Theological discussion in various venues often pits one position of belief against its opposites. Supporters of one position or another like to issue proposition statements of the form ‘If they would give _____ an honest reading’, ‘once I gave ______ an honest reading’,’ you can’t read _________ honestly and still believe’ or various other permutations that are meant to couch the idea that your position is unsupportable in the light of clear interpretation. In other words, the veiled inference is that theological presuppositions have colored your interpretation of the text and if you would put them aside and engage an honest reading of the text, you would certainly see the validity of the opposing position. Let’s see if that’s a valid argument…
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Jn 6:37–40)
It’s All Greek to Me
Yesterday we looked at the various contextual levels in which the reader encounters a bible passage. To avoid mishandling a text or inappropriately proof-texting out of context we need to recognize the material that surrounds the passage to varying degrees of immediacy. We close by turning our attention to the language used by the original author and how well our modern translations accord to the original meaning of the words used. This will come as a shock to some but the Bible was not delivered in Elizabethan English. God elected to transmit His truth through authors in Hebrew and Greek for the most part and if we are going to delve beyond our English (or whatever translated language we read) we need to dive into the original texts. Caution is advised here; words in Greek and Hebrew often have ranges of meaning just like their English counterparts and it is easy to manipulate the interpretation of a passage
by selectively ignoring definitions that do not support our theological presuppositions. Let’s begin by looking at the passage in its Greek form:
37 Πᾶν ὃ δίδωσίν μοι ὁ πατὴρ πρὸς ἐμὲ ἥξει, καὶ τὸν ἐρχόμενον πρὸς ἐμὲ οὐ μὴ ἐκβάλω ἔξω, 38 ὅτι καταβέβηκα ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ οὐχ ἵνα ποιῶ τὸ θέλημα τὸ ἐμὸν ἀλλὰ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ πέμψαντός με. 39 τοῦτο δέ ἐστιν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ πέμψαντός με, ἵνα πᾶν ὃ δέδωκέν μοι μὴ ἀπολέσω ἐξ αὐτοῦ, ἀλλὰ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸ [ἐν] τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ. 40 τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ πατρός μου, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ θεωρῶν τὸν υἱὸν καὶ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον, καὶ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν ἐγὼ [ἐν] τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ.
Without the ability to read Greek or Hebrew, you might be stymied at this point by the inability to select the important words to study (since you don’t know what they mean.) If this is the case, the reader will have to trust in the English translation that she elects to use while being aware of where that Bible fits on the spectrum of translation methods. At one end is the literal, word-for-word translation (KJV, ESV) which directly converts words to their English equivalent with less consideration syntactically and structurally for how a verse will read through modern eyes. The dynamic equivalent translation (NIV, RSV) gives the same attention to the careful translation of words but attempts to smooth the syntax into a smoother reading form. At the other end of the spectrum is the paraphrase (NLT, The Message) where the creators are less concerned with the exact translation process, choosing to convey the ideas of the original text so that they are best received by modern readers.
For our purposes in looking at this passage we can create an Interlinear of sorts by associating important words by color. Our passage in the NIV reads:
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
The honest reading of verse 37 conveys the idea that everyone who the Father gives to the Son as an ongoing current activity will come to Him. We note that this is not all those who the Father gave to Jesus at some point in the past but those He is in the process of pointing to His Son. The question we want to ask is whether or not this reading is supported by the original text. The two verbs we have selected have the most theological import in this short verse and in translation, we discover that there is little dispute.
didosin [δίδωσίν] This form of didomi is in the present, active, indicative, 3rd person, singular form. Using a lexicon, we can make certain that the English translation is consistent with the way the the Greek word had been used and that it conveys the meaning we have understood.
TDNTa/Kittel – Since love is depicted as a gift in the NT, didomi is a common term, especially in John. Jesus is what he is by God’s gift. God gives him his works (5:36) disciples (6:37), name (17:11), all things (3:35). Jesus himself gives his life (Mk 10:45), himself (Gal 1:4), his body (Lk 22:19). (pg 166)
BDAG – this extensive lexicon lists 17 definitions for didomi, denoting a variety of subtle distinctions in usage. How do we responsibly select the proper use in the sentence we are studying? CONTEXT! For example, one of the definitions is (9, pg. 242) to bear as a natural product, yield, produce of a field and its crops. Since Jesus is obviously not speaking about grain in the field being given, we can see that this usage is out of context for the verse. An honest reading does not read meaning into words, it extracts meaning from words. The first two BDAG definitions, to give as an expression of generosity, and to give something, seem to best fit the context of the Lord’s speech.
hexei [ἥξει ] This form of the verb heko is in the future, active, indicative, 3rd person, singular form and indicates that someone/something will come. Again, a study of our lexicons offers no surprises. Those who are being given to the Son will come to Him, that is to be present with him. What we need to be cautious in doing with a word like this is not to freight it with our desired meaning or read theological implications into it. In the majority usage within the NT, the usage of heko (and its forms) is to simply come, to be present. To draw out a theological meaning takes more than a single word, verse, or sometimes even a passage.
We’ll examine one more word in this passage which often gets loaded with a narrow meaning that might not be apparent to the honest reader. That word is everyone found in verse 40.
pas [πᾶς] – This adjective, like its counterpart in English, can modify a noun, assert something about a noun, or stand in the place of a noun. They can also posses a theological importance and require cautious interpretation. In order to understand what Jesus implies by utilizing the word everyone in this verse, we must consider the context yet again. Everyone has a scope that must be understood from the context of its usage. For example, if I say ‘everyone in class must turn in their paper’, I am not indicating application to the students in the room next to us. On the other hand, when I say that ‘everyone should love Jesus’, I mean everyone universally without distinction.
The TDNT definitions are consistent with the English usage of the word everyone in the universal sense and without exclusion. How can we verify this in an honest reading? We simply need to follow the progression of thought in the preceding sentences (and not pull the verse out of its context):
37: God is in the process of giving disciples to Jesus and he will not turn away those who come to him
38: This is not my plan (Jesus) but my Father’s plan
39: The Father’s plan is to grant those who I (Jesus) keep eternal life
40: To restate what I just said, whoever believes in me will have eternal life.
Pulling It All Together
The next post will pull all of the hermeutical principles together to see what conclusions an honest reading comes to. Until then, grace and peace to you.
image by derrickting