house he is staying at to pray (10:9). According to Luke, a person who is full of the Spirit is a person of prayer.

    The fourth characteristic of someone who is full of the Holy Spirit is the presence of spiritual gifts, such as discernment and wisdom. Luke says Jesus was able to perceive and know the thoughts of those he was speaking to, and because he spoke with wisdom, no one was able to dispute what he said (Luke 5:22-26; 6:8-11; 11:17-23).

    The Book of Acts confirms this. Stephen also exhibits spiritual wisdom. Stephen spoke with such wisdom and insight from the Spirit that those who were trying to dispute what he said were unable to oppose what he said (Acts 6:10). They were left dumfounded and speechless. Peter exhibits these characteristics as well. In Acts 5:1-11 when Ananias and Sapphira try to deceive the apostle’s concerning their offering, Peter display’s spiritual discernment, seeing that they are lying, and confronts them. He also perceives the spiritual condition of Simon and exhorts him to repent (Acts 8:18-24).

    Barnabas also possessed spiritual discernment and wisdom. When Hellenists in Antioch came to believe in Jesus Christ, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to check up on the work there. When he arrived he could see that God’s grace was at work among the believers there. He validated the work going on there among the Gentiles and encouraged them in their faith. As a result, the church in Antioch experienced great growth (Acts 11:20-26).

    Luke shows that those who are full of the Spirit exhibit spiritual discernment and wisdom. They are able to perceive and know things and know things that are imperceptible to the natural eye and mind. They also know how to communicate wisely and effectively.

    Finally, someone who is full of the Holy Spirit is characterized by faith. While Luke never explicitly mentions this last characteristic as being exhibited by Jesus, it is clearly implied. Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus possessed an unwavering faith and trust in the Father. This faith is most clearly demonstrated in his submission and obedience to the Father’s will, and not his own; “And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’” (Lk 22:41-42)

    Stephen and Barnabas are also characterized by Luke as men who were full of faith (Acts 6:5; 11:24). Stephen exhibited great faith in the face of opposition and martyrdom. Barnabas showed enormous faith in God’s transforming work in a person’s life. After Saul became a Christian he came to Jerusalem and tried to connect with the disciples there, but they did not want to have anything to do with him. They were afraid and did not believe that he was really a Christian. However, Barnabas believed that God could save and transform a man like Saul, so he went and brought him before the apostles and gave testimony to Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:26-27). When Paul and Barnabas were getting ready to go visit the churches they had planted during their first missionary journey Barnabas decided he wanted to bring Mark with them, even though Mark had previously abandoned them. Barnabas believed that God had transformed and changed Mark into a person who could be of use to them. When Paul strongly disagreed, Barnabas chose to part ways with Paul and take Mark with him to Cyprus (Acts 13:13; 15:36-39). Years later, while in prison, Paul would write to Timothy and ask him to “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” (2 Tim 4:11)

    Thus, according to Luke, the characteristics of being full of the Holy Spirit are being led by the Spirit, the power of the Spirit, prayer, spiritual discernment and wisdom, and faith.


    There are many who believe that the fullness of the Holy Spirit is only for those who are super spiritual or those “called to the ministry,” like pastors or missionaries. However, this is not what Luke teaches. Luke’s theology of being full of the Holy Spirit is quite generous and provides hope to all who desire to walk in the fullness of the Spirit.

    Jesus taught that the heavenly Father is more than willing to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Lk 11:13). As children of God, all disciples are entitled to receive the Holy Spirit. Under the Old Covenant, God only poured out His Spirit on as select few, but under the New Covenant the promise of God’s Spirit is for every single believer.10 On the day of Pentecost the believers were gathered together and all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, not just the twelve apostles. Later on when Peter preaches his sermon to the crowd he proclaims that the promise of the Holy Spirit is for both men and women, young and old, slaves, those far away, and to whoever God calls (Acts 2:1-4, 17-18, 39). The promise of God’s Spirit is not just for a choice few, but for all of God’s children.

    Luke continues to reiterate this theme throughout the book of Acts. When Peter and John return from standing in judgment before the chief priests and elders, where they had been ordered to cease speaking in the name of Jesus, they report this to their fellow believers. When the church hears the news, the entire group cries out to God and asks Him for the boldness needed to continue preaching the gospel of Christ, and that God authenticate their message with signs and wonders. Luke then says, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (4:31) It was not just Peter and John who were filled, but all of them. When those in Samaria came to faith in Jesus Christ through the preaching of Philip, Peter and John were sent to pray for all those who believed to receive the Holy Spirit (8:14-17).11 All those in Cornelius’ who heard the gospel preached by Peter were filled with the Holy Spirit, not just Cornelius (10:44).

    As one reads Acts, it is interesting see who Luke explicitly says was full of the Holy Spirit. While it is obvious that many of the believers Luke mentions in Acts were full of the Holy Spirit, only two were said to be “full of the Holy Spirit.” These two are Stephen and Barnabas (6:5; 11:24).

    Stephen’s story is told in Acts 6:5-7:60. Not much is known about Stephen before he is appointed as one of the seven overseers’ of the daily distribution of good’s to the needy, except that he was most likely a Hellenistic Jew.12 After this appointment though, Luke shifts the focus of his narrative onto him until the end of chapter seven where Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr.

    Barnabas is first introduced in Acts 4:36-37 as an example of the generosity expressed by many in the Jerusalem church. He was a Levite from Cyprus who sold some property in order to help believers who were in need. He validated the conversion of Saul before the apostles because the disciples in Jerusalem doubted his conversion (9:26-27). The elders of the church in Jerusalem send him to authenticate the work taking place in Antioch among the Gentiles, and he recruits Saul to help him out there (11:22-26). The rest of Barnabas’ story is found in 13:1-15:39, where he and Saul embark a missionary journey together. After this Saul, or Paul, takes the lead in Luke’s narrative and Barnabas is no longer mentioned in Acts after he and Paul part ways. While Peter and Paul get a lot of attention in Acts, it is Stephen and Barnabas, a couple of fellow believers in the Jerusalem church, who are said to be full of the Spirit.

    Luke teaches us that all of God’s children, every single believer, can be full of the Holy Spirit, not just a select few.


    The first way someone becomes full of the Holy Spirit is through prayer. After Jesus was baptized, he began to pray, and it was then that the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove. Following this event, Jesus is said to be full of the Holy Spirit (Lk 3:21-22; 4:1).

    As stated earlier, Jesus taught that the Father will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13) The Greek word for “ask” in this verse comes from the verb aiteō. This word can mean “to ask for” or “to demand,” but most times the best English translation of this word will be “pray.”13 If this is the case, then what Jesus is saying is that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who pray for the Spirit. Since this verb is a present, active, participle, it may also be translated as “asking” or “praying.” This would mean that one should continue asking or praying for the Holy Spirit.14

    In Acts, Luke shows us that it is while the disciples are devoting themselves to prayer that they are filled with the Spirit (1:14; 2:1-4). The disciples are filled with the Spirit again as they pray for the boldness needed to continue preaching the gospel in the face of opposition (4:24-31). Throughout Acts Luke demonstrates how essential prayer is in becoming full of the Spirit.

    The second way someone becomes full of the Holy Spirit is through faithful expectation. As someone continues to pray for the fullness of the Holy Spirit, they should pray with an expectation that God is going to give them what they ask for. Jesus told his disciples to go stay in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with power from on high.” (Lk 24:49) The disciples then devoted themselves to pray with the expectation that were going to receive the promise of the Father. They were anticipating the day when they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. When they prayed, they expected God to answer.

    The third way someone becomes full of the Holy Spirit is through openness to the Spirit. The disciples were open to the work of the Spirit in their lives. They did not resist the Spirit but were open to his leading. Their hearts were surrendered to whatever the Spirit wanted to do. This openness to the Spirit is clearly seen in the account of Acts 10. Peter is open to the Holy Spirit taking him out of his comfort zone. It does not seem that Cornelius and his household are expecting to be filled with the Spirit, yet their hearts were so open to the work of the Spirit that they were filled with the Holy Spirit before Peter could even finish his sermon.

    Finally, someone becomes full of the Holy Spirit through obedience. In Acts 5:32 Peter says that God has given the Holy Spirit “to those who obey him.” Peter is addressing the high priest and the council of the Sanhedrin, and is telling them that he and the disciples have received the Holy Spirit because they have chosen to “obey God rather than men.” (v. 29) Obedience is the mark of a true disciple. The fullness of the Spirit the disciples experienced was a result of their obedience. They were filled with the Spirit on the day of Pentecost because they obeyed the command of Jesus to go stay in Jerusalem. Because they were obeying the command of Jesus to preach the gospel and be his witnesses, they were filled with the Spirit and boldness to preach in his name. Cornelius and his household are filled with the Spirit because he obeyed what God told him to do in a vision.

    Thus, according to Luke, one becomes full of the Holy Spirit through prayer, faithful expectation, openness to the Spirit, and obedience.


    Luke is clear that the reason one needs to be full of the Holy Spirit is so that they will be empowered and equipped to do the work God has called them to do. Nunnally says that, “Luke emphasizes the Holy Spirit as the agent of empowering for service.”15 This is first and foremost evident in the life of Jesus.

    Luke shows us that everything Jesus did was through the power of the Holy Spirit. He overcame the temptations of Satan in the wilderness through the power of the Spirit. Because he was anointed and empowered by the Spirit, he was able to proclaim the good news to the poor; he healed the sick and delivered those oppressed by demonic spirits because. Hebrews 9:14 says that Jesus “offered himself without blemish to God” through the Spirit. After Jesus’ resurrection, Luke says that it was through the Holy Spirit that he gave commands to his apostles. Jesus lived full of the Holy Spirit so he could complete the mission assigned to him by the Father.

    The apostles knew how impossible it would be to accomplish the work of God without the fullness of the Spirit. That is why they stayed in Jerusalem waiting to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. That is why they required the seven of Acts 6 to be full of the Spirit. By doing this they made no distinction between the sacred and the secular. Whether it was preaching the gospel or managing humanitarian efforts, they believed all areas of ministry and service required the fullness of the Spirit.

    Thus, only in the fullness of the Spirit can we be empowered to do the work God has called us to do and to be the kind of people God wants us to be.


    Luke has established for us his theology of being full of the Holy Spirit. He has shown us what it means to be full of the Spirit: to be continually filled to capacity with the Holy Spirit. He has revealed to us the characteristics of being full of the Spirit: the leading of the Spirit, the active presence of the power of the Spirit, prayer, the presence of spiritual gifts, such as discernment and wisdom, and faith. He has let us know that the fullness of the Spirit is not for a select few, but all of God’s children. Luke has shown us how we can become full of the Holy Spirit: through prayer, faithful expectation, openness to the Spirit and obedience. Finally, Luke has let us know we need the fullness of the Spirit: in order to be empowered to do the work God has called us to do and to be the kind of people God wants us to be.

    Luke has not only defined for us what his theology of being full of the Holy Spirit is, but through the example of Jesus and his disciples he has also described what normal is. It was normal for Jesus and his disciples to live full of the Spirit; therefore, this should be the norm for us as well. It should be normal for us to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. It should not be normal for us to be filled Holy Spirit once and never filled again. It should be normal for us to be led by the Spirit. It should not be normal for us never to hear from God or be directed by His Spirit. It should be normal for us to experience and exercise the power of the Spirit. It should not be normal for us to go through life powerless, a slave to everything around us. It should be normal for us to take time to pray. It should not be normal for us to be too busy to pray. It should be normal for us to have spiritual discernment and wisdom. It should not be normal for us to buy into and fall for everything that comes down our way. It should be normal for us to have faith and confidence in God. It should not be normal for us to be doubtful and cynical concerning God and His Word. It should be normal for every believer in a church to be full of the Spirit. It should not be normal for only the pastor to be full of the Spirit. It should be normal for us to expect God to fill us with the Spirit. It should not be normal for us to give up and say that because God has not filled us yet then it must not be for us. It should be normal for us to be empowered and equipped to do the work God has called us to do. It should not be normal for us to go about doing God’s work in our own strength and abilities.


    1George M. Flattery, A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit: Luke and Acts (Springfield, MO: Global University, 2009), 10.

    2Barclay Moon Newman, A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; United Bible Societies, 1993), 144.

    3Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, vol. 1, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 597.

    4William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 826-27.

    5Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the English Standard Version.

    6Flattery, 246.

    7Michael S. Heiser, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Logos Bible Software, 2005).

    8See Table 1.

    9“Jesus and Prayer in the Gospel of Luke,” ESV Study Bible (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 1978.

    10Flattery, 169-170.

    11The only believer who Luke seems to possibly exclude from receiving the Spirit in this text is Simon.

    12Wave Nunnally, The Book of Acts: An Independent-Study Textbook (Springfield: Global University, 2007), 147.

    13Louw and Nida, 597.

    14Flattery, 168.

    15Nunnally, 20.


    Arndt, William, and Fredrick W. Danker and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

    Flattery, George M. A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit: Luke and Acts. Springfield: Global University, 2009.

    _______________. A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit: John and Paul. Springfield: Global University, 2009.

    Heiser, Michael S. Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Logos Bible Software, 2005.

    “Jesus and Prayer in the Gospel of Luke,” ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008).

    Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. Vol. 1. Electronic edition of the 2nd edition. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

    Newman, Barclay Moon. A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. Bibelgesellschaft: United Bible Societies, 1993.

    Nunnally, Wave. The Book of Acts: An Independent-Study Textbook. Springfield: Global University, 2007.

    Rice, John R. The Power of Pentecost or Fullness of the Spirit. Murfreesboro: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1949.

    Stott, John R.W. Baptism & Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1971.  

    A Johannine Theology of the Sources of Spiritual Authority


    A Johannie Theology of the Sources of Spiritual Authority

    Sierra McCabe





    The Identity of Christ

    The Mission of Christ

    The Empowerment of Christ

    The Obedience of Christ


    The Identity of Believers

    The Mission of Believers

    The Empowerment of Believers

    The Obedience of Believers





    When examining a topic like the sources of spiritual authority, there is the temptation to be simple, declare, “The source is God,” and walk away. In the words of John the Baptist, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.”1 While the theology is biblically correct, there is much more to discover about authority and those who possess it. Simplicity is beneficial for instructing those who are new to the faith, however, the spiritual understanding of a mature believer is meant to go beyond the surface of a theological topic. Jesus Christ, who is spoken of in Revelation, has the authority to rule over the nations, grant eternal life, and make all things new. What He opens no one can shut, and what He closes no one can open.2 According to the Word, His disciples can exercise the same authority. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”3

    On a deeper level than answering, “The source is God,” where does spiritual authority come from, and why was it granted? The books of John, including his gospel, epistles and Revelation, reveal a great deal about the authority of Christ and His followers, The goal of this study is to answer those questions from Johannine literature itself, doing primary research, and developing my own New Testament theology. Thus, the first half of this paper examines what the scriptures say about the spiritual authority of Christ, while the second half researches the authority available to those who follow Him. There are four concepts that contribute to the Johannine theology of the source of spiritual authority, and they are identity, mission, empowerment and obedience.


    The Gospel of John is very special because of the theological details it provides about the intimate interactions between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. While the other Gospel accounts tend to focus more on the events of Jesus’ life and miracles that He performed, John delved the deepest into the divine relationship. By studying this relationship, it is possible to evaluate the source of Jesus’ spiritual authority.

    The opening chapter of John’s gospel introduces the first portion of this paper quite well.

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … He was with God in the beginning. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. … No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father.4

    This particular passage of scripture reveals three important facts about Jesus, who is referred to as the Word. First of all, Jesus is the Son of God and therefore was with God before time began. Second, He was sent into the world by God in order to proclaim the truth. Third, although He came down from Heaven to do the work of the Father, Jesus remained in a close relationship with His Father and was obedient to His will. These three concepts were the source of Christ’s authority in His earthly ministry, and they are also the source of authority for believers.

    The Identity of Christ

    A clear distinction that needs to be made between Jesus Christ and His followers is that while believers are described as being born of God, Christ actually was and is God. In the previous scripture, John declared Jesus’ divinity through His timelessness and His unique status as the one and only Son of God. Throughout His ministry, Christ attempted to show the people of Israel who He was and even used terminology that was specifically associated with God. For example, Jesus said “Before Abraham was I am!”5 The point He was trying to make was that unlike the people to whom He ministered on earth, Jesus never had a beginning. There was never a time in which He did not exist; Jesus was already with the Father and Holy Spirit before creation began.

    In addition to being eternal, Jesus also claimed divinity because of His specific relationship with God. The comparison can be made that as a human son is like his father, so is Jesus Christ like His divine Father.

    Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.6

    Passages like this are what make John’s gospel so beautiful because they reveal the deep love relationship between Jesus and the Father. This scripture teaches that what the Father does, the Son does also. While defending the miracles He performed on the Sabbath, Jesus said, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working.”7 Jesus was able to exercise authority because of His identity as the Son of God. Christ’s identity was the first source of His spiritual authority.

    The Mission of Christ

    Another reason Jesus had such authority during His ministry on Earth was because He was sent by the One who had ultimate authority. Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”8

    A common theme in the writings of John is that Jesus was sent by the Father in order to do the work of the Father in the Father’s name. By placing himself underneath the authority of His Father, Christ was able to exercise authority in His ministry. In his writings, John recorded Jesus repeatedly claiming the authority of the Father, and His works testified of that authority. In John chapter five and eight Jesus says,

    I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent…You are from below; I am from above. He who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world. I have not come on my own; God sent me.9

    The theology drawn from these passages is that Christ came to earth according to the will of God in order to accomplish specific goals; Christ said that He would communicate and do only what the Father authorized Him to do. In addition, He said that the signs and wonders he performed proved that He acted with the authority of the Father. Many of the people to whom Christ ministered reasoned with their brethren, saying surely only a person who was of God could do what He was doing and speak the way He spoke.10

    The Empowerment of Christ

    It has been shown that not only was Jesus with God in the beginning, but He was also sent into the world by God in order to accomplish God’s will. Another important fact about Jesus is that while He was in the world, He was able to maintain a close relationship with His Father through the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Godhead. Such empowerment is also a factor in Christ’s authority.

    I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.11

    The presence and power of the Holy Spirit was central in the ministry of Christ. He was given flesh by the Spirit, indwelled by the Spirit, led by the Spirit, and anointed by the Spirit to proclaim the good news and deliver the lost from bondage.12 Christ depended on the power of the Holy Spirit in every part of His ministry, and without the Spirit He could not have exercised such authority. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit allowed Jesus to maintain an intimate relationship with His Father, even though when Christ left heaven they became separated. Even in His darkest times, when His disciples had left Him, the Father was still with Him. Jesus said, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.”13

    Jesus clearly explained the source of His spiritual authority when He said, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”14 This intimate relationship with the One who has the ultimate authority is the reason why Christ was able to do the things He did. The Father “put all things under His power.”15

    The Obedience of Christ

    Again, the gospel of John is absolutely beautiful in the way it describes the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Father. Over and over again, Jesus is shown as simply wanting to love, honor and please His Father, and He did this by being obedient to His Father’s will. “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. ... The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”16 These scriptures illustrate Christ’s tremendous love for His Father. Only love could produce such a selfless attitude: where one person desires the good of another above everything else. Jesus loved His Father so much that He resolved to please Him in every possible way, and this introduces the idea that authority stems from obedience to the will of God.

    Jesus said, “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”17 In every moment of His ministry Jesus was tuned in to the will of His Father through the Holy Spirit. He spoke what the Father wanted Him to speak, and He performed the works of the Father in the Father’s time. Christ’s obedience even went as far as to include His sacrificial death on the cross for the sake of humankind. This radical obedience to the Father’s will demonstrated the kind of intimate relationship that existed between God the Father and God the Son. Christ’s spiritual authority was founded on this obedience. “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”18 Because of His willingness to do what the Father asked of Him, Jesus exercised limitless authority.

    Through His obedience, Jesus both finished the work His Father gave Him to do, and He glorified His Father before all creation.19 What the writings of John have revealed about Christ is that His spiritual authority is due to His identity as the Son of God, His willingness to be sent into the world with the Holy Spirit, and His obedience to the Father’s will.


    This research paper has established that the spiritual authority of Christ was based upon His identity, His mission, the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and Christ’s obedience. What the next portion will show is that the spiritual authority of Christ’s disciples is founded upon similar principles.

    First, while Christians are not divine in the sense that Christ is divine, they can be born of God and become fellow heirs in the Kingdom. In addition, Christians can develop an intimate relationship with the Godhead through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They can and must be with God, just as Christ was. Second, just as the Father sent Jesus into the world to fulfill His purposes, the disciples of Christ are also sent into the world to do the work of God. Third, believers are to walk in the power of the Spirit in order to be effective in their work. Lastly, as Christ’s authority stemmed from His obedience to the Father’s will, believers must also be obedient to the will of God. The result is that disciples of Jesus can perform the same kinds of works that He did with the power and authority that He had. 1 John says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”20

    The Identity of Believers

    The great hope that Christ gave to humankind through His death and resurrection was the opportunity to be reconciled with God. By redeeming the world with His blood, He made a way for humans once again to have an uninhibited relationship with God. The only requirement is that people first recognize who Jesus is and what He did for them. In his gospel, John wrote “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”21 The significance of being a child of God is that a believer would then be in the perfect position to know God personally. By knowing God, believers would then be able to discern God’s work in the world, and they would be readily available for God to use them to carry out His plans. Those who are not of God are not aware of His will and are not in a position to do anything about it. The Word says, “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”22

    The only prerequisite for belonging to God is belief, belief that Jesus is God’s Son who offers salvation and life to those who will follow Him. This is the foundation behind the spiritual authority of a believer. In order to exercise the authority of God, a person must be of God; they must first enter into the kingdom. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”23 Until a person is in the Kingdom of God, they have not placed themselves under God’s authority; therefore, they cannot act with spiritual authority.

    The Mission of Believers

    As the Father sent Christ into the world to carry out His will, Christ also sends out His disciples to do the same. “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”24 The followers of Jesus function as His body, His hands and feet. He sends them to the ends of the earth in His name with the specific goals of proclaiming the good news and making disciples of all nations. While Christ came down from Heaven to make salvation possible, He sends out His followers to make it available to those who are unaware of it.

    He does not, however, send them out alone. Jesus said,

    And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.25

    When it comes to spiritual authority, something that is just as important as being sent by God is being with God. The two must go hand in hand.

    The Empowerment of Believers

    Without the Spirit living in believers, they would not have any help carrying out the plans of the Father, and they certainly could not accomplish anything on their own. Without the presence of the Holy Spirit, a believer would have great difficulty knowing God. In John 14 Jesus informs his disciples, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”26 When Christ ascended into heaven, He assured His disciples that they would not be left alone in the world. Since they were no longer of the world but of God, they would need someone just like Christ to guide and nurture them. This new companion was the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, and through Him believers could experience an intimate relationship with God. The Spirit would testify of Christ, through whom believers could see and know the Father. Jesus explained, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.27

     Having a relationship with God is crucial for any believer to live with power and authority. The Bible teaches that the Spirit who lives in believers is greater than the one who is in the world, so by relying on the Spirit of God they can overcome any obstacle. In addition, only by being with God can disciples come to recognize the voice of their Shepherd and follow Him wherever He goes.28 Christ said, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”29 This passage reinforces the idea that in order to wield any spiritual authority whatsoever, a believer must be with the source of spiritual authority, which is God. Again, the theme of unity with God is so important for the followers of Christ that the writings of John overflow with it. As He prayed for His disciples, Jesus said,

    I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.30

    The desire of God is to have fellowship with His people, and it is through this fellowship that God extends His authority to His vessels and does amazing things. This passage exhorts the disciples of Christ to follow His example, for He says that He too had to remain in the Father. It is like a chain reaction. What the Father revealed to Jesus, Jesus reveals to us. Jesus received power and authority from the Father, and we receive them from Jesus.31 It is only through this unity that the people of God are able to honor God in the world.

    The Obedience of Believers

    After being born of God and sent by God, disciples of Christ must learn to be obedient, for it is also through obedience that they are granted spiritual authority on earth. “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”32 This passage speaks of having favor with God. Those who know and keep the commands of the Lord will have the joy of seeing Him and experiencing His power. By being obedient to the will of God, believers not only glorify Him but they also display His authority to those around them.33

    Jesus spoke at length about how to keep His commands.

    I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.34

    If the followers of Christ abide in Him, keeping His statutes, then they will have ample opportunity to produce fruit for God, proving that they are true disciples. In addition, Christ offers Himself as the perfect example of abiding in and glorifying His Father. If believers devote their lives to obeying the commands of Christ, then Jesus said that they could ask whatever they wish, and it would be done for them. This makes obedience a prerequisite of spiritual authority, along with being born of God and being sent by God. It is not enough to simply know the commands of Christ; a true believer will also follow them and be blessed.35 Christ wrapped up all commandments of God into two simple ones, love God and love your neighbor. 2 John 1:6 says that “And this is love; that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”36


    As those who are born of God, sent by God, empowered by the Spirit and obedient to the will of God travel through this world, they know that they can exercise great spiritual authority in His name. They no longer have anything to fear in the world, for they are no longer citizens of the world. No matter the obstacle, believers have both the ear of God His authority to overcome the world. The Disciples of Christ are meant to perform the same works He did, and by following His example anything is possible.

    The foundation of their spiritual authority is built upon their faith in Christ and what He did on the Cross. From there the Holy Spirit is able to connect them to God the Son and God the Father in an eternal relationship, and they are sent out to do God’s will. Of course, God would never give His children work to do without the resources they needed to accomplish it. Therefore, the power and authority of God is available to those who know and follow Him. They simply have to be obedient and keep His commands and faithfully walk with Him.

    Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.37


    1John 3:27. [All quotations from scripture are from the NIV version]

    2Revelation 2:7 and 2:26, 3:7, 21:5.

    3John 14:12-14.

    4John 1:1-2, 14, 15, 18.

    5John 8:58.

    6John 5:19-21.

    7John 5:17.

    8John 7:28-29.

    9John 5:36-38, 8:16-18, 23, 26, 42.

    10John 7:46, 9:31, 33.

    11John 1:32-34.

    12Boa, Kenneth. Conformed to His Image (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan) 2001, 320.

    13John 16:32.

    14John 14:10.

    15John 13:3.

    16John 5:30; 8:29.

    17John 12:49-50.

    18John 10:17-18.

    19John 17:4.

    201 John 5:14-15.

    21John 1:12-13.

    22John 8:47.

    23John 3:5-6.

    24John 17:18.

    25John 14:16-18.

    26John 24:25-26.

    27John 14:6-7, 12:44-45.

    28John 10:25-27.

    29John 12:26.

    30John 17:20-23.

    31Revelation 1:1; 2:27.

    32John 14:20-26.

    33Wilkins, Michael. Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan) 1992, 235-237.

    34John 15:1-10.

    35John 13:17.

    362 John 1:6.

    37John 3:21-24.


    Boa, Kenneth. Conformed to His Image, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

    Capps, Charles. Your Spiritual Authority; Learn to Use Your God-Given Rights to Live in Victory, Tulsa, OK: Harrison, 1994.

    Watchman, Nee. Spiritual Authority; a.k.a., Submission and Authority, New York: Christian Fellowship, 1972.

    Wilkins, Michael. Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship, Grand Rapids, MI Michigan: Zondervan, 1992.

    A Lucan Theology of Demons and Evil Spirits


    A Lucan Theology of Demons and Evil Spirits

    Julia Ramos




    Research Interest

    Research Method


    They Recognize Christ

    They Recognize God’s Servants

    They Are Cast out by Christ

    They Are Subject to Christ

    They Distinguish Authentic from Counterfeit


    Characteristics of the Demonized

    Demons Cast Out, Evil Spirits Flee, and Some Are Healed

    Jesus Gets the Glory





    Why do Christians fear demons? The answers may vary from fear of evil, lack of knowledge, to not understanding God’s authority as described in the Bible. One may hear stories of demons and perhaps watch movies where good and evil wage war against one another. Some are aware of the demonic due to their missionary background and exposure to deliverance ministries overseas. Others, with a more-Western mentality, view the demonic as a false and exaggerated spirituality.

    Research Interest

    In Luke 10:19-20, Jesus acknowledges the reality of the forces of evil and the believers’ source of authority over them.

    I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.1

    Jesus had authority over all evil, and freely gave this authority to his followers.

    Satan’s fall from heaven is an example of God’s power over darkness and the authority that Jesus gave his followers. The enemy’s attempt to overpower God resulted in limited earthly power, subject to the power of God. As one follows the ways of the Lord, the power of God gives victory over demons and evil spirits. Christ demonstrated his power and authority over demons in Luke and Acts and gave that same power is given to his children (as mentioned in the above text).2

    This chapter pursues a Lucan theology of demons and evil spirits,3 focusing on Christ’s authority over demons and the authority he gives to believers.

    Research Method

    The quest began with a study of the Luke’s Gospel and the Acts examining the scenarios where Jesus and/or the disciples cast out demons or dealt with spirits. The resulting data supports Christ’s authority over demons and evil spirits and their recognition of his authority. Next came an analysis of the consequences of being demon-possessed (i.e., a change in character and nature) and of evidences of being harassed by spirits (e.g., various physical and emotional troubles). Going outside Scripture, the author researched several authors to support or refute the primary research finding. As a result, the author is convinced that Jesus Christ expelled demons to display his power over darkness and to teach his followers to follow his example and spread his name throughout the world. Satan comes to destroy lives, but Christ overcame evil on the Cross.

    The same power Christ displayed in his earthly ministry is available to all believers for ministry to the sick and demon-possessed. All who believe and are saved have access to the God of the Bible and can be used through his power to heal and deliver through the name and power of Christ.


    The authority of Christ is evident throughout Luke’s Gospel and the Acts. In Luke 4, Jesus teaches with authority and the people are amazed. Whether he heals or drives out demons and evil spirits there is always authority and power in his speech. Luke placed a strong emphasis on the authority and power of Christ’s word in the Capernaum incident (cf. v. 32). The Greek word epitimao meaning “rebuke,” implies a commanding word.4

    They Recognize Christ

    In several of the Jesus’ encounters with the demonized, his deity and identity are acknowledged by the demons. In Luke 4:31-37 Jesus enters Capernaum and as he approaches the synagogue, he is met by “a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit devil.” The demon recognizes Jesus and acknowledges Him as “Holy One of God” (v. 34) implying Son of God, and Messiah5—titles recognizing the identity of Jesus before he had fully revealed himself.

    Demons come from the supernatural world and may recognize Jesus as God due to his supernatural power. They recognize Jesus as their opponent because his agenda (cf. Luke 9:1-6 and 11:17-26) of healing and restoring the oppressed and sick and also equipping his children for battle against the powers of darkness.6 Christ’s agenda threatens the devil’s opposing agenda to kill and destroy the innocent. In verses 1-3 Jesus gives his disciples authority and power in his name to drive out all demons, to cure diseases, to preach the kingdom, and to heal the sick.

    They Recognize God’s Servants

    Paul and Silas enter the city of Philippi in Acts 16 and encounter a Philippian slave girl who has a spirit that predicts the future. She earns a great living for her owners by predicting the future (v. 17). She recognizes them as children of God and spotlights them with shouts, stating they are children of God who know the way of salvation. Ironically after a few days of her following Paul, he casts out the evil spirit, but is asked to leave the city due to economic loss and fear from the girl’s owner.7 Knowles adds, “Demons also spoke the truth when crying out concerning Jesus, but Jesus cast them out and quieted them” (Mark 1:25).8 The power of Christ and his servants was greater than the power of the evil spirits.

    Leahy explains, “This young girl was possessed with a spirit of divination and in constant demand because of her utterances. Another word that can be used to describe her spirit is ventriloquist meaning speaking from the belly. This may happen to some but not all demon possessions.”9 Needham adds, “This spirit primarily uttered deep low sounds, through muscular control of the organs of speech. Its motive was pretension that the voice came from the underground region of the dead. It can also be known as a familiar spirit.”10

    They Are Cast out by Christ

    In Luke’s account of the man possessed by a demon in the synagogue (4:31-37), Jesus teaches with authority (v. 32). In verse 35 he sternly says, “Be quiet!” He also says, “Come out of him!” Due to their evil intent on harming others, he sternly handles them with force and authority. All the people were amazed at his teaching because not only did his preaching, but his actions, demonstrated his authority.

    In Luke 8:24, as the storm rages, Jesus calms the storm by rebuking the wind leaving his disciples in amazement at his authority (v. 25). In the verses following this miracle Jesus is met by a demoniac from the region of the Gerasenes. This man had been an outcast for a long time and lived naked in the tombs (v. 27). The man begs Jesus not to torture him; and Jesus commands the evil spirits to come out of the man. Danker states, “Jesus had total mastery over the raging waters and demons, that is, over all that is hostile to people.”11 Jesus’ healings occur proclaiming his reign. The healings and exorcisms are signs that God’s reign is at hand and the healed are invited to share in the banquet which marks its coming.

    Luke’s strong emphasis on healing and expelling demons are a sign of God’s power.12 Jesus’ power is no less effective even in an area where demons are most numerous and most destructive. Craddock adds, “Luke wants us to remember this when confronting the power of evil (Acts 16:16-34). Demons are not able to withstand those who preach, teach, and heal in the name of Jesus who sent them out with power and authority.”13 In Jesus’ encounters with demons, the number of demons present made no difference to Him. Whether one spirit or many, they are all subject to the presence and power of God. Since all were subject to Christ they knew when Christ spoke they were subject to his command. Reddin adds, “Jesus never left a person partially delivered therefore, when a demon spirit left, the man or woman was presented as being completely free, full of gratitude with no longer carrying guilt, fear, or shame.”14 During the time of Jesus, it was thought that know its name was to defeat a demon. The name of a person possessed a mysterious power in itself so that to get the know it was half the battle.15

    The apostles in Acts 5:12-16 performed many miraculous signs and wonders as the Lord had commanded them to. The Lord wanted his disciples to follow his example in using his authority to heal and deliver. The apostles were highly regarded by the people. Many were added to their number and the sick and those tormented by spirits were brought to be healed and all were healed (vv. 15-16). Peter’s shadow was used by God to heal people. Peter and the other apostles obeyed the Lord and were empowered to perform these mighty deeds.16

    They Are Subject to Christ

    Based on the biblical evidence in Luke and Acts one can state that demons must bow to the name of Jesus. Luke 4 demonstrates the demons’ lack of power when Christ commands and orders them. In verse 33 the demon cries out suggesting lack of power over Jesus. When Jesus casts the demon out, the demon throws the man down and leaves him unharmed suggesting that in the presence of God he cannot hurt those God is defending without God’s permission (v. 36). Tannehill suggests, “Demons must submit to Jesus’ authoritative command, preventing further harm to their victims. Luke 8:28 presents a stronger picture of the demons’ impotent groveling when they respond to Jesus with ‘I beg you.’”17 In Luke 5:35 the demon seeks to gain mastery over Jesus by unveiling his identity. He knows that Jesus has come to consign him to the apocalyptic pangs. Therefore he says, “Do not torture me.”18

    They Distinguish Authentic from Counterfeit

    The demons and spirits in both Luke and Acts display clear recognition of Christ and his children. They also discern counterfeit faith or lack of faith. In Acts 19:13-16 Jewish exorcists try using the name of “Jesus whom Paul preaches” without having an authentic relationship with the Lord. They went around driving out evil spirits invoking the name of the Lord on the demon possessed. One day an evil spirit answered them and said, “‘Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ Then the man with the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all.19 The men were overtaken because they were not true believers in Christ. They were using the name of Christ for their own personal gain and as a form of incantation.20

    In Luke 9:37-42, as the disciples try to cast a demon out, they are unable to and ask Jesus for his assistance. According to Luke’s account, they could not cast the demon out because they were not heeding Jesus’ word. It is not a matter of technicalities.21 Jesus casts the demon out of the boy himself and the boy is completely healed.

    During his interaction with the disciples in Luke 11:14-26, Jesus teaches on evil spirits inhabiting one’s body. If a man has been cleansed of evil spirits and does not seek to find his soul surrendered to God unfortunately the evil spirit may return and bring with it seven other spirits to leave the man worse off than before. An evil spirit knows when the Lord resides in an individual and will take what he can find that is empty (meaning unregenerate). Danker adds, “Rejection of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13) invites invasion of the evil spirit. In Luke’s total account, the text also explains why demonic power was so apparent during the apostolic ministry. It is due to failure to heed the word.”22 Luck suggests, “In Luke 11:21, the strong man is Satan himself and the stronger man is Christ. The possessed person of whom Christ spoke is the unbelieving generation. When the Lord casts out demons, it indicates his supremacy over Satan and his kingdom. If one refuses to take the final step of receiving him, all is without avail.”23 The end state of the individual will be worse than the original. Craddock continues, one should not be quick to remove evil spirits (Matt. 12:43-45) unless the removal of the evil is followed by filling the life with good more evil will reside. The greatest danger for those who remove but do not replenish is a false sense of security.24


    The consequences of being demonized vary from person to person. There is much debate on whether a mental disorder can be demonic possession. Due to the similarities in behaviors, distinguishing the two maladies requires discernment. Demons come in many forms and must be discerned so that one may be properly diagnosed and not falsely accused. Hagin suggests, “Discernment can be defined as supernatural insight into the realm of spirits. People who claim to have this gift and who see only devils or demons, don’t have what the Bible describes. The Bible doesn’t say, ‘discerning of devils,’ but ‘discerning of spirits.’”25

    One must take extra caution when dealing with the demonized and remember that the real opponent is not the person but the evil spirit in the person. Hagin adds, “As mentioned in

    1 Corinthians 12:10, discerning of spirits has to do with spirits—not people. People can be motivated by spirits. But the gift still has to do with the spirit not the person.” In Acts 16:16-24, Paul discerns the spirit in the slave girl after a few days, and he speaks to the spirit not the girl. When the spirit comes out of the girl, she is delivered.26 Demons inhabit by their wills not necessarily by the will of others although there may be exceptions.27

    Characteristics of the Demonized

    Demons inhabit humans in a variety of ways that include the physical, mental, and emotional. Demonization may be voluntary or involuntary. Demonization may be permanent (as in Luke 11:26) or spasmodic. The body and mind are both subject to the demons.28 “The demons may speak through the person possessed and symptoms may vary but frequently include mental abnormalities, epileptic or similar fits, superhuman strength, suicidal tendencies, and malignant attitudes towards others.”29 Shuster adds, “The demons can speak in both the first person and third person. There can be consistent acting of a new personality, manifested in facial features, voice timbre and pitch and behavior. Knowledge or intellectual abilities not ordinarily possessed may appear.”30 If one is not careful there can be a misdiagnosis due to similar symptoms with mental disorders not related to demonic possession. Leahy continues, Acceptance of Christ into one’s life, despite all the above, however, can bring deliverance and transformation.

    The symptoms of the man in Luke 8:26-39 may be to those of manic depression: nakedness, and living in secluded areas including cemeteries. Demons can be multiples inhabiting one individual person.31 Judging from the meaning of the technical term “legion,” his demons might have numbered 2000 to 6000 in total. Yet during his deliverance Jesus only speaks once and the demons flee. Evil powers are subject to the authority of Christ regardless of their number.32

    Demons Cast out, Evil Spirits Flee, and Some Are Healed

    Belief in demons was native to Jewish culture, Craddock states, “Demons were said to inhabit deserts, large bodies of water, and the air. When they entered a person they were considered to be the cause of blindness, muteness, and all kinds of physical problems as well as mental disorders.”33 In Jewish culture there was a prominent belief in demons but not all believed that physical and mental maladies were related to demonic influences. Jewish culture believed demons were capable of inhabiting and influencing the mind, body, mental, and moral state of a person.

    Luke and Acts record incidents where healing comes about after expelling evil spirits. Still, not all who are troubled by spirits are sick; and not all sicknesses are caused by spiritual powers. In Acts 5:12-16, Luke distinguishes “their sick” from “those tormented by impure spirits,” though “all of them were healed” (v. 16b [emphasis added]). The gospels contain many stories in which the mute or blind are healed, but in which there is no suggestion of the involvement of evil forces. Page suggests, that the case of Luke 11:14, however, “was regarded as different from ordinary cases of mutism …, for in this instance the inability to speak was seen as a result of demon possession.”34 In 4:40-41, Luke makes a clear distinction between the diseased and the demoniacs. Christ healed the sick and drove out the demons. In some instances of healing from spirits he was more gentle, and in cases of demonization was stern and authoritative.35

    Jesus Gets the Glory

    In Jesus’ ministry to the possessed and sick, when the individual suffering was delivered, all the attention turned to Jesus. His healing and deliverance brought the Kingdom to people and allowed people to experience the Kingdom in action. His amazing healings and demon expulsions contribute to the rapid spread of his fame. After the deliverance of the man in the synagogue of Capernaum, word of Christ’s work spread (4:37). After the healing of the leper, his word spread throughout the land (5:15).36 Christ’s work displayed his glory and fame to all the those he came in contact with. He spread his good news to all so that all could accept an invitation into his kingdom. Tannehill adds, According to Luke 9:42 the statement “‘all were amazed at the grandeur of God,’ and in 7:16 the crowd not only glorifies God but also says, “God has visited his people God’s visitation” is associated with the redemption, salvation, and dawning from on high which fulfills the messianic hope.”37

    When Jesus heals the demoniac in Luke 8:26-39, he tells him to return to his home and tell or declare what God has done for him. Both to Israel and the gentiles, through the apostolic proclamation, God is determined to crash through human ignorance with forgiving beneficence. The Gerasenes asked Jesus to depart (v. 37) but the delivered man becomes his instrument to spread the good news.38 Christ redeems every situation and allows people to have a second chance even when he is pushed away.39

    Despite the tragedy of the Seven Sons of Sceva (Acts 1913-20), news of the incident spread, many came and confessed their evil deeds to the Lord, and revival spread throughout Ephesus. Many came and burned their sorcery scrolls and repented of their sins and the name of the Lord was held in high honor.40 God always has room for repentance even when the enemy is at work.

    When Jesus taught in Capernaum in Luke 4:31-37 the people in the synagogue were astonished at his doctrine and authority. He preached with power and authority over demons and people were amazed and felt this was a new word from God.41 Word of his power spread throughout all of Galilee till everyone knew of Him. His goal in mind always seemed to be the spread of his word for all to have the opportunity to receive.


    Luke and Acts both demonstrate the reality of evil supernatural forces and their widespread activity; but books also demonstrate the surpassing power of God over all demonic activity.

    One needs to develop a strong relationship with God to be trained and equipped for the spiritual battle. We do not fight against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12). If one is not aware of the battle in the spiritual realm, how will the battle ever be won? Jesus displays authority and power over all the demons and satanic forces. He gives his children access to the same authority. One must not take that lightly because the battle is real. If the authority of Christ is ignored, there is no way to live one’s life as God intended. In both Luke and Acts one sees both Christ and his disciples healing the sick and taking authority against evil to spread the gospel.

    Do demons really exist? Absolutely.

    Who is responsible to fight the battles that are demonically influenced? The church and all who claim to be disciples of Christ. We are all Christ’s disciples and he has given everyone in his kingdom authority to defeat the powers of darkness. It may not be wise to go out and look for dark forces; but when they head in one’s direction, it is the church’s responsibility to act and fight in the supernatural. Practical ways to growing in authority over dark forces include prayer, fasting, spiritual discernment, allowing God’s Kingdom to reign in one’s heart, to stop living a defeated life due to a lack of understanding or fear of darkness.Dominion over Satan is every Christian’s right by the blood of Jesus Christ. A Christian who exercises dominion knows how to appropriate the fullness of God’s provision for discipleship. He lives a victorious life above and beyond fear and phobias, superstition and evil curses. He or she is radiant and forceful in Christ.”42


    1Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New International Version.

    2Trent C. Butler, Luke. Holman New Testament Commentary. (Nashville, TN, Broadman and Holman, 2000), 177.     

    3Note: Luke, in his writings, often distinguishes demons from evil spirits, both linguistically and descriptively. The Greek word for a spirit is pneuma. Evil spirits are ponera or kaka (“evil” or “bad,” i.e., unsound, afflictive, or wicked), or even akatharta (“unclean”) pneumata (spirits). The Greek term for demon is daimonion; and the verb, daimonizomai, literally means “to be demonized.” The consequences of demonization typically contrast with the evidences of the influence of evil spirits, as the next paragraph in the text above explains. There are cases, however, when even Luke blurs the distinctions he seems to establish.

    4Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1986), 84.

    5Tannehill, 84.

    6Fred B. Craddock, Luke. Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1990), 66.

    7Craddock, 117.

    8Victor Knowles, What The Bible Says About Angels and Demons (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1986), 257.

    9Fredrick S. Leahy, Satan Cast Out: A Study of Biblical Demonology (Carlisle, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 89.

    10George C. Needham, Angels and Demons (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1935), 89-90.

    11Fredrick W, Danker, Jesus and the New Age (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1988),181.

    12Tannehill, 89.

    13Craddock, 116-117.

    14Opal Reddin, Power Encounter (Springfield, MO: Central Bible College, 1999), 117.

    15Perhaps this is why Jesus asked the name of the demons. Many argue, however, that it was not necessary for him to know a demon’s name because he had authority over all demons. E. J. Tinsley, The Gospel According to Luke (New York: Cambridge, 1965), 92.

    16Knowles, 254.

    17Tannehill, 90.

    18Danker, 182

    19Danker, 203.

    20Knowles, 251.

    21Danker, 203.

    22Ibid., 234.

    23G. Coleman Luck, Luke, the Gospel of the Son of Man (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute,1960), 87.

    24Craddock, 157.

    25Kenneth E. Hagin, The Origin and Operation of Demons (Tulsa, OK: Faith Library, 1988), 13.


    27Marguerite Shuster, Power, Pathology, Paradox (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1987), 67.

    28Leahy, 90.


    30Shuster, 66-67.

    31Danker, 182.

    32Luck, 72.

    33Craddock, 65-66.

    34Sydney H. T. Page, Powers of Evil: A Biblical Study of Satan and Demons (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker,1995), 164.

    35Knowles, 247.

    36Tannehill, 86-87.


    38Danker, 184.

    39Knowles, 258.

    40Knowles, 258.

    41Luck, 48.

    42Lester Sumrall, Demons, the Answer Book (South Bend, IN: Whitaker House, 1965), 2.


    Butler, Trent C, Luke. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville, TN, Broadman and Holman, 2000.

    Coleman, Luck G. Luke, the Gospel of the Son of Man. Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1960.

    Craddock, Fred B. Luke: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1990.

    Danker, Fredrick W. Jesus and the New Age. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1988.

    Hagin, Kenneth E. The Origin and Operation of Demons. Tulsa, OK: Faith Library, 1988.

    Knowles, Victor. What the Bible Says About Angels and Demons. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1986.

    Leahy, Fredrick S. Satan Cast Out: A Study of Biblical Demonology. Carlisle, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975.

    Needham, George C. Angels and Demons. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1935.

    Page, Sydney H. T. Powers of Evil: A Biblical Study of Satan and Demons. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995.

    Reddin, Opal. Power Encounter. Springfield, MO: Central Bible College, 1999.

    Sumrall, Lester. Demons, the Answer Book. South Bend, IN: Whitaker House, 1960.

    Shuster, Marguerite. Power, Pathology, Paradox. Grand Rapids, MI: Academie, 1987.

    Tannehill, Robert C. The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1986.

    Tinsley, E. J. The Gospel According to Luke. New York: Cambridge, 1965.



    A Matthean Theology of Cultural Formation

    Daniel Guy





    Kingdom Values

    Kingdom Ethics

    Kingdom Community






    Human beings are social creatures. In the Genesis account of creation, the first man’s solitude was the only thing that God declared “not good.”1 Men and women are made to desire and enjoy one another’s company. As individuals come together and form groups, communities, societies, and even nations, they find unity in (often unstated) ideas they hold in common. This social environment entails what we call “culture.”

    The meaning of the term “culture” can be difficult to articulate. For the purposes of this study, it is defined as the shared “language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, social organization, inherited artifacts, technical process, and values” among a group of individuals.2 Wherever one finds any sort of a community, one finds a culture. Since culture is such an inescapable phenomenon, what does the New Testament teach about it and how Christ followers should interact with it? Additionally, if believers share a common culture, what does it look like and what purpose does it serve?

    Even though the New Testament never directly addresses terms such as “culture,” “values,” or “ethics,” it speaks to these concepts throughout its entirety. When New Testament writers spoke of “the world” they often had the culture of the society around them in mind.3 This paper will therefore focus on Matthew’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus. It will show Jesus’ teaching on matter of values, ethics, and community, through which He set about establishing a new culture that infused a new community of faith. It will also examine Jesus’ teachings about the purpose of this new cultural community He called His church.


    Jesus began His ministry with the proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God (Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15) and the calling of His disciples (Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; John 1:35-43). The two activities are connected, as men and women enter into the Kingdom “by receiving Jesus’ message about the Kingdom.”4 One can thus see that Jesus’ ministry formed a distinct people, with His own life and teachings providing the foundational elements of that people’s culture.

    Kingdom Values

    One of these elements is a given culture’s values. This is the source from which a society’s ethics, social interactions, art forms, and other cultural aspects proceed. Niebuhr, speaking to the pervasiveness of their impact, observed that “the world of culture is a world of values.”5 Any standards or expectations of human community and interaction must begin here.

    Matthew begins his record of Jesus’ ministry proper with the Sermon on the Mount. This collection of sayings spans chapters five through seven and gives the ethical standards for the Kingdom of God. Before Jesus taught about Kingdom living, however, He proclaimed a series of blessings known as the Beatitudes. These statements give insight to the values that underlie the rest of Jesus’ sermon.6

    Each Beatitude in Matthew 5:3-12 begins with the phrase, “Blessed are,” or in Greek, “makarioi,” which is, “the blessed ones.” This was a common formula for such lists in Hellenistic literature. Makarios was used in early Greek poetry to “describe the condition of the gods and those who share their happy existence.”7 The LXX used the term to indicate one who had been blessed by God, who fulfilled God’s commandments, or who put one’s trust and hope in God.8 In the Beatitudes, the descriptions of the makarios reveal the attitude toward the world of those who embrace the Kingdom of God.9

    Already, one can see the formation of a new kind culture, as Jesus employed rhetoric familiar to both Jewish and Greek thought but communicated something new through it. The Beatitudes focus on matters of character, not accomplishments.10 They are not instructions on how a man or woman must act to please to God or earn His favor; instead, they reveal a blessedness that stems from the humble recognition of one’s complete dependence upon God (Matt 5:3).11 When Jews under Roman rule spoke of God’s Kingdom, they thought in terms of revolution and violent liberation.12 Jesus spoke of the Kingdom in terms of meekness (v. 5), justice (v. 6), mercy (v. 7), purity of heart (v. 8), peace (v. 9), and even persecution (v. 10).

    The Beatitudes presented a Kingdom value system that flew in the face of the this-world values held in Jesus’ day.13 Honor and favor are given to the poor and neglected rather than to the rich and powerful (Luke 6:20-26). Since wealth, power, prestige, and even God’s merited favor are not things one should seek after, followers of Jesus are free to live with pure motives. They can practice righteousness for the good of others and for the glory of God (Matt 5:16).14

    The most strikingly unique statement in the Beatitudes is the blessing pronounced in v. 11 to those who are persecuted. Both Jewish and Greek thought recognized that the righteous could suffer persecution.15 Jesus, however, equated this righteousness to a person’s identification with Himself. He then compared those who would suffer “on account of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22) to the Old Testament prophets who spoke on behalf of God (Matt 5:12; Luke 6:23). To find such a statement amid a list of character values shows that the Kingdom revolves around the person and work of Jesus Himself. Righteousness, then, is essentially one’s affiliation with Jesus. Thus, “To suffer for righteousness’ sake is to suffer for Jesus’ name … because the characteristics Jesus lists as belonging to the people of the kingdom are also those Jesus himself exemplifies.”16

    Kingdom Ethics

    Matthew’s record of the Sermon on the Mount continues with a series of ethical discourses (5:17-7:27). These teachings must be viewed in light of the Beatitudes; after all, those traits that God blesses reflect both His character and the character He desires from His people. Character not only influences a one’s behavior, it changes the very motives that compel action. A true disciple’s understanding of who God is must affect his or her conduct toward others.17 Identification with Jesus then releases one from the traditional idea of a righteousness that must be earned.18 As Betz observes, “Whatever the [Sermon on the Mount] has to say on the subject of ethics, it is grounded in the Beatitudes.”19 Kingdom ethics, then, provide an understanding of how participants in the Kingdom ought to live in accord with Kingdom values, further shaping the distinctive culture shared by Christ’s followers.

    Jesus’ ethical teachings began with an unqualified affirmation of the Law. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” It is thus inaccurate to claim that Matthew presents Jesus as a second Moses issuing a new Law.20 Nevertheless, Jesus did present a new interpretation of the Law that focused, like the Beatitudes, on a person’s inner character rather than outward conformity to regulations.21 This is the sense in which He taught a new code of ethics to describe how men and women of God’s Kingdom ought to live.22

    The first section of ethical teaching (Matt 5:21-48) involves a person’s conduct and attitudes toward others interpreted through the Law. Jesus introduced each teaching with the formula, “You have heard that it was said … . But I say to you …” (Matt 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44). This repeated statement draws focus to the unique emphasis in Jesus’ teaching: Jesus did not contradict the Law, but instead turned to the attitudes that precede one’s breaking the Law. Rather than simply reinforcing the command, “You shall not murder,” He directly condemned the anger that would lead a person to commit such an act (vv. 21-22). Rather than speaking against adultery as a violation of the Law, He confronted the lust within a person’s heart that would produce the act of adultery (vv. 27-28).23 Without adding more regulations and observances to the Law, Jesus nevertheless expanded its scope by teaching ethics focused on the character of one’s heart. This culminates in an instruction to love, not just one’s neighbors, but also even one’s enemies (vv. 43-44). Indeed, love can be seen as the ethic of the Kingdom.

    The second section of ethical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:1-34) deals with piety, or a person’s relationship to God. Jesus commended the practices of giving alms (“practicing your righteousness;” v. 1), prayer (v. 5), and fasting (v. 16), but condemned the hypocrisy within the hearts of those who did such things only for show. The hypocrites put on an air of piety to win the praise of others; sincere devotion to God should be kept, as far as possible, solely between oneself and God. This again returns to the issue of motive, in this case, whether one seeks to please God or to impress others. The rest of the chapter, however, seems to suggest that the larger issue is one of genuine faith. Does the alms giver truly believe that God who “sees [what is done] in secret will reward” him (vv. 4, 6, 18)? Does the follower of Christ truly believe that her Father in heaven could possibly know and meet her needs for food and clothing (vv. 25-33)? Those who live in the Kingdom of God will live in a manner that reflects a vibrant faith in and relationship with their Father.

    Chapter 7 of Matthew finishes the Sermon on the Mount and contains two crucial summary points of Kingdom ethics. The first point is found in verse 12 in a statement known as the Golden Rule: Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. The positive, active language of this verse indicates that love for one’s neighbors (and one’s enemies, and one’s God) should spur a person into action.24 Matthew 22:35-40 echoes this statement, as there Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … And … love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”25 Both the Golden Rule and the Great Commandment summarize the ethical teaching of the Scriptures. Behavior that meets these criteria will not run afoul of God’s Law.

    The second point is that Kingdom ethics are ultimately based on the person and teaching of Jesus Himself. Matthew 7:21-23 shows the necessity of “knowing” Jesus beyond simple adherence to outward behavior, while verses 24-27 emphasize that hearing and knowing His teaching is not enough if it is not put into practice. The ethics of the Kingdom, like its values, are inseparable from identification with Jesus. This radical claim of Jesus as the center for His followers’ lives provides the most distinctive mark for a new, separate culture.

    Kingdom Community

    While values and ethics are each a part of what makes a culture unique, their importance must not be overstated to exclusion of the community that shares them. It is the people who embrace and live by such elements that bring life to a distinct culture. Without a community of adherents, value systems and ethical codes become little more than good ideas. Jesus not only proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught what it is like; He called men and women to follow Him and become part of that Kingdom.26

    The Sermon on the Mount speaks directly to how Jesus’ followers are to treat others, but it does not specifically address matters of community life. Nevertheless, as Hurst notes, “For [Jesus] ethics were surely personal, insofar as they flow from each individual’s relationship to God. But ethics must also be incorporated into the community of God.”27 The Sermon assumes this community, something Jesus implied in the comparison of His followers to a “city set on a hill” (Matt 5:14)28 and presupposed when teaching on interpersonal ethics (vv. 21-48; 7:12).

    If the Sermon on the Mount implies that Jesus will form a new cultural community, Matthew’s gospel later states it outright. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “I will build my church,” following Simon Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). As He called people to follow Him, He used “church” to designate “the community of the Kingdom but [not] the Kingdom itself.”29 The term “church” suggests a faithful remnant, similar to the men and women within Israel who kept God’s covenant during times of national apostasy.30 Thus, the unbelieving of Israel are not part of the church simply on the basis of their nationality. The context shows that the church is a community of discipleship that one enters through faith in Jesus.31 This community belongs to Him and He is its builder.

    At the same time, Jesus expected His church to carry His message and call others to join His community. He sent out His disciples to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom and perform the works that characterized His own ministry (Matt 10:5-7; Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-9). After His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus then commissioned all who believe in Him to preach this good news to all the earth—not just in Judea—as well as to teach new disciples to obey all that He had taught (Matt 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:8, 15; 2:1-4). The church as a community of faith was to transcend ethnic and national boundaries, finding its unity in the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ.32 Thus, placing faith in Jesus means accepting Him as one’s Lord, which in turn includes adopting His teachings as one’s code of living, that is, embracing the shared culture (ethics, values, and community) of the Kingdom.

    At this point, one must return to the Sermon on the Mount to see the full picture of Jesus’ Kingdom culture. He had established a new system of values, upon which He then built a new understanding of ethical behavior and presented allegiance to Himself as the center of both. Yet He emphasized values and ethics built upon peace, love, and willingness to endure persecution, removing any hint of political ambition or revolutionary overtures. He then set about building the community, His church, which would embody this new culture. How, then, will the creation of this new culture impact the existing cultures surrounding it?


    Part of Jesus’ ministry was the calling of women and men to enter the Kingdom of God through faith in Himself. His followers were then expected to live in a manner that revealed the nature of the Kingdom, itself a reflection of the character of God. As shown above, this way of life came about through new sets of values and ethics lived out in a community of faith. New values, new ethics, and a new community marked the creation of a new culture. Jesus expected His people to live in a distinct manner, but He had no desire for them to separate themselves from the rest of the world (John 17:11-18). In other words, this new culture was to stand in many ways opposed to the established culture, while at the same time existing alongside it.33 Some of Jesus’ shortest parables give insight as to how this co-existence occurs.

    In the Sermon on the Mount, following the Beatitudes, Jesus called His followers “the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13). This designation indicates how the church should function in society and warns against the church losing its distinctive qualities (see Mark 9:50; Luke 14:34-35). A primary use of salt in antiquity was as a preserving agent. It prevented food from spoiling, therefore preserving the lives of those who depended on such food for survival.34 Salt was also used as fertilizer as it “wilted weeds and improved the soil at a deeper level.”35 In one sense, then, Jesus expected the church to function as a life-preserving element within larger society, preventing its total corruption and decay through proclaiming the gospel and living according to His teachings.36 As the church remained faithful to these tasks its own culture would effect change in the larger culture surrounding it. As the men and women of the church embodied the values and ethics they received from Jesus they would serve as witnesses to their respective societies, preparing the ground for the seed of the gospel (Matt 13:10-23). Like salt, their lives would create a spiritual “thirst” among their observers, who would then want to know more about what made Christ-followers so different.

    The next phrase Jesus used to describe His followers was “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14), also part of the Sermon on the Mount. Once again, this ties in to the values and ethics of the Kingdom that Jesus taught. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus told His disciples, “[L]et your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Christians’ lives must be expressions of Kingdom values and ethics to the point that others have to notice. The goal of such a lifestyle is not gaining praise for oneself; rather, one does what is right so that God may be glorified.37 The “light” of a life given to God’s glory will stand out against a “dark” world, point people toward Jesus, and catalyze transformation as others become aware of their spiritual condition (see John 1:5; 3:19-21). Just as light penetrates and dispels darkness, a culture of light will of necessity have confrontation with a culture of darkness.38 When a Christian lives according to the Kingdom he or she exposes the deeds of darkness for what they truly are (3:19). Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them because of this, just as it hated Him (Matt 5:11-12; John 15:18-25). Nevertheless, they were to continue as commissioned witnesses for Him and for the Kingdom.

    Jesus’ parable of the leaven in Matthew 13:33 (see also Luke 13:20-21) is the third saying that illustrates the transformational nature of the church and its culture. In this short parable, a small amount of leaven completely permeated and transformed a huge amount of dough, enough to feed over one hundred people.39 The extreme proportions show that the Kingdom of God will have an unseen transforming effect on whatever culture it is “hidden” within. Sincere followers of Jesus will have a positive influence on their surrounding societies and, through the community of God’s people, the Kingdom “will eventually permeate the world.”40

    In each of these descriptions, one unifying concept is the locus of God’s people. They must exist a distinct cultural community, but they must also remain in the world (John 17:18). This is evident in the very phrases Jesus employed—salt of the earth, light of the world—as well as the unique positive use of leaven.41 The church must maintain its unique culture (i.e., its “saltiness”) while remaining the midst of the world’s corrupt culture. The church manifests a redemptive, transformative influence through its continuous presence, the inevitable cultural confrontations notwithstanding.42 Indeed, “the Church and the world cannot be mutually exclusive … . If [the Church] is totally a part of the world, it cannot transform the world; if it is utterly detached from the world and is totally in a different dimension, it cannot contact the world nor transform the culture.”43


    Jesus’ disciples become participants in a unique culture. Jesus teachings reveal the nature of that culture and the purpose for which it was formed. Men and women who followed Christ experienced a complete transformation of their lives from the inside out, since “[b]ecoming a disciple of a particular culture meant that one’s lifestyle now reflected that culture.”44

    The Sermon on the Mount established a new culture based on the Kingdom of God. The Beatitudes showed that the values of this world were precisely backward from those of the Kingdom. Jesus’ ethical discourses taught that real righteousness begins in the heart, not the hands. He proceeded to call men and women to follow Him, establishing a community of faith that held these values and ethics in common. Through this, He formed a culture of the Kingdom on earth. Finally, this cultural community was commissioned and sent out to be a transformative presence in the world.

    The later New Testament attests to Jesus’ success in creating a new culture. The church continued to uphold the values and ethical standards that Jesus instructed. The Gospel became the central unifying narrative for all Christians since theirs was a community of faith. The church continued to exist among the unbelieving world. This resulted in the transformation of individuals (Acts 2:41, 47) and communities (8:5-8; 19:23-27), as well confrontations with power structures of unredeemed culture (4:3, 18; 5:18; 6:9-8:3; 12:1-5; 13:50; 16:19-24; 18:12; 22:30; 24:27). Paul and Peter both instructed Christians to submit to the governing authorities (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17), even in the face of persecution (1 Pet 4:12-19), further showing that the church did not and must not remove itself from the world.

    The centuries that followed the New Testament record proved how influential Kingdom culture truly is. The spread of the church, despite all of its imperfections, throughout the Middle East, northern Africa, Europe, and across Asia exemplified the teaching of leaven spreading throughout an entire lump of dough. History shows that western culture largely adopted the values and ethics that Jesus taught which then shaped the continued development and advancement of that culture.

    After such historical success, does the culture of the Kingdom still have a purpose today? By all means. There are still many peoples who have yet to witness the light of the world that will beckon them to give glory to God. The church still carries its commission to make disciples of all nations throughout the earth.

    Even among communities that have superficially accepted Jesus’ teachings, there is a danger that the church has lost its saltiness through complacent conformity to its surroundings. The church’s distinctive culture requires on-going transformation of both the individual believer and the believing community. Women and men must experience the continuous transformation of the heart via a relationship with God through Christ. The Kingdom community must remain a catalyst for individuals to encounter Christ’s message and hear His summons to follow. A church of transformed—and transforming—Christians will itself be constantly growing more Christ-like. On the other hand, a church that through detachment from Jesus loses its saltiness, hides its light, or is passively “leavened” by unredeemed culture becomes unable to engage the world in any meaningful sense.

    Finally, the church must not neglect the byproducts of culture. A lack of involvement in government, education, the arts, and professional or organizational development allows for corruption to infiltrate these cultural institutions. Disciples of Jesus must be present and active in every sphere of the world’s culture to be a transformative—even confrontational—influence of redemption. The church must live as adherents of the culture of the Kingdom even while awaiting the Kingdom’s ultimate consummation.


    1Genesis 2:18. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the English Standard Version.

    2H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper, 1951), 32.


    4George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 68.

    5Niebuhr, 34, emphasis in original.

    6Hans Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount: A Commentary on The Sermon on the Mount Including the Sermon on the Plain (Matthew 5:3-7:27 and Luke 6:20-49), Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 110.

    7Ulrich Becker, “Blessing, Blessed, Happy, makarios,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 1:215.

    8Ibid., 216.

    9Ibid., 217.

    10David E. Garland, “Blessing and Woe,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds. Joel B. Green and Scott McKnight (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 79.

    11Betz, 97.

    12Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 56.

    13Lincoln D. Hurst, “Ethics of Jesus,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds. Joel B. Green and Scott McKnight (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 215.

    14This others-centered (as opposed to self-centered) perspective is seen in Jesus’ later teaching that it is greater to serve others than to be served oneself (Matt 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45). See Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 198-99.

    15Betz, 144.

    16Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 172.

    17Hurst, 210.

    18Betz, 97.

    19Ibid., 124.

    20While Jesus affirmed and expanded the ethical portions of the Law, He did cast aside its ceremonial prescriptions. This is due to His being the ultimate once-for-all sacrifice, after which no further sacrifices for sin needed to be offered (Heb 9:25-28). See the brief discussion under “Jesus and the Law,” Ladd, 122-3. For background on the view that Jesus presented antitheses with intent to replace the Law, see Betz, 200-12.

    21Allen Verhey, “Ethics,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005), 198.

    22Hurst, 216.

    23One must not lose the significance of this particular teaching. Jesus went against the contemporary practice of issuing regulations against women, a practice that implied they were to blame for men’s lustful desires. Instead, He laid responsibility squarely upon the man who lusts after a woman. See Keener, Matthew, 186-9.

    24The negative formulation—i.e., “Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you,”—found expression in Second Temple Judaism in works such as Tobit (4:15) and Philo’s Hyopthetica as well as the teachings of rabbi Hillel. This phrasing allows a passive, almost indifferent approach to others, so long as one does not cause harm to another. See Keener, Matthew, 248-50; Hurst, 216.

    25See also Mark 12:28-31.

    26Hurst, 213.

    27Ibid., 221

    28Betz, 161-2.

    29“Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of women and men.” Ladd, 109.

    30Keener, Matthew, 428.

    31Wilkins, 180.

    32T. Howland Sanks, S. J., Salt, Leaven and Light: The Community Called Church (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 48.

    33Paul Louis Metzger, “Christ, Culture, and the Sermon on the Mount Community,” Ex Auditu 23 (January 2007): 22, accessed October 4, 2013, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

    34William L. Lane, Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 350.

    35Darrell L. Bock, Luke, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996), 2:1292.

    36Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990), 287.

    37Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, trans. R. H. Fuller (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 119.

    38Metzger, 26.

    39Blomberg, 286.

    40Bock, 1228.

    41The positive use of the term “leaven” (Gr. zymē) only occurs in this parable. All other New Testament occurrences (Matt 16:6, 11-12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1; 1 Cor 5:6-8; Gal 5:9) as well as its use in extrabiblical literature denote a negative influence. “The typical feature of the parable, namely, that of power to penetrate the dough, is not present in Philo … . In contrast to the Plutarch tradition Jesus views the process of leavening as something healthy.” Hans Windisch, “zumē, zumoō, azumos,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 2:905.

    42Metzger, 40.

    43Atsuyoshi Fujiwara, Theology of Culture in a Japanese Context: A Believers’ Church Perspective, Princeton Theological Monograph Series (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2012), 26.

    44Wilkins, 75.


    Becker, Ulrich. “Blessing, Blessed, Happy, makarios.” In The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, edited by Colin Brown. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986. 1:215-18.

    Betz, Hans Dieter. The Sermon on the Mount: A Commentary on The Sermon on the Mount Including the Sermon on the Plain (Matthew 5:3-7:27 and Luke 6:20-49). Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995.

    Blomberg, Craig L. Interpreting the Parables. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990.

    Bock, Darrell L. Luke. Vol. 2. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996.

    Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Translated by R. H. Fuller. New York: Touchstone, 1995.

    Fujiwara, Atsuyoshi. Theology of Culture in a Japanese Context: A Believers’ Church Perspective. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2012.

    Garland, David E. “Blessing and Woe.” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992. 77-81.

    Hurst, Lincoln D. “Ethics of Jesus.” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992. 210-22.

    Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapid, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.

    ___________. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993.

    Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

    Lane, William L. Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974.

    Metzger, Paul Louis. “Christ, Culture, and the Sermon on the Mount Community.” Ex Auditu 23 (January 2007): 22-46. Accessed October 4, 2013. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

    Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper, 1951.

    Sanks, T. Howland, S. J. Salt, Leaven, and Light: The Community Called Church. New York: Crossroad, 1992.

    Verhey, Allen. “Ethics.” In Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005. 196-200.

    Wilkins, Michael J. Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

    Windisch, Hans. “zumē, zumoō, azumos.” In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964. 2:902-6.

    A Lucan Theology for First Responders


    A Lucan Theology for First Responders

        Nikki Reeves













    The Gospel of Luke, and its counterpart the Acts of the Apostles, are attributed to Luke the physician. The purpose of these two books is to give an organized historical portrayal of the life, works and teachings of Jesus before and after His resurrection. A theme in Luke’s work is the manner in which Jesus and His disciples responded to people in need. The gospels give multiple stories of Jesus’ miraculous healing and His impact on the lives of people, but Luke records more instances than any of the other gospel authors. His career as a physician may have influenced that decision, as well as the way He describes those situations. Luke pays special attention to this area of Jesus’ ministry.

    What the apostles saw in Jesus’ life impacted them. God’s use of believers to affect others positively became a core belief for the apostles and affected how they interacted with believers and unbelievers. The combination of Jesus’ example and the application of that example in the lives of the apostles had a serious impact on the first-century church. Understanding that Jesus’ definition of the greatest commandments included the love believers have for others profoundly impacted the way the church viewed compassion based ministry.

    A thread runs throughout church history pertaining to the way believers showed compassion to others in need. The drive to include or focus on this aspect of Christianity influenced individuals and groups. The development of monasteries and monastic lifestyles also included this aspect. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries contained concepts like helping the poor, providing clothes for the naked, expressing love to people, and always being available for God to use in doing something good for someone else.1

    The church had roots as a strong missions agency from the beginning. The progression and evolution of the church has seen debate about the best or proper expressions of God’s love to people. Evangelism contrasted with compassion based ministry expresses the two sides of the debate. As the Assemblies of God developed in the twentieth century, the fellowship also dealt with this issue. The leadership of J. Philip Hogan, former Executive Director of Assemblies of God World Missions, provided a balance in this area. He called for a continued emphasis on evangelism, but also wanted to maintain compassion ministry. He explained his motivation by saying, “I want the world to know that the reason we do these things is because Jesus Christ did them. The reason we love people is because Jesus Christ loved them.”2

    To understand fully what Jesus intended in our response to the needs of others, the writings of Luke will be the source of investigation. The Gospel of Luke will clarify what the example and teachings of Jesus reveal. The Acts of the Apostles will show how the disciples applied the principles established by Jesus. The goal of theology is to “see things as God sees them” so believers can apply the principles revealed in God’s Word.3 The purpose of this chapter is to spotlight a Lukan theology for first responders comprised of the principles of assessment, impartiality, love, and following Jesus example.


    Luke presents clear examples of how Jesus responds to the needs of others, especially physical trauma. His gospel contains multiple stories where Jesus interacted with individuals who had a variety of needs. Jesus’ popularity was rising as He traveled, taught, and performed miracles in His second year of ministry. He was just starting to face opposition from Jewish religious leaders. At this point in Luke’s historical account, he shares the story of a paralytic that was brought to Jesus by a group of friends. This event is paradigmatic of Jesus’ model as a first responder.

    Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him. And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” – He said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house” (Luke 5:18-24).4

    A large crowd had gathered to hear Jesus teach. A crowded house made it difficult for these friends of the paralytic to gain access, so they used an unexpected and unorthodox approach to get their friend to Jesus. Their faith, and the faith of the individual resulted in not only his physical healing, but also the forgiveness of his sins. Jesus used the situation to demonstrate that the Son of Man is Divine and can forgive sins as well as heal physical infirmities.

    This situation illustrates the principle that in responding, assessing the need, the individual, and the situation is crucial. Jesus knew the state of the paralytic’s heart. He determined that this man’s greatest need was spiritual, even though He later ministered to the physical need. Jesus also knew the hearts of His audience. Even as He ministered to the individual, He was making a point to the crowd, especially the religious leaders. He did not react to the obvious, or make a quick judgment based on appearances. Instead, Jesus acted out of compassion based on His assessment of the situation. “Compassion is first and foremost a call to meet people where they are, to see the reality of their plight, to hear the cry of their heart, and attempt to understand their pain.”5

    Successfully reacting to a situation requires the use of discernment. Just as Jesus acted based on all the information He knew, it is important to have information that can be examined, judged, and sifted. There are examples of this throughout Scripture. King Solomon was faced with a situation where he had to make a judgment call by reacting to the needs of two women. He heard their stories, gathered information, and then made a decision. As a result, “all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice” (2 Kings 3:28). Elisha was faced with a woman who came to him for help, and his initial response was to ask, “What shall I do for you?” (2 Kings 4:2). Then with God-given wisdom and insight, Elisha provided her with a solution to her desperate need. Jesus was omniscient and able to see and understand all the details of the situation. He could take the best course of action for everyone involved based on that discernment.

    The story in Luke does not give all the biographical information related to this individual. Jesus knew and understood there was more to this person than what could be seen on the surface. He knew the circumstances of this man’s injury and whether or not it was related to the condition of his heart. Most people only reveal a small percentage of who they are and what they are dealing with to others.6 This demonstrates one more reason to be careful to assess the need and the individual.

    Luke presents a story that illustrates Jesus’ decision to heal a man spiritually and physically. He determined the greatest need of the individual. He used discernment to sift and judge the information He had pertaining to the people and the context. He did not make a quick judgment based only on appearances. Jesus responded by carefully assessing the situation.


    Jesus did more than illustrate the proper response to a need. He also taught concerning it. As Jesus began the last segment of His ministry while traveling back to Jerusalem, He encountered an expert in the law. The man wanted to test Jesus by questioning Him regarding the commandments. Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments as loving God and loving people. Then the expert posed a second question. Jesus answered the question concerning the definition of neighbor by telling him the parable of the Good Samaritan, and in so doing presents a model teach for first responders.

    Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. … So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:30-37).

    The expert in the law approached Jesus and expected to cause Him problems. Jesus reversed the situation by giving him a clear and solid answer to his question. So the man pushed further by wanting the definition of neighbor. Jesus’ parable gave an unexpected definition. The parable illustrated a situation that was very realistic to the time and place. The reactions of the priest and the Levite could have been justified by the expectations and societal norms of the day. The surprise comes with the role of the Samaritan. The victim was most likely a Jew and the person put in the role of rescuer would normally be his enemy. Instead the Samaritan went beyond the expectations of the day and had compassion on the suffering man. The Samaritan went beyond the superficial and took care of the victim’s every need while possibly putting himself at risk in delaying his own journey. The expert heard the story, and Jesus pushed him to admit that the identity of the neighbor was the Samaritan because he showed mercy.

    Many authors have dealt with the topic of defining the word “neighbor.” The importance of this concept has been shown by all of the study, examination, and theology drawn from the book of Luke concerning it. Jesus used this parable to emphasize that point. The first principle that arises from the issue of neighborliness, or being a neighbor, is that responding to a need requires impartiality. “Neighbor” covers anyone and everyone. New Testament authors only emphasize this point further, especially in regards to the community of believers. Paul says there are no distinctions, everyone is the same in Christ (Gal. 3:28). The expectation for believers towards each other is clear, but the requirement to be a neighbor also extends outside the faith community.7

    Jesus expressed the point that responding to a need goes beyond any negative connection people may have to each other. Negative feelings are not only irrelevant, they prohibit the person from fulfilling the law. Jesus compared the normal expectations and standards of the religious leaders to His own expectations on the treatment of others. “A perspective that values human dignity and the dignity of difference … stands in sharp contrast to the biblical images of Pharisees who separated themselves from the sinners, tax-collectors, and others.”8 Helping someone else goes beyond class distinctions, biases, prejudices, or any other factors that could affect a person’s outlook. There is no excuse to judge someone else as unworthy of aid.

    Jesus took it one step further by connecting neighbor to the idea of the Golden Rule. The foundations for this go back to Leviticus, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). The concept of the word “neighbor” has this implication: a give-and-take connection between two people.9 The Samaritan willingly inconvenienced himself and gave aid at his personal expense. He demonstrated that the treatment anyone would hope for in a situation of trauma or need is the treatment that should be given to others. God is the ultimate example of extending mercy and goodness to people at their point of need.10 Jesus challenged His Jewish audience to do the same. Compassion and mercy should be available to anyone.

    Luke shows that Jesus revealed the nature of the word “neighbor.” The parable of the Good Samaritan also reveals Luke’s emphasis on the extent of neighborly love.11 This parable demonstrates that the motivation to respond comes from love. Jesus based the parable’s whole scenario on the summary of the commandments: love God and love people. Love is the core concept. Love wants to treat other people well, sparing them from harm or injury (Rom. 13:9-10). Love is the ultimate expression of what people desire for themselves. “Agape love cares for others because God has cared for us. Agape love goes beyond sentiment and good wishes. Because God loved first, agape love responds.”12 Agape love sets a high bar for the Golden Rule, i.e., for the way people should treat each other. Jesus surpassed the bar by loving and giving Himself for humankind (Eph. 5:2). The goal is that people will attempt to do the same in the way they love others.

    Responding to the needs of others out of love offers mercy and compassion. The expert in the law recognized this truth in the actions of the Samaritan. Compassion pushes love beyond emotion or feeling and reveals its true nature in action.13 The Samaritan could not pass by as the others had done. The priest completely passed by. The Levite stopped and looked, but only the Samaritan acted. Love made the difference.

    Love and faith have many things in common. The New Testament authors expand on Jesus’ foundation to express the connection between these two virtues. One point of similarity is that action of one (love or faith) demonstrates the existence of the other (love or faith). Love goes beyond feeling when it becomes action. One way faith proves real is when people are taken care of, and their needs are met (James 2:14-17). Jesus did not come to simply to share great thoughts. His teachings always implied or outright expressed that action would follow true comprehension of His message. A faith that truly understands is obedient to Christ’s teaching about love.

    Jesus exegeted much from the actions of the Samaritan man. In addition to the first principle, the idea of assessment, he added the concepts of impartiality and love. Biases and opinions must not determine the response made to someone’s need. Jesus clearly wanted the concept of neighbor to transcend any dividing point that would prevent action. He also established that love is the true motivator. Love cannot sit inactive in the face of another’s need; love compels a response of grace and compassion.


    Luke presents a clear picture of response through the actions and teachings of Jesus. Both of those methods (assessment and impartiality and love) are repeated in other places in Luke, and the other gospels reiterate the same idea. Jesus laid out His hopes for the deeds of His followers throughout His ministry on earth. The best way to gauge the reception of Christ’s message is to look at the lives of His followers in the book of Acts. Jesus’ inner circle became the leaders of the early church. They give all believers an idea of what it looks like to follow Jesus’ example. Multiple passages would be adequate for study, but the story of Peter’s interaction with Tabitha displays the principles that the disciples integrated into their ministries.

    Peter stopped in Lydda at the beginning of his second missionary journey. He healed a man who was paralyzed. News spread through the area about this miracle. Luke tells us that soon after that another believer needed his help.

    At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. … And since Lydda was near Joppa and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up (Acts 9:36-40).

    Peter’s mission was to visit Jewish believers in the area, and God used him to perform a miracle of healing. Possibly as a result of that miracle, the disciples in Joppa learned that Peter was nearby. The Jewish believers, desperate about the loss of the beloved disciple sent messengers to bring Peter to them. Peter heard their pleas and immediately followed the two men to Joppa. He discovered the state of affairs and privately prayed for Tabitha’s healing.

    The details given about Tabitha reveal that Jesus’ teachings on response were impacting the whole church. She was caring for the needs of those in her community, especially the widows. “She was a sister of mercy before the name was adopted by Catholic nuns.”14 Whether through personal eye witness, or the teachings of the apostles, Tabitha knew Jesus’ expectations in this area. She lived her life accordingly.

    This passage, Acts 9:36-40, reveals the principle of following Jesus’ example regarding response to others’ needs. The book of Acts describes the new church age. The apostles had the responsibility of leading the church in Jesus’ physical absence. They had to communicate His teachings and live their lives in a way others could follow. “The ministry of healing seen in the lives of the apostles and others in the early church also indicates that this was part of the ministry of the new covenant age.”15 They were empowered by the Holy Spirit for these tasks.

    The apostles lived and traveled in close quarters with Jesus for three years. They were able to observe His behavior and notice patterns in how He approached different situations. In this passage. Acts 9:36-40, Peter applied those patterns to his own behavior. He applied the principle of assessment. Most rational instincts would determine that there is nothing to be done at the point of death. Peter did not make a quick judgment, but took time to pray for Tabitha privately. He was aware of the needs and impact of her death. Even as an apostle, Peter still lacked the complete awareness and omniscience of Jesus. He needed discernment to know how to proceed. He completely recognized by this point that Isaiah’s description of the Messiah was fulfilled by Jesus (Isa. 61:1). Everything Jesus said and did demonstrate His sovereignty over all the issues people face. Peter’s prayer revealed His reliance on that same Jesus. As James instructs, Peter went to God rather than relying on himself (James 1:5). Peter did not act based on a human understanding of the situation.

    Peter modeled being motivated by love. When he was approached by the two men, he did not hesitate or delay. He responded to their pleas with action. He saw Jesus in action countless times and knew immediate action was part of the ministry of response. Jesus miraculous healing of people revealed His character, His heart of compassion, and His love for the people.16 Peter’s obedience to that pattern evidenced his growth as a Jesus follower and made a huge impact on the community of believers. Peter demonstrated that his faith was alive and well. “If a brother or sister is naked or destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘depart in peace, be warm and filled,’ but you do not give the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).

    The impartiality demonstrated by Christ’s model is seen in Peter, even after Tabitha was restored to life. Luke tells us that Peter stayed “many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner” (Acts 9:43). That livelihood would have been at odds with Jewish customs and beliefs at that time. Peter stepped out of the box and freely associated with Simon. That choice is interesting in light of the events regarding Cornelius the Centurion, which followed soon after. This small, apparently unimportant choice, revealed the work God was doing in his heart as part of a bigger plan to reach the Gentiles. Ministry to Gentiles and the consequences that followed impacted the rest of Peter’s ministry. That same choice showed the impact on Peter of Jesus’ example in ministering across any barrier or divide.

    Peter’s example of first response in Acts 9:36-40 comes down to imitating Jesus (Eph. 5:1-2). Jesus gave His followers a clear pattern of what to do in response to a need. With Luke’s help, Christ’s example is clarified by showing it lived out by Jesus’ closest followers. Peter followed the patterns in Jesus’ life. He lived out the principles of assessment, impartiality, and love. Peter recognized his need for discernment, the priority of compassion, and the connection between love, deeds, and faith.


    Jesus’ example and teachings provide a clear example to follow regarding how believers should respond to someone in need. The example of Peter and the other apostles in Acts shows how Jesus’ example is translated into the first century church. These principles apply to the everyday life of the Christian, in situations they encounter on a regular basis. However, these principles have special meaning for those with certain careers. Anyone serving in emergency response, chaplaincy, vocational ministry, etc. encounters this as part of their job. Having clear principles helps the professional balance ministry and response in a way that honors God and helps the individual.

    Today’s world leaves many people dealing with situations of need, trauma, and grief that require the aid of other people. Individuals can only walk through these situations when they have someone else communicating God’s love to them in the midst of their pain and grief.17 This partnership is tied to the concept of neighborly love. The ministry flowing from that partnership is necessary and vital to the survival and well-being of the recipient. However, if the professional does not have boundaries, he or she is at risk of burning out and losing the ability to love those in need. Jesus was often available to the crowds, but other times He withdrew to pray (Matt. 14:23, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, Luke 6:12). Jesus demonstrated the need for boundaries, to take time to rest and renew oneself in God’s presence. Ministry of any kind can be draining. Without that balance, ministry professionals can find that they are running on empty with nothing left to give or even doing damage to themselves.

    Guidelines for first responders in the secular world seem closely connected to the principles already discussed from Luke-Acts. Jesus’ principle of assessment is similar to the assessment a first responder is required to do with the victim. The first responder has to do a quick, but thorough, examination to determine the most severe injuries and, like the biblical example, the most severe issue may not be externally obvious.18 The theological principle of impartiality is also relevant to first responders. When treating people with serious needs, the responder is tasked with displaying a caring demeanor to the victim and anyone else involved.19 First responders may not refer to their actions as being based on love, but compassion is a huge part of what they do. The first responder puts the needs of the victim above his or her own as long as it does not endanger the life of the responder.

    Jesus’ pattern of getting away from the crowds to take care of Himself and connect with the Father also has a counterpart behavior in first response. The number-one priority of the first responder is to maintain his or her own safety and health.20 Without that precaution, the responder could put his or her own life at risk and become another victim who would need care. Such would prevent the first responder from fulfilling his or her duty while adding to the burden being placed on other emergency workers. There seems to be a strong connection between the principles illustrated in the works of Luke and the guidelines used to train first responders.


    Luke the physician gives modern readers a strong historical portrait of the methods Jesus used to communicate important truths to believers. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus illustrates three principles that determine the proper response to someone in need. The story of Jesus’ healing the paralytic describes the principle of assessment, and the parable of the Good Samaritan describes the principles of impartiality and love. Assessment involves an evaluation of the situation and individual, use of discernment, and the ability not to make a quick judgment based on appearances. Impartiality demonstrates fulfillment of the law in the treatment of the neighbor while preventing any negative perceptions or prejudices from affecting the ministry of response. Love includes mercy, compassion, and a connection to faith.

    Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, shows believers how the apostles personally applied these principles. Peter’s encounter with Tabitha clearly illustrates how the believers were applying Jesus’ teachings in their everyday lives. It also depicts how the Apostle applied the principles he learned from spending three years in the company of Jesus. The patterns in Jesus’ actions combined with His teachings gave Peter a clear template to follow. Jesus also demonstrated the priority of balancing ministering to others with taking care of self. Luke provides a clear model of first response found in what Jesus said and did and in the application of Jesus’ example in the lives of the disciples.


    1Leonard J. Doyle, Readings in Medieval History, Edited by Patrick J. Geary (Toronto, Ontario: Broadview, 1998), 162.

    2Everett A. Wilson, A Strategy of the Spirit: J. Philip Hogan and the Growth of the Assemblies of God Worldwide 1960-1990 (Carlisle, England: Regnum, 1997), 143.

    3Stephen Sapp, “To See Things as God Sees Them: Theological Reflections on Pastoral Care to Persons With Dimentia,” Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy no. 8 (October 22, 2008), Under “discernment,” (accessed on November 14, 2012)

    4Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations derive from the New King James version.

    5Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark, No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence (Downer’s Grove IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 53-54.

    6Peter Scazzero and Warren Bird, The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 69.

    7Lynne Hybels and Bill Hybels, Rediscovering Church: The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 160.

    8Elizabeth Glanville, “Missiological Reflections on Difference: Foundations in the Gospel of Acts,” MissionStudies no. 26 (2009), under “Good Samaritan,” (accessed November 14, 2012).

    9Simon J. Kistemaker, The Parables: Understanding the Stories Jesus Told (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), 141.

    10Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 200.

    11Werner G. Jeanrod, “Biblical Challenges to a Theology of Love,” Biblical Interpretation no. 11, (2003), under “Good Samaritan,” (accessed November 14, 2012).

    12Max Lucado, A Love Worth Giving: Living in the Overflow of God’s Love (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2002), 113.

    13Robert H. Stein, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, Rev. ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 104.

    14Kroeger and Nason-Clark, No Place for Abuse, 56.

    15Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1063.

    16Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1066.

    17Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger, “Bearing the Unbearable: Trauma, Gospel, and Pastoral Care,” Theology Today no. 68 (April 2011), under “Trauma,” (accessed November 14, 2012).

    18First Responder: National Standard Curriculum, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (accessed November 15, 2012).




    Doyle, Leonard J. Readings in Medieval History, 2nd ed. Edited by Patrick J. Geary. Toronto, Ontario: Broadview, 1998.

    First Responder: National Standard Curriculum. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. http:// (accessed November 15, 2012).

    Glanville, Elizabeth. “Missiological Reflections on Difference: Foundations in the Gospel of

    Acts.” Mission Studies no. 26 (2009). (accessed November 13, 2012).

    Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

    Hunsinger, Deborah van Deusen. “Bearing the Unbearable: Trauma, Gospel, and Pastoral Care.” Theology Today no. 68 (April 2011). (accessed November 14, 2012)

    Hybels, Lynne and Bill Hybels. Rediscovering Church: The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.

    Jeanrod, Werner G. “Biblical Challenges to a Theology of Love.” Biblical Interpretation no. 11 (2003). (accessed November 14, 2012).

    Kistemaker, Simon J. The Parables: Understanding the Stories Jesus Told. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980.

    Kroeger, Catherine Clark and Nancy Nason-Clark. No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001.

    Lucado, Max. A Love Worth Giving: Living in the Overflow of God’s Love. Nashville: W Publishing, 2002.

    Sapp, Stephen. “To See Things as God Sees Them: Theological Reflections on Pastoral Care to Persons With Dementia.” Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy no. 8 (October 22, 2008). (accessed November 14, 2012).

    Scazzero, Peter and Warren Bird. The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship That Actually Changes Lives. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

    Stein, Robert H. The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, Rev. ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1994.

    Wilson , Everett A. Strategy of the Spirit: J. Philip Hogan and the Growth of the Assemblies of God Worldwide 1960-1990. Carlisle, England: Regnum, 1997.

    A Lucan Theology of a Christ-Like Attitude Regarding Wealth: Looking at the Parables


    A Lucan Theology of a Christ-Like Attitude Regarding Wealth:
    Looking at the Parables

    Cheng (Cara) Zhang





    Wrong Motivations

    Stumbling Block


    Does Not Provide Eternal Security

    Does Not Belong to Us


    Invest with a View toward God

    Invest with a View toward Others





    What should the disciples of Jesus do with earthly wealth? What kind of attitude should the disciples of Jesus have toward wealth? These are the questions asked often in the minority Christian world, where most live in affluent culture. The same questions have now become true for Christians in the majority world. Economic growth is the number one goal of most nations and accumulation of wealth is the pursuit of life. While many of these Christians have experienced the sourness of poverty, they also see the evil caused by the love of money. In Matthew 6:21, Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”1 What one does with his or her wealth is an important concern in Jesus’ discipleship. Therefore, it is important for disciples all around the world to develop a Christ-like attitude toward wealth and choose the right way to use and invest their wealth.

    “The most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:30) is one of the primary recipients of the Gospel of Luke. The title “most excellent” implies that Theophilus enjoyed a high social status. He was very likely a person with considerable economic means. He probably financed Luke’s research and writing, and supplied him with the necessary scrolls. Theophilus was very likely a new believer who needed to be confirmed in the certainty of the truth of the Gospel as he and his friends had already been told.2 With Theophilus and his friends in mind, Luke recorded, compared to the other three Gospels, most of Jesus’s sayings regarding discipleship on wealth. Much of this teaching is presented in the parables. This chapter will examine three parables about wealth recorded in Luke and lead the reader to discover the treasures contained in those passages.

    Three parables studied in Luke are Rich Fool, Luke12:13-34; The Rich Man and Lazarus, 16:19-31; and the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, 16:1-13. After studying each parable, theological books and commentaries were used to evaluate the findings of the author. Since parables are stories, one parable may reflect several theological principles. It is necessary to discuss the different facets of each parable.


    With the initial examination of the three parables, an interesting parallel was found in all three. Each of the main characters in the parables encountered a crisis. The Rich Fool hoarded his possessions and dreamed of a worry-free life. However, God brought a crisis to him and said to him this very night his life was “required of him” (Luke 12: 19-20). The manager of a large estate was accused of wasting his master’s money. When the master questioned him, he remained silent. He was fired on the spot (16: 2). Jesus’ audience knew the manager’s silence was an indirect confession of his mismanagement of his master’s money because, in the traditional Middle Eastern setting, no one could even fire an ordinary servant without days of negotiation.3 The Rich Man, who was the neighbor of poor Lazarus, found himself in an eternal crisis after a luxurious and extravagant life. While popular culture marvels at the success of the riches, it seems as if Luke is asking his audience to consider the perils of wealth. Although wealth itself may not be evil, in the parables Luke shows us the love of money often leads to wrong motivations of the heart, and even at times becomes a stumbling block to the eternal life.

    Wrong Motivations

    In 1Timothy 6:9-10, Paul writes, “but people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” Luke describes two such harmful desires associated with the love of money in the parable of the Rich Fool: greed and self-centeredness.

    Jesus was asked by a man from the crowd to settle a dispute between two brothers, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). In first-century Israel, a rabbi with a great reputation was often asked to settle a dispute because they were considered as experts of the Law.4 In this case, the division of inheritance was at the center of a dispute within the family. The man who cried out for justice was likely the younger brother. His older brother was probably withholding his share of the inheritance either out of a conviction that the highest virtue for a family is to stay undivided, or he was simply being unfair. Whatever the situation might have been, the younger brother seemed determined to have his share of the inheritance. Rabbi Jesus refused to lend him his reputation and act on his behalf (12:14). Jesus recognized the man’s request was not a craving for justice, but greed had motivated this man. Jesus turned to the crowd and addressed all his disciples, “take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (12:15).

    The Greek word Luke used for greed is “pleonexia,” which means the “desire to have more.”5 Its unquenchable characteristic causes a central problem. Greed never satisfies and never knows when enough is enough. It motivates people to find meaning in their possessions, and eventually causes them to become insensitive towards other people. Its consuming power makes accumulation of wealth the center focus of life. It squeezes everything, even God, out of one’s life.6 Greed distorts the picture of what life should have been about—meaningful relationships—especially with God and pursuing His will in one’s life.7 Jesus knew greed had fueled the disagreement and disharmony between the brothers. Directed by this case, he was saying to his disciples, “Beware of the power of greed, it is all consuming and distorting. Your insatiable desire of wealth may lead to the devaluing your relationship with people and God. Life is not just about the accumulation of wealth; it is about having a right relationship with God and pursuing His will in your life.”

    Another wrong motivation associated with the love of money is self-centeredness. To expound on his point, Jesus told the crowd a parable. A certain rich man’s field produced an abundant harvest (Luke 12:16). The harvest seemed to be more than what he expected because his current storage had run out of its capacity (12:17). He wanted to come up with an immediate solution for this situation. The rich man pondered to himself “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” (12:17). Then, he said to himself “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods” (12:18). The subject of the soliloquy is about the storing of goods, however one can hardly miss the repetitive use of the possessive pronoun “my” and the first person pronoun “I.” These are hints that indicate the problem in the rich man’s perspective. Everything is described with “mou”: my fruit, my barn, my goods, and my soul. This kind of language suggests his exclusive interest in himself, and his attitude that he thinks he has earned it all.8 The rich man shows a pure self-centered focus and devotes himself in the accumulation of surplus goods without thinking about anyone else.9 His goods are ultimately also stored for his own pleasure (12: 19). His love of money is such that he separates himself from any awareness of God and others. Eventually, his substitution of his possessions over God brings God’s verdict over him. The same motivation of self-centeredness and greed can also be identified in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus. The Rich man indulged in his wealth and paid no attention to the pain and agony of poor Lazarus (16: 19-21).

    Stumbling Block

    The love of money can also become a stumbling block to eternal destiny. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man found himself being tormented in Hades, whereas angels took his poor neighbor Lazarus to Abraham’s side. When the rich man “lifted up his eyes” (Luke 16:23b) and saw Abraham and Lazarus, he pleaded to Abraham to send Lazarus to his aid (16: 24). After Abraham had refused his request, the rich man stopped pleading for himself, but asked Abraham’s help for his five brothers who were still on earth, so they might have a chance to repent and avoid the agony he was experiencing (16: 27).

    Two issues deserve a closer attention in this parable. First, the rich man did not receive his judgment just because of his riches. Abraham himself was a wealthy man and lived a well-off life. The rich man’s attitude toward wealth had brought him the condemnation. Second, scholars have different views on the explanation of the verb “anistemi” (rise up). Bock thinks Jesus uses this verb to imply his approaching resurrection, although such an interpretation can only be understood by Jesus’ audience later.10 Blomberg points out that the Greek verb commonly used for Jesus’ resurrection is “egeiro” (cf. Mt. 16:21; Jn. 21:14; Lk 24:6); “anistemi” simply means “stand or get up.” Therefore, “in the parable the request for a messenger applies to Lazarus, not to a Messiah-figure.”11 Blomberg makes a good observation; moreover it is the futility of the mission that Luke tries to emphasize here. “Abraham says even if a person were to do more than just visit, if one were to rise from the dead, such a sign would not change the way the man’s brothers respond if they are not inclined to believe God.”12

    In their love for money, the rich man’s brothers seemed to have little hope to be directed to have a right relationship with God and compassion toward the needy. The Scripture was available to them and had told them all they need to know to live a right life. Yet they still chose to ignore it. The parable is clear on this: the choices of this life affect one’s eternal destiny, and once God’s judgment is made, the result is permanent. One’s encounter with Jesus and His teachings will have a long-term effect and influence one’s eternal destiny.13


    Not only does Luke want to warn his audience about the potential dangers of earthly wealth, he also wanted to help them recognize the reality of wealth. Possession is not what life is about, and wealth does not provide a true sense of security. Ultimately it does not belong to us.

    Does Not Provide Eternal Security

    No one would deny wealth provides a sense of security and removes the worries of life. Many could identify with the rich fool’s perception “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years: relax, eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). The Rich Fool thought the goods he had stored up would provide for him for many years (19a). No longer would he need to worry or work hard, all he needed to do was to enjoy life (19b). He thought the abundance of his possessions was the basis for the security of his life. However, God interrupted the scene and his life was taken from him. The rich man’s possessions failed to provide him an answer in accordance to his eternal destiny. A rich man from another parable also failed to take this into his view. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus highlights two contrasts to show his disciples that wealth is no basis for a true sense of security (Luke 16: 19-25).

    In the earthly life, the rich man lived like a prince or a king (16:19-21). He dressed himself in nice purple and fine linen (16:19). Purple was extremely expensive to dye in the first century.14 Only the true wealthy were able to afford it. It was the color of royalty and a symbol of enormous riches. He also wears fine linen. The Greek word for fine linen is “byssos. It is a transliterate translation from the Hebrew word butz, which is a quality cotton from Egypt often used to make the best underwear.15 Within a few words, Jesus masterfully paints the extravagant life the rich man was living. Not only was his clothing splendid, he also “feasted sumptuously every day” (16:19b). A feast, described by Pilgrim, was usually unthinkable for a normal family. It was only provided for weddings or big celebrations. Even then, the bride’s parents often gave a great sacrifice to provide enough food and entertainment for the large group of guests invited. The daily diet of a commoner was very simple, consisting of only soup, bread, and fruit.16 For Jesus’ audience, it was an unthinkable and envious life; probably one associated in his lifetime with that of King Herod.

    Lazarus was laid at the gate of this rich man’s estate. The passive tense of the Greek verb, “ballo,” suggests Lazarus was not only poor but also very sick. He was carried and laid by his friends or members of the community every day at the gate to beg.17 Not only was Lazarus described as poor; he also suffered from severe afflictions. His body was “covered with sores.” Dogs came and licked his sores (16:21b). In Jewish culture, dogs were not viewed as pets, but as unclean animals. In this case, the dogs were either scavenging animals on the street or the guard dogs of the rich man’s estate.18 It was a miserable picture. Lazarus’ sores already made him unclean, but even more his association with dogs made him impure. It seemed one could easily identify who was God’s favorite, Jesus, however, left a hint for a different direction than his audience expected. Lazarus is the only character who has a name in all of Jesus’ parables. Lazarus is a shortened version of “Eliezer or Elazar,” which means “God helps.”19 In the account of Genesis, Eliezar is also the name of Abraham’s faithful servant. The name could have been used to either help to carry out the discourse or to stop people from generalizing the destiny of Lazarus. It, moreover, also symbolizes God’s identification with the poor, assuming the audiences of Jesus comprehended the meaning of the name. The name implies, despite the condition of Lazarus, that he was not cursed. He might be in a miserable state, but God was with him.20

    After depicting the earthly state of the two men, Jesus tells their eternal state and highlights the reversal of their experiences (16: 22-23). Lazarus died, probably without a proper burial, but immediately the angels carried him to Abraham’s side (16:21). The literal translation for the Greek word “kolpos” is “bosom.” The nearest seat to the host is the most honored seat in a banquet. When sitting in a reclining manner, one’s head is near to the host’s bosom.21 Thus, to be at someone’s bosom is an idiom saying they are the guests of honor. Lazarus had attained the dream of many faithful Jews, to “rest secure in the bosom of Abraham at the heavenly banquet.”22

    The rich man, although he probably received a fancy burial and proper mourning, found himself in Hades suffering torment. His torment was such that he desired only to have Abraham send Lazarus “to dip the end of his finger in water and cool his tongue (16:24b).” The rich man’s former wealth did him no good in the afterlife.”23 His wealth failed to provide him the eternal security. His self-indulgent wealth made him blind to God and to the needy. His ignorance and lack of compassion led him to eternal punishment.

    Does Not Belong to Us

    Another reality about wealth is that it does not belong to us. In the parable of the Rich Fool, the man falsely assumed all the produce of the field belonged to him. It was his barns, his grain, and his goods. This assumption does not only reflect his self-centeredness, but also the false assumption of ownership. Beginning in Luke 12: 13, the parable emphasizes that the field prospered, not the man. The prosperity may be apart or in addition to his labor.24 The prosperity comes from God. In verse 12:20, God asked, after his soul was taken from him, who was going to be the new owner of his possessions. Suddenly the man realized that even his soul/self/life did not belong to him but was on loan from God, who could ask for it back any time.25 One day, each one will be required to give back what is entrusted to him or her and take an account of the use of their life and possessions. This is part of the reason the rich man was called a fool, because he failed to see that his possessions were not his own to begin with, even his life was a loan from God.

    The rich man in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus also failed to recognize his possession and his life belonged to God, as he feasted sumptuously each day without paying a slide attention to the miserable state of Lazarus. Bailey stated:

    Wealth, be it little or much, is not condemned in Scripture. What is criticized is the failure to see that all material possession belongs to God. We are merely stewards of his treasures. The parable reflects the corrupting, blinding potential of wealth and is critical of the socially irresponsible wealth. The rich man used his resources for his own self-indulgent living … .26


    At one particular point, Jesus asked one rich young ruler to sell all his possession and follow him because he knew the man’s love of money is competing with Jesus’ lordship in his life (Luke 18:18-29). Peter and Matthew also left their businesses and followed Jesus to be trained as core leaders for the continuity of the movement. Forsaking all possession, however, does not seem to be Jesus’ general call to every believer. Luke also mentions several disciples who did not denounce all their wealth, such as Joseph of Arimathea, and other wealthy women traveled with the Lord. Luke is concerned, instead for how disciples choose to utilize their wealth for Kingdom purposes and for compassionate service. In the parables, two aspects of such stewardship are emphasized: investment with a view toward God and investment with a view toward others.

    Invest with a View toward God

    The rich man, in the parable of the Rich Fool, expected a wonderful life, a life without worry and work. He said to himself “Self, you have done well, now you have arrived your goal! For the rest of the year, you may be relax, eat, drink and enjoy it all” (Luke 12:19). His desire was legitimate, but he had left an important person out of the picture. In verse 12:20, God called him a fool: a fool who had counted material wealth as the meaning of life; a fool who had taken no thought about the future after this life; a fool who thought the security of life was in earthly possessions; and most important, a fool who had not put God into the picture - the real owner of one’s possessions and very life. Jesus commented “so is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (12:21). Jesus is warning anyone who has been storing up earthly treasure for oneself, but not investing it with a view toward God. How should the disciples invest their wealth with a view toward God? They can do it by putting God as their highest priority, and giving God their absolute loyalty.

    The fool was also called a fool because he had his priorities wrong. He mistakenly thought a good life was his highest goal. Once that was achieved, he would have no more responsibilities and no more accountability. He had the focus of life completely wrong. The rich fool’s main focus in life was to store up a good life for himself. In foolishness, he thought, “responsibilities end with securing one’s own economic future.”27 Luke, however, corrects this impression: “Life should not be focused on self, but on God and his purpose (being rich toward God; cf 16:13).”28

    The disciples are also asked to invest with a view toward God by giving him their absolute loyalty. At the end of the parable of the Shrewd Steward, Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (16:13). Although Matthew quotes the same proverbial saying without the parable, Luke sees this as a teaching about wealth related to the parable. The Aramaic world, “mammon” has a meaning of “material possessions,” “money,” or “that, which sustains life.”29 The problem with mammon is when one starts to give it extensive love and devotion, it will assume “the characteristics of a personified force seeking mastery.”30 Verse 13 makes perfect sense at a time when the masters could have an absolute power over their servants’ lives. Keener explains this in the IVP Bible Background Commentary,

    To have one become one’s master is to give one’s pledge of life. It is impossible to be divided in two, and say “I could do both.” Jesus is saying that you could choose but only one to serve and pledge your loyalty, either God or money. You could not put money first in your heart while saying that you are servant of God.31

    Since one can not serve God and mammon in a sense of making an absolute commitment and devotion to both, nothing is a better test of true discipleship than how one chose to use their wealth.32

    Invest with a View toward Others

    Jesus also wants his disciples to invest their wealth with a view toward others. Both the parable of the Shrewd Manager and the Rich Man and Lazarus instruct one to make the right use of their wealth. When the master fired the manager, the manager asked himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg” (Luke 16:3). The manger gave a realistic assessment about himself. “I am not strong enough to dig” means he could not labor in the fields because farming would require digging out “narrow terraces and sharp corners.”33 He knew that his sense of honor would not allow him to beg from other people. In addition, he did not have the qualification for such compassion, such as being lame or blind.34 His quick thinking, however, led him to a perfect solution. He said “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses” (16:4). Bailey suggests the phrase “receive one into one’s house” may have been an idiom means, “to get another job”, since the same phrase has also appeared in the work of Epictetus, a first century Greek Stoic philosopher.35 It could be the case, since according to the debt that was forgiven; debtors themselves are well-off framers. What is clear is this: the manager was going to take a drastic step to gain the rapport of the people. He realized that when money failed and when he could not trust himself, his future relied on his relationships with other people.

    Verses 16:4-7 tell Jesus’s audience what a risky step the manager decided to take. Although legally he no longer had the right to deal with anything on the account, his master had given him some time to fix the account before handing it in (16:2). With the short time he had, the smart manager called in the debtors individually to grant them a favor they would later pay back to him. A hundred measures of oil were about 850 gallons, the yield of nearly 150 trees and a value of 1,000 denarii. A hundred measures of wheat were about 1,000 bushels, the yield of about 100 acres and a value of 2,500 denarii. Roughly the same value of each debt was forgiven, - a value of 500 denarii - the wage for a farmer for a year and a half.36 No wonder even the master commended for the manager’s shrewdness. People would remember and thank the manager (16:7) for his favor, and the master himself could not risk people’s favor to recollect these debts back.

    Jesus told his disciples, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwelling” (16:9). The disciples are exhorted to go and do likewise, to invest their earthly wealth toward other people and in the service of love. When this age is gone, and the earthly wealth has faded away, they can be sure they will receive an eternal reward. “This means to make friends with it in such a way that the kingdom is gained not lost. Moreover, there is a sense in which this call is no less radical than the call to abandon everything, since it asks for undivided use of one’s wealth in the service of God and humanity.”37

    Jesus gave an opposite example to his disciples in the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man in that parable had failed to invest his wealth with a view toward others. He chose to ignore the pain of Lazarus even when he was laid right in front of his estate. He feasted every day, but only what fell from the table was fed to Lazarus. The bread might actually have been used as pieces of napkin and was thrown away on the floor after it became soiled.38 He failed to show compassion to the poor, although it was clearly stated in the Old Testament “to do good, to practice justice, to love the neighbor as oneself, and to care the poor.”39

    How one decides to use one’s finances and wealth reflects the loyalty of one’s heart, shows one’s spirituality, and is a real telling of true discipleship. The great commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). If the disciples of Jesus are truly obeying this commandment, they will choose to invest their wealth with a view toward God and toward others. Making the right investment, moreover, will bring eternal reward: true riches in heaven and ownership of the heavenly inheritance. (16:10-12).


    In all three parables, Luke asks his audience to consider the perils of wealth. The love of possessions and money often leads to wrong motivations, such as greed and self-centeredness. The love of money can also become a stumbling block to attaining eternal life. Luke also hopes his audiences to recognize the reality of wealth. Wealth does not provide eternal security and is not really one’s own. Finally, Luke wants the disciples of Jesus to make the right investment of their wealth - to invest with a view toward God and toward others. In summary, to have a Christ-like attitude toward wealth is to recognize wealth’s permeated power of temptations; to know one’s security is found only in God; to understand that life and possessions are given by God; and to choose to invest wealth in the service of the kingdom and in the service of love.

    How do these principles apply to us today? First, we should not only recognize the blessings that wealth brings but also the great responsibility that comes with it. This responsibility does not only include how we choose to invest our money, but how we choose to place wealth in relation to God and his purpose in our lives. Wealth itself is not evil, but we do need to recognize that the love of wealth is the source of all kinds of wrong desires and motivations. The one who handles great wealth is often exposed to increased temptations. Whether the amount is big or small when we are dealing with wealth, we need always to have our motives in check and to be on guard against all kinds of wrong desires.

    Second, as disciples of Jesus and children of God, whether we have much or little, we need to put our trust in God, depend on His provision, exercise good stewardship with what He gives us, and be willing to release it when He asks us. At all times, we should remind ourselves of God’s real ownership over our possessions and lives. If we truly want to live a life that is devoted to God, then this must also include how we view our possessions and finances. Good starting points are: exercise trust in God by paying our tithe consistently; and pray and ask for God’s direction and wisdom in setting our monthly budgets

    Last, after taking care of the needs of our families and ourselves, we should try to put more of our wealth toward the advancement of the kingdom and meeting the needs of the less fortunate, especially those who are Christ followers. This does not mean we have to give up all of our nights out, vacations, and fun activities. Instead it means we should be joyful givers, compassionate contributors, and Holy Spirit listeners. We experience a true sense of joy when we know our contribution could win another soul for the kingdom. We feel compassionate to help when we see what we could do to fill the gap of the need of the others. We listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit when we follow his lead to invest our wealth toward the true riches of God’s Kingdom. This can only happen, however, when we decide to become serious disciples of Jesus, loving more and more as he did, obeying His words and His commands, and being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit unto his image.


    1Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the English Standard Version.

    2Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green, The New Testament in Antiquity (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2009), 196.

    3Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL.: IVP Academic, 2008), 336.

    4Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 394.

    5Darrell L. Bock, Luke. The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, vol.2. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 1150.

    6Robert H. Stein, Luke. The New American Commentary 24 (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 1993), 351.

    7Bock, Luke.

    8Ibid, 1152.

    9Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 119.

    10He pointed out “Luke often refers to Jesus’ resurrection using a form of anistemi. Bock, Luke, 1377.

    11Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 261.

    12Bock, Luke, 1377.

    13Ibid., 1378.

    14Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 397.


    16Walter E. Pilgrim, Good News to the Poor: Wealth and Poverty in Luke-Acts (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1981), 115

    17Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 386.

    18Ibid., 254.

    19Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 425.


    21Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1994), 236.

    22Pilgrim, Good News to the Poor: Wealth and Poverty in Luke-Acts, 115.

    23Bock, Luke, 1371.

    24Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 394.

    25Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 306.

    26Ibid., 395

    27Pilgrim, Good News to the Poor, 112.


    29Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 379.


    31Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, 234.

    32Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 327.

    33Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 337.



    36Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, 234

    37Pilgrim, Good News to the Poor, 126.

    38See, e.g., Interpreting the Parables, 254

    39Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches, 118.


    Bailey, Kenneth E. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008.

    Blomberg, Craig L. Interpreting the Parables. 2nd ed. Dowers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012.

    Blomberg, Craig L. Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions. Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 1999.

    Bock, Darrell L. Luke. The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, vol.2. Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Academic, 1996.

    Burge, Gary M., Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green. The New Testament in Antiquity. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.

    Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1994.

    Pilgrim, Walter E. Good News to the Poor: Wealth and Poverty in Luke-Acts. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1981.

    Snodgrass, Klyne Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapis, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

    Stein, Robert H. Luke. The New American Commentary 24. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 1993.

    A Lucan Theology of Giving


    A Lucan Theology of Giving

    Laura da Silva




    Research Interest

    Research Method


    The Dangers of Wealth

    The Issues of the Heart

    The Insufficiency of Worldly Possessions

    The Promise for Provision

    The Eternal Rewards








    How Much







    Sow your seed gift here!1 Your seed is the key!2

    Charities, churches, people, neighbors, youth groups, missionaries, TV programs, radio ministries, and numerous others constantly vie for their share of material support from local congregations and individuals. People can become immune and even resentful towards requests for financial and material help due to the sheer number of pleas. In light of this scenario, how should the faithful Christian approach giving? Is giving still a valid command for today, and if so, in what ways should people give? Who should be helped and with how much? Every person who accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior needs to address questions regarding giving.

    Research Interest

    Any proper faith must involve a social concern for the poor and unfortunate, and, of all the Evangelists, Luke particularly sought to stress this point.3

    From beginning to end, the Gospel of Luke contains many passages with themes of wealth, prosperity, and giving. He uses financial and business terms that other Gospels do not.4 Furthermore, he has a “sensitive compassionate theology of the poor.”5 In the book of Acts, Luke portrays the early church community, the way in which it dealt with need, and how the first Christians gave. For these reasons, of all the gospel-writers, Luke is the appropriate writer upon whom to build a theology of giving.

    Research Method

    In order to discuss a Lucan theology of giving, I considered parts of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts with references to material goods, riches, money, helping, and the needy. Following that, I researched the rest of the New Testament to find corroborative ideas from other New Testament authors regarding giving. Upon completion of this primary research, I looked at secondary authors and commentaries to confirm preliminary conclusions about Luke’s theology of giving. What Luke wrote can be categorized into three parts: foundational attitudes, motivations, and guidelines for giving.


    A structure built for long-term use must have a proper foundation. Jesus uses this analogy when he likens hearing His words and doing them to a house built on a foundation of rock (Matt. 7:24). A theology of giving does not differ. A disciple of Jesus Christ must base acts of giving on proper attitudes towards material possessions and God. Luke wrote about the dangers of wealth as well as rewards for proper stewardship. Together, the lessons learned from both build a secure foundation upon which to carry out the act of giving.

    The Dangers of Wealth

    The Gospel of Luke has many warnings against riches, wealth, greed, and those who seek after such things. The first warning in Luke’s Gospel comes from the mouth of Mary in the Magnificat. She says in 1:53, “He [Jesus] has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”6 Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6: 20-26 contains His first direct reference to the issue. One of the four woes is addressed to those who are rich, “for you have already received your comfort” (v. 24). In the parable of the sower, some of the seed fell among thorns which choked it (8:7). Jesus later defines the thorns as life’s worries, riches, and pleasures (8:14). In Luke 12, a man asks Jesus to arbitrate over an inheritance. Instead of heeding the man’s request, Jesus says, “Watch Out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (v. 15). He then proceeds to tell a parable about a rich man who has such an abundant harvest that he does not know what to do with it all. The rich man builds bigger barns and thinks to himself that he will take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry. However, in verse 20, God calls the rich man a fool. Jesus extends God’s judgment to all those who are not rich toward God.

    Other examples of warnings include the parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14 which warns against missing entrance to the feast in the kingdom of God due to the distraction of caring for material possessions (vv. 18-19). The last warning in Luke’s gospel comes in an interaction between Jesus and a wealthy ruler (18:18-27). The ruler seeks out Jesus to ask how he might inherit eternal life. After a discussion of the Ten Commandments, Jesus challenges the ruler to sell everything and follow him. Because of his vast wealth, the man becomes sad. Jesus says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, 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” (vv. 24-25).

    The Issues of the Heart

    The numerous warnings in Luke’s writings may lead to believing that Jesus views owning material possessions as wrong. Further study will show that the problem lies not in the possessions themselves but rather in the attitude towards the possessions. A second look at Jesus’ interaction with the rich ruler in Luke 18 demonstrates the point. Jesus leads the man into a discussion of the Ten Commandments to bring out the ruler’s self-righteousness. Self-merit does not suffice, however, for Jesus shows that the man still needs something. The rich ruler lacks generosity as well as a willingness to follow Jesus. The problem lies much deeper than following a commandment. An obstacle stands between the ruler and God—great wealth. For the rich ruler, his wealth is more important than God. Despite great sadness (v. 23), the man is not willing to follow after Jesus.7

    A second story will clarify the issue further. Zacchaeus, in Luke 19:1-10, was a wealthy tax collector. After his interaction with Jesus, he repents and says, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor” (v. 8). Zacchaeus demonstrates a wholly different attitude than that of the rich ruler, and he is not required to give away everything. In fact, he retains half of his wealth. The inner attitude of the heart makes the critical difference. Zacchaeus did not allow material possessions to stand between himself and God.

    The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 exemplifies the importance of correct attitude in giving. Luke pairs their story with that of Barnabas, who sold his land and brought it to the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:36-37). His story delivers a good example of giving and Ananias and Sapphira, a bad one. Their problem, however, stems not from a lack of giving, as might be expected,8 but from a deeper motive. They give to the poor, but with deceit in their hearts. Satan influences Ananias to lie about the price of the land in order to keep some money; Sapphira follows in his footsteps. Perhaps they want to appear more generous to the community members,9 or perhaps greed underlies their actions. Whichever is true, their sin results in death. God sees the heart, not the act.

    The Insufficiency of Worldly Possessions

    In addition to the warnings against greed, wealth, and material possessions, Luke’s Gospel repeatedly compares worldly life to eternal spiritual life. Being a follower of Jesus signifies choosing things which are of eternal, not temporal, value. For example, Luke 9:25 says, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” People can gain worldly wealth and power at the expense of losing eternal life. True life cannot be found in abundance of possessions (12:15); the pagan world seeks after food and clothing, but Christians should seek the kingdom of God (12:30-31); money and God cannot be served simultaneously (16:13); and the things that people value are not the same things that God values (16:14). Jesus instructs His flock to have purses that “will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys” (12:33-34; see also Matt. 6:19-20).

    The challenge here for followers of Jesus is giving up what the rest of the world seeks. Wilkins calls this theme “counting the cost” of discipleship.10 It means “to recognize that one entered into a life of discipleship through detachment from competing allegiances and through giving personal allegiance to Jesus as Master.”11 He goes on to say that possessions easily become a source of security. Jesus challenges his disciples to find their security solely in Him.12 A disciple cannot follow Jesus and, at the same time, follow after riches as the pagan world does.

    The Promise for Provision

    In addition to his warnings, Luke wrote of promises for provision in the physical world. Jesus commands the disciples to travel without provisions on two different occasions (Luke 9:3; 10:4-7). These two trips testify to the power of God to provide physical needs. The multiplication of the loaves and fish in Luke 9:12-17 (also Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; John 6:1-15) also portrays the ability of God to provide supernaturally. Jesus is the one who breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples to distribute. They learn that “Jesus is the source of provision for their own ministry.”13

    In a lengthier passage about provision in Luke 12, Jesus commands his disciples not to worry about what they will eat or wear (vv. 22 and 29). He then gives them a conditional promise. If they seek the kingdom of God first, they will be given all these things (v. 31; also Matt. 6:33). Note that this promise is not one of abundant material possessions but one of sufficiently supplying all needs.14

    The Eternal Rewards

    The Gospel of Luke includes other promises about eternal rewards for those who choose not to succumb to worldly gain. According to Luke 6:35, the reward for giving is great and those who give will be children of the Most High God. In the parable of the sower, those who resist the temptation of the world and persevere will produce a crop (8:15). Salvation is for those who give up their lives (9:24) as is the kingdom (12:32). Inviting for dinner those who cannot repay reaps repayment at the resurrection of the righteous (14:14), and people trustworthy in the handling of worldly riches will be trusted with true riches (16:11). Those who sacrifice by giving up earthly things in order to follow Jesus will reap much in this age and in the age to come (18:30).

    It is clear from this short analysis of Scriptures addressing riches and possessions that Luke was convinced of two things. First, wealth was a serious issue for the people in his community,15 and second, “the seductive power of possessions is so strong that it can enslave their owners and turn possessions into idols.”16 The warnings against those who are greedy and who trust in riches are many; the promises and eternal rewards are just as plentiful for those who have a right heart in relation to material possessions.


    The right motivation in giving is crucial to its continued success, and as seen above, giving has eternal consequences. Giving without the right motivation breeds hypocrisy, a trap that the Pharisees fell into. In Luke 11, Jesus criticizes them for practicing a detailed list of acts from the wrong attitude (v. 42). On the outside they looked good and clean, but they were wicked and greedy on the inside (v. 39). Jesus even implies that the Pharisees “deprived the poor of the very food and drink that were ‘inside’ (v. 40) their own carefully washed dishes.”17 Three basic motivations for giving can be found in Luke’s writings.


    The first motivation for giving found in the Gospel of Luke is repentance, or the turning of one’s heart toward God. John the Baptist, after preaching a scathing message and issuing a call for repentance, warns people of God’s wrath for those who are unfruitful. When questioned by the crowd about how to bear fruit, John tells them that “the man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same” (3:11). Thus, the first fruit of true repentance brings forth kindness to others, especially in the sharing of material goods. It is a call to action, to do something. Nolland calls it the “need for practical personal response” due to a change of heart.18

    A second example of giving as a fruit of repentance is Zacchaeus in Luke 19. After encountering Jesus, he decides to gives half his possessions to the poor. Luke includes the story of Zacchaeus to provide a concrete example of the fruit of repentance mentioned by John the Baptist at the beginning of the book.19


    The second motivation for giving to others is an experience of grace.20 When Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, she immediately gets up and serves Jesus and those with him (Luke 4:39). This response can be characterized as a “positive response to salvific ministry.”21 Instead of reacting with wonder like others, she responds with gratitude and hospitality.22

    Other examples of the same type of response in Luke are the women who follow after Jesus (8:1-3). Some of these women were set free from demons and diseases, and their reaction is to serve Jesus by supporting Him out of their own income. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas’s jailer reacts similarly. After receiving salvation, he washes the wounds of Paul and Silas, gets baptized, and then gives of his material possessions by serving them a meal (vv. 33-34).


    The most important motivation for giving is love. Luke 10:27 says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” This love of God and of neighbor is to Luke “an adequate summary of Jewish law and a valid statement of what God requires.”23 These two commands are both in the Old Testament, although in separate places (Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:8). In the Gospels, they appear together (Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27), giving new emphasis that disciples of Christ should understand them in light of each other. What is particularly interesting about Luke’s account of these commands is that they are more closely fused together than in the other Gospels.24 Matthew and Mark include comments about numerical order and which is greatest. Luke simply separates them with one connector: “and.” For Luke, love of God is the foundational relationship from which everything else flows. It is this relationship that gives life, and, consequently, those in it will give to others.25

    Luke’s treatment of what it means to be a neighbor in the parable of the Good Samaritan (10:29-37) in connection with the great love command further demonstrates the importance of love as a motivation for him. Without love, giving stems from empty religiosity. For Luke, this matter is one of eternal life (v. 28).26


    Once the attitudes towards material possessions and the motivation for giving have been considered, the actual act of giving must be looked at. Questions about who to help and how to do so are relevant in the practical application of giving. This part seeks to answer these practical questions by delineating examples of helping from Luke’s writings.


    The first practical part to consider is who to give to. In Luke, there are four general categories: neighbors, outsiders, fellow believers, and kingdom workers.


    The most general group that Luke describes for Christians to help is neighbors (10:27 and 37). Most would define a neighbor as a person who lives next door, but a passage in Luke defines neighbor far beyond every traditionally accepted limit.27 In Luke 10:29, an expert of the law asks Jesus the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers the question with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Instead of giving a clear answer about what type of person should be treated as a neighbor, He gives instruction about how to be a neighbor.

    In fact, the man helped in the parable is an indistinguishable person (anthropos). He could be Jewish, Gentile, black, white, old, young, foreign, or native. The only clear characteristic about him is that he needs help (Luke 10:30). As Ellis puts it, “‘Neighbour’ is not an object that one defines but a relationship into which one enters.”28 The Samaritan sees a need and immediately stops and takes time, energy, and resources out of his own life to help (10:33-35) and becomes a neighbor.


    Another group of people Christians are challenged to help is those who can be classified as outsiders. By far the most common group of outsiders found in Luke and the New Testament is the poor, or economically disadvantaged (Luke 6:35, 14:13; cf. Matt. 19:21; 26:11; Mark 10:21; 14:5; 14:7; John 12:5-6; 12:8; 13:29; Rom. 15:26; Gal. 2:10; James 2:2-3; 5-6; Rev. 3:17). In the early Christian community, money was brought to the apostles to be distributed to the poor and needy (Acts 4:35; 4:37; 5:2; 11:30).

    Besides the poor, Jesus commands a large crowd of disciples in Luke 6:27 to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Further instruction in the same chapter includes giving to everyone who asks and not demanding back what is taken (v. 30), loving more than just the people who love you (v. 32), doing good to people who do not do good to you (v. 33), lending to those who cannot repay (v. 34), and loving your enemies (v. 35). This same theme is also found in Jesus’ rebuke of his dinner host, a prominent Pharisee, with instructions to invite people to dinner who cannot repay such as the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind (14:12-13). Other outsiders include the weak (Acts 20:35), those with need (2:45), widows (6:1), and the lame (3:2). The golden rule to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31) aptly summarizes the idea of these verses. Bock classifies these commandments as “actions of love regardless of how the other responds.”29 Perhaps Jesus’ message in Luke seeks community “boundary redefinition and ideal benefaction,”30 but ultimately Luke grounds the call for radical treatment of outsiders in the character of God, including the ungrateful and wicked (v. 36).31

    Brothers and Sisters

    The third group of people Luke addresses helping are brothers and sisters in need within the faith community. Jesus defines true family not as blood relations, but as those who hear the word of God and do it (Luke 8:21). Acts 2:44-45 testifies to the practical application of Jesus’ definition. Modern day Christians might understand these verses to mean the early Church fellowshipped and “hung out” together. Careful study of the text, though, reveals that they were “a brotherhood and sisterhood of Christ-followers who took to heart the need of the greater community.”32

    Other passages in Acts also show this type of care for fellow believers. Acts 4:32-34 speaks of believers sharing everything they had and having no needy among them. Several members sold possessions to help with the needs of fellow brothers and sisters (4:37; 5:1). They also provided food for needy widows within the community (6:1). Paul’s concern for his brothers and sisters stimulates him to take up an offering to help the needy disciples in Judea (Acts 11:29-30; cf. Rom. 12:13; 1 Cor. 16:1; 2 Cor. 8:2-4).

    Kingdom Workers

    The final group of people to help is workers in the kingdom of God. Luke portrays people helping kingdom workers and records Jesus speaking about it. When Jesus sends out the Twelve (Luke 9:1-6) and the seventy-two (10:1-7), both times they are to rely on the hospitality of people they taught. The people were to give them food to eat and a place to stay, and if necessary, clothing or money.

    Luke records Jesus stating that the worker of the kingdom deserves to get his wages (Luke 10:7, see also Matt. 10:9-10). A group of female disciples following Jesus helped Him out of their own means (Luke 8:1-3). Mary and Martha opened their home to Him and his disciples and offered him a meal (10:40) as did Simon and his mother-in-law (4:38-39). In Acts, people helped the apostles with places to stay and food to eat (16:15; 16:34; 21:4, 8, and 16).


    The way in which people help each other in the New Testament varies greatly. John the Baptist commands people to share clothing and food (Luke 3:11). Some people helped by serving food (4:39; 6:31; 10:40; 14:12-13; Acts 6:1; 16:34) or providing a place to sleep (Luke 4:38; 9:4; 10: 5-7; 10:40; Acts 16:15; 21:8). Other helps include money (Luke 9:3; 10:35), as well as lending (6:34-35), a night at an inn (10:35), transportation (10:34, 19:30), physical injury care (10:34), sharing of possessions (Acts 2:44; 4:32), the selling of property and possession (Acts 2:45; 4:34; 4:37; 5:1), and the most general command which is to do whatever it is that you would like someone to do for you (Luke 6:31).

    Just like the variety of people that Christians can help, there is great variety in the way material possessions and personal service can be used to help. As Gillman puts it, “The instruction Jesus offers to those with possessions cannot be reduced to one concrete mode of action for everyone.”33

    How Much

    Luke mentions various possibilities concerning the extent of giving. The most extreme are those who give up everything. Luke specifically states that James, John, and Simon Peter left everything they had to follow Jesus while other Gospels only mention that they left their father and their boat (Luke 5:11; 18:28; cf. Matt. 4:22; Mark 1:20). Jesus challenges the rich man to sell everything he has in order to follow Him, although the man chooses otherwise (Luke 18:22). In addition, Jesus holds up the poor widow in Luke 21:4 as an example of sacrificial giving, for she gave “all she had to live on.”

    Historically, Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32 have been used as an argument for selling everything and giving to the poor, perhaps because Luke’s Greek language in this text is reminiscent of other ancient groups that argued for ideal, utopian communities.34 However, Marshall argues that the individual members of the community kept their possessions as their personal property until a reason arose to sell them for the common good.35 In other words, they had possessions, but they had an attitude and action of sharing with those in need. Other examples in Luke show that followers of Jesus maintained possessions but made them available for use (Luke 8:1-3; 23:50-56). Luke also includes examples of people who gave less than everything. Zacchaeus gave half of his possessions to the poor (9:12-17), and the disciples gave according to their ability (Acts 11:29). In Acts 5, Peter says to Ananias, “Didn’t it [the piece of land] belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” (v. 4a). Peter’s words demonstrate that Ananias not only owned land, but he was not required to sell it and give it all to the community. Giving was voluntary,36 and the giver decided what amount to give.

    The variety seen reveals every amount of gift is acceptable. In some situations for some people, giving up everything may be the right thing to do. For others, a gift out of a sacrifice of poverty may be the best option. Others might give half or some other proportion to what they have. The amount is not what matters. What matters is the heart. 



    Numerous times Luke portrays wealth as something to be wary of. Seeking what the world seeks instead of God reaps eternal consequences. On the other hand, the right attitude in the heart towards possessions leads to eternal rewards. This correct attitude must be paired with the right motivation for giving—repentance, an experience of grace, or love. A disciple will give to those who need help, whether it be a neighbor, an outsider, a fellow believer, or a kingdom worker. The form of help varies greatly, from money to transportation to anything. Some disciples will be led to give all they have and others according to their ability. Most importantly, the giving must come from the heart.


    Many Christians today, particularly in the United States, live in an extremely materialistic society. The Church can easily be influenced by the materialistic society in which it lives. For this reason, Luke’s theology of giving guides Christians to examine three points in their lives.

    First, believers must examine whether they trust in God or in money. The Bible is clear that no middle ground exists. It must be one or the other. Christians can discover what they trust in by imagining how they might feel if everything they had were lost—car, house, bank account, furniture, and everything else. Would this bring about a sense of anxiety? Worry about tomorrow? If so, then the diagnosis is that trust lies with their material possessions.

    Second, Christians should examine their motivations for giving. Are they giving out of obligation? Do they put something in the offering plate because the people sitting around them are watching? Do they give because they want something back from God? Or is their motivation correct—out of sincere repentance, love for God, or an experience of His grace? Giving from the wrong motivation will soon make it a wearisome burden, leading to bitterness and indifference.

    Last, Christians should examine the people around them and look for opportunities to enter into the kind of radical neighbor relationship that Jesus talked about. So often believers become busy and fail to see the needy people around them. Whether it is a person in the church community, someone outside, or a minister called to work in God’s kingdom with a vision, Christians should be challenged to do more. Out of sacrifice or out of abundance, the command to give is blatant. Christians must determine in their heart what they will give and give it.


    1Mike Murdoch, “Seed-Giving,” The Wisdom Center,  (accessed November 3, 2011).

    2Benny Hinn, “3 Keys to Your Supernatural Harvest,” Benny Hinn Ministries, (accessed November 3, 2011)

    3Robert Stein, Luke, The New American Commentary 24 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), 133.

    4John Gillman, Possessions and the Life of Faith (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), 17.

    5Darrell Bock, Luke, IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 71.

    6All Biblical references are from the NIV unless otherwise stated.

    7Bock, Luke, 300.

    8C. K. Barrett, Acts: A Shorter Commentary (New York: T&T Clark, 2002), 69.

    9Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 222-23.

    10Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 210.

    11Ibid., 211.

    12Ibid., 216.

    13Bock, Luke, 165.

    14Bock, Luke, 229.

    15Walter E. Pilgrim, Good News to the Poor: Wealth and Poverty in Luke-Acts (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1981), 103.

    16Gillman, 93.

    17Tremper Longman, III, and David E. Garland, eds., Luke - Acts, vol. 10 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 215.

    18John Nolland, Luke 1-9:20, Word Biblical Commentary 35A (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1989), 149.

    19Stein, 467.

    20Longman and Garland, 112.

    21Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 226.

    22Ibid., 225.

    23John Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34. Word Biblical Commentary 35B (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1993), 578.

    24Luke T. Johnson, Sharing Possessions: Mandate and Symbol of Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), 103.

    25Bock, Luke, 196.

    26Luke T. Johnson, The Literary Function of Possessions in Luke’s Theology (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977), 141-43.

    27Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34, 578.

    28Earle E. Ellis, The Gospel of Luke, The New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 160.

    29Bock, Luke, 125.

    30Bock, Luke, 271.


    32Deborah M. Gill, “Commentary on the Scriptural Text: Acts 2:42-47: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011,” Ecumenical Trends 40, no. 2 (February 2011): 5.

    33Gillman, 93.

    34Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 330.

    35I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles: And Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1980), 108.

    36Barrett, 71.


    Arnold, Clinton, ed. Matthew, Mark, Luke. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

    Barrett, C. K. Acts: A Shorter Commentary. New York: T&T Clark, 2002.

    Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007.

    ———. Luke. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994.

    Ellis, E. Earle. The Gospel of Luke. The New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991.

    Gill, Deborah. “Commentary on the Scriptural Text: Acts 2:42-47: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011.” Ecumenical Trends 40, no. 2 (February 2011): 1-9, 14-15.

    Gillman, John. Possessions and the Life of Faith: A Reading of Luke-Acts. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991.

    Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997.

    Hinn, Benny. “3 Keys to Your Supernatural Harvest.” Benny Hinn Ministries.  (accessed November 3, 2011).

    Johnson, Luke T. The Literary Function of Possessions in Luke-Acts. Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977.

    ———. Sharing Possessions: Mandate and Symbol of Faith. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981.

    Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

    Longman, Tremper, III, and David E. Garland, eds. Luke - Acts. Vol 10 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007.

    Marshall, I. Howard. The Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1980.

    Murdoch, Mike. “Seed-Giving.” The Wisdom Center. (accessed November 3, 2011).

    Nolland, John. Luke 1-9:20. Word Biblical Commentary 35A. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1989.

    ———. Luke 9:21-18:34. Word Biblical Commentary 35B. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1993.

    Pilgrim, Walter E. Good News to the Poor: Wealth and Poverty in Luke-Acts. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1981.

    Stein, Robert H. Luke. The New American Commentary 24. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

    Wilkins, Michael J. Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

    A Lucan Theology of Christian Response to Poverty


    A Lucan Theology of Christian Response to Poverty

    Jerry Orf





    Jesus’ Mission to the Poor

    Jesus’ Reversal Statements


    John the Baptist and the Sharing of Resources

    Jesus and the Sharing of Resources

    Jesus’ Expectations for His Disciples






    The truth of worldwide poverty statistics proves shocking. Most Americans, even many who consider themselves poor, find themselves far removed from the hunger, the disease, the despair, and the death resulting from poverty. Over one billion people in the world live on an income that is less than one dollar per day and, altogether, 2.7 billion people struggle through life on less than two dollars per day.1 Such low income levels contribute to malnutrition. “About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. This is one person every three and a half seconds … .”2 Poverty results in suffering and death by diseases that no longer impact wealthier societies in a major manner. “Every year eleven million children die--most under the age of five and more than six million from completely preventable causes like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.”3 While some nations live in relative luxury the people of other nations struggle for the basic necessities of life.

    This chapter draws together the various strands of Luke’s writings regarding poverty, studies them in light of an array of scholarly sources, integrates the findings, and offers a Christian response to poverty based on Lucan literature. It results in understanding the responsibility of a Christ-follower to practice wise stewardship and to share resources with the needy.


    Lucan literature pays close attention to the needs of the poor. Luke takes care to show Jesus’ teaching concerning poverty. Throughout both of his treatises Luke draws attention to the needs of impoverished and disenfranchised people. Luke presents the mission of Jesus and the mission of Jesus’ followers as a mission that includes meeting the needs of the poor.

    Jesus’ Mission to the Poor

    Luke chapter four contains the first message of Jesus recorded by Luke. The message he recounted “sets the tone for the importance of social concerns as found in the rest of Luke.”4 Jesus had taught throughout Galilee and had garnered praise from the people, but now He returns to His home town of Nazareth and goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath.5 He is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and He reads these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”6 At the conclusion of the reading He stated, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”7

    Jesus, in his first public address recorded by Luke, shows that the words of Isaiah’s prophesy apply directly to Him. Those prophetic words also define Jesus’ mission. His mission included ministry to the poor and the disenfranchised. “Take note that the recipients of this good news were to be, first and foremost, the poor, just as Jesus promised in the Beatitudes.”8 Luke presents this message as Jesus’ mission statement. By doing so, he emphasizes the fact that Jesus considered relieving the plight of the poor of the utmost importance.

    Jesus’ Reversal Statements

    Luke 6:20-49 records Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. In this sermon Jesus makes startling statements that reverse common thinking. This is not the first time Luke records reversal statements. “Luke stated as early as the Magnificat (1:46-55) that the arrival of God’s reign will be marked by a complete reversal of fortunes for the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the full and the empty.”9 In vv. 20-26 of the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus states that the poor are blessed and the rich are cursed. He declares the blessed condition of the hungry and the woeful condition of the well-fed. He asserts the blessed situation of the weeping, but says woe to those who live a life of laughter. These radical statements He spoke from demonstrate the heart Jesus has for the ministry to the poor. “The reader of Luke is not surprised to hear God’s word of favor on the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are despised, nor is it surprising that woes are pronounced on their opposites.”10 These words show the value Jesus places upon those who are neglected and overlooked by society. The poor, hungry, and weeping of the world are blessed because Jesus looks upon them with compassion and came to minister to them.

    Luke 4:18-28 serves as the programmatic sermon of Jesus ministry much as Acts 1:8 can be viewed as the programmatic verses of that book. It sets the tone and defines the mission of Christ. The remainder of Luke shows Jesus actively pursuing and fulfilling that mission. When the programmatic sermon is coupled with the reversal theme found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain it forms the groundwork for the Lucan focus on the mission of Christ to the poor, disenfranchised, and needy.

    Jesus’ baptism in the Holy Spirit and His mission as presented in Luke prefigure the experience and ministry of the church in Acts.11 As Jesus received the baptism in the Holy Spirit so should His followers receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Jesus ministered to the poor and needy and so should His followers. Luke shows Jesus’ Spirit empowered ministry and Acts demonstrates the Spirit empowered ministry of the church. Jesus’ mission sets the example for the church in every generation. His model and mission remain valid for His followers today.12


    Luke takes care to develop the idea of sharing of resources in his Gospel. John the Baptist taught that repentance included sharing resources. Jesus taught the same. The message of sharing with the needy fills the pages of Luke’s writing.

    John the Baptist and the Sharing of Resources

    Luke introduces us to an important biblical character known as John the Baptist. John’s mission was that of preparing the way for the coming Messiah. In preparing for the coming of the Messiah He preached the message of repentance. Once he was asked what repentance meant and he replied, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”13 This simple message introduces the idea of sharing resources. Leon Morris asserts, “People wanted to know what was expected of them. John’s first answer is intensely practical: people should share what they have with those who have nothing.”14 According to John, the sharing of resources serves as an outward sign of repentance and devotion to God. John did not present the sharing of resources as a requirement as the Qumran community did or as modern socialism does, but as a voluntary response to the Christian ethic of sharing.15 Furthermore, John’s message of social responsibility is “continuous with Luke’s convictions about the social implications of the gospel… . These social and economic concerns will be built into the agenda of the common life of the early church (Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-35).”16

    John teaches that people are more important than material possessions and money. Often that sentiment is not valued. “Unfortunately, there is the temptation for sinful human beings to be blind to the needs of the poor, to extort funds from others, and to take advantage of the powerless.”17 William Hendriksen asks, “When catastrophe overwhelms the people of any region, and food and clothing are urgently needed, are we at all living in harmony with this exhortation when we refuse to share? Think also of the millions upon millions who, even apart from natural disasters are living in constant abject poverty. Must they not be assisted?”18 John calls for those who have to share with those who have not. “What he is advocating is voluntary sharing.”19 He applies this principle not just to the rich, but to all people. This made his listeners uncomfortable. It would have been easier to swallow if he had just commanded the rich to share resources, but he did not do that. He declared that it was the duty of everyone who possesses goods, food, or money to share with those who are destitute. Such teaching made the people of his time uncomfortable. It still makes people uncomfortable today.

    Jesus and the Sharing of Resources

    Luke also presents Jesus as promoting the sharing of resources. In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus encourages people who host a banquet to remember the poor, crippled, lame, and blind and invite them to the banquet. He teaches that inviting people of the same social strata is self-serving, but inviting the poor and disenfranchised who could not return the favor serves both them and Christ at the same time. “When God’s people can do good, without expecting reward or repayment, they will have truly served Him unselfishly. God will reward those who so willingly serve him. The reason? Because their generosity mirrors God’s.”20 Luke teaches the Christ-follower to share resources whether or not the one with whom he or she shares the resources are capable of reciprocating in like fashion.

    Jesus showed compassion toward the needy and the repentant, but was hard on the rich and unrepentant. Luke 12:16-21 tells the parable of the rich fool who hoarded his money and goods, built bigger barns, and died that very night. “The rich man lived as though he had many years to live. He laid up good things for himself; then he proceeded to spend it all on himself. He was concerned for no one else, and he had no care for God.”21 He cared for no one but himself. His problem was not that he was wealthy, but that he did not manage his wealth wisely. He refused to share his abundance of resources with anyone else. He neglected the poor, the hungry, and the needy to his own detriment. His neglect of the poor reflects his neglect of his own spiritual needs and his lack of trust in God. He trusted his material possessions to secure his future. “Concerned for no one but himself, when the time came for him to stand before God, he was nothing more than a fool.”22

    In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells of the rich man who died and went to hell while Lazarus the beggar died and went to paradise. Lazarus lay at the gate to the rich man’s home day after day, yet the rich man never offered Lazarus help of any kind. While Jesus does not tell us why the rich man was sentenced to hell the fact that the rich man ate sumptuously every day while Lazarus begged for scraps of good provides a telling clue. The rich man did “not show love to God and his neighbor, a commandment to all Jews as seen in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18”23 By failing to show love to his neighbor Lazarus through the sharing of resources the rich man demonstrated his lack of regard for God and God’s law. “This story provides one of the greatest examples of Jesus’ emphasis on giving to the poor and the difference one’s generosity on earth makes in eternity.”24

    Though Jesus was hard on the rich, He was not against the rich. The issue is not wealth, but proper stewardship of money and possessions. Jesus ministered to tax collectors who were generally wealthy people. A rich man named Joseph took Jesus down from the cross and placed Him in his own tomb.25 Zaccheus, a wealthy man, became a follower of Christ.26 He did say, “Indeed, 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.”27

    Jesus pointed out to his disciples that it is hard for rich people to get into God’s kingdom. This was contrary to conventional wisdom. Most Jews believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing on people. Here Jesus explained that riches can often prove to be a stumbling block. […] With all their advantages and influence, the rich often find it difficult to have the attitude of humility, submission, and service required by Jesus.28

    The needle Jesus referred to was an ordinary needle used for sewing. By using hyperbole Jesus pointed out how difficult it is for wealthy people to trust God, serve God, serve their neighbor, and enter the kingdom of God.

    Jesus’ Expectations for His Disciples

    Jesus did not just expect the wealthy to share with others. He also calls on his disciples to share their resources. He told them, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”29 In this verse Jesus emphasizes the importance of proper stewardship. “The stress here is not on giving up possessions, but on how we use them. Jesus does not command us to literally sell all our earthly possessions. That would reduce us to poverty and make us dependent on others. But the concern is that we not become slaves to our possessions and that we use them to help others.”30 Christ-followers who recognize that the Lord and not their possessions provide their security find freedom to share resources and react with generosity to the needs of the poor and suffering.


    The Gospel of Luke presents a message that calls for Christ-followers to share their resources. The book of Acts shows Christ-followers heeding that message and actively sharing their resources with others. One of the first responses of the church after Pentecost was taking care of the poor. “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”31 Acts 4:32-37 describes the sharing of resources after Pentecost:

    All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time, those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.

    These verses show that the early church responded to the needs of the poor and shared resources so than none lacked the necessities of life. “This was not communism in the modern sense, or even communal living. It was just Christian sharing.”32 When there was a need, a person who owned lands or homes would arrange a sale and give the proceeds to meet the need. In this way, the people of the church shared resources and the needs of the poor were met.

    The episode with Ananias and Sapphira recorded in Acts 5:1-10 demonstrates the seriousness with which the Holy Spirit and the church viewed the sharing of resources. Ananias and Sapphira suffered the death penalty because they lied to the Holy Spirit. Their lie concerned sharing their resources with the poor. They wanted credit for giving all the money they earned from the sale of their possessions while keeping a portion of the proceeds for themselves. They could have done what they wanted with their money, but they chose to lie in order to enhance their reputation. Their story shows that the early church valued the sharing of resources and respected those who shared without guile or deceit.

    The example of sharing resources continued throughout the book of Acts. Acts 6 emphasizes the church’s determination to care for the needy. Greek widows were being overlooked when food was distributed daily. The Hellenists complained and the leaders of the church took action. The leaders of the church met this need by approving the appointment of deacons who would oversee the distribution of food. This allowed the apostles to focus on the ministry of the Word while also providing for the needs of the widows through the ministry of the deacons. “This story confirms that taking care of the needy was of upmost priority in the minds of the apostles.”33 The apostles did not consider the serving as unimportant. They showed its importance by delegating the responsibility to men full of faith and the Holy Spirit. By this action the church further reinforced the importance of the sharing of resources.

    Other instances in Acts also show the Christian responsibility for the care of the poor. Acts 9:36-42 tells the story of Dorcas. The early church held Dorcas in high regard because of her care and concern for the poor. When she died the church felt the loss. The widows wept as they remembered her and showed Peter the clothes she had sown for them. She was resuscitated to life through Peter’s ministry and no doubt she continued her acts of kinds to the poor.

    Acts 11:27-30 and 24:17 mention the sharing of resources. In Acts 11:27-30 “the language implies sacrificial giving on the part of the believers in Antioch.”34 In the 24:17, Paul tells of bringing gifts to the poor in Jerusalem. In both passages the poor in Judea received gifts from other believers in other parts of the world. This demonstrates the principle of ministering to the poor beyond the local assembly or the local community. Through the sharing of resources the church met the needs of the poor.

    In addition to the above, Acts also demonstrates the important role fellowship served in the life of the early church. Fellowship is more than chatting and visiting with other Christ-followers. It is more than a pot-luck dinner after a Sunday morning worship service. Fellowship included the idea of having all things in common.

    The English word fellowship is a translation of the Greek word koinonia. The word koinonia can also be translated as participation, contribution, and sharing. A fuller understanding of the koinonia principle can be gained by recognizing that fellowship consists of sharing with each other out of a common ground or experience.35 Contribution means to share what one possesses with others.36 Participation describes sharing in the possessions of others as in a business partnership.37

    The early church embraced koinonia and participated in each other’s lives. They embraced the idea of a community of believers. They shared resources for the purpose of alleviating hunger and need. The sharing of resources should not be considered as some sort of communism. “There was no communism here among these New Testament Christians. In the first place, they only sold their property and gave money when it was needed immediately. They did not divide up their property. Each one shared what he had with others out of love and as the need arose.”38 These first followers of Christ did not give because they were compelled to give or required to give. They shared resources out of love for one another and love for Christ. The sharing of resources demonstrated heartfelt and sincere love and that love directly contributed to the amazing growth of the early church.


    A study of Lucan literature reveals clear principles concerning the poor. Luke shows that Jesus came to preach the Good News to the poor and that Good News includes both salvation for the soul and alleviation of suffering due to poverty. Luke also teaches that both the church and individual believers are responsible for proper stewardship of resources in regard to ministering to the poor and disenfranchised. He repeatedly shows the importance of and encourages giving to poor.

    Individual Christ-followers must respond to the needs of the poor. As previously discussed, John’s message of the person with two tunics sharing with the person who does not own a tunic in Luke 3:11 demonstrates that sharing of resources is the responsibility of all Christ-followers and not just those who might be considered wealthy. No one who follows Jesus can claim an exemption from sharing resources, but the more one owns the more one should share. A college professor (a Christ-follower) had just paid cash for his dream car, a brand new Cadillac, when he discovered that the car of one of his students, a young man with a wife, a toddler, and a newborn, had broken down and was to the point of being worthless. The professor had kept his old car, a Toyota Camry that had quite a few miles on it, but was still a solid and serviceable vehicle. The professor and his wife brought the man and his family over for dinner and at the end of the meal gave the young family the keys to their new Cadillac. Then the professor said that he would pay all of the young man’s student loans and cover his tuition and books for the remainder of his degree.39 This selfless act epitomizes the Lucan concept of sharing resources.

    Luke also shows that local churches and church fellowships or denominations must share resources with the poor and needy. Traditionally, the Pentecostal movement embraced ministry to the poor, but the modern so-called “prosperity gospel” that arose out of the Pentecostal movement threatens ministry to the poor. Some people who teach the prosperity message view prosperity and wealth as God’s promise to all believers and consider poverty to result solely from a lack of faith or sin. Those who hold such a position either ignore the plight of the poor or condemn the poor for their supposed lack of faith. “While many people in the Pentecostal tradition do not adhere to this type of theology, such extreme views often cause people in the Pentecostal tradition who hold to the ‘prosperity gospel’ to practically ignore the needy and economically deprived because of confusion regarding how to respond.”40 The message of the prosperity gospel does not agree with the Lucan theology of a Christ-follower’s response to poverty. The local church and church fellowships and denominations must refuse to be seduced by the prosperity message. They must minister to and share resources with the poor in the name of Jesus.

    Luke makes wealth, poverty, and sharing of resources a major theme of his Gospel. In Acts he shows how the early church lived out the principle of sharing of resources as presented in his Gospel. By doing so he establishes his theology of a Christian response to poverty.

    The people in today’s church hold to a wide variety of positions concerning the church’s responsibility to the poor. A segment of the church adamantly affirms the need to provide for the material needs of the poor but they do not view conversion to Christ as important. Others just as adamantly hold to the necessity of conversion to Christ but they often ignore the material needs of the poor. The modern “prosperity gospel” ignores the poor or condemns them for their supposed lack of faith.

    None of the above positions accurately reflect a Christian response to poverty. Lucan theology calls for ministry to both the material needs of the poor and the spiritual needs of the poor. The position held by traditional Pentecostals which emphasized ministry to the needs of the entire person (physical, emotional, spiritual, and material needs) accurately reflects Lucan theology. The Lucan theology of Christian response to poverty instructs believers to consider all their possessions as belonging to the Lord and to practice good stewardship that includes sharing resources with those in need.


    1“Fast Facts: The Faces of Poverty,”  (accessed April 2011).

    2“Hunger and World Poverty,” (accessed April 2011).

    3“Fast Facts: The Faces of Poverty.”

    4Bruce Barton, Linda Taylor, and Dave Veerman, Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1997), 92.

    5Luke 4:14-16 (All Scripture quotations unless otherwise specified are from the NIV).

    6Ibid., vv. 18-19.

    7Ibid., v. 21.

    8Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 21.

    9Fred Craddock, Luke: Interpretation (Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1990), 87-88.

    10Ibid., 87.

    11Craig S. Keener, “God Cares About People: A Pentecostal Perspective from Luke/Acts” Enrichment Journal (retrieved from )


    13Luke 3:11.

    14Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 105-106.

    15E. Earle Ellis, The New Century Bible Commentary: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), 89-90.

    16Craddock, 48.

    17French L. Arrington, Full Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament, ed. French L. Arrington and Roger Stronstadt (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 407.

    18William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), 208.


    20Barton, Taylor, and Veerman 357.

    21Ibid., 319.

    22Ibid., 320.

    23Samantha Brewer, “Wealth and Poverty in Luke’s Gospel and Acts: A Challenge to the Christian Church” Encounter Journal (Springfield, MO: Summer 2009, Volume 6), 9.


    25Luke 23:50-54.

    26Luke 19:1-10.

    27Luke 18:25.

    28Barton, Taylor, and Veerman 419.

    29Luke 12:33.

    30Arrington, 466.

    31Acts 2:45.

    32Stanley Horton, The Book of Acts (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1981), 49.

    33Brewer, 11.

    34Bruce Barton B., et al, Life Application Commentary: Acts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999), 199.

    35Jenny Fernanda Vielma-Caceres, “Pauline Theology of Local Church Participation in Missions” (Taken from the notes of a class presentation given at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary) February, 2011.



    38John Rice, Filled with the Spirit: A Verse by Verse Commentary Acts (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1963), 103.

    39A true story as told to me by Tim Teague.

    40Brewer, 15.


    Arrington, French L. and Roger Stronstad, ed. Full Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.

    Barton, Bruce B. et al. Life Application Bible Commentary: Acts. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999.

    Barton, Bruce, Linda Taylor, and Dave Veerman. Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1997.

    Brewer, Samantha R. "Wealth and Poverty in Luke's Gospel and Acts: A Challenge to the Christian Church." Encounter: Journal for Pentecostal Ministry, 2009: 27.

    Ellis, E. Earle. The New Century Bible Commentary: The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1981.

    ”Fast Facts: The Faces of Poverty.”   (accessed April 2011).

    Hendriksen, William. New Testament Commentary: Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978.

    Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.

    “Hunger and World Poverty.” (accessed April 2011).

    Keener, Craig. God Cares About People: A Pentecostal Perspective from Luke/Acts. 2004. (accessed February 8, 2011).

    Kim, Kyoung-Jin. "Stewardship and Almsgiving in Luke's Theology." Journal for the Study of the New Testament (Sheffield Academic Press), 1998.

    Morris, Leon. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1988.

    Rice, John R. Filled with the Spirit: A Verse by Verse Commentary Acts. Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord, 1963.

    Stearns, Richard. The Hole in Our Gospel. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009.





    The Correlation Between Abiding in Jesus and Making Disciples

    Dick Brogden






    John’s Situation and Date of Writing


    Theme and Key Verses


    Defense of Greek Text as Established

    Concentric Circles of Context

    Purpose of Passage

    Exegetical Issues


    Responsibility of Harvest

    Bearers of Harvest

    Conditions of Harvest

    Promise of Harvest

    Glory of Harvest

    Spirit of Harvest

    Participation of Harvest


    Exegetical Summary

    Exegetical Conclusion

    A Spiritual Theology of Abiding





    The Gospel of John is a missiological Gospel.1 “Since John wrote his gospel in order to fulfill a mission task, it is logical to assume that mission is a fairly prominent theme in John’s writings” (Larkin and Williams 1998, 209). John conveys a Christological missiology in John 20:31. Though essentially a theologian (Eckman 1907, 20), his missionary status enhanced his theological reflection. In Johannine writing, God’s mission and Christians’ interconnect.

    For John, then, the mission of Jesus, the mission of the Paraclete, and the mission of the community are tightly stitched together … . These missions are interrelated. All … are accomplished in the arena of the “world” and, ultimately have the salvation of the world as their goal … [The Gospel of John] distinctive as it is, shares with the rest of the Gospels a universal outlook and a missionary orientation … . The Gospel is “mission” in orientation because its final word to the community is that authentic disciples of Jesus are “sent” as he was sent, to the whole world, to bring it life. (Senior and Stuhlmueller 1983, 292)

    John, says E. Ridley Lewis, “has an eye to the whole world of his time as it stands in need of salvation, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, men and women, educated and uneducated, and to all alike he offered then, as his gospel book still offers, the gift of the knowledge of God, perfectly manifested in Jesus” (Lewis 1964, 23). John’s purpose is broader than conversion; he also intends to equip those who believe for mission.

    The conviction itself which the Evangelist aims at producing is twofold … . The whole narrative must therefore be interpreted with a continuous reference to these two ruling truths … . Each element in the fundamental conviction is set forth as of equal moment. The one (Jesus is the Christ) bears witness to the special preparation which God had made; the other (Jesus is the Son of God) bears witness to the inherent universality of Christ’s mission. (Cook 1890, xl)

    In John’s Gospel, the evangelist not only establishes the deity of Christ, he also elucidates the need for this Christ to be preached to all people everywhere and details the means by which this is to be done. John uses the word apostellō (I send with a commission) more than any other writer, with forty-one references to the sending of the Son (Morris 1986, 251). John’s Gospel, then, is missiological in intent and pedagogy.2


    Scholars debate whether John was the sole author of the Johannine literature. “So different is John that scholars are undecided as to his relationship with the other Gospel writers. No one can be certain whether the author was familiar with the other evangelists’ work or the tradition behind them” (McFadyen 1998, ix-x). John’s uniqueness has led some to defend the idea that he was the fountainhead of a tradition culminating in the Gospel (Carson 1991), a view advocated also by Brown (1966) and Schnackenburg (1968) in their commentaries, though both later changed their minds (Edwards 2003, 22). Carson, Brown, and Schnackenburg propose a Johannine School combined to write the literature and that there was a Johannine community that helped to shape the content of John’s Gospel, epistles, and apocalyptic writing. Others [Schneiders (1999), Scott (1992), Fiorenza (1983)] have suggested a woman is responsible for the Johannine works or that John is a mythical figure (Edwards 2003, 24-25). D. L. Akin makes a case for Johannine authorship for all the Johannine literature.

    Evidence both internal and external favors the view that the apostle John is the author of the three letters Christian tradition has attributed to him. The writing style is so close to that of the Fourth Gospel that common authorship clearly is the best position to affirm. The verdict of the early church was unanimous in its affirmation of John the apostle as author of the Fourth Gospel. The epistles of 2 and 3 John are obviously from the same pen as the author of 1 John. (Akin 2001, 26-27)

    The larger debate is outside the scope of this research and this author assumes that, based on the internal evidence (13:23; 19:26; 21:7, 20, 24), eyewitness account, knowledge of Jewish life, and intimacy with Jesus (Anders 2001), John is indeed responsible for the Gospel of John, the Johannine epistles, and Revelation.


    John most likely wrote his Gospel to a community made up of both Jewish and Gentile Christians (Marshall 1992, 371). “The Gospel is concerned for second-generation (and subsequent) believers who were not eyewitnesses (20:26-31), including Jews and Gentiles (7:35), the other ‘sheep not of this fold’ (10:16; cf. 7:35; 11:52)” (Marshall, 372). Most likely, these were believers who had access to the other Gospels. “John presupposes that the community is familiar with the synoptic tradition, but he makes no use of it … . He does not wish to supplant it” (Goppelt 1981, 17).

    John’s Situation and Date of Writing

    John wrote his Gospel from the city of Ephesus according to tradition (Brown 2003, 9). “[Other] large centers of Christian activity which also had significant Jewish populations and representatives of various Hellenistic religions, such as Alexandria and Syrian Antioch, have also been proposed” (Marshall, Green, and McKnight 1992, 371). As John was the pastor of the church in Ephesus (Dockery 1992, 606), it is the more likely place of origin.

    The earliest dates considered by scholars are between AD 50-60 before the first Jewish-Roman war (AD 66-70). Most scholars, however, due to the earliest external witnesses, date the writing between AD 90-100 (Marshall, Green and McKnight 1992, 370). The latest possible date is around AD 110 as the discovery of the Ryland’s Papyrus 457 (dated between AD 125-150) contains John 18:31-33, 37-38 (Freedman 1992, 918).


    John explicitly reveals his purpose in writing by stating, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book; but 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” (John 20:30-31). John reveals that to believe in Jesus is to elevate Him. John concentrates on the divinity of Jesus and the universal mission of Jesus to save all people from every ethnicity to himself. “It is a book about Jesus. This is underlined by the fact that John uses the name ‘Jesus’ 237 times, far and away the most in any New Testament book … . John is absorbed in Jesus” (Morris 1986, 225).

    [Werner] Beider has pointed out that in current New Testament research, there is great disagreement over the exact missionary nature of the Gospel. The primary point of disagreement concerns the missionary purpose of the Gospel. Is this a document which is intended primarily to convert people to Christianity? Or is a missionary document something that encourages the Church to missionary activity? (Prescott-Ezickson 1986, 139)

    The majority opinion leans toward the Gospel of John being a missionary treatise that exhorts Christians to making disciples among every ethnic group in the world. Sean Kealy sees John’s purpose as pastoral. “It is to strengthen, illuminate, defend, and think deeply about the faith. This pastoral aim includes elements of polemic, apologetic, and missionary, unifying them under the pastoral aim, dealing with many practical problems which John’s audience was encountering” (Kealy 1978, 18-19). John’s pastoral heart comes through in his Gospel as he encourages those he loves to be about the business of making disciples among every people group.

    Theme and Key Verses

    John poignantly cites his theme from the mouth of non-Jews (4:42) when the Samaritans declare, “[We] know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” John repeats the theme in his epistle (1 John 4:14), “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.” John, then, summarizes his gospel with the self-confessed purpose statement of 20:30-31. Other key verses of John accent the deity of Christ and His saving intentions for every people (ethnic group) on earth. John pays special attention to the unique claims of Christ—claims that underpin His divine nature and establish Jesus as the unique revealer of God. Jesus claims to be the bread of life (6:35, 41, 48, and 51), the light of the world (8:12; 9:5), the door (10:7, 9), the good shepherd (10:11, 14), the resurrection and the life (11:25), the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), the true vine (15:1), and, most startlingly, “I AM” (8:58). Both John’s description of Christ’s deity [Word of God (1:1), eternal (1:1-2), creator (1:3), life (1:4)] and the superlative professions of those who follow Jesus complement these claims.

    John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29) Nathaniel declares, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son! You are the king of Israel!” (1:49) The Samaritans acknowledge, “This one is truly the world’s savior!” (4:42) Peter confesses, “You are God’s holy one! (6:69) The climactic confession of faith though is Thomas’: “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). (Keener 2009, 42)

    Pastorally, John writes to Christians in order that they super-exalt Jesus and make disciples of Jesus every place on earth.


    Society of Biblical Literature Transliterated Text of John 15:1-17

    1 Egō eimi hē ampelos hē alēthinē kai ho patēr mou ho geōrgos estin. 2 pan klēma en emoi mē pheron karpon airei auto, kai pan to karpon pheron kathairei auto hina karpon pleiona pherē. 3 ēdē hymeis katharoi este dia ton logon hon lelalēka hymin; 4 meinate en emoi, kagō en hymin. kathōs to klēma ou dynatai karpon pherein aph’ heautou ean mē menē en tē ampelō, houtōs oude hymeis ean mē en emoi menēte. 5 egō eimi hē ampelos, hymeis ta klēmata. ho menōn en emoi kagō en autō houtos pherei karpon polyn, hoti chōris emou ou dynasthe poiein ouden. 6 ean mē tis menē en emoi, eblēthē exō hōs to klēma kai exēranthē kai synagousin auta kai eis to pyr ballousin kai kaietai. 7 ean meinēte en emoi kai ta rhēmata mou en hymin meinē, ho ean thelēte aitēsasthe, kai genēsetai hymin. 8 en toutō edoxasthē ho patēr mou, hina karpon polyn pherēte kai genēsthe emoi mathētai. 9 kathōs ēgapēsen me ho patēr, kagō hymas ēgapēsa; meinate en tē agapē tē emē. 10 ean tas entolas mou tērēsēte, meneite en tē agapē mou, kathōs egō tas entolas tou patros mou tetērēka kai menō autou en tē agapē.


    11 Tauta lelalēka hymin hina hē chara hē emē en hymin ē kai hē chara hymōn plērōthē. 12 hautē estin hē entolē hē emē, hina agapate allēlous kathōs ēgapēsa hymas. 13 meizona tautēs agapēn oudeis echei, hina tis tēn psychēn autou thē hyper tōn philōn autou. 14 hymeis philoi mou este ean poiēte ha egō entellomai hymin. 15 ouketi legō hymas doulous, hoti ho doulos ouk oiden ti poiei autou ho kyrios; hymas de eirēka philous, hoti panta ha ēkousa para tou patros mou egnōrisa hymin. 16 ouch hymeis me exelexasthe, all’ egō exelexamēn hymas kai ethēka hymas hina hymeis hypagēte kai karpon pherēte kai ho karpos hymōn menē, hina ho ti an aitēsēte ton patera en tō onomati mou dō hymin. 17 tauta entellomai hymin, hina agapate allēlous.

    English Translation of John 15:1-17

    1 “I am the true grapevine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He lifts up; and every branch that bears fruit He cleans, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the grapevine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the grapevine, you are the branches. The one who abides in me, and I in him, this one, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me, such a one is let fall outside as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, in order that you bear much fruit; and in order that you become my disciples. 9 As the Father loves me, I also love you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.


    11 “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may abide in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide, that whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give you. 17 These things I command you, that you love one another.”3

    Defense of Greek Text as Established

    The critical apparatus of Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament shows two variants for this text. These variants are indicated above (footnotes 7 and 8), showing Metzger’s manuscript evidence used in evaluation of the variants (Metzger 1994, 209). The editors of USB Greek New Testament consider neither of these variants significant enough for inclusion in its critical apparatus (Aland et al. 2001, 291-292). The two significant variants found in John 15:1-17 (auta in verse 6 and genēsthe in verse 8) do not present any doctrinal or textual difficulties, yet in the interest of good scholarship the options for each variant will be discussed.

    Variant 1: Verse 6

    Option A auta is found in the text above. Option B replaces auta with auto. This reading “appears to have been altered by copyists to the singular … in order to agree grammatically with to klēma” (Metzger 1994, 209). In other words, it appears that copyists changed the pronoun from its plural to singular form in order to agree with “a branch.” While this change may be more grammatically pleasing, it assumes a contradiction between a singular reference and a plural application. The fact that one branch is referred to as withering does not negate the possibility of many branches withering and the collective withered branches being thrown into the fire. Internal evidence—especially scribal tendencies—thus favors Option A.

    Externally, many of the copied manuscripts include what appears to be a change, including the codex Sinaiticus (fourth century) and codex Bezae (late fifth century); but the Vaticanus and Alexandrinus codices retain the plural form (fourth and fifth centuries respectively). As there is no significant doctrinal change if the pronoun referring to branch in this verse is singular or plural, the variant reading (singular) is circumstantial and diachronically subservient to the likely original plural rendition.

    It is safe to assume that auta is the most accurate reading of the text.

    Variant 2: Verse 8

    The second variant of significance in the text is the consideration of genēsesthe in place of genēsthe. Genēsesthe, you will be (a future finite verb in the middle/deponent voice) is favored by the Textus Receptus and “probably must be construed as an independent clause or sentence” (Metzger 1994, 209). On the other hand, genēsthe is dependent on hina (in order that you might be) and coordinate with pherēte (that you might bear) (Metzger, 209). The strongest external evidence aligns with genēsthe, as multiple manuscripts including Vaticanus, Bezae, and the Bodemer Papyrus (copy of John’s Gospel from the second or third century) all support its retention (Bromiley 1988, 815).

    Concerning internal evidence, neither variant adds or detracts from the meaning of the text. When genēsthe (aorist middle subjunctive of ginomai, “to become”) is used, the text is literally: “in order that you bear much fruit and [in order that] you be/become my disciples,” while genēsesthe (future middle indicative of ginomai, “to become”) renders literally: “in order that you bear much fruit, and you will be/become my disciples.” In either rendering the sense remains similar, bearing fruit is the proof of discipleship.

    In light of its stronger external evidence, it is more likely that genēsthe is original reading of the text.

    Concentric Circles of Context

    The text of John 15:1-17 is part of Jesus’ concluding instructions (within the Upper Room discourse) to His disciples during the last week of His life. John records what Jesus thought was of primary importance for those who would receive His transferred apostolate. John 15:1-17, therefore, falls in the middle of the final missionary discourse of Jesus (13:31-17:26). In the context of the Gospel as a whole, the missionary teaching and exposition is in harmony with John’s focus on God’s missionary focus, the Divine Jesus’ missionary task, and the followers of Jesus’ missionary inheritance.

    With regard to the entire Johannine corpus, similar themes maybe found in both the epistles and the Apocalypse. The connection with Revelation is more explicit as John continues to unpack the supremacy and deity of Christ and the ultimate triumph of God’s majestic plan–men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation worshiping around His eternal throne. John 15:1-17 prefigures the language and centrality of love found in the Johannine epistles. Of all the Gospel writers, John is most clear on Jesus’ divinity and missionary ambition. In the broader scope of the New Testament, John contributes to the diachronic revelation of God’s passionate pursuit of worship from every ethnic group. In reference to the whole of Scripture, John’s unique and complementary contribution is to unveil the eternal Word, the God with us, the God lauded by every tongue, the missionary Son of God who sends His people as missionaries, even as He was sent.

    Purpose of Passage

    The purpose of this passage is to reveal Jesus’ surprising methodology for disciple making. In John 15:1-17, John records Jesus affirming His desire for disciples to make disciples. Jesus reminds His followers that the way to reproduce is to abide in Him. He warns of the dire consequences for those who do not abide in Him as well as for those who do not reproduce disciples. His instruction is organized around harvesting souls and can be analyzed as in the following exegetical outline:


    I. Responsibility of Harvest (vv. 1-2a)

    A. Jesus Is the Vine (v. 1a)

    B. The Father Is the Vinedresser (v. 1b)

    C. Disciples Are the Branches (v. 2a)

    II. Bearers of Harvest (v. 2)

    A. Fruitless Branches in Christ (v. 2a)

    B. Fruitful Branches in Christ (v. 2b)

    III. Conditions of Harvest (vv. 3-4)

    A. Cleansing by Christ (v. 3)

    B. Abiding in Christ (v. 4a)

    C. Depending on Christ (v. 4b)

    IV. Promise of Harvest (vv. 5-7)

    A. The One Who Abides Bears Fruit (v. 5a)

    B. The One Who Does Not Abide Bears Nothing (v. 5b)

    C. The One Who Does Not Abide Is Withered and Burned (v. 6)

    D. The One Who Abides Has Prayer Answered (v. 7)

    V. Glory of Harvest (v. 8)

    A. God Honored by Bearing Fruit (v. 8a)

    B. Disciples Bear Much Fruit (v. 8b)

    VI. Spirit of Harvest (vv. 9-15)

    A. Love (vv. 9-10)

    B. Joy (v. 11)

    C. Sacrifice (vv. 12-13)

    D. Obedience (v. 14)

    E. Friendship (v. 15)

    VII. Participation of Harvest (vv. 16-17)

    A. Jesus Chooses the Workers (v. 16a)

    B. Jesus Appoints Workers to Raise New Workers (v. 16b)

    C. Jesus Desires New Workers to Abide (v. 16c)

    D. Jesus Commands Workers to Love One Another (v. 17)


    Exegetical Issues

    The passage raises a number of crucial missiological questions. These questions must first be addressed exegetically before they can be applied to practical theology in missiological theory.

    There are four main areas of exegetical investigation, several of which encompass a number of separate questions. Following are the issues this exegetical research will attempt to answer.

    (1) The primary issue cluster has three concerns:

    (a) What is meant by “abide” (menō)?
    (b) What is meant by “fruit” (karpos)?
    (c) How do the two concepts relate to each another?

    (2) What is the meaning of “much fruit” (v. 5)? and

    what does it mean for the fruit itself to “abide” (v. 16)?

    (3) Other important questions concern the three different kinds of branches (klēmata) and their disparate fates:

    (a) What does it mean to be “in Me” (en emoi) but not “bear fruit” (pheron karpon) (v. 2)?

    (b) Does airein mean to “take away” or to “lift up” (v. 2)?

    (c) For the fruit-bearing branch, what are the implications of “pruning/cleansing” (kathairei) (v. 2)?

    (d) What is the fate of the branch that does not abide; specifically, what does eblēthē, typically translated “cast out” mean (v. 6)?

    (e) What is the sequence of the two verbs in v. 6; does “casting out” precede the “withering” (exēranthē)?

    (4) Finally, the interdependence of abiding and fruit bearing will be examined to see whether or not a unified theory of spirituality can be sustained by the text.

    EXEGESIS OF JOHN 15:1-17

    Responsibility of Harvest

    Jesus Is the Vine

    1 Egō eimi hē ampelos hē alēthinē

    1 I am the true grapevine, …

    Jesus spoke the opening words of the passage, Egō eimi hē ampelos hē alēthinē to state the parameters for His teaching on abiding and fruit bearing. When Jesus uses ampelos, He draws on a vast reference base for vine from the Old Testament. “The barely concealed reference to Israel (cf. Isa. 5:1-7; 27:2-6; Ezek. 15; 19:10-14; Hosea 10:1; Ps. 80:9-16) casts Jesus as the true vine, i.e., the representative of Israel, and his disciples as the branches, i.e., participants in Jesus, the new Israel” (Kostenberger 1998, 164). While some Old Testament imagery of “vine” is negative and linked to judgment (Isaiah 5:1-7; Ezekiel 15:1-8) or uselessness, “it is clear that the vine stands for the kingdom of God” (Edwards 2004, 147). By declaring himself the true vine, “Jesus displaces Israel as the focus of God’s plan of salvation” (Kostenberger 2004, 448).

    The vine in the intertestament period also took on national significance. “The emblem on the coins of the Maccabees was the vine … it was the very symbol of the nation of Israel” (Barclay 1955, 201). The temple mount also included a graven vine–the
    Golden Vine—clearly visible to all who approached the temple to worship.4 Mark Edwards cites F. D. Maurice as listing the possibility of “the sight of a local vineyard” on the way from the upper room to Gethsemane “prompted the discourse” (Edwards 2004, 147). Jesus, knowing the importance of the imagery of the vine (nationally, religiously, historically, scripturally) and seeing it again (either a literal vineyard, the Golden Vine of the temple mount, or even the fruit of the vine at the last supper) redefined its symbolic meaning. Jesus declares that He alone is the source and center of life. John quotes Jesus using the nominative singular feminine article and adjective hē alēthinē to imply that all other vines are false or incomplete sources of life and that only Jesus can truly give life.

    The nominative, singular, feminine noun ampelos is best translated “grapevine” rather than “vine,” as “vine” may refer only to a vine that does not bear fruit (Louw and Nida 1988, s.v. ampelos). John uses ampelos three times in his Gospel (all in John 15) and twice in Revelation. The term directly refers to a vine that produces grapes (Thomas 1998, 288). John uses ampelos to mean the only source of life. John draws on the wisdom literature of the Sirach, according to J. Martin C. Scott, where Sophia is “pictured as a vine (Sir 1:20; 24:17,19) providing ‘sustenance and abundance of life through the fruit of her branches’ and seeking faithful disciples who will bear such fruit in contrast to the faithless (Sir 23:25)” (Scott 1992, 130-31).

    Jesus, thus, sets the stage for His teaching on abiding and fruit by establishing that He alone is the source of ongoing life.

    The Father Is the Vinedresser

    1b kai ho patēr mou ho geōrgos estin.

    1b My Father is the vinedresser.

    The nominative singular masculine noun patēr is the Greek translation of the Aramaic for “father,” one who combines aspects of supernatural authority and care for is people (Louw and Nida 1988, s.v. patēr). The noun geōrgos is also nominative singular masculine and refers to one who cultivates the land or engages in agriculture or gardening. The Father gardener takes spiritual and practical responsibility for the grapevine, its branches, and the surrounding environment. Some theologians (including Augustine who thought that Christ was at once grapevine and gardener) have argued that Jesus is the vinedresser, but “Dionysius of Alexandria retorted that the dresser of the vine and the vine itself must be distinct (Athanasius, On the Opinion of Dionysius)” (Edwards 2004, 148). By distinguishing the role of grapevine (God the Son) and vinedresser (God the Father) in John 15:1b, Jesus implies hypostatic union allows a distinct role for God the Father as the one who oversees the whole process of fruit bearing. Not all agree on this division of labor. Dunn and Rogerson write, “As always, Jesus undertakes the work of God who is the gardener” (Dunn and Rogerson 2003, 1198). The text, however, implies a model union and interdependence of Father and Son (vinedresser and grapevine) that allow for distinct roles in the harvest process. The most likely interpretation of geōrgos linked to patēr is literal: Father God is the one who cares for grapevine and vineyard. This interpretation is most consistent with Jesus’ simple demarcation in this verse and with the biblical record as “OT images of Israel as God’s vine imply God or his workers as tenders of that vine; Paul speaks of God’s church as [God’s] field … (1 Cor. 3:9)” (Keener 2003, 994).

    Disciples Are the Branches

    2a pan klēma...

    2a Every branch …

    The word klēma refers to a vine branch, a “shoot/young twig,” which is broken off to be replanted (Kittel 1964, 757) or “a more or less tender, flexible branch, as of a vine … (principally of grapevines)” (Louw and Nida 1998, 34). “Although it is only later in the speech that the disciples are identified as the ‘branches,’ already it is clear at the outset that Jesus is addressing the words to that group” (Dunn and Rogerson 2003, 1198).

    Scholars have divided opinion about the branches. Some think the branches represent the body of Christ. B. K. Rattey states, “[In] the Fourth Gospel, the vine and the branches together represent the new Israel, the Church” (Rattey 1947, 169). This thinking is linked to the grapevine being Christ, and the Church emanating from Him. “The true vine is now brought before the disciples as the new ideal of the spiritual Israel” (Bernard 1928, 478). Later on in this passage (15:5), however, “Jesus makes it clear that the branches in the present symbolic discourse represent his followers” (Kostenberger 2004, 452). The most probable intention of Jesus’ use of branches is in reference to His disciples.

    There are two implications of John’s use of klēma. One is that disciples are young (in spirit), moldable, pliable, and flexible. The second is that they are the type of disciple that is able to be broken off and transplanted. Taken together with John’s broader understanding of the passage and interpreted with a missiological lens, John is using the word branches to refer to those disciples who are flexible enough to be sent out by the vinedresser to new vineyards in order to bear fruit.

    Bearers of Harvest

    Fruitless Branches in Christ

    2b pan klēma en emoi mē pheron karpon airei auto

    2b Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He lifts up;

    Three distinct types of klēmata are noted in the passage. The first is the branch en emoi that does not bear fruit—proving that “[a] branch may be truly in Christ and not bear fruit” (Bernard 1928, 479). ’En is a preposition, an element of existence, and refers to those who have been included in Christ, having been inserted in Him (Webster 1864, 157) or who have sprouted out of Him. The second type of klēma is the one en emoi (in Christ by implication) that does bear fruit. The third type of klēma in the passage is found in 15:6 and refers to the branch who mē tis menē en emoi (does not abide in [Christ]).

    Bernard says that the unfruitful branch of 15:2 has a specific referent: “The unfruitful branch of 15:2 has an obvious allusion to Judas, who has just gone away to his act of treachery” (Bernard 1928, xxi). This may be the case, but there is also the possibility of wider application. Many scholars view the original branch as being the Jews. “The original branches in God’s vine were the Jews; these being unfruitful (unbelieving), God removed … . [John’s] primary thought [concerning unfruitful branches] was of apostate Christians” (Barrett 1955, 395). This view seems limited also, as “even the unfruitful branches are true branches. They are also ‘in Christ,’ though they draw their life from Him only to bear leaves” (Cook 1890, 217) [Cook’s emphasis]. It is difficult to conclude that the Jews are the unfruitful branches John is referring to, as his Gospel is written to believers and, in the narrative, Jesus indicates to His disciples that they (His followers) are the branches.

    The phrase en emoi mē pheron karpon reveals that it is possible to be a branch in Jesus and not bear fruit. Yet “those who abide in Christ are assured of bearing much fruit (John 15:5) which shows that those bearing no fruit were not abiding in Christ” (Guthrie 1981, 613). Simplistically, Jesus differentiates to His disciples between being en emoi (in me) and meinate en emoi (abiding in me). The whole context of the chapter guarantees fruit if one abides in Jesus; therefore, a necessary difference between menōn (abiding) and en emoi (in me—Jesus) exists. It is possible to be in Jesus without menon (abiding). Cyril of Alexandria thought that the barrenness of the branches in Christ that did not bear fruit signified faith without the vital sap of love (Edwards 2004, 148).

    This difference is clear; the fate of those who are in Jesus but do not bear fruit (from pherō karpon) is different than those who do not abide—those in Jesus who do not bear fruit He lifts up (airei —as in John 15:2) and those who do not abide are burned (kaietai —αs in John 15:6).

    The word pheron is a verb in the present active. It is a singular participle that is in the accusative and neuter in case. It means producing fruit or yielding. It can also mean “I carry” (Rogers and Rogers 1998, 218). Karpon will be exegeted below due to its complexity. Those who are not bearing fruit (karpon) He [Jesus] lifts up (airei).

    The major lexicons relegate “I take away” or “I destroy” as a meaning for airō to secondary or tertiary options.5 The Lexham LXX Lexicon defines α’ρω as I lift; I take/up; I raise; I take along (Lexham 2011, s.v. airō). The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament translates airō as “I lift up,” (Rogers and Rogers 1998, 218), while Thayers’ New Testament Greek-English Lexicon lists three primary definitions for airō: (1) I raise up, elevate, lift up from the ground, (2) I take upon [my] self and carry what has been raised up, to bear, and (3) I bear what has been raised, carry off. This is consistent with the wider use of α’ρω across the New Testament.6

    In light of the New Testament use of airō to mean “I lift,” the circumstantial evidence of the verse (the branches in question are “in” Christ) suggests the branches that are not bearing fruit will be lifted up off the ground. The lifting is intended to aid the branches to concentrate on gaining life from the vine that they may one day bear fruit. This interpretation is consistent with the methods of viticulture,7 both modern and in use at the time of Christ. Jesus was using an example familiar to the disciples.

    In a vineyard there are multiple reasons that the branches of the vine have to be lifted up. One reasons is that “vines … have rigorous, slender, flexible stems that require support in order to grow upright” (Harris 1983, 448). If these branches are not lifted up, they tend to grow along the ground. “There are dozens of trellising systems used around the world, each providing a grower with a support suited to his climate and variety. Behind them all is a desire to get the vine up off the ground” (Cox 1985, 47). If they are not lifted off the ground, they grow quickly, but not in a way that works toward harvest. “Total leaf area and number of shoots on a vine is directly related to vine capacity. A vine with few shoots that elongates rapidly appears vigorous, but another vine which is less active because of numerous shoots of slower growth produces a larger total leaf area capable of greater production” (Weaver 1976, 177). Production is linked to leaf area and leaf area is linked to being lifted off of the ground.

    This lifting process is not a one-time effort. “Whether a tree or shrub used as an espalier is placed in a formal or informal design, it needs a firm guiding hand to direct placement of branches … . Tying is a part of espalier training that must be done constantly through the growing season as required” (Perkins 1064, 32). This continual lifting is necessary as “upright shoots grow more vigorously than horizontal or drooping shoots” (Wagner 1978, 110). Lifting, then, is not only lifting the branch off the ground, but it is also training it to grow upward in order to be strengthened. Once strong, a branch can level out and have the ability to carry heavy fruit. Drooping shoots, which when developed are called canes (branches), are thus lifted up and tied–a process referred to as training. “Cane training is necessary for varieties whose basal eyes are unfruitful” (Weber 1978, 118). When the canes are trained by being lifted and tied into position, they are better able to bear fruit.

    Another reason vinedressers lift the branches off the ground is for inclement weather. “A prediction of frost … causes some mental anguish; but the vines, being trained on their trellis, are not affected by this ground frost” (Wagner 1978, 88). If they are not lifted up from the ground, the result can be disastrous for the branches.

    When vinifera are grown in a region subject to severe winters, they are frequently killed to the ground, and hence rarely produce crops, unless they are protected. For this purpose conventional training methods must be modified … [one successful trainer] trains the trunk very low to the ground, with spurs emerging here and there along its length. In the autumn this low horizontal trunk is completely buried. In the spring it is disinterred, lifted, and held clear of the ground with a forked stick or by tying it to a stake … . [Another] method is a modification of cane training. The trunk is left very low, and with the approach of winter the canes to be used … are bent gently to the ground and buried. In the spring, these are disinterred and pruned, the fruiting canes being tied up to a trellis wire. The bunches of grapes are thus kept fairly clear of the ground–especially if the relatively unfruitful lower buds are rubbed off–and are thus less subject to mold and to spattering by mud. (Wagner 1978, 120-121; italics mine)

    Sometimes the lifting process is used to straighten a branch or beautify a design. This lifting process is not to be confused with pruning. “Although pruning is the primary method of training young plants, other procedures may be used. Staking may be used to encourage a straight trunk or a more upright growth habit … branches may be tied to supports to create special forms, cover a wall, or form a screen” (Harris 1983, 419). Phillip Wagner affirms that pruning and training (or lifting) are two different processes. “Note the difference between pruning and training,” he writes. “Training gives a certain preconceived form to the permanent and semi-permanent parts of the vine. Pruning regulates the annual growth so as to produce a maximum crop consistent with quality and regularity of production” (Wagner 1978, 108). As Richard Harris points out, there is some crossover between the processes, yet they retain distinct functions. “Lifting the crown, raising the head, raising the canopy, and lift-pruning: All these refer to the removal of lower branches from the trunk or lower limits of a tree … . [When] raising the crown, thin back to a more upright large lateral ... . [The] removal of low branches might increase stress on the lower trunk, immediately below the new lowest branch, and on the root system” (Harris 1983, 421).

    This practice of “lifting” or “training” in viticulture verifies John’s understanding of the vinedresser’s intervention on behalf of unfruitful disciples. This was certainly the case for Hudson Taylor. An intervention (lifting) was used to teach Taylor to abide, and abiding, he eventually produced fruit.

    Hudson Taylor returned to England due to illness after six years of missionary service in China … . “[He] settled with his little family in the east end of London. Outside interests lessened; friends began to forget; and five long years were spent in the dreary street of a poor part of London, where the Taylors were ‘shut up to prayer and patience.’” From the record of those years it has been written, “Yet, without those hidden years, with all their growth and testing, how could the vision and enthusiasm of youth been matured for the leadership that was to be?” There is the “deep, prolonged exercise of a soul that is following hard after God … of a man called to walk by faith not by sight; the unutterable confidence of a heart cleaving to God and God alone, which pleases Him as nothing else can. Prayer was the only way by which the burdened heart could obtain any relief. And when the discipline was complete, there emerged the China Inland Mission, at first only a tiny root, but destined of God to fill the land of China with gospel fruit.” (Edman 1948, 82)


    The text then indicates an answer to two fundamental exegetical questions. First (an incomplete answer until karpon is exegeted), we note that it is possible to be in Christ and not bearing fruit (en emoi mē pheron karpon). Jesus addresses this warning to His disciples, His followers, those who believe in Him. At this juncture chronologically, Judas has left the community and, thus, there is no likelihood for en emoi (in me) to refer to non-believers. Second, there is sufficient exegetical justification to understand airei to mean “he lifts up.” The implication is that the Father will use means (a lifting of some nature) to help those who are not bearing fruit. The verses that follow detail that the result of that lifting and its link to abiding.

    Fruitful Branches in Christ

    2b ... kai pan to karpon pheron kathairei auto hina karpon pleiona pherē.

    2b … and every branch that bears fruit He cleans, that it may bear more fruit.

    The crucial word to be exegeted in this clause is the present, active, indicative, third person singular verb kathairei (he cleans).8 The verb “involves a play on two different meanings. The one meaning involves the pruning of a plant, while the other meaning involves a cleansing process” (Louw and Nida 1988, s.v. kathairei).

    The verb kathairei in John 15:2 is translated “He prunes” even though its literal meaning is “He cleans.” This is the only use of “He prunes” as a translation of kathairei in the Johannine literature. Elsewhere in John (13:10, 11; 15:3) the same root word (in adjective form) katharos is translated “clean.” Clearly, John’s intention was cleaning or a purifying process. Ernest Colewell and Eric Titus observe that it is “important to note that in verse three the idea of pruning is conveyed by the same word which is used in the story of washing the disciples feet” (1953, 181).

    Cleaning is not to be understood as “ritual washing” in John’s use. John implies purification through suffering, difficulty, and loss. Translators chose the word “prune” rather than “clean” as they wanted to indicate the purifying process of washing that occurs through discipline, hardship and even suffering. Bernard writes of this discipline:

    [T]he Great Husbandman does “cleanse” the fruitful branches by pruning off useless shoots, so that they may bear fruit more abundantly. It is not as if the branches were foul; on the contrary, they are already clean by virtue of their share in the life of the vine (v.3). But pruning may be good for them, nonetheless. Such pruning, according to Justin (Tryph. 110), illustrates God’s painful discipline for His true servants. (Bernard 1928, 480)

    This reading is consistent with the parallel teaching of Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” and Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” The sense of John’s text is that branches are prepared for greater fruit bearing by the cleansing of discipline/difficulty/suffering. Craig Keener concedes this possibility. “The image could involve judgment or difficulty; early Jewish texts also could describe the flood as a ‘cleansing’ of the earth (1 En. 106:17) or speak of the Messiah purging … Jerusalem to restore it in holiness” (Keener 2003, 996). Andrew Murray agrees with the understanding of pruning meaning the cleansing of suffering.

    And so He has prepared His people … to hear in each affliction the voice of a messenger that comes to call them to abide still more closely.

    Abide in Christ! This is indeed the Father’s object in sending the trial … . So, by suffering, the Father would lead us to enter more deeply into the love of Christ … . He does it in the hope that, when we have found our rest in Christ in time of trouble, we will learn to choose abiding in Him as our only portion; and so that when the affliction is removed, we will have grown so more firmly into Him, that in prosperity He still will be our only joy. So much has He set His heart on this, that though He has indeed no pleasure in afflicting us, He will not keep back even the most painful chastisement; He can thereby guide His beloved child to come home and abide in the beloved Son. Christian, pray for grace to see in every trouble, small or great, the Father’s pointing to Jesus, and saying, “Abide in Him.”

    Abide in Christ; so will you become partaker of all the rich blessings God designed for you in the affliction … . So will your times of affliction become your times of choicest blessing–preparation for the richest fruitfulness. (Murray 1979, 152-3, 156)

    Cleansing in the wider biblical context often has an element of redemptive suffering. David Mathis writes,

    Suffering is not only the consequence of completing the Commission, but it is God’s appointed means by which he will show the superior worth of his Son to all the peoples. Just as it was fitting that he ... should make the founder of [our] salvation perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10), so it is fitting that God save a people from all the peoples from eternal suffering through the redemptive suffering of Jesus displayed in the temporal suffering of his missionaries ... . What is lacking in Jesus’ sufferings is not their redemptive value but their personal presentation to the peoples he died to save. (Piper 2011, 31)

    Mathis brings out several key truths. God leads branches that bear fruit into affliction. Affliction is intended to teach us to abide in Christ. Abiding in Christ leads to bearing more fruit. There is a symbiotic relationship between affliction and abiding, which works together to bear fruit. Suffering cleansed and prepared disciples of Jesus for greater effectiveness, just as it did for Jesus himself. In this context kathairo was also considered to imply suffering by Chrysostom (who considered it the tribulation that follows the death of Christ), Elsley (who interpreted it as the removal of false opinions), and Augustine (who cited 1 John 1:8 to prove that we all need cleansing) (Edwards 2004, 148). John’s use of kathairō implies a cleansing through difficulty (pruning), working toward the disciple bearing more fruit than he or she had before. “Training gives a certain preconceived form to the permanent and semi-permanent parts of the vine. Pruning regulates the annual growth so as to produce a maximum crop consistent with quality and regularity of production” (Wagner 1978, 108). A primary aspect of discipleship (reproduction)9 is accomplished through kathairō.

    Exegetically then, the fruit bearing disciple is promised further discipleship (formation and reproduction) through a cleansing process. This cleansing process often involves suffering and trial, and results in the fruit-bearing disciple equipped to bear more fruit.

    Conditions for Harvest

    Cleansing by Christ

    3 ēdē hymeis katharoi este dia ton logon hon lelalēka hymin.

    3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

    The means of cleaning is by Jesus’ logon, a noun in the accusative, singular, masculine. It refers to Jesus’ word, “what has been stated or said, with primary focus upon the content of the communication” (Louw and Nida 1988, s.v. logon). Jesus’ words are the agent of correction, pruning, and cleansing. The fulfilling of the promises of God and the fulfilling of the words of God is what cleans/prunes His disciples. These promises/words of God that cleanse include both pleasant and difficult realities. The word lelalēka (I have spoken) is a verb in the perfect active tense and indicates that the logon may remain with the disciples (Rogers and Rogers 1998, 218). “The word cleanseth … which is used of lustrations, appears to be chosen with a view to its spiritual application. Everything is removed from the branch which tends to divert the vital power from the production of fruit” (Cook 1890, 217). Barclay points out that this cleaning is more regular early on (for the newer disciple) and ongoing for the more mature. “A young vine was not allowed to fruit for the first three years. Each year it was cut drastically back that it might develop and conserve its life and energy” (Barclay 1945, 202). Catholic theologian Francis J. Maloney writes,

    The disciples at the table, listening to the discourse, are fruitful branches, united to the vine and pruned by having the word of the Sent One of the Father. Because they have heard and accepted the word of Jesus the pruning process is already in place … they are told that the cleanliness comes from the words of Jesus. Jesus has established the essential frame of reference for vv. 1-11 in vv. 1-3. Jesus is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser, and disciples, made clean by the word of Jesus, can be fruitful branches of the vine. (Maloney 1998, 420)

    John declares the strategic role of the words of Jesus in the formative and reproductive processes. In light of the promised cleansing; “every branch that bears fruit He cleans” (John 15:2b), Jesus explains this cleansing process as ongoing because of the disciple’s exposure to His teaching. Those that heed and apply the words of Jesus will continually be prepared and used to bear fruit. Jesus will expound on the relationship of His word to prayer in 15:7.

    Abiding in Christ

    4 meinate en emoi, kagō en hymin.

    4 Abide in Me, and I in you.

    The verb meinate in the aorist, active, imperative, second person plural sense means, according to Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida, “remain in the same place over a period of time ... stay”(1998, s.v. menō). Buist M. Fanning says, “The constative aorist [is] used to heighten the urgency of the command and [calls] for customary or general occurrence” (1990, 369-370). Cleon Rogers, Jr. and Cleon Rogers, III, describe meinate as an ingressive aorist. Those being addressed should “begin to stay in Christ” (1998, 218). According to Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Freidrich, the intransitive use (menein) means “remain in a place,” “tarry,” or “dwell” (1964, menō). Regarding meinate en emoi, Maxmilian Zerwick points out that the preposition en according to John denotes “the dwelling of God (Christ) in us and our dwelling in God (Christ) are two correlative and inseparable aspects of the same reality” (1990, 39). Steven Wakeman considers abiding a reciprocal act and, thus, the emphasis of abiding involves developing relationship with God, not in doing things for God (2009, 66). He references Daniel Wallace who espouses the force of the aorist imperative μείνατε punctuates urgency and priority. Therefore, Jesus effectively commands His disciples to make abiding in Him their top priority (Wakeman 2002, 720-721).

    In classical literature Homer used menō as “related to Lat. Maneo: intrans. It means [I] remain in one place, at a given time, with someone ... . In religious language, it is used for the gods or inspired by them ... as having continuous existence. It is only seldom used trans., with the force of waiting for, or expecting someone or something” (Brown 1971, 224). It is from the Latin maneo that we derive the English word mansion or home. The Septuagint uses meno quite broadly: “In the LXX [menō] translates some 16 Heb. words … . Generally it is concerned with the existence or continuing validity of something … . It is therefore particularly used of God … always in the living context of the worship and praise of God” (Brown 1971, 224). In the Koine papyri and inscriptions, “according to R. Bultmann ... [menō] always involves a negation: not to give way. It does not, he says, respond to the question ‘where?’ but rather to the question ‘how long?’ In the earliest Greek usage it concerned continuing at an objectively fixed place for an objectively determined time, and then later it involved continuation in a personal bond” (Balz and Schneider 1991, 407). “In Jn. The secular Gk. [menō en] gained a meaning parallel to the Pauline conception of Christ’s dwelling in the believer (Rom. 8:9 ff.) and his dwelling in Christ. It is even expanded and strengthened” (Brown 1971, 225).

    The Patristic literature also allows for continuation. “To abide, says Alcuin, is to believe, obey, and persevere (Aquinas 1997:479-80)” (Edwards 2004, 148). Clement of Alexandria links abiding to constancy in the Word: “Abide in the Word and then ask since the word is a possession that lacks nothing” (Elowsky 2007, 165). Cyril of Alexandria explains that to abide in God’s Word is more than just acknowledging His existence. “The confession of piety towards God should accompany faith” (Elowsky 2007, 169). Augustine thought abiding in Christ would govern what one desires. “When someone abides in this way, is there anything he or she can wish for besides what will be agreeable to Christ?” (Elowsky 2007, 169). Basil the Great thought that love is the underlying basis for a life of abiding that glorifies God. Irenaeus said that we become like Christ as we abide in Him. Chyrsostom thought that we abide by obeying His call to love through obedience to His commands. Cryil expressed that abiding in Christ leads to joy in trial (Elowsky 2007, 165). The theme of continuance is explicitly or implicitly connected to the majority of Patristic writings on abiding.

    Various commentators speak generally about abiding. A master’s thesis by Linda Oyer on the Johannine usage of menein indicates abiding means remaining in the new covenant, the person of Christ. She asserts that fruit corresponds to faithful obedience in response to what Christ has done (Oyer 1983, 79-82). Andrew Murray writes of the work (or effort) abiding requires (1979, 159).10 Rattey points out its uninterrupted nature. “Only when the life giving sap flows uninterruptedly through all the branches of the vine can they bear fruit freely (1947, 169). Neal Flanagan likens abiding to love. “Abiding in Jesus through love is what this little homily is about” (1982, 72). J. H. Bernard points out the volition and discipline of the one abiding: “In the spiritual sphere this ‘abiding’ is not maintained without the constant and conscious endeavor of the disciple’s own will” (1928, 481). George Stevens says, “The fundamental thought of the allegory is that of the close, constant, loving fellowship of life between the believer and his Lord” (1908, 260). He also points out that “the Johannine conception of religion is especially favorable to devotion. It appeals powerfully to the imagination and the heart; it keeps alive the sense of a real and present Savior; it fills life … with a present fullness of joy and richness of experience” (1908, 264). Lutheran theologian F. Dean Lueking writes, “‘To abide’ has to do with persevering, continuing, lasting, staying with it. No wonder the term is rare. What it means is rare, in this or any time” (Lueking 1997, “Abide in Me”).

    The phrase kagō en hymin implies that abiding is reciprocal. Lussier develops the concept of mutual abiding in his thinking on reciprocal abiding.

    The Johannine use of the verb to abide … introduces us to the Johannine theology of immanence, that is, a remaining in one another that binds together Father, Son, and the Christian believer … . [The] concept of reciprocal indwelling … is not the exclusive experience of chosen souls within the Christian community; it is the essential constitutive of all Christian life. (Lussier 1977, 36, 38)

    As to the nature of what abiding actually consists of, William Barclay writes,

    Abiding in Christ … . The secret of the life of Jesus was His contact with God. Again and again He withdrew into a solitary place to meet God. Jesus was always abiding in God. It must be so with us and Jesus. We must keep contact with Him. We cannot do that unless we deliberately take steps to do it. There must be no day when we never think of Jesus and feel His presence. To take but one example–to pray in the morning time, if it be for only a few moments, is to have an antiseptic for the whole day; for we cannot come out of the presence of Christ to touch the evil things. For some few of us abiding in Christ will be a mystical experience which is beyond words to express. For most of us it will mean a constant contact with Jesus Christ. It will mean arranging life, arranging prayer, arranging silence in such a way that there is never a day when we give ourselves a chance to forget him. (1955, 205)

    F. C. Cook writes about the elongated time factor and patient waiting. “For fruitfulness there is need of ‘abiding,’ continuance, patient waiting, on the part of those already ‘in Christ’” (1890, 218). George Eckman develops the idea of continuance by saying that “the idea of abiding carries with it not only the thought of continuousness, but also of exclusiveness” (1907, 127). Fred Nyberg illustrates the result of abiding and maximum nutrition drawing from a personal experience in viticulture.

    There is an orchard on the north side of my orchard. Every week the orchardists spray minor elements on the trees as leaf feeds. Those trees have the best of care including the best irrigation system, and the orchard continues to be manicured. Sometimes I wonder how he can afford to continue to spend the money he does. One day I took five minutes to walk through his gala block. The fruit size was huge and leaf color was of the darkest green. I was envious. As I was admiring his fruit, I thought about how we are to abide in Christ to produce his fruit. My neighbor’s trees are drawing life from the same water and the same type of soil as mine only a few hundred yards away. My trees are doing well and our nutrition program is good. But he has given his trees the maximum levels of needed nutrition and, as a result, his trees are doing fantastic–not just good. (Trask and Goodall 2000, 166-167)

    Consistently the Johannine use of menō refers to extended time in one place or with one person, to staying/dwelling/remaining/lingering in a state or condition. When John uses meno, there is always a sense of endurance, continuance, tarrying, and waiting with expectancy over time.11

    According to John, those who abide are those who draw their daily life from Jesus (John 6:54), obey His Word (John 8:31; 15:10; 1 John 3:24), bear fruit (John 15:5), behave as Jesus behaved (1 John 2:6), live a holy life (3:6), are loving (4:12, 16), are empowered by the Spirit (4:13), and publicly testify to the biblical nature of Jesus, including His divinity (4:15; 2 John 1:9). John defines those who do not abide as unbelieving (John 3:36; 5:38), cast out, withered, and consumed (15:6), hateful (1 John 3:15), selfish (3:17), sinful, and unable to continue in biblical praxis (2 John 1:9).

    John is very clear and consistent in his use of menō. He unfailingly uses the word to mean extravagant time. This time is usually marked by waiting, endurance, continuance, and expectation. According to the Johannine literature, characteristics of those who abide include intimacy with Jesus, obedience, fruitfulness, holiness, empowerment, and public testimony. Those who do not abide are marked by unbelief, dryness, hate, selfishness, and inconsistency.

    In summary, the aorist imperative μείνατε lends an urgent priority to this lavishing of extravagant daily time. The exegetical sense is that this time is spent dwelling with someone, continuing in a personal bond (in both devoted times and ongoing interaction), not giving way to other pressing needs. Abiding in John 15 means to lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus, in Jesus, and drawing life from Him.

    Depending on Christ

    4b kathōs to klēma ou dynatai karpon pherein aph’ heautou ean mē menē en tē ampelō, houtōs oude hymeis ean mē en emoi menēte.

    4b As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the grapevine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

    Jesus continues the metaphor of grapevine and branch by declaring the necessity of the branch to abide in the grapevine if it is to live and be fruitful. The phrase ou dynatai karpon pherein aph’ heautou places negative emphasis, with aph’ heautou highlighting that the branch cannot bear fruit from itself. This emphasis points out that life and fruit are not simply “in itself” (the branch), but also not “from itself,” underlining that vital energy only comes from the grapevine (Westcott 1980, 199). In other words, “so neither can ye bear fruit of yourselves, or bear fruit at all, except in vital fellowship with me” (Westcott 1980, 199). Rodney Whitacre points out that “people are able to produce much without God, including converts, good deeds and even prophecies, exorcisms, and miracles … but the divine life such as we see in Jesus is dependent on God’s own character, power and guidance at work in the life of the disciple” (1999, 375). The sense of the verse, in context, is that the only way to produce anything of substance requires intimate connection with divine life. One can produce fruit of oneself, but it will not be life-giving. Only by abiding (lavishing extravagant daily time) in Jesus does one produce life-giving fruit.

    Promise of Harvest

    The One Who Abides Bears Fruit

    5a egō eimi hē ampelos, hymeis ta klēmata. ho menōn en emoi kagō en autō houtos pherei karpon polyn,

    5a I am the grapevine, you are the branches. The one who abides in Me, and I in him, this one bears much fruit;

    Findings thus far include: (1) John’s Gospel is a missionary gospel within the corpus of God’s missionary communication to His followers; (2) Jesus in this passage gives His final instructions to His followers, sending them in the same manner and for the same purpose He was sent—to see people from every tribe and tongue saved from sin; (3) the heartbeat of this mission flows from the Father who oversees the work as master gardener/vinedresser; (4) the life and power for this mission come from the grapevine, Jesus; (5) the branches are followers of Jesus (disciples); (6) disciples that do not bear fruit are lifted up by God, nurtured and brought to a state that empowers fruit bearing; (7) disciples that do bear fruit are cleaned—discipled further through affliction and discipline—so they can bear more fruit; (8) disciples are commanded to lavish extravagant time on Christ; (9) through lavishing extravagant daily time on Christ, disciples are empowered to bear fruit; and (10) outside of this daily extravagance (continued and continual) time with Jesus, disciples may produce fruit, but it will not have divine power or lasting effect. What primarily remains in this exegesis continuum is the nature this fruit. Abiding not only leads to fruit, but also to much fruit.

    The word karpon is a noun in the accusative, singular, masculine. “In secular [non-biblical] Gk. [karpon] ... is used especially of the fruit of the ground (Homer), but also often of the offspring of animals (Xenophon). It is also found in an extended sense for the result of an undertaking, whether good or ill: the outcome, consequence (Philo, Marcus Aurelius)” (Colin Brown 1971, vol. 1, 721). “Plutarch reports that Socrates wanted to cultivate Alcibiades as a plant so that his ‘fruit’ would not be destroyed” (Keener 2003, 997). In the Septuagint, “[karpon] stands chiefly for the Heb. peri which in the OT is used for the fruit of plants (e.g. Deut. 7:13; Mic. 6:7). Finally it is used metaphorically for the fruit of an action (e.g. Hos. 10:13; Jer. 6:10; 17:10)” (Brown 1971, vol. 1, 721). The Church fathers tended to view fruit as those discipled. “Theophylact writes that the fruits of the apostles in v.8 are the Gentiles (Aquinas 1997:481)” (Edwards 2004, 149).

    In modern literature, a divergence of opinion is found as to what fruit could mean.

    James Rosscup defines fruit as Christlike character, confession of Christ’s name in praise, contribution to those in need, conduct in general, and as those converted through one’s witness. Rosscup cites 1 Corinthians 16:15 and Romans 1:13 as proof texts (1973, 78-84). John MacArthur lists Christlike character, thankful praise, help to those in need, purity in conduct, and converts as well. He seemingly borrows the categories directly from Rosscup (1986, 39-45). Rosscup points out that fruit meaning converts has long been debated. A. B. Bruce thinks fruit does refer to souls (2000, 412-414); R. C. H. Lenski just as doggedly thinks it refers to Christian character (1943, 1029-1030). Rosscup points out that A. C. Gaebelein and John R. W. Stott agree with Lenski, but use the term Christlikeness (1973, 86). Essentially, enough biblical and analytic evidence exists to make a case for both—fruit refers both to internal character issues and souls saved/disciples made (and possibly many other things as well). Keith Miller points out other definitions of fruitfulness, including Andreas Kostenberger’s “love, character, and outreach” (2004, 454), G. R. Beasley-Murray’s “apostolic preaching” (1999, 273), and Colin G. Kruse’s “entire life and ministry” (2004, 318).

    Many scholars view John’s understanding of fruit to refer to making disciples. Andreas Kostenberger cites Birger Olsson’s 1974 monograph detailing John’s use of karpos missiologically. “Olsson considers the word karpos as the keyword of mission in John” (Kostenberger 1998, 9). Olsson “also draws attention to the fact that Jesus’ death is often linked in the Fourth Gospel to statements regarding the gathering of God’s children (cf. especially 6:12-13, 17:21; 19:23-24; cf. also 11:52; 12:32; and John 21)” (Kostenberger 1998, 9). Colin Brown agrees with Kostenberger. “Paul uses [karpon] in a further sense for the results of his missionary work (Rom. 1:13; Phil. 1:22). It can even be understood in the sense that the apostles and, in particular, missionaries who are building up the churches by their labors ‘live by their fruits’” (1971, vol. 1, 723). Kostenberger continues, “Integrated into the strand of passages which deal with Jesus’ calling of others to follow him are also references to these followers ‘bearing fruit,’ i.e., participating in the Messianic ‘harvest’” (1998, 130). In this sense, we are the fruit given by the Father to Jesus, so disciples are the fruit we are granted by Jesus to bear. Emmanuel Tukasi says, “The Father gives human beings to the Son (17:2, 6, 9, 24). The ‘giving’ is in the sense of ‘assigning’ or ‘selecting’ those people for the Son” (2008, 89). Both branch and fruit are chosen and guaranteed by election according to Lewis. “In verses 15 and 16 the thought turns to what we may with entire accuracy speak of as a doctrine of election … the initiative has been wholly that of Jesus. He has done the choosing, not the disciples” (Lewis 1964, 59). W. F. Howard presses further, arguing “fruitfulness is the test of vitality” (1943, 133). He implies that if one is not bearing disciples, one is not performing one’s vital work. Martin Luther agreed in his commentary on Galatians. He wrote “that those who follow the Lord bring with them most excellent fruits and maximum usefulness, for they that have them give glory to God, and with the same do allure and provoke others to embrace the doctrine and faith of Christ” (Trask and Goodall 2000, 19). Barrett agrees with the general consensus of fruit referring to souls saved and discipled. “The fruits of the apostolic mission will be gathered in, and not be lost” (Barrett 1955, 399).

    Other scholars insist that fruit must have broader definition. “Fruitfulness is defined in terms of loving relationships” (Colewell and Titus 1953, 180). Fruit appears both in service and in character (Bernard 1928, 483). “In him there is the fruitfulness of true service to God, answered prayer, and of obedience in love” (Barrett 1956, 393). Again, “the bearing of fruit is simply living the life of a Christian disciple (see vv. 5, 8); perhaps especially the practice of mutual love (v. 12)” (Barrett 1955, 395). Rodney Whitacre writes,

    Some scholars suggest Jesus is referring to the fruit that comes from bearing witness to Jesus, that is converts, the fruit of evangelism. At least twice in John the image of bearing fruit is used with something like this meaning (4:35-38; 12:24). Other scholars interpret this fruit as being the ethical virtues characteristic of the Christian life (for example, Morris 1971:670). But something more basic, something that underlies both missionary work and ethical virtues, seems to be intended. The development of the image in the next section (vv. 7-17) suggests that bearing fruit refers to the possession of the divine life itself and especially the chief characteristics of that life, knowledge of God (cf.15:15) and love (15:9-14). (1999, 373)

    Whitacre’s interpretation of fruit as the possession of divine life expressed in the knowledge of God and love for others is helpful but incomplete, as the implication of that divine life is the producing of fruit–something tangible resulting from knowledge and love. Johannine expert Keener holds the view that in John’s Gospel, fruit refers to gathered disciples.

    Just as John the Baptist functions as a paradigmatic witness in the opening of John’s Gospel, so do Jesus’ disciples function as paradigmatic for the community of believers. John is interested in those who believe through their proclamation (17:20). It is not only the first disciples who are fruit-bearing branches on Jesus the vine (15:1-8), who must abide and bear fruit (15:2-5, 8) persevere (15:6), and so forth. In his epistles John does not limit the Spirit to the Twelve (who receive the promise of the advocate in Jn. 14-16); rather, he limits the Spirit to all true believers (1 Jn. 2:20, 27; 3:24; 4:2, 13). Not all believers in the community have the same role as the first disciples, but the community as a whole shares their same mission and purpose: to make Christ known. (2009, 41)

    Barclay makes provision for fruit to be both disciples and character growth: “Primarily the fruit of success in their apostolic labors, but also indicating the perfecting of personal character” (Bernard 1928, 489).

    The New Testament has a variety of understandings for fruit. Fruit is understood as literal fruit (Matt. 21:19; Mark 4:29; James 5:7, 18; Rev. 22:2), children (Luke 1:42; Acts 2:30; Heb. 13:15), consequences of the acts of people (Matt. 21:43), good works (Matt. 3:8), results of missionary labor (Rom. 1:13; Phil. 1:22), offerings (Rom. 15:28), character of spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and righteousness (Heb. 12:11; James 3:18) (Kittel and Friedrich, 1964, s.v. karpos).

    John, however, has a very distinct and focused use of fruit. Of the eleven uses of καρπός in John (ten in John 15, one in John 4), all can be understood to be in the context of harvest. karpos literally means “that which is harvested—‘harvest, crop, fruit, grain’” (Louw and Nida, 1988, s.v. karpos). The sense is of an external yield that can be gathered. While not unique in the New Testament in this regard,12 John, especially in John 15, seems to emphasize that the fruit of abiding is a harvest of people. When John links the word karpos (fruit) with the verb pherō (I bear), this focus on a harvest of people is even more pronounced. John, however, uses the term pherō to specifically refer to the fruit of disciples. “In John 12:24 Jesus uses the image of the grain of wheat that falls into the ground, dies, and bears much fruit, to describe the fruit of His own death. What is meant is the winning of disciples out of the world and the gathering of the community” (Kittel and Friedrich 1964, 59). John intentionally connects fruit bearing in the life of Jesus with winning of disciples and gathering them into churches.

    John 15:5 carries on this same sense of fruit being the harvest of souls. Kostenberger quotes D. A Carson: “The fruit primarily in this verse [15:16] is the fruit that emerges from mission, from specific ministry to which the disciples have been sent. The fruit, in short, is new converts” (1998, 185). Kostenberger points out that Brooke Foss Westcott, John H. Bernard, Lagrange, and C. K. Barrett all agree with fruit being understood as converts/disciples (1998, 185).13 Andrew Murray agrees,

    Just as entirely as Christ became the true Vine with the one object, you have been made a branch too, with the one object of bearing fruit for the salvation of men. The Vine and the branch are equally under the unchangeable law of fruit-bearing as the one reason of their being. Christ and the believer, the heavenly Vine and the branch, have equally their place in the world exclusively for one purpose, to carry God’s saving love to men. Hence the solemn word: Every branch that beareth not fruit, He taketh it away. (Murray, “The Fruit”)

    The weight of the evidence–in light of John’s missionary intent–lends itself to “disciples” being the most likely meaning of Jesus when He used karpon. Jesus is saying, “I am divine life; you are My disciples. If you lavish extravagant daily time on Me, with Me, in Me—you will make disciples.” Understanding karpon to refer to disciples allows us to answer the lingering question from 15:2. When Jesus notes that it is possible to be “in Me” (en emoi) but not “bear fruit” (pheron karpon) (v. 2), He means it is possible to be a disciple of Jesus and not be making disciples. Disciples who are not making disciples are not acceptable to Jesus and so He makes provision to help them. God will lift up these non-disciple-making disciples out of the external context or internal conditions that inhibit disciple making. God will also further disciple (through allowed difficulty and active loving discipline) those disciples who are making disciples so they may make more disciples.

    When Jesus promised the one who lavishes extravagant daily time on Him will bear much fruit, He meant fruit to mean many disciples. The disciple who lavishes extravagant daily time on Jesus will have divine life and power and will be used by Jesus to make many more disciples.14

    The One Who Does Not Abide Bears Nothing

    5b ... hoti chōris emou ou dynasthe poiein ouden.

    5b … for without Me you can do nothing.

    The phrase ou dynasthe poiein ouden is the combination of two verbs. ou dynasthe is the negation of the present indicative second person plural (you are not able) and poiein the present tense, active, infinitive (to do or to make) combined with the neuter singular negative pronoun ouden (nothing, not one thing, or not anything). In the first half of verse 5 Jesus promises the result of giving Him extravagant time is disciples made. The second half of the clause warns that apart from lavishing extravagant daily time on Jesus, one “accomplishes nothing, there is no permanent result” (Westcott 1980, 200). poiein means “to make or to do.” Jesus/John is specifically saying that, without lavishing extravagant time on Jesus (abiding), disciples cannot produce anything. Nothing – souls or otherwise– not one thing of spiritual, eternal value can be produced apart from abiding in Christ. The one who lavishes extravagant time on Jesus bears (produces and carries to maturity) disciples; the one who does not lavish extravagant time on Jesus does not bear (produce and carry to maturity) anything – let alone disciples.

    The One Who Does Not Abide Is Burned

    6 ean mē tis menē en emoi, eblēthē exō hōs to klēma kai exēranthē kai synagousin auta kai eis to pyr ballousin kai kaietai.

    6 If anyone does not abide in Me, such a one is let fall outside as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

    At this juncture in the text, Jesus introduces a third branch. The first branch introduced (15:2a) is in Christ but not producing disciples. That branch will be lifted up (nurtured and taught to abide) so divine life will flow and disciples will be made. The second branch (15:2b) is the disciple of Christ who does make disciples. This disciple is disciplined, allowed to pass through difficulty and suffering, so he or she might be even more effective in making disciples. The third branch (15:6) is the disciple (in Christ) who does not lavish on Jesus extravagant daily time.

    The verb, eblēthē (aorist, passive, indicative, third person singular from ballō, I throw/I let fall) indicates the fate of the one who does not abide in Jesus: that person is thrown/let fall. Scholars view the aorist use of eblēthē differently. Some consider it an action predicted: eblēthē is used in the “prophetic past tense signifying that although the event is still future it is certain, and in the divine foreknowledge and decree is already done” (Webster 1864, 91). Other scholars, such as C. F. D. Moule, explain “the Aorist may be similarly explained as dramatically suggesting immediacy: he has forthwith been thrown out” [Moule’s emphasis] (1953, 12-13). A reconciliation of these two views may be found in what is termed the proleptic aorist. “The Proleptic Aorist looks like a future, taking place after some actual or implied condition. The timeless aorist is a suitable tense to express this projection of the future into the present as if some event had already occurred” (Moulton and Turner 1993, 74). In other words, the consequences of not lavishing extravagant daily time on Jesus are sure and swift. The immediate effect of not abiding is the absence of divine life that quickly leads to a condition (exō) outside, apart from the source of life (Louw and Nida 1988, s.v. exō) and, thus, to dryness. The word exēranthē (he dries up) is an aorist passive indicative third person singular verb that suggests “immediacy of result, timeless and futuristic (Gnomic), a timeless tense connected to the past” (Moulton and Turner 1993, 73).

    The eventual negative result John records for the disciple who does not lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus is to be collected, thrown into the fire, and burned (kai synagousin auta kai eis to pyr ballousin kai kaietai). Because ballō can also mean “to let fall” (Louw and Nida 1988, 43) the text implies that the falling out (eblēthē) is an allowance, not a judgment. The disciple that (volitionally) does not abide withers and is allowed to fall off/outside from the grapevine to the ground. Then, after it dries and detaches from the grapevine, it is be gathered and cast into the pyr (a fire, place of punishment, or shame) (Louw and Nida 1988, 215). The word xērainomai also means stiff or rigid (Swanson 2001, s.v. xērainomai). Rigid, stiff branches are unable to draw life from the grapevine and, thus, dry up. The vinedresser lets them fall out. Eventually, they are kaietai, meaning ignited, burned until they are consumed (Newman 1993, 91). A negative cyclical combination occurs: inflexibility and rigidity hinder abiding and lack of abiding results in inflexibility and rigidity.

    These interpretations raise the question of sequence. Does the branch dry up and then fall or fall and then dry up? ’Eblēthē exō hōs to klēma kai exēranthē (that one falls [off] and is withered) suggests withering follows falling out. Viticulture offers an alternative option. Some viticulture experts contend that “unwanted growth is most easily removed while it is small, and early removal will have less of a dwarfing effect. Broken, dead, weak, or heavily shaded branches can be removed with little or no effect on a plant, no matter what the timing” (Harris 1983, 385). Others allow the branches that are unproductive to fall to the ground and dry up, making the separation from the vine easy–without tearing or ripping. Once the unproductive branch has dried, it disconnects easily from the vine and is discarded or burned.

    Branches are not forced to abide. “The impartation of Christ’s life is conditioned upon the will of the believer to posses it. If he desires and endeavors to secure attachment to Christ, his purpose will be met by the favor of the Lord. If this responsibility is neglected, then separation from the vine ensues” (Eckman 1907, 132). According to John, disciples that become stiff and rigid are unable to draw life from the grapevine. The result is that they dry up and the vinedresser allows them to fall to the earth (in contrast to the branches that do not bear fruit and he lifts up in 15:2). Eventually these branches are so dry that they separate from the grapevine and are collected and burned. They are burned (disposed of) as they are not accomplishing their intended purpose (bearing disciples) and so are good for nothing.15 “The branch ‘in Christ’ that is eventually cut off from the vine is the man who called himself a Christian on earth even though his life did not manifest the fruits of genuine discipleship” (Espenhain, “Abiding in the Vine”).

    In Jesus’ missiological thinking, disciples are sent to harvest disciples. The power to harvest disciples comes from giving extravagant time to Jesus daily in order to draw life from Him. Disciples who do not lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus will not harvest disciples (disciples with divine life) and the Father then lifts them up (nurtures them) so they learn to lavish extravagant time on Him (for the eventual purpose of harvesting disciples); this is the first branch. Disciples who do not respond to this grace period (this invitation to focus on drawing life from Jesus) eventually become hard, stiff, and resistant to God’s overtures. He lets them fall to the ground where they wither and disconnect themselves from the vine; this is the third branch. There is nothing left for them but to be gathered and burned. Disciples who do lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus will harvest disciples and their reward is the joy of participating in the sufferings of Christ with the purpose of being used to bring even more disciples into the kingdom–the second branch. In God’s great master plan, the harvest cycle continues (John 15:16) as those disciples brought to faith by disciples, in turn, learn to lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus, which, in turn, grants the promise of their harvest participation.

    The interpretation of eblēthē as “he lets fall” satisfies the question of sequence. It is a both/and. Branches begin to wither before falling and continue to do so after falling. Branches that refuse to lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus cut themselves off from the offered life of the grapevine and, thus, are allowed to fall to the ground where they begin to wither (though still connected to the grapevine). Once the branch is completely withered (exēranthē) it detaches itself from the grapevine and nothing is left for it but to be gathered and burned (shamed). Jesus is candidly exhorting His disciples to lavish extravagant daily time on Him. If they do, they will bear disciples. Jesus warns His disciples that if they do not lavish extravagant daily time on Him, they will, of their own choosing, remove themselves from His life. They will wilt, be allowed to fall, and, ultimately, dry up and disconnect from the grapevine altogether. Nothing can be done for them; their lot is fiery shame.

    When John related Jesus’ command to abide, he used the verb μείνατε in the aorist, active, imperative, second person plural. When meinate is used in this sense it means, according to Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida, “remain in the same place over a period of time ... stay”(1998, s.v. menō). The link to extravagant time being daily (customarily) repeated is provided by Buist M. Fanning, who says, “The constative aorist [is] used to heighten the urgency of the command and [calls] for customary or general occurrence” (1990, 369-370). Abiding in this text indicates extravagant daily time in the presence of Jesus. Conversely, to not abide is to omit this daily extravagant lavishing of time and attention on Jesus.

    The One Who Abides Has Prayer Answered

    7 ean meinēte en emoi kai ta rhēmata mou en hymin meinē, ho ean thelēte aitēsasthe, kai genēsetai hymin.

    7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.

    A noun in the nominative case that is plural and neuter, rhēmata refers to “a minimal unit of discourse, often a single word” (Louw and Nida 1988, s.v. rhēmata). “This is how we remain in Jesus: by receiving and permanently holding … his utterances, the rhēmata that come from his lips. He in us, and we in him, the medium and bond of his spiritual union being his spoken word” (Lenski 1961, 1040). When Jesus’ rhēmata (words) abide in His disciples, they can ask what they desire and have it done for them— genēsetai hymin (literally, “it shall come to pass for you”). Aitēsasthe is to ask with urgency (a second person plural imperative), even to the point of demanding. R. C. H. Lenski writes, “The aorist imperative ‘ask for yourselves’ is peremptory. We not merely may ask. We must ask” (1961, 1041). Aitēsasthe is also in the middle reflexive, an indicator that asking can be done personally and there is direct access to the throne room of God. In other words, those who lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus have direct access to Him, just as if they were the high priest going into the very presence of God. R. C. H. Lenski explains that the asking returns back to what we will, which when we abide is what God wills, which is, in turn, the fruit of more disciples being made. Jesus seems to indicate that the central disciplines to abiding are linked to the Word of God (“my words”) and prayer (“ask”). When Jesus’ words abide (dwell extravagantly) in us as a complement to our lavishing extravagant daily time on Jesus, the result is answered prayer.

    Glory of Harvest

    God Honored by Bearing Fruit

    8a en toutō edoxasthē ho patēr mou, hina karpon polyn pherēte

    8a By this My Father is glorified, in order that you bear much fruit;

    The preposition and dative, singular, neuter pronoun en toutō looks back to thought already indicated and forward to the clause it precedes (Rogers and Rogers 1998, 218). The phrase, en toutō, refers to the “perfect unity between the Son and the disciple, which results in the disciple’s obtaining whatever he asks” (Vincent 1985, 250). God is edoxasthē (glorified) when one abides in Jesus, His Word abides in that one, and that one asks Him for what is on His heart. All three actions align (giving Jesus extravagant daily time, extravagant dwelling of Jesus’ word in His disciples, prayer) in order that they bear much fruit. God’s preparative methodology for disciple making is revealed: Lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus, allow Jesus’ word to lavishly dwell in His disciples, pray–and His disciples will bear many disciples. In this (process and result), God is greatly glorified.

    Disciples Verified by Bearing Much Fruit

    8b ... kai genēsthe emoi mathētai.

    8b … and in order that you become My disciples.

    It is in glorifying God (by lavishing extravagant time on Jesus, having His word abide in His disciples, asking Him for the things on His heart, and bearing many disciples) that believers in Christ become disciples. According to Marvin Vincent (whose translation is based on the option for the variant reading differing from the text as established in this paper), kai genēsesthe literally means “and ye shall become,” which indicates Christian discipleship implies progress and growth (1985, 250). It is also translated “you will be” that is “prove to be,” as “the consequence has a kind of independence (in a final purpose clause) when the future is connected by a subjunctive” (Blass 1961, 187). Zerwick, however, disagrees: “[There] is no need to interpret [kai genēsesthe] in this manner [that you may bear fruit and (so) you will be my disciples] as the future may be parallel to the subjunctive’’ (1990, 117). Rogers and Rogers state, “If the future is adopted it has a kind of independence: ‘and then you will become …’” (1998, 218). These comments taken together with the text as established in this paper (i.e., chosing the option of the subjunctive “in order that you might be my disciples” as opposed to the future “you will be/come” or “you will [prove to] be my disciples) supports a likely meaning that refers to process. Discipleship is an ongoing formation, and as disciples glorify the Father (by lavishing extravagant daily time on Jesus, allowing His word extravagant dwelling in them, praying for the things on His heart, and bearing many disciples), they both are and increasingly becoming His disciples.

    Spirit of Harvest


    9 kathōs ēgapēsen me ho patēr, kagō hymas ēgapēsa; meinate en tē agapē tē emē. 10 ean tas entolas mou tērēsēte, meneite en tē agapē mou, kathōs egō tas entolas tou patros mou tetērēka kai menō autou en tē agapē.

    9 As the Father loves Me, I also love you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

    The verb ēgapēsen is the aorist, active, indicative, third person singular (he loves or [has] loved). Disciples are exhorted to lavish extravagant daily time in the love of Jesus (meinate en tē agapē tē emē) and they do so by tērēsēte (you actively keep) continuing to obey (Louw and Nida 1988, s.v. tērēsēte) or guarding [His commands] (Rogers and Rogers 1998, 218). Ongoing obedience (discipline over time) guarantees abiding in the love of Jesus. Obedience is not the end; it is the means. We cannot lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus and disobey His instructions to us. Abiding is not spiritual greed, a gluttony of spirituality removed from interaction with lost and suffering people. Lavish, extravagant daily time with Jesus gives disciples the divine life and power needed for obedience. Disciples stay in the love of Jesus by actively loving other people. Abiding is not an effortless, borderless individuality. “As always, this love is not personal affection, but the being of the disciple for his neighbor that completely determines his own existence. To abide in love ... means continuing in the love that he has received, in the state of being love” (Bultmann 1971, 540). Bultmann goes on to say, “To continue in love … is not to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from a self-sufficient assurance of salvation, nor is it indulgence in devotions or ecstasy. It is only real in that movement that consists in bearing fruit; it takes place in keeping the commandments” (1971, 541). Rudolf Bultmann advocates a robust, active, fruit bearing response to the love of God that is expressed in obedience to what God has commanded. Foremost in those commands is loving one another practically and making disciples globally. When disciples lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus, they receive His love—and His love empowers them to obey His command to sacrificially love others.


    11 Tauta lelalēka hymin hina hē chara hē emē en hymin ē kai hē chara hymōn plērōthē.

    11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may abide in you, and that your joy may be full.

    The noun chara indicates a state of joy and gladness. “To forestall the notion that obedience is all gloom and doom ... Jesus avers, to the contrary, that the goal of his instruction ... is all about joy” (Kostenberger 2004, 456). Whitacre writes, “We are in intimate union with him and swept up into his dance for which we were created and which brings the deepest fulfillment and deepest joy to our lives” (1999, 378).

    Jesus has such joy in the harvest, such joy in obeying the Father who is Lord of the harvest, that He guarantees His joy will abide (endure) in His disciples as they abide in Him. Joy is the sign and the reward of those who lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus. This joy is not necessarily emotion, but the deep-rooted and sustained exuberance of being swept up into the dance of the God of mission. These collective truths Jesus has spoken to His disciples because He knows in His truths they will find great joy. The lavishing of extravagant daily time on Christ leads to making disciples. Making disciples completes the disciples’ joy. The verb plērōthē is a third person passive, literally he/she is made total or complete (Louw and Nida 1988, s.v. plērōthē). How great is the Father’s love for Jesus’ disciples, for the assignment He gives them (making disciples) not only glorifies Him, but it also brings them the highest level of joy; it completes them.


    12 hautē estin hē entolē hē emē, hina agapate allēlous kathōs ēgapēsa hymas. 13 meizona tautēs agapēn oudeis echei, hina tis tēn psychēn autou thē hyper tōn philōn autou.

    12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.

    The verb agapate is a present, active, subjunctive. It indicates an ongoing action—“you keep on loving.” “It is only when disciples abide in Christ–in his words, in his love–that we shall be able to keep on loving one another!” (Hendrikson 1983, 305). When verses 12 and 13 are considered together, “keeping on loving each other” logically concludes in laying down one’s life (dying willingly) for one’s friends. “Oddly, Jesus does not spell out what this means in practice. He does not, for example, repeat the command to ‘wash each others’ feet’ (13:14) nor does he provide any concrete illustration of love for one another” (Michaels 2010, 811). This love for one another must, therefore, encompass everything from the menial to the ultimate–dying for one’s friends. The word philōn is a genitive plural adjective and refers to associates for whom there is affection and personal regard (Louw and Nida 1988, s.v. philōn). “The word for friends, [philōn], is related to a verb meaning ‘love’and conveys a greater sense of intimacy than does our modern use of friend” [Whitacre’ emphasis] (Whitacre 1999, 379). Jesus tells His disciples to love one another as He has loved them. Christ’s love would take Him to the cross, a literal dying for His current disciples and the disciples yet to be harvested. The implications of this verse for missionary teams is staggering. Jesus expects His disciples to keep on loving one another and the pre-disciples (converts to be) through trial and disappointment even to the point of substitutionary death. This love is to be joyfully demonstrated (verse 11). It is the disciple’s great joy to lay down his or her life (and will) for his or her friends, team members, and brothers and sisters in Christ.


    14 hymeis philoi mou este ean poiēte ha egō entellomai hymin.

    14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.

    “Jesus chose us to be ambassadors … first to come to Him, and then to go out to the world and that must be the daily pattern and rhythm of our lives … . Jesus sends us out … to attract men into Christianity” (Barclay 1955, 209). We do this as His friends, “[but] the idea of being the friend of God has also a background. Abraham was the friend of God (Isaiah 41:8)” [Barclay’s emphasis] (Barclay 1955, 208). Abraham’s friendship with God intertwined with God’s missionary purposes. God blessed Abraham to be a blessing to all nations. Friendship with God is inseparably linked with passion for God’s glory among all peoples. What endeared Abraham to God was, in part, his refusal to withhold what was most precious to him when God asked for it. Jesus asks His disciples to keep loving one another even to the point of physically and joyfully dying for one another. The word ean is an adverbial conditional translated “if.” If we keep loving each other, even to the death, we so emulate Jesus in an act of glorious condescension (Hendricksen 1983, 306), that He calls us friends. Friendship with God must be understood in the Abrahamic context of utter sacrifice (Isaac) and blessing to the nations (Genesis 12). Adoption of God’s missionary heart elevates disciples from being His servants to becoming His friends—if disciples do whatever God tells them to do. In the context of the passage what disciples are to do is quite clear—lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus and bear more disciples.


    15 ouketi legō hymas doulous, hoti ho doulos ouk oiden ti poiei autou ho kyrios; hymas de eirēka philous, hoti panta ha ēkousa para tou patros mou egnōrisa hymin.

    15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.

    The transfer from doulous to philous happens after Jesus has revealed all things He has heard from the Father. Days away from His crucifixion, Jesus summarizes His mission and the missionary heart of His Father by giving His disciples the basic blueprint. The disciples are given the plan and the means. God’s plan is for them to make disciples of all nations (wider context of John’s Gospel). God’s means for disciple bearing is through abiding—lavishing extravagant daily time with Jesus. Continuance in the Word and prayer maintains this abiding, which glorifies the Father for the relational union and the disciples that result. Continuance in the Word reveals what disciples must obey, and obedience keeps disciples in God’s love with the surprising benefit of complete joy. This love (of Jesus for us) and joy (of engaging in what disciples were created for) gives disciples the power to love one another at great cost. When disciples love one another at great cost, they so endear themselves to the Father that He promotes them from servants to friends because they understand His character, His means, and His ends. No longer unthinking, unknowing instruments, disciples now share a sympathetic union (Westcott 1985, 206) with the Father and ascend the heights of partnership in mission with the Lord of the harvest.

    Disciples are true friends of Jesus because they obey what He tells them to do and they understand and participate in His plan to make disciples of every nation. Disciples are true friends of Jesus because they pursue His plan in the very same way He did. Disciples lavish extravagant daily time on Him (as He lavished extravagant daily time on His Father); disciples lavish extravagant daily time on His word (as He lavished extravagant daily time on His Father’s word); disciples ask for the things on His heart (as He asked for the things on His Father’s heart); disciples obey Him (as He obeyed the Father); disciples receive and pass on His love (as He received and passed on the love of His Father); disciples are joyfully completed in service (as He was joyfully completed); disciples are empowered to lay down their lives for others (as He laid down His life for us). Union of spirit, heart, method, and experience elevates disciples from servants of God to friends of God.

    Participation of Harvest

    Jesus Chooses the Workers

    16a ouch hymeis me exelexasthe, all’ egō exelexamēn hymas

    16a You did not choose Me, but I chose you

    According to Louw and Nida, egō exelexamēn (I chose) refers to the making of “a special choice based upon significant preference, often implying a favorable attitude toward what is chosen” (1988, s.v. exelexasthe). Jesus did not randomly select His disciples, but chose them lovingly and for special purpose. The same word is used by Jesus in Acts 9:15, when He says of Paul, “I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles.” The selection of the disciples was not based on merit. “The ground of God’s love for us never lies in us, always in himself, for even apart from his love for us God is love” (Hendricksen 1983, 307). God is love, God loves us, and God loves those beyond us, and the “disciples’ status as Jesus’ ‘friends’ is not an idle privilege; it carries with it a solemn responsibility and is granted in the context of being sent on a mission” (Kostenberger 2004, 459). Disciples are chosen, in love, for mission. Of all the people Jesus could select, He intentionally sets apart disciples in order to lavish upon them love; love for himself and love for the other—the other disciple and other lost sheep. In that lavishing is the opportunity to spend extravagant daily time with Him, to make disciples, to have extravagant daily feeding (and forming) from the Word, to have prayers answered, to love colleagues, to be completed by joy, to lay down their lives, to understand Jesus’ heart and to share in accomplishing His purpose. Disciples do not select these great opportunities themselves, but they are handpicked by Jesus himself for these exceedingly great rewards.

    Jesus Appoints Workers to Raise New Workers

    16b kai ethēka hymas hina hymeis hypagēte kai karpon pherēte

    16b and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit

    The disciples were chosen for a specific mission task. The verb etheka is an aorist verb in the active tense in the indicative first person singular and refers to assigning a particular task. In this case, the disciples were appointed (hymeis hypagēte kai karpon pherēte—you should go and bear fruit) to bear disciples. “The term ‘appoint’… probably reflects Semitic usage … . The same or a similar expression is used in the OT for God’s appointment of Abraham as father of many nations” (Kostenberger 2004, 459). Kostenberger quotes D. A. Carson as proposing this “most naturally refers to the making of new converts” (2004, 460). The verb hypagēte (go) should not be overlooked in importance. Jesus is sending them and exhorting them to make disciples as they move along. “‘Go and bear fruit’ are closely linked, almost to the point that ‘go’ functions as a helping verb.... [The] accent is on...‘bearing fruit’ in the sense of making new disciples or winning new converts” (Michaels 2010, 815-816). J. Ramsey Michaels also cites Chyrsostom in Homilies on St John 77.1 as drawing the imagery of the metaphor of the grapevine extending its branches throughout the world (2010, 816). The sending motif of John’s Gospel emerges in this injunction. Disciples are sent into all the world to make disciples. This rendering of the text is consistent with the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19, which also links going with disciple making. The linking of going and disciple bearing emphasizes Jesus’ missional intent in this passage.

    Jesus Desires New Workers to Abide

    16c kai ho karpos hymōn menē, hina ho ti an aitēsēte ton patera en tō onomati mou dō hym.

    16c and that your fruit should abide, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.

    The new converts that are made should in turn menē (present active verb in third person singular). The cycle of harvest comes full circle. Disciples have made disciples as a result of lavishing extravagant daily time on Jesus. These new disciples in turn lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus and the harvest cycle begins all over again. “A true disciple prays for fruits, for these fruits are pleasing to God” (Hendricksen 1983, 308). The answered prayer is again in the context of disciples being made and learning to reproduce. The disciples “have the assurance that Jesus has chosen and appointed them for this activity [to bear disciples] and that the Father will answer their prayers” (Whitacre 1999, 381).

    Abiding prayer, “that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give you” (John 15:16), is inescapably linked to mission. About this passage, John Piper says, “Notice the amazing logic of this verse. He gave them a mission ‘in order that’ the Father would have prayers to answer. This means that prayer is for mission. It is designed to advance the kingdom” (2011, 155).

    Jesus has appointed disciple to lavish extravagant daily time on Him. When disciples abide, they produce new disciples. Jesus’ intention for these new disciples is that they, in turn, will lavish extravagant daily time on Him and, thus, bear their own disciples. In this ongoing abiding, the harvest is guaranteed and the Father glorified.

    Jesus Commands Workers to Love One Another

    17 tauta entellomai hymin, hina agapate allēlous.

    17 These things I command you, that you love one another.

    The word tauta is a demonstrative pronoun that is plural. According to Rogers and Rogers, it “indicates all that Jesus has commanded them is designed to teach them the lesson of mutual love” (1998, 218-219). Westcott, however, disagrees: “This verse must be taken as the introduction of a new line of thought, and not, according to the modern texts, as the summing up in conclusion of what has gone before. On this point the usage in St. John is conclusive against the received arrangement” (1980, 208). Textual evidence supports the view of Westcott. Most likely, Jesus is setting up His discourse on persecution and underlying that only mutual love will help the community through the trials ahead.


    Exegetical Summary

    The premise of this exegesis of John 15:1-17 contends that John’s writings are missiological in intent. Jesus is the source of life as the true grapevine (1a). The grapevine is not the nation or the religion or any other entity—only Jesus gives divine life. In Trinitarian unity, the Father plays the role of gardener-nurturer in mission (1b). The branches are disciples, followers of Jesus (2a), who are flexible, pliable, and designed for transplanting. Disciples in Christ who do not bear fruit are not abiding, because Jesus promised that those who abide will bear fruit. Those disciples will be lifted up (nurtured in one form or another) by Jesus for a season so they may learn to abide, and then bear fruit. Disciples that bear fruit (2b) are cleansed—led through affliction by God—so they may learn to better abide and, thus, bear more fruit. Jesus’ word (3) is the primary means of leading us to cleansing. To abide means to linger with a person, to dwell with them, to endure. Abiding (4a) is not a place, but a time, a refusing to give way. Abiding is reciprocal constant contact that flows from the fountain of extravagant daily time in the presence of Jesus. Abiding time is spent both in concentrated blocks and through constant communion. Divine life does not come from the branch (4b); the life that bears fruit can only come from vital relationship with Jesus. Fruit is disciples (5a). Just as Jesus was sent to make disciples, so disciples are sent to make disciples. Jesus is divine life and as His disciples lavish extravagant daily time on, in, and with Him, they will have the life and power to, in turn, make disciples. Without lavishing extravagant daily time on Jesus, disciples cannot make true disciples, and to not making disciples is to accomplish nothing.

    Disciples who do not lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus (6) become dry and rigid. If nurtured/restored disciples learn to abide in Jesus, they begin to produce disciples. If they do not learn to abide in Him, they become stiff and rigid. If disciples are rigid, inflexible, and do not respond to His overtures, Jesus does not force them to abide, but will let them fall. In that fallen state, they wither until they separate themselves from the grapevine, having no ability to draw divine life. There is nothing left for such disciples but to be released (or marginalized) from service. Extravagant daily time with Jesus (7) is anchored by attentiveness to God’s Word and sharing in God’s heart through prayer. Our mandate to bear disciples is given to us so the Father has prayers to answer. When disciples pray for disciples, God answers and produces many disciples through them, and this glorifies himself (8a). When disciples give Jesus extravagant time, allow His word to shape them, and pray for the things on His heart (and receive them), they further glorify God (8b). They both are and increasingly become His disciples, proving and developing their discipleship. Disciples continue in the love of Jesus (9-10) by discipline over time in obedience to His words and commands and by loving one another locally as they make disciples globally.

    All of the above leads to joy (11). From the well of joy comes sacrificial giving (12-13); disciples give their lives for their colleagues and for their disciples, even as Jesus did. Disciples rejoice to die for both their colleagues and pre-converts. It is the missionary call—dying in an effort to save others. Love for Jesus leads disciples to share in His willingness to die for the lost. There is no greater love than this missionary love. Those who share God’s missionary ambition and participate in the cost are like Abraham (14), friends of God. When disciples understand God’s passion (to lavish on Him extravagant time, to share in His sufferings, to make disciples, to obey His word, to pray His heart, to give Him glory, to experience His joy, to die as Christ did), He is so pleased (15) with them that He elevates them to friends. God has chosen specific disciples (16a) for this full experience. God’s chosen disciples are to go and make disciples (16b). God intends His disciples’ disciples to, in turn, lavish extravagant daily time on Him (16c), which will result in further disciples and an ongoing harvest. God is the guarantor of this renewable effort. God knows this will be a difficult process going forward (17) and so exhorts disciples to keep loving one another.

    Exegetical Conclusions

    This passage has raised a number of crucial missiological questions. These questions must first be addressed exegetically before they can be applied to practical theology in missiological theory. Four main areas of exegetical investigation have been researched, several of which encompass a number of separate questions. The following are the issues this exegetical research attempted to answer.

    First, this exegesis researched the meaning of the Greek words menō (I abide) and karpos (fruit) and their relation to one another. Menō was found to refer to the lavishing of extravagant regular time.16 Karpos in this passage is used by Jesus to refer to disciples. The relation between menō and karpos is explicit. Menō is the means to karpos. Disciples who lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus will bear disciples.

    The second exegetical question arises out of verses 5 and 16: What is the meaning of “much fruit” (verse 5) and what does it mean for fruit itself to “abide” (verse 16). The passage reveals that those who lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus bear disciples. When there is genuine reciprocal abiding, disciples bear many other disciples. These disciples are the “much fruit” that is referenced in verse 5. God’s intention for His disciples is that they make many other disciples. Verse 16 unveils that those disciples (converted because their disciplers lavished extravagant daily time on Jesus) will, in turn, lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus and, by implication, also produce disciples. The ongoing, organic intention of God’s harvest plan is thus seen through the lens of disciples who make disciples primarily because they lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus.

    The third exegetical question concerned the three different kinds of branches (klēmata) and their disparate fates. Branches are disciples. First, disciples “in Me” (en emoi) that “are not bearing fruit” (pheron karpon) (v. 2) are disciples who are not making disciples. They will be nurtured by Jesus who will lift them out of their limitations (internal, external, or both) that they may learn to lavish extravagant daily time with Him. The assumption is that the disciples who “are not bearing fruit” are not abiding as disciples who do abide are guaranteed to bear disciples (15:5). For these disciples airein does not mean “he takes away” but “he lifts up” (v. 2), Jesus will not cast them out, but will engineer what is needed so they learn to lavish extravagant daily time on Him. For the fruit-bearing disciple, the primary implication of “he cleans [often translated “he prunes”] (kathairei) (v. 2) is that allowed difficulty will grant the capacity to bear more disciples. Second, disciples who produce disciples will be cleansed by God (allowed to suffer or go through difficult experiences) so they are postured to produce even more disciples. Third, the disciple that does not abide withers. The word, eblēthē, typically translated “cast out” (v. 6), means “allowed to fall.” Though in the text eblēthē precedes the “withering” (exēranthē), in function they are interconnected. The disciple who resists lavishing extravagant daily time with Jesus starves him- or herself and either becomes rigid or withered. Rigid and withered branches are allowed to fall to the ground, as they have exempted themselves from the life of the grapevine. Ultimately, their rigid/withered state forces a detachment from the grapevine and they are disposed of or marginalized. If disciples do not learn to lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus, they eventually detach themselves from Him completely and there is nothing left for them but detachment or marginalization.

    The fourth and overarching question asks if a unified theory of spirituality (linking the interdependence of abiding and fruit bearing) can be sustained by the text. Diachronic exegesis reveals that Jesus’ intention is indeed to exhort His disciples to a spirituality patterned after His own, which intentionally results in the bearing of disciples. Jesus lays out a simple, but layered, methodology for bearing disciples that is centered on lavishing extravagant regular time on Him. The proposed component parts of this unified theory of spirituality are detailed in the next chapter.

    A Spiritual Theology of Abiding

    The term “spiritual theology” can be traced back to terms used in the eighteenth century and “has a more ancient association with ascetical theology, mystical theology, and theology of the Christian life evident in John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila” (Coe 2009, 10).17 The spiritual formation process is widely considered to progress through identifiable stages, though there is great diversity of opinion as to the nature of those stages. Writers have diachronically reflected on the nature of spiritual growth starting with John Cassian (fourth century) and Augustine (fifth century) to Bernard of Clairvaux (twelfth century) to the Carmelites (sixteenth century) to Richard Baxter and Jonathan Edwards in the Puritan era18 to Gisbertus Voetius and Johannes Hoornebeeck (seventeenth century) to Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange and Simon Chan in the twentieth century (Coe 2009, 42).

    Spiritual theology is simply the application of theological truths in the daily life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual theology bridges the gap between what we know and how we act.

    A spiritual theology of abiding starts with the teaching of Scripture on abiding and juxtaposes that teaching with the experiential interaction of the Holy Spirit in disciples. This is done to define the nature of abiding in Christ, to explain the process of how that abiding is undertaken, and to give directives accordingly. It is all derived from data of the Bible, theology, and experience. The process of a spiritual theology of abiding moves disciples from “brokenness to wholeness, from pretense to authenticity, and from spiritual immaturity to full-grown spiritual maturity where … they have come to know God deeply and experientially” (Willett 2010, 95). This process does not have the goal of “some private self-actualization, but rather the willingness to encourage and foster the spiritual growth of others” (2010, 95). Based on the exegesis of Scripture (John 15, in the preceding chapter), theology, and experience (of followers of Jesus across time), a spiritual theology of abiding is defined and described by the following characteristics.

    (1) Abiding is both regular and continual.19

    A spiritual theology of abiding posits that abiding is both a daily set period of extravagant time (regular and disciplined) that is lavished on Jesus and a continual fellowship with Him all day long.

    (2) Abiding is both a journey and a destination.

    Abiding is both a fixed and a continuous event. It is by definition both a journey and a destination. On the one hand, disciples are continually learning to be with Jesus (because disciples are hungry for divine life and all other sources leave them empty) and, on the other, disciples are already content to be with Him (because He gives so much life). Disciples are both satisfied and fulfilled in His presence and desperate for more of Him at the same time. Abiding is both a destination and an arrival.

    (3) Abiding is reciprocal.

    The phrase kagō en hymin (and I in you) implies that abiding is reciprocal. Disciples not only lavish extravagant daily time on Jesus, He, in turn, lavishes extravagant daily attention on them. Lussier develops the concept of mutual abiding.

    The Johannine use of the verb to abide … introduces us to the Johannine theology of immanence, that is, a remaining in one another that binds together Father, Son, and the Christian believer … . [The] concept of reciprocal indwelling … this indwelling is not the exclusive experience of chosen souls within the Christian community; it is the essential constitutive of all Christian life. (1977, 36, 38)

    (4) Abiding is idiosyncratic.

    The text of John 15:1-17 mentions three different types of branches. Branches refer to disciples. Disciples are similar in that they are all connected to the grapevine, different in that they have unique responsiveness to the grapevine and different treatments by the vinedresser

    Different responses to the grapevine (by disciples) and different treatments of disciples by Jesus imply both seasonal and personal flexibility. God relates to people both individually and corporately. He interacts uniquely with disciples, even as His character and nature holds some principles inviolate for all. A spiritual theology of abiding accommodates the breadth of God’s ability to interact with His children individually.

    (5) Abiding is based on meditation on the Word of God and prayer.

    Those that heed and apply the words of Jesus will continually be prepared and used to bear fruit. In John 15:7, Jesus indicates that the central disciplines to abiding are linked to the Word of God and prayer. When Jesus’ words abide (dwell extravagantly) in His disciples as a complement to them lavishing extravagant daily time on Jesus, the result is answered prayer.

    This combination of prayer and Bible reading as the locus for abiding has implications on our ministry of disciple making (bearing fruit). Andrews explains, “If you use your time, redeeming your time, and live the Word of God, and live a life of prayer—you are bound to be a witness! The fountain will spring up … . If you live in the Presence of the Lord, do you think you have no witness? If you are using your time for God, do you think you have nothing to say?” (Andrews 25, 1960).

    (6) Abiding is doing less that God might do more.

    A spiritual theology of abiding is a life of faith, a life that believes God can do more than we can, a life that believes a person intimate with God can do more in fewer hours than he or she could do with more time and less of God. A spiritual theology of abiding realizes the disciple’s role in ministry is not as important as most disciples think it is. As a disciple steps back and allows time and space for God to intervene, more is accomplished than what frenetic activity can produce. Abiding disciples believe that God is at work, rest in Him and allow space for His acts, and then join Him in His labors with the guarantee of His results.

    (7) Abiding is done Corporately.

    A spiritual theology of abiding must have both private and public praxis. Abiding corporately augments individual abiding. When disciples of Christ meet (for study, fellowship, strategizing, planning, administration, or even in times of conflict resolution), abiding should be an integral part of their communion. Those in spiritual leadership have the responsibility to teach and train others in the spiritual life. To do this well carries with it both the obligation and opportunity to intentionally and explicitly do the work of spiritual theology for the sake of personal and corporate growth—whether it is through preaching, discipleship or board meetings. God give us the grace to embrace this task for the sake of growth in the Kingdom of God. (Coe 43, 2009)

    (8) Abiding has regular times of solitude/retreat.

    A spiritual theology of abiding makes intentional proactive provision for retreat and solitude. Sometimes this retreat and solitude are restorative and healing. Other times, they simply bring remembrance that Jesus gives life and extravagant time with Him is what brings us the deepest joy. Being with Jesus is the point; the point is not simply to be with Him so others can be with Him.

    (9) Abiding takes discipline and intentionality.

    A spiritual theology of abiding recognizes the need for discipline, intentionality, and the reality that God’s presence, while axiomatic, is not necessarily continually felt; neither is it earned as a byproduct of discipline—it is a grace. In fact, “times of seeming desertion and absence and abandonment appear to be universal among those who have walked this path of faith before us. We might just as well get used to the idea that, sooner or later, we, too, will know what it means to feel forsaken by God” (Foster 1992, 17). Abiding, then, is neither a works-oriented approach to blessing or a guarantee of a constant emotional high.

    A spiritual theology of abiding positions ourselves (through intentional discipline) before the God who fulfills and refreshes us, but abiding does not dictate terms and is mature enough to relish both the silence and the communication of heaven.

    (10) Abiding includes suffering.

    A spiritual theology of abiding embraces the cross. Abiding essentially fosters intimacy with Jesus and calls the one abiding into the full fellowship of the Son of God, a fellowship that learns obedience through suffering and participates in the agonies of Christ for redemptive ends. It is naïve and unscriptural to think that abiding is only pleasure. Intimacy with Jesus demands suffering with Him. To share the heart of Christ is to weep with the things that sadden Him as well as to rejoice with what gladdens Him.

    This union of purpose, this sharing of sufferings, is what elevates the disciple from servanthood to friendship (John 15:15).

    (11) Abiding is transcultural.

    Abiding has “formulations and insights [which] are likely not culturally bound (although culturally conditioned), but prove to be transcultural” (Demarest 2008, 165). Extravagant daily time with Jesus through the Word (including oral forms) and prayer with personal and corporate implication are disciplines universally possible and applicable.

    (12) Abiding is the source of disciple making

    (abiding disciples and teaches one how to disciple others).

    A spiritual theology of abiding recognizes that disciples do not abide toward selfish ends (though abiding is indeed its own reward). Disciples abide in order to make more disciples, to be conformed and to help others be conformed into the image of Christ.

    (13) Abiding is marked by joy.

    A spiritual theology of abiding is characterized by joy. Abiding is verified by the accompanying and infectious joy of the abider. “Our Eternal Lover lures us back regularly into his presence with anticipation and delight. It is not hard to honor this regular time of meeting, for the language of lovers is the language of waste. We are glad to waste time with God, for we are pleased with the company” (Foster 1992, 77). As disciples learn the discipline of abiding, they become addicted to the presence of Jesus, and in that addiction there is great joy and winsome appeal. Abiding produces joyful disciples.

    (14) Abiding informs strategy.

    A spiritual theology of abiding does not abdicate the strategic ground to the academic alone. A strategy of the Spirit of God is revealed to disciples through abiding. “For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required” (Nouwen 1989, 47). Strategic thinking that is inspired is dependent on leaders who will take the time to individually and communally abide in Christ. “It is of vital importance to reclaim the mystical aspect of theology so that every word spoken, every word of advice given, and every strategy developed can come from a heart that knows God intimately” (Nouwen 1989, 44).


    A theory for the spiritual theology of abiding that includes the above fourteen points can be summarized through the acrostic: ABIDES.

    A stands for “Always” and refers to abiding as continual communion with Jesus day and night (point 1) and the journey involved in the intimacy (point 2) based on lavishing daily extravagant time on Jesus.

    B stands for “Blocks of Time” and refers to the daily, fixed, appointments disciples make with Jesus (point 1), the destination aspect of fixed moments, concrete answers, definitive arrival points (point 2), and the regular times of solitude and retreat (point 8) that contribute to abiding.

    I stands for “In the Word and Prayer” and indicates that the central disciplines for abiding are the Bible and speaking with Jesus through prayer (point 5), as well as the reciprocal nature of Jesus abiding in disciples (point 3) as they abide in Him.

    D stands for “Disciplined.” Abiding includes a disciplined intentionality (point 9) that results in joy (point 13), even if the route is sometimes difficult and includes suffering (point 10).

    E stands for “Everyone.” Abiding has corporate implications (point 7), as there are times when disciples together lavish time on Jesus. At the same time, abiding is idiosyncratic (point 4), individuals communing with their Creator in their own ways, informed by their current season of life. Abiding is also transcultural (point 11), with contextual factors influencing how and when abiding is undertaken while retaining the common practices of the overall theory.

    S stands for “Strategic.” Abiding helps disciples do less that God might do more (point 6), abiding is the source of disciple making (point 12), and abiding informs strategy (point 14).

    Abiding, then, can be summed up by ABIDES: All day, Blocks of time, In the Word and prayer, Disciplined, Everyone, and Strategic.


    1Martin Erdman in his chapter “Mission in John’s Gospel and Letters” in Mission in the New Testament: An Evangelical Approach lists in a footnote on page 208-209 other scholars who support a missiological premise for the Gospel of John. They include W. C. van Unnik, John A. T. Robinson, Leon Morris, D. A. Carson, Miguel Rodriguez Ruiz, Teresa Okure, J. C. B. Mohr, Andreas Kostenberger, Philip H. Towner, David Bosch, and A.Wind.

    2Andreas Kostenberger lists Karl Bornhåuser, Wilhelm Oehler, Albrecht Oepke, John Bowman, Edwin D. Freed, Wayne A. Meeks, W. C. van Unnik, John A.T. Robinson, and C. H. Dodd all as scholars who understand John’s Gospel to be missionary (Missionsschrift) in purpose (1998, 201-202).

    3Translation is author’s. Translation was based on the New King James Version but adapted to reflect variant readings the exegesis supports. All other Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.

    4Edwards cites Tacitus Histories 5.5 to note that some pagans seeing the Golden Vine at the temple mistakenly thought that the Jews worshiped Dionysus; Apocalypse of Baruch considering the tree in Eden a vine, Bultman regarding the vine as a scion of the ‘tree of life’, with German scholars finding ubiquitous in the cults and myths of the ancient Mediterranean (2004, 147).

    5Louw-Nida defines airō as “carry; destroy; execute” (Louw 1988, airō). A Dictionary of Bible Languages also defines airō as “carry, destroy, execute” (Swanson 2001, 149). The Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament defines airō as take, take up: take away, remove; set aside; or carry (Newman 1993, airo). The book Building your New Testament Greek Vocabulary defines airō as “I lift up” (Van Voorst 2001, s.v. airō).

    6In Matthew 27:32 and Mark 15:21, Simon was compelled to airō Christ’s cross. In Matthew 4:6 and Luke 4:11, the devil taunts Jesus by telling Him angels can airō Him. In Matthew 9:16 and Mark 2:21, airō is used to mean detachment, to pull away. In Mark 2:3 and John 5:10, a paralytic and his bed are airō to the one who can care for him. In Luke 9:17 and Acts 20:9, airō is translated “taken up” again in a conserving (fragments of bread) or restorative way (boy who injuriously fell). In Mark 10:21, the rich young ruler is told to airō his cross. In Luke 17:13, those in distress airō their voices to Jesus for help. In John 11:41, Jesus airō His eyes to thank the Father. Consistently in the New Testament, airō is used to mean lift up or to bear. Often that lifting is to preserve, help, or take toward help. airō is often used to mean a lift toward restoration or help. The primary meaning is “to lift up.”

    7See Appendix 4 for an extended cross reference on viticulture and abiding.

    8An interpretation of karpon will be deferred until verse 5 is exegeted.

    9The other primary aspect of discipleship is training.

    10Other works on this topic include D.A. Carson’s commentary on John (1991), J. Carl Laney’s “Abiding Is Believing” (1989), Joseph Dillow’s “Abiding Is Remaining in Fellowship” (1990), and Fernando Segovia’s “The Farewell of the Word: The Johannine Call to Abide” (1991).

    11See Appendix 3 for an extended lexical study on the Johannine use of menō.

    12Both Rom. 1:13 and Phil. 1:22 use the word fruit to refer to the fruit/harvest of souls.

    13For other biblical references showing the link between abiding and fruit with fruit being understood as disciples/followers/converts see Gen. 1:11, 22, 28; 9:1, 7; 17:20; Psalms 1:1-3; 91:1-2; 92:10-15; Isa. 32:15; Jer. 21:14; Hosea 12:6; 14:8; Matt. 4:19-20; 7:15-23; 10:1-16; 21:33-41, 43; Mark 4:13-20; Luke 8:15; John 5:38; 6:37; 8:28-32, 35; Acts 1:21-22; 2:42-47; Rom. 7:4, 5; Eph. 5:11; Phil 1:11; Col. 1:6, 10; 1 Thess. 2:19-20; 2 Tim. 3:12; 4:17; Titus 3:14; James 1:3; 1:18; and Rev. 14:4, 14-20.

    14Debbie Gill comments that an illustration of this interpretation, including its incredible fruit throughout history, is monastacism. She notes: As the ancient Church evolved into an affluent and politically powerful force, numbers of men and women sought to isolate themselves from the influences of the world in order to seek God. They left the comforts and pleasures of the world for the deserts to live a God-centered life of abiding.

    Similar to the OT ideal from Moses, the Nazirite vow, and prophets like Elijah, and taking the NT examples of John the Baptist and Jesus as their models, these people desired to lavish extravagant time on, in, and with Jesus.

    Though they began to be called “monks” (and nuns) from the Greek word, monos, meaning “alone or single”—those wanting to be alone with God—they did not remain alone for long; entire communities developed around them, called monasteries. SUCH WAS THE FRUIT GOD GAVE THEM!

    Starting from St. Anthony (d. 356), thousands followed his example, and monasticism began to spread throughout all the lands Christianity touched. Entire cities and societies found their beginnings in the simple poverty of the monks. First a monk would setting in some uninhabitated place, then people—attracted to this light of Christ—would settle nearby, and in time villages would grow around them.

    St. Patrick’s model (see Celtic Evangelism: and How to Save the West Again), in founding Irish monasticm, sought to bring the gifts of abiding to the common person and to make the monasteries the center of community life.

    Martin Luther’s theology of the Reformation (see Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship) sought to make every believer into a monk (lavishing extravagant time on, in, with God) who lived in the real world—i.e., outside the monastery. (Debbie Gill email, June 5, 2012)

    15Similar to Matthew 5:13. Salt that has lost its flavor is good for nothing and is thrown out.

    16That this extravagant time includes both disciplined repeated interaction and all day communion is inferred by the metaphor Jesus chose: a vine branch is both constantly connected to the vine and has specific regular/daily times of feeding/nourishment.

    17Coe lists the following authors as sources for the history of the terms and concepts of Spiritual Theology: Jordan Aumann (Spiritual Theology), Simon Chan (Spiritual Theology, A Systematic Study of the Christian Life), Evan Howard (The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality), Mark A. McIntosh (Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology), and Phillip Sheldrake (Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretations and Method).

    18Arthur Bennett writes of the Puritan era, “Although the political storm ended in 1660, its theological ground-swell carried forward distinct forms of practical religion for many decades, particularly family worship and private devotion” (Bennett 2011, vii).

    19The regular lavishing of extravagant time with Jesus means the most generous, consistent, and focused investing of our best time in the most attentive way. Continual means to commune with Jesus all day long.


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    Goppelt, Leonhard. Theology of the New Testament: Volume 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981.

    Greek Dictionary of the New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1981.

    Griffiths, Michael. What on Earth Are You Doing? Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983.

    Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981.Hauck, F. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. meno” page 574. Kittel, Gerhard and Gerhard Friedrich Editors Volume 4. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964.

    Hartman, Louis F. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1963.

    Harrington, Daniel, J. “Christian Mysticism.” America: The National Catholic Weekly. (accessed February 10, 2012).

    Harris, Richard W. Arboriculture: Care of Trees, Shrubs, and Vines in the Landscape. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983.

    Hendricksen, William. The Gospel of John. New Testament Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983.

    Hensel, Robert. “karpon” Pages 721-2. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Colin Brown, ed, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971.

    Howard, W. F. Christianity According to St. John. London: Duckworth, 1943.

    Huffman Rockness, Miriam. A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 2003.         .

    Kaiser, Walter C. Toward an Old Testament Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978.

    Kealy, Sean P. That You May Believe: The Gospel According to St. John. Middlegreen, England: St. Paul Publications, 1978.

    Keener, Craig S. Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies. “Sent Like Jesus: Johannine

    Missiology (John 20:21-22)”. Volume 12:1. 2009.

    ———. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Volume II. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003.

    Kostenberger, Andreas J. John. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.

    ———. The Missions of Jesus & the Disciples According to the Fourth Gospel: With Implications for the Fourth Gospel’s Purpose and the Mission of the Contemporary Church. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998.

    Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974.

    Larkin, William J., Jr and Joel F. Williams. Mission in the New Testament: An Evangelical Approach. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998.

    Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.

    Lewis, E. Ridley. Johannine Writings and Other Epistles. Greenwood, SC: The Attic Press, Inc., 1964.

    Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament, The. Lexham Bible Reference Series. Logos Research Systems Incorporated, 2011.

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    Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida. Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. 2nd ed. New York: United Bible Societies, 1988.

    Lueking, Dean F. “Abide in Me.” (accessed February 10, 2012).

    Lussier, Ernest. God Is Love: According to St. John. New York: Alba House, 1977.

    Maloney, Francis J. The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina Series. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1988.

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    Metaxas, Eric. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010.

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    Murray, Andrew. Abide in Christ. Kensington, PA: Whittaker House, 1979.

    ———. Key to the Missionary Problem. Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1979.

    ———. “The True Vine: Meditations for a Month on John 15:1-16,” Christian

    Classics Ethereal Library. (accessed February 14, 2012).

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    _______. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.1997.

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    A Theology of Kingdom Inclusion from the Matthean Parables of Jesus


    A Theology of Kingdom Inclusion from the Matthean Parables of Jesus

    Melody Sharon Bianchi




    The Interpretation and Application of Parables

    Societal Background of the Matthean Parables

    1. THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER (13:3-9, 18-23)

    2. THE PARABLE OF THE WEEDS (13:24-30, 36-43)






    The concept of the “Kingdom of God” has predicated much study and debate through the centuries, with questions of what and where it is exactly, and/or when it happens. This chapter does not seek to define the Kingdom of God in all its intricacies, but endeavors to examine Matthew’s Kingdom parables in order to discover who on earth presently receives God’s invitation to participate in the establishment of God’s reign on earth “in the here and now.” The Kingdom of God is herein understood as both a present spiritual and future physical reality. This chapter assumes the universal Church as the instrumental community through which God presently extends His reign and work throughout the world, so the findings of this study should implicate both who receives welcome to participate in the community life of the Church, as well as the population whom the Church’s work and mission targets, as exegeted from the parables of Jesus found in Matthew.

    For the sake of relative brevity, only three Matthean parables will receive focus in this examination: the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23); the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43); and the Parable of the Wedding Feast (22:1-14). Though no parable exhibits Jesus’ message with less significance, these three seem to speak adequately to the issues under scrutiny in this chapter and answer the question, “Who is included in Jesus’ invitation to participate in the community life of His present Kingdom on earth?”

    The Interpretation and Application of Parables

    The Hebrew term for parable, mashal, intimates a metaphorical comparison that can be applied through any of five literary/rhetorical means: a proverb, a byword, a riddle, a fable, or a parable.1 A parable, like any other artistic work, has a power “independent of time and of life setting … not to provide information but to lead to decision for new life.”2 Furthermore,

    [A]n important part of [parables’] purpose is to convey and illuminate the revelation Jesus came to bring, a purpose which is bound up with Israel’s history and His mission, and we have no right to cut off Jesus from His people. The fundamental context of the parables of Jesus is indicated by the fundamental content of His non-parabolic teaching, and that, as we have seen, is the coming of the kingdom of God … .3

    As with any literary genre, parables require their own proper method for responsible exegesis. Cranford recommends the following four-step process for parabolic exegesis.4 First, one must determine the tertium comparationis (point of comparison) of the parable. This is where the tangible story of the parable intersects the spiritual truth. “What response did Jesus hope to elicit from the telling of this parable?” might represent a reasonable question for ascertaining the point of comparison, in addition to considerations of His overall theological framework. Second, one must determine the proper classification of the parable. This has to do with the five-fold applicational means of the parable listed by Beasley-Murray above, and the traditional classifications depend upon the length of the parabolic formula, and consist of three groups: parabolic sayings, simple parables, and narrative parables. A parabolic saying presents a concise and graphic word picture; a simple parable consists of a short story representing a typical setting from everyday life; and a narrative parable presents a fully developed and independent story that is narrated in detail. Third, one must determine the Sitz im Leben (setting in life) of the parable. This might include the historical setting into which Jesus delivered the parable, or the historical setting of the audience addressed by the Gospel writer.5 Finally, one must determine the proper grouping of the parable, such as whether it is a nature parable, a discovery parable, a contrast parable, or an a fortiori parable (“if a human could/would … , how much more will/does God … ?”), for example. Each grouping tends to emphasize its own theme regarding the Kingdom its parables describe.

    Societal Background of the Matthean Parables

    Scholars believe Matthew revised and expanded Mark’s Gospel sometime between AD 80 and 110, and probably earlier in that time frame than later.6 Furthermore, conclusive evidence for the location of Matthew’s writing does not exist. Therefore, clues about the social setting and readership of the Gospel must come from the text itself, taking into consideration the genre which is a biography of Jesus not an address to particular circumstances in readers’ lives. Stanton points out a couple of important features of Matthew’s text that point to the social and religious concerns of his audience.7

    First, Matthew delineates sharply between the “synagogue” and the ekklesia, a term he uses exclusively of the other Gospel writers. It seems evident from his strong negative portrayal of all Jewish leaders and groups that he writes from a day when Christ’s followers had fully parted, albeit painfully, from the Jewish synagogue. Matthew’s Gospel serves as a sort of apologetic foundation, and in it Jesus’ commands take precedence over the Jewish Law in this new Kingdom community (Matthew 7:24-27; 28:20) which includes Gentiles (8:5-13; 15:13; 21:41, 43). Indeed, this background of God’s rejection of the Jewish leaders and transference of the Kingdom to the Gentiles provides a strong backdrop in many of the parables, and is the key to Matthew’s immediate theme of inclusion and exclusion in the Kingdom.

    Second, not only were Matthew’s readers at odds with Judaism, but they also had difficulty with the Gentiles, and thus likely lived in isolated communities where they interacted little, if at all, with either. Derogatory references to Gentiles occur in Matthew 5:47; 6:7, 32; 10:18, 22; 18:17; and 24:9. It is clear from the Great Commission passage of Matthew 28:19-20 that Matthew’s readers understood their mission to take the message of Jesus to “all nations,” but they considered themselves a distinct group from those nations;8 an “us” versus “them” mentality seems prevalent, rather than the neighborly “we are all in this together” attitude of Luke’s Gospel (especially Luke 10:25-37).

    Because of these indications in the text, as well as the author’s faithful use of the Old Testament, usage of Greek and Hebrew literary and rhetorical devices, and willingness to exclude assumedly known details for what must have been an educated audience, scholars deduce that Matthew’s readers consisted of Jewish Christians who remained faithful to the Torah, but were no longer welcomed in or considered part of the Jewish community.9 Social scientists would consider the Matthean Christians a marginal group. The term “marginal” was first employed by Robert E. Park in 1928 to describe a “person who is condemned to live in two different, antagonistic cultural worlds, but does not fully belong to either.”10

    The task before the Matthean community was one of bridge-building, or making the gospel of Jesus Christ accessible to those on either cultural side of them: the Jews, with their rigid legalism and defensive rejection of Jesus as the Messiah; and the antinomian, pluralistic Gentiles who demonstrated openness to this “new” Deity. The same task remains for Christians surrounded by various non-Christian cultural groups today, and the parables in the Book of Matthew maintain their relevance in the spiritual bridge-building process. A responsible hermeneutic will aid the exegete in bringing the parabolic principles to bear in the contemporary efforts of the Church.

    THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER (13:3-9, 18-23)

    The Parable of the Sower presents some key elements for examination: a Sower, much of seed, and four different types of soil wherein the Sower sows the seed: some seeds fell “beside the road” (verse 4); some “on the rocky places” (verse 5); some “among the thorns” (verse 7); and some “on the good soil” (verse 8),11 with varying results. The only seeds that produced a harvestable crop were those which fell on the good soil.

    Interpreters of this parable may take any of three main points of emphasis: the Sower, the seed, or the soil. Each emphasis will yield various applicational principles. Gundry notes that in verse 4 Matthew omits Mark’s Semitism egeneto, and also inserts auton by which he “calls attention to the sower rather than allowing the stress to fall entirely on the sowing, as in Mark.”12 Osborne, however, offers a different view:

    It has been common to center on the sower (= Jesus, imparting a primarily Christological meaning) or on the seed (= the kingdom message, thus centering on gospel proclamation). While both emphases are true, the rest of the parable centers on the soils, and the primary thrust is the receptivity of people to the kingdom message Jesus has been bringing.13

    Regardless upon which element one focuses, an additional and necessary component to note about the harvest in this parable is God’s supernatural work in it. Scholars who have tried to discover Jesus’ single original meaning apart from allegorical interpretation (claiming verses 18-23 seem to have been added later) deduce that He pointed out a farmer’s usual experience of frustration to encourage His followers in the midst of unresponsiveness. However, Jeremias and Hare look to the last line of the parable concerning the yield of the harvest.

    A good harvest would have provided a first-century Galilean farmer with ten bushels for every bushel of seed; a normal return would have been seven and a half. Thus Jesus is not speaking of everyday experience but of God’s supernatural activity at the dawning of the kingdom. Despite meager response to Jesus’ ministry, God will provide a spectacular harvest!14

    Previously in Matthew (9:37, 38) Jesus had instructed His followers in light of a ready spiritual harvest to “beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” In the context of that exhortation, the Parable of the Sower seems to indicate that Christians should exclude no field from their prayers or from their going to labor; after all, the Sower in the story spread the seed on all sorts of soil. He gave each field a chance to receive the Word and bear fruit. In yet another way of looking at it, if the field has received seed and “yielded a crop” (Matthew 13:8), the soil must have already been judged “good” by the Sower. Not only this, but where human eyes see unresponsiveness, God blesses His seed and works supernaturally to cultivate an abundant harvest; receptivity must occur even in places the carriers of the message do not expect or see.

    One cannot leave this parable without a look at why some (most) of the sown seeds do not yield a harvest. The seed that was sown “beside the road,” or along the path where it was supposed to be sowed, seems to hearken back to the Jews who in Matthew’s day had rejected Jesus’ Kingdom message.15 Osborne points out that those from whom the evil one snatches the sowed Word away have both rejected Christ and opened themselves to Satan’s control. The present tense of “comes” and “snatches” in verse 19 emphasizes his continued activity in their lives.16 As for the seed sown “on the rocky places,” these immediately received—lambano, which normally signifies a conversion experience17—but the experience ends in rejection after a brief time. These people often seek the thrill of “what God can do.” Miracles and feel-good experiences impress them. But when the good times pass and trouble or persecution comes, they fall away. The seed was sown shallowly; they did not tend their own crop, and it could grow no anchoring roots. And finally, some of the failing seeds fell “among the thorns.” These receivers of the Word were torn between commitment to God and commitment to the world and the cares of life Jesus had spoken about in Matthew 6:25-34. The word for “deceitfulness” in Matthew 13:22, apath, can mean “deceitfulness” or “delight,” so it could insinuate the nature of riches as a “deceptive pleasure.”18

    The three unproducing types of soil (receivers) ultimately make their own decisions about how the seed may take root (or not) in their lives. The spiritual leader might be aware, though, and prepare him- or herself as follows.1) Note those who stand obstinately against the message, and pray that their hearts be softened. 2) Urge and assist “shallow” Christians to apply the whole counsel of God to their hearts and commit to faithfulness regardless of outward circumstances. 3) Emphasize the fleeting nature of temporal cares over against the eternal rewards of placing one’s priorities on spiritual growth.

    The receivers of the Word who did not bear fruit rejected, sooner or later, the message given them. This implies that as long as someone continues to seek and receive the Word, regardless how human eyes might judge their soil, that person at the very least bears potential for yielding fruit. No messenger has the right to withhold seed from them.

    THE PARABLE OF THE WEEDS (13:24-30, 36-43)

    Many of the motifs of the Parable of the Sower continue into the Parable of the Weeds, including those of sowing, seeds, soil, Kingdom, obstacles to growth, and interference from the evil one. “Rather, and beyond this, both parables make it plain that while the victory of God’s Kingdom is sure, the way from here to there is hampered by unbelief and its effects.”19 Davies and Allison go on to point out the difference between the two parables: whereas the first emphasizes human responsibility in the failure of the Word to produce fruit, the second exposes the role of the enemy in the failure of the harvest.20

    Whether the tares and wheat grow side by side in the world or in the Church represents one of the primary disagreements in the exegesis of this parable. Davies and Allison argue that since it is evident in Matthew 18:15-20 that the Church practiced excommunication when necessary, one must accept the plain identification in Matthew 13:38 of the field as the world at large.21 Thus, the separation of the tares and wheat in the world would happen eschatologically, but discipline within the Church need not wait until the Eschaton. Gundry, however, interprets the wheat and tares to represent true and false disciples within the Kingdom, which will remain together until the last judgment. The implications of this interpretation include “a prohibition against rigorism in Church discipline, particularly against private judgments.”22

    It seems a two-fold interpretation fits. Faithful disciples and those who reject the gospel obviously exist together in the field of the world; but evidence within the text suggests the same holds true in the field of the Church. In verse 26 the wheat sprouted and then the tares became evident. In the Fall of humanity, the entire field was reduced to tares. The Church, however, began with a faithful crowd of those who believed Christ, only to be gradually infiltrated by “the sons of the evil one” (verse 38) – all who would intentionally promote division, unbelief, and apostasy. It proves dangerous, however, when the Church too quickly forms biased judgments regarding who comprises the “tares,” as was the case, for example, in the seventeenth century when the Church deemed Galileo a heretic and sought to prevent the spread of his scientific discoveries (and did so successfully for two hundred years).23

    Regardless whether the “field” in this parable represents only the world, or both the world and the Church, the assertion remains the same that “at the end of the age” (verse 40) the Son of Man will send His angels to judge between the wheat and tares and send the latter to their determined fate. Until that time, the Church nowhere receives instruction to make that judgment itself. The practical application in the meantime seems to lend itself to inclusion in the community life of the Church of any who wish to participate, keeping in mind the guidelines of Matthew 18:15-20 which allow the Church to discipline (to the point of excommunication) those who unquestionably bring harm to other members of the community.


    Once again, the tension between an ethnically exclusive Judaism and a Christianity without racial borders presents itself in the Parable of the Wedding Feast. This parable consists of three parts. In the first, the guests originally invited to the feast (i.e., the Jews, first invited to receive the gospel) refuse to come, and the king punishes them (verses 1-7). In the second, a new invitation extends itself and meets acceptance by both “good” and “bad” people (i.e., this invitation includes Gentiles; verses 8-10). In the third, a guest attempts to enter the feast dressed inappropriately, and the king again metes punishment (verses 11-13).

    When one applies hermeneutics to ascertain the present-day application of the principles in this parable, it extends farther than the Jew versus Gentile debate, as is consistent with the previous parables. In fact, when the second, more inclusive invitation goes forth, verse 9 says the king sent his servants “to the main highways.” A more literal rendering of the Greek tas dieksodous ton hodon reads, “to the exit points of the streets.” “‘The exit points of the streets’ probably refers not to the ‘street corners’ or ‘crossings’ but to the point ‘where a street cuts through the city boundary and goes out into the open country.’”24 The king instructs the servants to invite “as many as you find there” hosous hean, an idiom for “any person whosoever”25). This originally referenced the mission beyond Israel to the nations, and today it means the same thing: God’s invitation into His Kingdom extends to all people from all nations and every walk of life. So “both evil and good” (verse 10) respond to the invitation, hearkening not only to the inclusion of Gentiles in the Kingdom, but to the wheat and tares of the previous parable, whom God alone reserves the right to separate. This separation is demonstrated in the latter part of the parable, when the king punishes a guest who dared enter the feast not properly adorned. The servants do not discriminate in their invitation; the king, however, does discriminate among those who arrive. Hare asserts, “Matthew now makes an addition to the wedding feast parable to remind Christians that they are by no means exempt from the judgment that fell on those who rejected Jesus and the gospel.”26 Hare equates the missing wedding garment with the requirement that all who enter the Kingdom (eschatologically) be clothed with righteousness, and adds, “The man is speechless because he has no defense; he accepted the invitation of the gospel, but refused to conform his life to the gospel.”27 Osborne believes this illustrates “the demand that people allowed into the banquet come on God’s terms rather than their own.”28

    The reasonable application of this parable today, then, seems to require Christians to extend invitation to all people to enter the Kingdom of God, and welcome all who come. There will, however, be both “good” and “bad” among those who respond. However, in most cases, it is not for the Church to decide who “gets kicked out.” Rather, the goal remains to keep everyone in the community as long as possible, in hope that the seed of God’s Word will take root in their hearts and they will be transformed by it.


    The popular television drama Downton Abbey chronicles the daily life of the fictional Crawley family and their servants at the prestigious Grantham estate in Yorkshire in the era of World War I. The series illustrates poignantly that “servants” consist of both trustworthy, loyal individuals as well as those who do the least amount possible to keep their livelihood with only nominal commitment to those whom they serve. The parables discussed in this chapter give little explicit attention to the characters designated as servants. The theme that carries throughout the parables presents the servants as those who labor and do the bidding of their overseer; this is simply the befitting response of the servant’s identity. Translated into the community life of the Church, this would seem to allow for participation in the Church’s fellowship by all who wish to come into the Body of Christ – both the “good” and the “bad,” so to speak (with the earlier caveat from Matthew 18:15-20 that persons who deliberately cause harm within the Church are subject to very cautiously expedited excommunication).

    Thus, Matthew’s parables seem to teach five principles regarding who receives invitations to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven. 1) All are welcomed (and actively invited) into the fellowship of the faithful. 2) All who respond may participate in the community life of the Church. 3) Not everyone who claims the status of “Christian” will produce fitting fruit. 4) God has not commissioned the Church to separate the “good” members from the “bad” or to exclude anyone from the fellowship. 5) God Himself will eventually judge between the faithful and those who fail to submit to the gospel, and will mete out the consequences of their refusal to repent.


    1George R. Beasley-Murray, Preaching the Gospel From the Gospels (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 168.

    2Ibid., 173.

    3Ibid., 174.

    4Lorin L. Cranford, “Exegeting Parables,” Cranfordville Online; available from; Internet; accessed 10 February 2013.

    5For the purposes of this chapter, the latter demands primary emphasis.

    6Graham N. Stanton, “The Communities of Matthew,” Gospel Interpretation: Narrative-Critical & Social-Scientific Approaches, ed. by Jack Dean Kingsbury (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity, 1997), 50.

    7Ibid., 52-60.

    8Ibid., 56.

    9Aaron M. Gale, Redefining Ancient Borders: The Jewish Scribal Framework of Matthew’s Gospel (New York, NY: T. & T. Clark, 2005), 158-163.

    10Dennis C. Duling, A Marginal Scribe: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew in a Social-Scientific Perspective (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2012), 121.

    11All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted.

    12Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982/1994), 253.

    13Grant R. Osborne, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew (Volume 1), ed. by Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 506.

    14Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew, from the series Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1993), 152-153.

    15Osborne, 513.


    17Ibid., 514.


    19W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, ed. by J. A. Emerton, C. E. B. Cranfield, and G. N. Stanton (Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark, 1991), 408.


    21Ibid., 409.

    22Gundry, 262.

    23David Axelrod, “Galileo’s Battle for the Heavens,” documentary, PBS Online; available from; Internet; accessed 12 February 2013.

    24Osborne, 801 (quoting BDAG, 194).


    26Hare, 252.


    28Osborne, 795.


    Axelrod, David. “Galileo’s Battle for the Heavens,” documentary, PBS Online. Available from; Internet; accessed 12 February 2013.

    Beasley-Murray, George R. Preaching the Gospel From the Gospels. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996.

    Cranford, Lorin L. “Exegeting Parables,” Cranfordville Online. Available from; Internet; accessed 10 February 2013.

    Duling, Dennis C. A Marginal Scribe: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew in a Social-Scientific Perspective. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2012.

    Gale, Aaron M. Redefining Ancient Borders: The Jewish Scribal Framework of Matthew’s Gospel. New York, NY: T. & T. Clark, 2005.

    Gundry, Robert H. Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.

    Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew. From the series Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1993.

    Osborne, Grant R. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew (Volume 1). Ed. by Clinton E. Arnold. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

    Stanton, Graham N. “The Communities of Matthew.” Gospel Interpretation: Narrative-Critical & Social-Scientific Approaches. Ed. by Jack Dean Kingsbury. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity,, 1997.

    The Kingdom According to Paul: A Pauline Theology of the Kingdom of God


    The Kingdom According to Paul:
     A Pauline Theology of the Kingdom of God

    Christopher Zwemer






    The Firstfruits: Jesus’ Resurrection

    Present Reign: All Things Brought Into Submission

    Future Appearing: Resurrection and Judgment

    Glory to the Father: Giving Back the Kingdom


    Salvation: The Guarantee of Resurrection Life

    Consecration: The Calling to Walk Worthy

    Sanctification: Empowerment for Kingdom Living

    Endurance: Hope in Suffering





    The Kingdom of God looms over all of scripture. Old Testament authors speak of God’s reign throughout their writings and Jesus focuses his teachings on the Kingdom of God more than any other topic. Despite the notable significance of the Kingdom of God to Old and New Testament Scripture, however, Paul by comparison seems to rarely mention the concept. This absence raises significant questions when dealing with the unity of scripture. Why would Paul fail to mention a topic as notable as God’s Kingdom if it rests at the center of his formerly Jewish and presently Christian faith? Did Paul find the Kingdom of God of any significant value to Christian belief? Did he intentionally leave the Kingdom of God out of his teachings?

    This chapter will claim that the Kingdom of God does in fact rest at the heart of Paul’s teaching and will therefore seek to synthesize a Pauline theology of the Kingdom of God. For the sake of brevity, the following discussion will limit itself to passages with direct relationship to Paul that make explicit use of the term, “Kingdom of God” (basileia tou theou), or the concept of “reigning” (basileuō).1


    Recent scholarship has debated the reason for Paul’s silence regarding the Kingdom of God. Most build on the inherent Jewishness of the Kingdom and assume a desire on Paul’s part to prevent unnecessary confusion or political misunderstandings by Gentile audiences.2 These theories make sense but seem to diverge from textual evidence. The following section will look within Paul for specific mention of the Kingdom of God and beyond Paul for historical evidence of whether the Kingdom typified his teachings.

    The Kingdom of God served as the primary worldview and operating principle for much of the Old Testament, intertestamental Judaism, and the ministry of Jesus. The Jewish world thought of God’s Kingdom as having “two ages … ‘ôlām hazzeh (“this age”) and ôlām habbā’ (“the coming age”).”3 By the intertestamental period, Jewish writings developed a highly apocalyptic flavor, with attention given to the Messiah and his role in the age to come.4 This emphasis on two ages carries into the teachings of several New Testament figures, including Paul.5 Along with Jesus and the Synoptic authors, Paul shares the uniquely Christian teaching that the future age of God’s kingdom entered into the present through the work of Jesus.6 Paul does not operate from the same perspective as the twelve apostles—considering their unique proximity to Jesus—but such similarities may exist due to Paul’s “rabbinic theological education” and messianic expectation of the Kingdom of God.7 Furthermore, Paul places similar emphasis on principles labeled in the Synoptics as Kingdom teachings.8

    Even more significant is the fact that Luke constantly summarizes Paul’s ministry as “proclaiming the Kingdom of God.”9 Of the seven times Luke speaks of the Kingdom of God in Acts, five of them refer to Paul. This raises a question: Does Luke summarize Paul’s ministry this way due to his own theological interest in the Kingdom, or due to Paul’s? Luke frequently references the Kingdom in his gospel, but his very limited use of the term in Acts almost entirely within the ministry of Paul seems notable.10 Luke does more than summarize Paul’s ministry with this phrase, however; Luke in fact records Paul speaking of the Kingdom of God in Paul’s teachings in Acts. Paul describes his ministry to the Ephesian elders as having “gone about proclaiming the Kingdom” (Acts 20:25). He also encourages the believers in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch with a specific message of perseverance, “saying that through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (14:22; cf. 1 Thess. 2:12).

    Although Paul’s understanding of the Kingdom is Jewish, this does not deter him from expressing it among Gentile audiences. In Acts 19:8, Paul reasons in the Ephesian synagogues about the Kingdom of God. The text mentions that this ministry of “persuading [the Jews] about the kingdom of God” spreads to the “hall of Tyrannus” where he shares his message to “both Jews and Greeks” (19:9-10).11 In Thessalonica, “some wicked men of the rabble” use Paul’s own teachings against him, stirring up unnecessary confusion by claiming he spoke against Caesar, “saying there is another king, Jesus” (17:6-7). Although it passes through manipulative and agenda-driven voices, this passage evidences a Kingdom focus in Paul’s preaching. At the close of Acts, Luke points out that Paul’s ministry in Rome welcomed “all who came to him, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (28:31, emphasis mine). Paul validates this summarization of his ministry in Colossae, where he refers to his Jewish and Greek co-workers as “fellow workers for the kingdom of God” (Col. 4:10-11).

    Overall, these inferences beyond Paul indicate that the Kingdom of God defined the actual content of his message.12 Upon turning to his writings, one indeed finds that Paul employs the phrase “Kingdom of God” more than a handful of times.13 Since the evidence outside of Paul and within Paul suggests the Kingdom takes more than a passing role in his teachings, it seems most relevant at this point to reflect on his theology regarding the Kingdom of God.


    It seems fitting to the textual evidence to explore Paul’s theology of the Kingdom with two treatments, first for their relation to its eschatological timeline, and second for its significance to the rest of Paul’s theology. From the inauguration of the Kingdom in Jesus’ resurrection until the subjugation of all things to the Father, Paul references the Kingdom at different points on the timeline of its consummation. The timeline is not original to Paul, “for we find it emerging in Judaism in the first century; and the Synoptics represent it as providing the basic structure for Jesus’ teachings.”14 Nevertheless, this timeline will outline Paul’s unique theological contributions regarding the Kingdom of God.

    The Firstfruits: Jesus’ Resurrection

    The resurrection of Jesus stands as the cornerstone of Christian belief. “For Paul, as for the other early Christians, the resurrection was pivotal to the whole story. It meant that Jesus had become Lord, and it meant not only that God was going to renew the whole creation but also that the renewal of creation had already begun.”15 Although Paul did not share life with Jesus, his experience of the risen Lord radically redefined any former Jewish and even Christian interpretations of the Kingdom: “Paul stands on the other side of the cross and resurrection and is able to see something that Jesus had never been able to teach: the eschatological meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection.”16 In this light, Paul teaches that the Kingdom of God defeated the reign of sin and death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    Sin and death have ruling power over the present world (Rom. 5:14; 6:12), but the righteous reign of Jesus cannot coexist with their reign, because his is a “heavenly kingdom,” not of this world (5:17, 21; 2 Tim. 4:18). The “last enemy” of his Kingdom “is death” (1 Cor. 15:26; Rom. 5:14; 6:12). Because death awaits its final annihilation, the resurrection of Jesus makes a guarantee, an assurance that the Lord will indeed conquer the enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). His resurrection offers a preview, a taste of the “firstfruits” of the kingdom in the present (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:20, 23; 2 Thess. 2:13). The Kingdom of God offers the future hope of resurrection as a present promise through the past act of Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor. 15:22). His resurrection releases those who believe from their slavery to sin and death, but not all of humanity submits to Christ’s new reign (6:10-11). Nevertheless, the resurrection of Jesus opens the door to the Kingdom of God for those who will believe, while the Holy Spirit makes the resurrection a present reality in the life of the believer (6:10-11; Rom. 8:23).

    Present Reign: All Things Brought Into Submission

    The Kingdom of God promises future hope through the resurrection, but the Kingdom offers more than hope. The Kingdom breaks into the present rule of sin and death, bringing all things into submission to itself. Jesus, as ruler of the Kingdom (1 Cor. 15:24a), accomplishes this by displaying his power, challenging all other powers, and inviting humanity to enter his Kingdom. The Kingdom of God has real, present power (4:20). The power of the Kingdom does not express itself merely through powerful claims, but through the visible, tangible work of the Spirit in that power (2:1-5; cf. Acts 1:8; 4:31). In Corinth, where several teachers claimed authority on the wisdom of their teachings, Paul rejects their wisdom and upholds the tangible power of God. The Kingdom has power to change hearts, not by the power of persuasive speech, but by the in-breaking power of God to heal and to perform signs and wonders.17 These active displays of power reveal the substantial authority of the Kingdom to rule in the present.

    The Kingdom of God stands at odds with all other rulers, authorities, and powers (1 Cor. 15:24b). Jesus does not seek to reign only over “those who belong to Christ,” but over “all things” (15:27). “Every rule and every authority and [every] power” that does not serve Christ’s Kingdom is considered an enemy of his rule, and he will strip them of their power, thus subjecting “all things” to himself (15:24).18 Presently, Christ will reign until all things are in subjection to Him and his Kingdom stands above all other kingdoms. Until the consummation of his sovereignty, however, the Kingdom of God stands in tension with all other powers.

    Within this present conflict, the believer may find redemption from the “domain of darkness” and be “transferred … to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Humanity need not side with the powers in their opposition to the Kingdom of God. God offers an ongoing, present invitation into his kingdom (1 Thess. 2:12). Jesus offers redemption from the kingdom of darkness through his resurrection. The one who has received that work now lives in the “kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Because of Christ’s resurrection, the believer no longer walks under the reign of the evil one, but participates in a new dimension of reality, the light of the Kingdom of God (Eph. 5:8). Instead of warring against God, the believer now participates in the struggle against the reign of sin (Rom. 6:12).

    Future Appearing: Resurrection and Judgment

    Much of Paul’s counsel regarding the Kingdom looks to its future consummation. Although the Kingdom stands in tension with the powers of the present age, Jesus will radically consummate the Kingdom at his appearing with resurrection and judgment. “Those who belong to Christ” will experience the same work of resurrection as Jesus (1 Cor. 15:23). They will also share in Christ’s full glorification, “when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints” (2 Thess. 1:10). For all others opposed to Christ, the day of the Lord will establish his reign over against all other kingdoms, and he will incapacitate every enemy, the most notable being death (1 Cor. 15:24-26, 54-55).

    Jesus’ resurrection guarantees that he will judge the living and the dead (Acts 17:31). The day of the Lord will bring judgment to those who persecute his people and relieve believers from their suffering (2 Thess. 1:5-6). Those who reject the kingdom “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction,” while believers will dwell in “the glory of his might” (1:9). Although the “Day of the Lord” comes from Jewish thought, Paul nevertheless appeals to Gentiles in the Areopagus “to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world” (Acts 17:31). Ultimately, the day of the Lord seals the eternal destiny of all who either receive or reject the Kingdom.

    The day of the Lord entails a permanent resolution and establishment to Jesus’ Kingship. In that day, Jesus will reconcile all things to himself (Col. 1:20). This will even include the disempowered dominions, rulers, and authorities, returning them to their proper order of submission to his Kingdom. However, the timing of this day still rests in the hands of the Father, who will decide the best time for the Son’s appearing (1 Tim. 6:15).

    Glory to the Father: Giving Back the Kingdom

    The resurrection of Jesus and the Day of the Lord serve as bookends to the reign of Christ. After Jesus has brought all things into submission to his rule, he will give the entire Kingdom back to the Father, the one who “put all things in subjection under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:24, 27). This act reveals the desire of the Son to glorify the Father, so “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). After taking full reign, having completely secured the Kingdom, Jesus releases his authority and gives it all back to the Father for the Father’s full glory. The glory of the Father is the aim of Christ’s kingdom.19

    Paul closely aligns the Kingdom of God with the Glory of God (1 Thess. 2:12). In the Pastoral Epistles, he almost homogenizes the two, equating “honor and glory” with “honor and eternal dominion” (1 Tim. 1:16-17; 6:16). Paul’s prayers reveal that he shares the same desire as Jesus the Son, that the Father receive unending honor and glory (1:17). He praises the Father for his dominion over all time, including the present age and the age to come, and for having conquered death to offer eternal life, desiring that God would receive “honor and glory forever and ever” (1:16-17). At the close of the book, Paul again worships the Father by ascribing to him “honor and eternal dominion” (6:16). Such worship reveals the final purpose of the Kingdom for all its members, even King Jesus. They all seek one goal: The glory of God the Father.


    The previous section painted a picture of the Kingdom “from above,” showing Paul’s eschatological timeline of the Kingdom from the firstfruits of Christ’s resurrection until his future appearing and delivery of the Kingdom to the Father. The flow of this discussion has marched steadily forward in time, looking towards the future consummation. However, as George Eldon Ladd notes, the history of this Kingdom does not flow in one direction. The past (resurrection) moves through the present (reign) into the future (consummation), but the future has also invaded the present: “In some real sense, God’s Kingdom came into history in the person and mission of Jesus.”20

    The “presence of the future” demands the attention of this next section.21 “It is true that [Paul] tends to speak of the ultimate revelation of the kingdom as a future event, but there is ample evidence to support the contention that the power of this eschatological kingdom is also at work in the life of the Christian community now.”22 Most of Paul’s references to the Kingdom of God appear future-oriented and occur in passing, embedded in other theological discussions. Such passages, however, give windows into the manifold implications of the Kingdom on other aspects of theology. The following section will turn its attention from Paul’s eschatological timeline to the present implications of the Kingdom.

    Salvation: The Guarantee of Resurrection Life

    Sin reigned through the authority of death, and death reigned through the authority of Adam’s rebellion. This “domain of darkness” stands at odds with the “kingdom of his beloved son” (Col. 1:13). Both seek to rule over a person’s life. No middle ground exists between these kingdoms; there is no such thing as self-rule. Thus, one must be delivered from one kingdom and transferred to another. Jesus provides this deliverance by usurping the authority of sin and death with the authority of his resurrection. He now freely bestows this deliverance through the gifts of grace and righteousness (Rom. 5:17, 21). Grace and righteousness apply the past work of resurrection to the believer’s present reality.

    While judgment awaits the unrighteous, who “will not inherit the kingdom of God,” Paul can speak of deliverance as a past act in a believer’s life: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).23 The Father decides who qualifies to enter the kingdom, but Jesus provides the redemption that qualifies the believer to enter (Col. 1:12-14). The resurrection of Jesus provides the purity, holiness, and right standing with God to those who will receive his gifts of grace and righteousness. Receiving these “presents” guarantees the future inheritance of “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:21; 1 Cor. 15:21).

    Consecration: The Calling to Walk Worthy

    Paul is known for a theology of grace, but his theology of the Kingdom sounds much like James’ theology of works. Although Paul offers the hope of future resurrection (1 Cor. 15:53-58), he reminds believers that their present participation in the work of the Lord leads to their inheritance of that resurrection (15:58). The Kingdom bears very ethical demands, calling believers to “walk worthy” of it (1 Thess. 2:12). Only the righteous may inherit the Kingdom of God. That righteousness, however, is not cultivated through the works of the believer, but by the call of God and the work of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:13-24).

    God is the one “who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). The verb for calling in this passage suggests a present and continuous call. God has called and is calling believers to an “ongoing participation in the kingdom” (2:12; cf. 2 Thess. 1:5).24 As God calls, the believer must respond in a manner worthy of the One who calls them. Note that God expects no worthiness to receive the call, but one’s response to the call must follow in a worthy manner (1 Thess. 2:11-12). Therefore, the call of the Father, not works, “qualifies” a believer to receive their portion of the inheritance (Col. 1:12-13). God calls and transfers the believer into the Kingdom (1:13-14; 1 Thess. 2:11-12). Nevertheless, the believer must now walk worthy of that Kingdom (Col. 1:9-10; 1 Thess. 9:12).

    Redeemed by the Father from the domain of darkness and now a member of his Kingdom, Paul exhorts believers to bear fruit in keeping with the light (Eph. 5:9). Paul seems concerned that believers maintain an active vigilance to monitor their life, intentionally pursuing righteousness and avoiding darkness (5:1-11). Unrighteousness bars one from entering the kingdom of God (5:5). Those who practice sexual immorality, idolatry, selfish gain-seeking, and revelry will experience “eschatological exclusion” from the Kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5).25 One who willingly participates in the immorality of the “sons of disobedience” will share in their loss of inheritance (Eph. 5:5-6). Thus, Paul prays that believers receive wisdom and understanding from the Holy Spirit, so they may have the capacity to perform good works and bear fruit in keeping with the Kingdom (Col. 1:10).

    Sanctification: Empowerment for Kingdom Living

    Paul builds his understanding of kingdom living out of fundamentally different soil than Jesus because of Jesus’ resurrection. “No longer are [the blessings of the kingdom] limited by the bodily presence of Jesus on earth.”26 The Holy Spirit may now administer them without physical limitation. The Spirit plays a key role in applying the redeeming work of Jesus’ resurrection to the believer. “For Paul, life in the Spirit becomes his way of speaking about life in the kingdom. The Spirit mediates the entirety of the blessings of the kingdom in Paul and becomes the source of its life. In short, the Spirit embodies the essence of the kingdom of God.”27 The Father calls the believer into his Kingdom and demands a response of righteousness. Walking in the Spirit enables one to fulfill that call and “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:16, 24). As a believer lives in the Spirit, they begin to express Kingdom attitudes and behavior, such as humility and love for one’s neighbor.28

    An incorrect timeline of the kingdom may lead to arrogance and immorality, but a proper perspective recognizes that humility, not glory, defines Kingdom living in the present.29 As long as “the kingdom is in conflict with the kingdoms of this world, … the mark of the Christian is the cross and not kingship.”30 Furthermore, the believer must not use the authority of the Kingdom for selfish gain but to serve one’s neighbor.31 “The citizens of the kingdom of God [are] those marked by character and conduct that identify them as the people who will inherit the consummated kingdom.”32

    Endurance: Hope in Suffering

    Ultimately, the fullness of God’s Kingdom lies in the future. It cannot come about in the present age, because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50). “Future bodily transformation must precede entrance into the Kingdom.”33 No one can inherit the Kingdom of God as they are, but when God raises the dead, “we shall all be changed” (15:51-52). Believers will receive a new body by which they may inherit the kingdom. Although one cannot presently inherit the full Kingdom, one may have assurance of that inheritance. Such assurance provides Paul’s ultimate motivation to endure in the faith. Participation in the work of the Lord will result in the inheritance of resurrection (15:58; Col. 1:11-12). Christ’s resurrection has guaranteed it (1 Cor. 15:57). Resurrection motivates believers to continue, “abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord [their] labor is not in vain” (15:58).

    Commitment to the Kingdom of God will result in suffering, but the hope of resurrection gives sufficient strength and motivation to endure.  Paul identifies the source of his own suffering as his commitment to the message of resurrection (2 Tim. 2:9). Nevertheless, the surpassing power of God’s word motivates Paul to endure in spite of every human attempt to bind it (2:10). Participation in the death and sufferings of Jesus leads to resurrection life with Jesus. Resurrection life with Jesus requires endurance with Jesus. Endurance with Jesus holds the promise of future reign with Jesus (2:11-12). Motivated by this future inheritance, Paul prays for the strength of Colossian believers “for all endurance and patience with joy” as they await their inheritance in the Father’s Kingdom (Col. 1:11-12). He also boasts in the Thessalonian believers’ “steadfastness and faith” through their afflictions for the sake of the Kingdom (2 Thess. 1:4). For those who endure, the Lord promises future participation in his reign and present strength to share in the “fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10; 2 Tim. 2:12).

    The leader must also persevere for the sake of those they lead. Paul did not endure for his own inheritance, but for the sake of “the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). He also encourages the brothers and sisters in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch to persevere “through many tribulations” so they may “enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Paul further motivates Timothy to lead the people of God with selfless and exemplary endurance. The thrust of his charge to Timothy carries weight because of the imminence of the Lord’s appearing (2 Tim. 4:7-8). The reality of the Kingdom compels the leader to “preach the word [and] be ready in season and out of season” (4:1-2).

    Endurance results in increased fruitfulness, the salvation of others, inheritance of the kingdom, and authority to reign with Christ. This fruit, however, is not the ultimate goal of the believer’s perseverance. Just as the Son seeks the glory of the Father, so the believer seeks the glory of the Son through endurance (2 Thess. 1:12). As the believer shares in Jesus’ sufferings, he or she will also share in eternal life and ultimately share in “Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). “Like Jesus, the kingdom means the cross and suffering as the only way to glory.”34


    After reflection on external and internal evidence, the claim stands that Paul incorporates the Kingdom of God throughout his teachings, albeit in subtle yet significant ways. Luke appropriately captures the essence of Paul’s ministry as proclaiming the Kingdom of God. For Paul, that Kingdom begins with the defeat of sin and death through the resurrection of Jesus. Between his resurrection and the consummation of his Kingdom, Jesus stands in conflict with all other powers and seeks to bring them into submission. When Jesus radically consummates his Kingdom, he will do so with resurrection and judgment. Upon bringing all things into submission, Jesus will give the entire Kingdom back to the Father, revealing his ultimate desire that the Father receive glory.

    The Kingdom carries many implications for believers in the present age. The believer receives the promise of eternal life by responding to the call of God and receiving his gift of grace and righteousness. By receiving the grace of God, one may have assurance of their inheritance in the Kingdom and in resurrection life. God calls the believer to inherit his kingdom, but makes demands that one walk worthy of his call. The believer cannot fulfill this demand in his or her own righteousness, but the Spirit enables them to live a worthy life. The future hope of resurrection and rule with Christ motivate the believer to endure in the present age. Their endurance brings much glory to Jesus, who invites the believer to participate presently in his suffering, but ultimately in his glory. Such are the aims of the Kingdom according to Paul.


    1The present author will interact with the full corpus of texts traditionally ascribed to Paul in the canon. This chapter does not purpose to establish Pauline authorship and will operate on the premise that all letters traditionally attributed to Paul should receive consideration to develop a Pauline theology of the Kingdom of God.

    2Youngmo Cho, Spirit and Kingdom in the Writings of Luke and Paul: An Attempt To Reconcile These Concepts, Paternoster Biblical Monographs (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 54; George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 450. Ladd believes Paul does not mention the concept in his letters for the same reason he never refers to Jesus as “messiah,” because his “letters are addressed to Gentile audiences rather than to Jews.”

    3Ladd, 402.

    4G. F. Hawthorne, R. P. Martin and D. G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Compendium of Biblical Scholarship (DPL) (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 524.

    5Karl Paul Donfried, Paul, Thessalonica, and Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 234. Donfried references 1 Enoch 91-93 and Sib. Or. 4:47-91 as examples of apocalyptic material similar to Paul.

    6DPL, 526. “The same tension between the present and future dimensions of a kingdom theology found to be present in the teaching of Jesus within the Synoptic Gospels is also contained within the Pauline materials.”

    7Ladd, 401. Since “Paul himself claims to have had rabbinic theological education … the correct approach would appear to be to accept this claim at face value and to interpret Pauline thought against a Jewish background, but to keep in mind at the crucial points the possibility of Hellenistic or proto-gnostic influences.”

    8Donfried, 251. “Paul’s use of the phrase ‘kingdom of God’ supports those scholars who would wish to show that a fundamental unity and continuity between Jesus and Paul can be detected in the several central themes which are common to both.” See Mt. 7:21; Mk 1:15; 10:23-25; 19:23-24; Lk. 6:46; 18:24-25.

    9See Acts 14:22; 17:31; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 30-31.

    10The only other times Luke uses the phrase “Kingdom of God” in Acts is to summarize the content of Jesus’ teaching after his resurrection (Acts 1:3) and Philip’s ministry in Samaria (Acts 8:12).

    11This resembles Acts 28:23, where Paul gathers leaders from the Jewish community to reasons about “the Kingdom of God and … convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets” (28:23). They reject his teachings, so Paul declares he will go to the Gentiles, since “they will listen” (28:20).

    12Brian Vickers, “The Kingdom of God in Paul’s Gospel,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12/1 (Spring 2008): 65. “It seems reasonable to assume that Luke’s use of “kingdom” in Acts in relation to Paul’s proclamation and ministry would be an acceptable description for Paul.”

    13Donfried, 249. “The fact remains that Paul used the term both in his oral preaching and paraenesis as well as in his written letters.” For basileia tou theou, see Rom. 14:16-17; 1 Cor. 4:18-20; 6:9-10; 15:21-28, 50-58; Gal. 5:13-24; Eph. 5:1-11; Col. 1:11-14, 4:10-11; 1 Thess. 2:9-12; 2 Thess. 1:4-12, 4:1-2; 2 Tim. 4:16-18. See also the verb basileuō in Rom. 5:14, 17, 21; 6:12; 1 Cor. 4:8; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15; 2 Tim. 2:12.

    14Ladd, 595-596.

    15J. R. Daniel Kirk, Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 41.

    16Ladd, 453.

    17Donfried, 239. Quoting Victor Furnish, “Paul must be using the phrase signs and wonders and deeds and power in the way his readers would naturally take it - namely, with reference to some kind of miraculous occurrences, perhaps healings, which took place when he was preaching the gospel to them.”

    18Fredrick William Danker, ed., A Greek - English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (BDAG), 3rd ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 2000), 526. Translators differ in their use of the word katargeō. The ESV translates the word as “destroy.” Danker, however, defines the word as, “(1) To cause something to be unproductive … . (2) To cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, invalidate, make powerless, (3) to cause something to come to an end or to be no longer in existence, abolish, wipe out, set aside” (525-526). Thus it seems unnecessary to conclude the powers and rulers will meet complete annihilation, but that they will cease to have any authority, so that God may reign supreme over them all.

    19DPL, 526. Some suggest a difference between the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of God, the first beginning with Jesus’s resurrection until the parousia, the second beginning with the resurrection of believers until the consummation of the Kingdom, the “age to come.” However, this makes a finer distinction than Paul’s language suggests. The difference in language between the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of God, to quote Klappert, is a “change-over from an implicit to an explicit Christology.” Therefore, the safest claim with consideration to such limited data will assume that Paul may have compacted parousia, the millennium reign, and the day of the Lord into a single concept: the future coming of the Kingdom.

    20Ladd, 67.

    21Ladd, “Preface to the Revised Edition.”

    22DPL, 525.

    23Emphasis mine. One should note the contrast between the simple future tense indicating that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (klēronomēsousin is a future, active, indicative verb) with the stated blessings that a believer already received (apelousasthe, hēgiasthēte, and edikaiōthēte are all aorist, passive, indicative verbs).

    24Donfried, 241.

    25Cho, 57-58. “Only the Pauline corpus connects the kingdom of God to the catalogues [of vices and virtues] in the NT.” However, see the Synoptics for parallel ideas regarding inheritance (Mark 10:15; Matt 5:20; 7:21; 18:3).

    26Ladd, 453.

    27Cho, 108, 62, 60. Cho also notes the statistical correlation between Paul’s reference to the Spirit and Jesus’ reference to the Kingdom: “While the term ‘kingdom of God’ is referred to 92 times in the Synoptics and only 7 times in the Pauline corpus, the word ‘Spirit’ occurs only 13 times in the former and 110+ times in the latter. This proportionate distribution of data warrants investigation whether it may be inferred that Jesus’ emphasis on the kingdom may have been expressed by Paul’s doctrine of the Spirit.” It would seem that “Paul associates the present kingdom with the presence of the Spirit.”

    28DPL, 525. “The kingdom of God/Christ might even be described as ‘life in the spirit’ or ‘life within the Body of Christ,’ both much more prominent themes within the Pauline letters.”

    29The Corinthians made this error by collapsing the Kingdom of God entirely into the present (1 Cor. 4:8); Donfried, 235. The Corinthians believed “they [had] already received the fullness of God’s eschatological gift in Christ in the present” and developed an eagerness to take their kingly role. Paul shares their desire that they participate in the authority of the Kingdom, but reminds them to follow the example of righteousness and humility—even humiliation—shown by his own example as the father of their faith (1 Cor. 4:1-17; 5:1-3); DPL, 165. Paul leaves them only one option: “The Corinthians must consequently repent of their boasting, recognize that everything they have is a gift, and follow in the pattern of their own apostle, whose life of weakness and suffering manifests both the power of the kingdom of God and the reality of the cross.”

    30Donfried, 236.

    31Paul praised the Thessalonians for their abundant faith and love for the brothers and sisters (2 Thess. 1:3). In Romans, however, Paul mentions the Kingdom of God in order to mitigate a conflict between Jewish and Gentile believers (Rom. 14:3-4). Paul explains that the Kingdom of God does not reduce to their argument about what to eat and drink. Rather, one discerns the presence of the Kingdom by the fruit of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Eating in one context may be righteous, peaceable, and done in good spirits; but in another context, eating may be an unrighteous, divisive and troublesome act. Believers are to use their membership in the Kingdom and their freedom in the Spirit to serve rather than criticize (Gal. 5:13-24).

    32Vickers, 52.

    33Donfried, 243.

    34Vickers, 65; Donfried, 237. “In the present, the one in Christ lives under the sign of the cross not the sign of glory; the believer is called upon for the sake of the kingdom to endure.”


    Cho, Youngmo. Spirit and Kingdom in the Writings of Luke and Paul: An Attempt To Reconcile These Concepts. Paternoster Biblical Monographs. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006.

    Danker, Fredrick William, ed., A Greek - English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 2000.

    Donfried, Karl Paul. Paul, Thessalonica, and Early Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

    Given, Mark D., ed. Paul Unbound: Other Perspectives on the Apostle. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010.

    Hawthorne, G. F., R. P. Martin and D. G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Compendium of Biblical Scholarship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993.

    Kirk, J. R. Daniel. Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011.

    Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

    Vickers, Brian. “The Kingdom of God in Paul’s Gospel.” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12/1 (Spring 2008): 52-67.



    A Pauline Theology of Missions Motivations

    Tae W. Kang




    Research Interest

    Research Method











    Why do Christians do missions? The answer is “It depends.” Some people were motivated to do missions because they saw the poor economic and desperate living conditions of people, not their spiritual condition, in an undeveloped country. Others do missions to please their parents, pastor, or someone else. People even do missions to gain God’s favor or love. However, nothing can make God love us more than He already does. Although their works can produce some positive results, God may not be pleased with their wrong motivations because, according to Proverbs 16:2, God sees our hearts whether our motivations behind the actions are pure or not. That is, God sees primarily why we do His work rather than what we do and its results.

    Research Interest

    In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul says,

    If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.1

    Paul confesses that without love accompanying such extraordinary gifts, he would be nothing. Even the willingness to be a martyr (v. 3) has no value if his motivation is not love. In other words, without the right motivation, which is love in this passage, any special gifts or being a martyr would be meaningless. These words show that Paul knew the importance of motivation. So, readers are compelled to think that Paul, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, did carry out God’s work with the right motivations. Therefore, it is worthy of studying and learning Paul’s motivations for missions in order that we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, do missions or God’s work with the right motivations that please God.

    What was Paul’s mission? Galatians 2:7 is one of the clear statements of what Paul thinks of his mission. It says, “… I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles … .” In other words, Paul understood that his mission was to preach the gospel mainly to the Gentiles.2 O’Brien summarizes the content of Paul’s preaching, “The gospel which Paul received on the Damascus road,3 and thus the content of his preaching may be defined christologically: it is Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Gal 1:12, 16; cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 3:8) who is the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord.”4

    Research Method

    For discussion on a Pauline theology of missions motivations, the author of this chapter studied the parts of the Book of Acts where Paul gives speeches and Paul’s thirteen epistles, and collected evidence for Paul’s motivations for missions. The author also went through the rest of the New Testament, while focusing on Acts, in order to find corroborative data of Paul’s motivations from other New Testament authors. After this primary research, the author researched various authors to confirm or refute the primary research. As a result, the author is convinced that four motivations seemed to drive Paul to do missions. 


    The first motivation, which led Paul to do missions, is the divine call. There are two types of calls in Scripture; the call to discipleship and the call to apostleship. According to Wilkins,5 the call to discipleship is “a call to salvation” since the term “disciple” designates a believer in Jesus. On the other hand, the call to apostleship is “a call to be sent out on missions.” The Greek apostolos literally means “one sent on a mission or with a commission,”6 and this was the title that Jesus gave to his first twelve disciples (Lk 6:13). After the death of Judas Iscariot, Matthias was elected to take his place (Acts 1:23-26). Later the term was extended to take in Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14), the first two missionaries (or apostles) to the Gentile world, as well as several others (Andronicus and Junia in Rom 16:7).7 The focus of this part is that second call: the divine call Paul received to apostleship or the missionary commission.

    There are four accounts of Paul’s conversion and calling in the New Testament: Acts 9:1-19; 22:4-16; 26:9-20; and Gal 1:11-17. The first is a third-person report while the other three are given in Paul’s own words. Each passage clearly shows Paul’s motivation for missions from the divine call. However, since Acts 22 focuses more on Paul’s calling rather than on his conversion (cf. Acts 9),8 it deserves an in-depth study.

    In Acts 21, Paul was captured by Jews because he continuously preached and taught the gospel, which offended the Jews (v. 28). When the Jews were trying to kill Paul, the commander of the Roman troops came and arrested Paul (v. 33). In that situation, Paul asked the commander that he could speak to the crowd, who accused Paul without any specific charges (v. 39). When the commander allowed Paul to speak, in Acts 22, Paul started defending his mission and his gospel by talking about his experience on the way to Damascus. In verse 15, Paul told that he received the commission from the risen Christ through Ananias. At the end of his speech (v. 21), Paul reaffirms his commission from Jesus by quoting what Jesus said: “‘Go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” In short, when the Jews accused Paul of preaching his gospel, Paul said to the crowd that he could not help but to preach the gospel due to the commission he received. Indeed, Paul did seek to persuade his audience that his mission was unquestionably the will of Jesus Christ. In regard to Paul’s defense in Acts 22, Peterson says, “An account of Paul’s calling is critical to his defense, both here and in 26:9-18 … Paul seeks to explain his actions by setting them within the context of God’s calling and the revelation of his will.”9 The call from Jesus Christ initiated Paul to preach the gospel even though it offended the Jews.

    Acts 13:47 and 20:24 show the evidence of this first motivation. In Acts 13:13 and following, Paul and Barnabas tried to evangelize Jews and Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch. During this evangelization, the Jews talked against what Paul and Barnabas were saying, and Paul and Barnabas in verses 46 and 47 responded to Jews by quoting Isaiah 49:6, “… we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” From this verse, one can see that Paul had clear conscience why he was turning or going to the Gentiles: because the Lord had commanded him to be a light for the Gentiles. O’Brien points out that “Paul’s allusion to Isaiah suggests that he was chosen by God to continue the work of the Servant of Yahweh.”10

    One may argue that the speech in Acts 13:46-47 was addressed by Barnabas instead of Paul because the text does not clearly indicate who spoke, but says, “Paul and Barnabas answered them … .” (13:46). However, further examination of Acts reveals that it is most likely that Paul would have spoken most of times when Paul and Barnabas went to missionary journeys together. In Acts 13:16, Luke shows that Paul stood up and began to speak to people. In Acts 14:8 and following, when Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra, Paul healed a man cripple in his feet while speaking to the man. When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they considered their gods have come down to them in human form. So, they named Barnabas as Zeus and called Paul Hermes. Luke explains that Paul was called Hermes “because he was the chief speaker” (14:12). From the above evidence, one can assume that Paul gave speeches most of the time, including the speech in Acts 13:47. Or it may be interpreted that both Paul and Barnabas were motivated by the divine call or commission to do missions. Bruce says, “Here both of them read their own appointment in the Servant’s commission: ‘this is the command the Lord has given us.’”11

    In addition to the Book of Acts, Paul’s epistles confirm that one of Paul’s motivations for missions is the divine call. In his nine epistles out of thirteen, Paul uses phrases, like “an apostle12 (or a servant) of Christ Jesus” and “by the will (or command) of God (or Christ Jesus)”13 (Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1; Col 1:1, 1:25; Eph 1:1; 1 Tim 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1; Titus 1:3). When Paul says he was an apostle of Christ Jesus, he meant that Christ had commissioned and sent him as a missionary. According to Melick, Paul reminds “the readers of the divine call on his life” by stating that he became an apostle by the will of God.14 In summary, by writing these phrases in his epistles, Paul wanted to emphasize his apostolic authority by pointing to God’s choice of him for missions to Gentiles.15 For instance, in the Epistle of Galatians, Paul was countering the allegations of his Galatian opponents who had alleged that he had no divine apostolic appointment at all.16 Thus, Paul says that he had been “sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal 1:1). This expression “sent not from men nor by man” indicates that Paul’s apostolic vocation neither originated nor was mediated by human agency, but by God. Wright also comments that such expression shows Paul’s “apostolic authority is rooted not in himself but in the one who called him and sent him, and in his awareness of a vocation to do a specific, unique and irreplaceable job.”17

    From the above evidence, it can be concluded that Paul was very conscious of his divine call to the apostolic ministry and the divine call initiated Paul to do missions.


    The second motivation is the grace from God. In Scripture, especially in Pauline letters, the word charis (grace) refers to God’s unmerited or undeserved favor (1) in the provision of salvation for sinners through Christ’s sacrificial death and (2) in the enabling power for the believer in performing the tasks that God gives His agent.18 According to John Koenig, quite a number of passages in Paul’s writings support the former occasion.19 However, the grace in the second motivation refers to God’s enabling power in performing the tasks that God gives His agent, Paul. Kim suggests that this grace was given at the time of the Damascus road experience on the basis of the aorist tense.20 Thus, this grace probably came along with his missionary commission as the necessary complement, and Paul realized that he had this power in him sometime in his missionary journey.

    For example, when Paul pleaded the Lord to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” presumably to make his missionary efforts more successful,21 he received the unexpected answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). As Bruce puts it, “His prayer was indeed answered, not by his deliverance from the affliction, but by his receiving the necessary grace to bear it.”22 This shows that, from this moment on, Paul knew that he had received the grace, which is a force that sustains and empowers his missions.

    Paul seems to show purposely that he had received this grace of God (Rom 1:5; 1 Cor 15:9-10; 2 Cor 12:9; Gal 1:15; Eph 3:7-8) because it motivated him to pursue his missionary commission boldly whenever he thought he could not. Paul was deeply aware of his own unworthiness because he had persecuted God’s people and, accordingly, considered himself “less than the least of all God’s people” (Eph 3:8a). Although he was “less than the least of all God’s people,” Paul asserts that because of the grace given him, he was able to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ to the Gentiles (Eph 3:8b).23 Hoehner argues that, “certainly in this context (Eph 3:7-8) grace is referring to God’s enabling power to minister.”24 Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul confesses that he could continue to do missions because of the grace of God that was with him. Therefore, this grace, as Harrisville sees it, lays explanation for

    Paul’s racing through a continent, hungering and thirsting, ill-clad, buffeted and homeless, laboring with his own hands, blessing when reviled, enduring when persecuted, conciliating when slandered, tumbling through the Near East and Europe like the rain-washed filth down their cities’ streets, the refuse of the world.25

    One should realize that without the grace, as God’s enabling power, in Paul, he would not have made it through his missionary journeys. He would dare to preach the gospel because he had realized that he had this grace of God in him. If God was backing up Paul with His enabling power, what could stop Paul preaching the gospel?

    Like the two sides of the same coin, this grace of God is inseparable from the divine call, and this grace played a role of motivating Paul to keep pursing his apostolic missions.


    Third motivation is the salvation of others. In other words, Paul preached the gospel so that others could be saved. If the second motivation was related to the grace, as God’s enabling power, the third motivation is closely related to the grace, as God’s unmerited favor in the provision of salvation. As O’Brien claims, Paul was converted and called simultaneously on the way to Damascus.26 So, when Paul experienced God’s undeserved grace in relation to his salvation, this grace of God caused Paul to think everyone is worthy of God’s salvation because Paul himself, who was formerly an opponent of God and His people, was saved by this grace. Bird argues that the encounter with the risen Jesus, which is the grace-event, caused Paul to pursue the proclamation of the good news.27 This way of thinking is also well-expressed in his words. Paul says, God “wants all men [and women] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4) and “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). In addition, Paul considered himself as a debtor of the gospel to the Gentiles (Rom 1:14).28 In other words, Paul had thought that being saved as a result of receiving the gospel incurs a debt to others29 and maybe that was why he said, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (ESV) (1 Cor 9:16). Hendriksen comments on Romans 1:14, “To all of them Paul considered himself to be a debtor: first, because of the commission God had given him; secondly, because he himself had been a persecutor and had been rescued by the Lord in such an unforgettably gracious manner.”30

    Paul’s eagerness to preach the gospel in order to bring people to salvation is well-shown in Acts 9:19-20 (cf. Gal 1:11-24). Paul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus after his conversion. Verse 20 says, at once or immediately, “Paul began to preach that Jesus is the Son of God.” According to Peterson, the apostles had a role in validating individuals and missions at that time (Acts 8:14-17; 9:27-28; 11:1-18; 22-24).31 That is, Paul needed the approval of the apostles in Jerusalem before he preached the gospel. However, Paul began preaching immediately without apparently being instructed by the apostles before him. This shows Paul’s eagerness to preach the gospel for the sake of others’ salvation, which led him to disregard the tradition or the rule of the apostles. Polhill comments on Paul’s commitment to the gospel, “One could even say that his (Paul’s) zeal as a Christian was even stronger than his former zeal as persecutor.”32

    In passages, such as Eph 3:1; Phil 1:12; Col 4:3; and Phlm 1:1 and 9, Paul tells his readers that he was in chains because of the gospel. For example, Paul says, “Now I want you to know, brothers (and sisters), that what has happened to me33 has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil 1:12). Paul’s primary concern was the advancement of the gospel. So, even though he was going through adverse circumstances, Paul rejoiced as long as the gospel went forward (cf. Phil 1:18). Why? It was because more the gospel spread, more people could be saved by hearing the gospel. Ellington says, “Paul has surrendered himself to the gospel’s power and advance.” He adds, “Yet more than that, he bows to the gospel’s force and resigns his life to its advance.”34 One can see clearly that Paul even exchanged his freedom and ultimately his life to advance of the gospel for the sake of others’ salvation. On the contrary, Jonah, who was sent to the Gentiles like Paul, did not rejoice even though God spared the people in Nineveh. It was because his motivation to go to Nineveh was not for the sake of others but for the obligation from God. So, by comparing Jonah’s reaction to Paul’s, Paul’s eagerness to bring others before Jesus Christ is clearer.

    1 Corinthians 9:19-22 show the climax of Paul’s zeal to bring others to salvation. In this passage, Paul shows his purpose or motivation behind his actions. The following chart shows his deeds in the first half of each statement and the purpose of those deeds in the second half of each statement.35 From Table 1, one can plainly see that all Paul did was in order to save others. Mounce points out that “Paul’s desire was to take the gospel to the entire world and see the nations turn to God in a faith that changes conduct.”36

    Therefore, Paul did not do missions simply out of the obligation, but out of love for the salvation of others and as the appropriate response to God’s grace.

    Table 1.




    Paul’s fourth motivation is the Great Commission. Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he gave the Great Commission to his eleven disciples (Matt 28:16). The Great Commission is based on the passage of Matthew 28:19-20: “… go [literally, when going] and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The main command of Christ’s commission is “make disciples” while going. In order to make disciples, “baptizing” them and “teaching” them to obey all of Jesus’ commandments are involved. Hence, the Great Commission has two parts: the first part is to produce other disciples (Christians or believers) of all the nations. The second part is to edify those who are already believers, which is called discipleship.38 Wilkins summarizes,

    As a person responds to the invitation to come out of the nations to start life as a disciple, she or he begins the life of discipleship through baptism and through obedience to Jesus’ teaching. “Baptizing” describes the activity by which the new disciple identifies with Jesus, and teaching introduces the activities by which the new disciple grows in discipleship. We should note that the process of growth does not include only instruction. Growth in discipleship is accomplished as the new disciple is obedient to what Jesus commanded.39

    It is unknown when Paul learned about the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. However, it seems that Paul knew it before his first missionary journey (Acts 13:4-14:28; ca. AD 46-48)40 because he was carrying out th