Category Archives: Bible Bites [Exegesis]

This category includes all posts that are primarily about exegesis (biblical interpretation), except for posts already included in the Church Chat category.

Why Did Jesus Command His Disciples to Buy Swords? – Intro Draft

I have been working on an essay. Here is a draft of the introduction.

What do you think? Shall I finish the essay? Do you have any suggestions about how it should unfold that won’t entirely derail me? Any encouragement for a slow writer? 🙂

You may share your feedback in the comments below. Thank you!

Here is a PDF of the entire introduction draft: Why did Jesus Command his Disciples to Buy Swords – Intro Draft

Here is a link to download it: Why did Jesus Command his Disciples to Buy Swords – Intro Draft

And here is a part of what you can read in the PDFs above:


Why did Jesus Command his Disciples to Buy Swords?

On the night when he was betrayed, our Lord in his kindness said many things that troubled and confused his unprepared disciples. Of all his words from that night, few still confuse his disciples today more than this statement: “Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36  ESV).[1] An online survey using Google reveals how much this statement still cuts Christians into opposing interpretive camps today. Among current scholarly commentators there is less diversity of opinion, but still not a clear consensus interpretation of what Jesus meant.

This essay will consider two primary interpretive questions: (1) Was Jesus teaching his disciples to use swords in human combat? (2) What is the relationship between Jesus’ sword command and his subsequent quotation of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:12 that he would be “numbered with the transgressors” (Luke 22:37)? These two questions are not the only important questions raised by Jesus’ sword command. When combined as variables on a two-dimensional graph, however, they offer four interpretive quadrants or positions (see Table 1), and these four positions represent the most important interpretive options held today by both popular readers and biblical scholars:

  1. Self-defense: Jesus told his disciples to buy swords so they would use them, to defend themselves from enemies.
  2. Among transgressors: Jesus told his disciples to buy swords so they would use them, so the prophecy would be fulfilled that he would be “numbered with the transgressors.”
  3. Appearance of transgressors: Jesus told his disciples to buy swords so the prophecy would be fulfilled that he would be “numbered with the transgressors,” but he didn’t want them to actually use them.
  4. Metaphor for dangerous times: Jesus told his disciples to buy swords but didn’t want them to actually buy or use them; he was speaking figuratively about dangerous times to come.

What interpretation will this essay defend? Before I gave this verse much thought, my assumptions were probably most in line with interpretive option…

[1] The English Standard Version (ESV) will be used in this essay unless otherwise noted. Note: The Greek syntax behind this statement is somewhat difficult to parse, as technical commentaries usually discuss. But no matter how the syntax is understood, the resulting instruction is the same: The disciples are urged to buy swords.

 


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Notes While Reading the Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

I set a goal this year to read through the Bible in the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) translation. I’m far behind schedule but don’t regret my choice.

The CSB, you may recall, is the new version of the now-retired Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). There are many differences between the two, though both aim(ed) to provide a translation that falls somewhere between the formal equivalence (NASB, KJV, ESV) and functional equivalence (NIV, NET, NLT) ends of the translation spectrum.

You can easily find more information online about all such things, including my own advice about Bible translations. Here I’ll simply share a few translation choices that have stood out to me so far in the CSB. Let’s talk about Adam, sex, and cubits.

“ADAM” or “THE MAN”?

The Hebrew word for the name of the first man, “Adam,” simply means “the man” or, in a generic sense, “human beings.” Translators need to use context when deciding how ‘adam should be translated.

This creates special challenges in the early chapters of Genesis. The first occurrence of ‘adam is in Genesis 1:26, where God says, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule…” (I’ll use CSB in this post unless otherwise stated). Here both the theological emphasis on all humanity being created in God’s image and the plural “they” make it clear that a translation such as “man” or “human beings” (CSB footnote) is necessary. “Let us make Adam” would not work.

By the time we get to Genesis 5:3, it is very clear that ‘adam references not merely “human beings” in general nor even a generic “man,” but a specific individual: “Adam was 130 years old when he fathered a son in his likeness… and named him Seth.”

But the Genesis creation narrative flows quite seamlessly from a general description of the creation of humanity in general to a more specific discussion of Adam and Eve as individuals. When should we start thinking of ‘adam as a specific man?

It is always interesting to see when translations make this transition.

The KJV first mentions “Adam” at Genesis 2:19:

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

The ESV makes the transition one verse later, at Genesis 2:20:

The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

The NASB and the NIV do the same as the ESV, but the NIV tips the reader off as early as  Genesis 2:4 by providing a heading that reads “Adam and Eve.”

The NLT waits until Genesis 3:20 to make the transition, translating a single Hebrew word twice to help the reader along:

Then the manAdam—named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all who live.

But the CSB waits even longer. “Adam” doesn’t appear until Genesis 4:25:

Adam was intimate with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth…

Which option is best? I give NLT top points for clarity. And it is ingenious to provide Adam’s name in the same verse where Eve is first named! But its double translation implies that two terms are present in Hebrew where there is only one.

Overall, I like the choice of the NASB, NIV, and ESV best. Including both “the man” and “Adam” in the same verse somewhat eases the transition, helping the reader know both terms refer to the same person.

And I like the CSB the least of the options shown above. When “Adam” first appears in Genesis 4:25, the man named “Adam” has not been discussed since Genesis 4:1—twenty-four verses earlier—where we read, “The man was intimate with his wife Eve…” The intervening verses have been about other characters named Cain, Abel, Lamech, and more. Advanced readers will notice that “Adam” who is “intimate with his wife” in 4:25 is “the man” who was “intimate with his wife” in 4:1.  But many beginning Bible readers (and there are increasing numbers in North America) will be left wondering who this “Adam” is that they are hearing about the first time, and why he is mentioned “again” if he has not been named before.

“KNEW,” “MADE LOVE TO,”
or “WAS INTIMATE WITH”?

But if the CSB strikes out with “Adam,” it hits a home run with its translation for the act of sexual intercourse, also mentioned in the verses above.

Translating sexual language brings many potential pitfalls. First, there are our modern preoccupations with sex, ranging from undue sexual embarrassment (especially when reading the Bible aloud in church!) to the anything-goes flaunting of sexual provocation in North American media and fashion.

The ancient biblical conceptions of sexuality also bring translation challenges. When the Old Testament talks about sexual intercourse, it often uses the word yada, often translated “know”/”knowledge.” Here is how Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology begins its discussion of this word:

Yada… appears almost 950 times in the Hebrew Bible. It has a wider sweep than our English word “know, ” including perceiving,learning, understanding, willing, performing, and experiencing. To know is not to be intellectually informed about some abstract principle, but to apprehend and experience reality.

This word yada is used of all sorts of situations, including humanity’s knowledge of God, God’s knowledge of humanity, personal skills, moral awareness, and treaty relationships.

And sex.

Formal modern language about sexual union rarely expresses this concept of knowing another person. “Sexual intercourse” and “coitus” sound too scientific. “Had sex” is too dryly factual and sounds like we are talking about consumer goods. “Consummation” and “sexual relations” come closer, but still do not emphasize knowing above other possible connotations. Informal language such as “make love with” and “go to bed with” also often misses the boat.

Given these ancient and modern challenges, what is a translator to do?

The KJV famously simply opts for “knew.” Formally, this is a perfect translation choice, retaining links to other places where yada is found. And functionally, it points the reader directly to a primary significance that the ancient Hebrews saw in the sexual act. That said, it leaves some modern readers clueless as to what Adam actually did. (Did he take Eve on a date? Exchange family histories with her? Ask her about her favorite flavor of ice cream?) Now, this has its advantages in church Bible readings, when children are present, right? But nobody today uses “knew” in this way unless they are deliberately parroting the KJV.

That is what the NKJV does, and so do others like the NRSV and the ESV. It works, but it needs some explanation from time to time.

The NASB uses “had relations with.” That’s closer to modern usage, though usually today one would specify that it is sexual relations under discussion. And again, the modern idiom “relations” does not quite emphasize the idea of knowing in a way that matches the Hebrew yada.

The NIV lets modern usage lead the way, so it says Adam “made love to” his wife. This translation mercifully lets readers know what actually happened. But it totally misses the boat with its connotation of loving another person rather than knowing them. It carries too much baggage from medieval notions of romance and modern chick flicks.

The CSB, it seems to me, gets it about as good as modern English can: “Adam was intimate with his wife.” First, this clearly conveys what actually happened between Adam and his wife. Dictionaries define this phrase as “to have sexual relations with” or have “sex” or “sexual intercourse” with someone. Second, the word “intimate” very accurately expresses the sort of experiential knowledge conveyed by the Hebrew yada. And third, the phrase is an idiom, which appears to be how the term yada functioned when used to refer to sexual activity.

Well, done, CSB!

“CUBITS” or “INCHES”?

Today while reading through Exodus in the CSB, I was surprised to read this:

They are to make an ark of acacia wood, forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high. (Exodus 25:10)

What surprised me was the appearance of “inches,” along with other modern units such as “feet,” “yards,” and “pounds.”

Metric units would be so much better, right? Actually, what I was expecting was “cubits,” as I grew up reading about in the KJV:

And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof.

A cubit was the length from a man’s elbow to his fingertips—about 18 inches. So, when you do the conversions, the CSB lengths remain accurate.

But every other translation I’ve commonly used retains the ancient Hebrew units. This includes the NKJV, the NASB, the ESV, and—surprisingly—even the NIV. I say surprisingly because usually the NIV is seen as more quick than the CSB to prioritize modern language over the formal patterns of the original text. (We saw a hint of this above with the NIV’s “made love to” vs. the CSB’s still-modern-but-less-widely-used “was intimate with.”) Generally, if no significant meaning will be lost by using modern terminology, the NIV will use it. So why didn’t they here?

Roughly twenty of the approximately fifty English translations on www.Biblegateway.com use modern units.  I am somewhat surprised that so many do. Most recent translations opt for English units. But there are some exceptions: for example, the Lexham English Bible, International Standard Version, and even the Amplified Bible still retain Hebrew units. (None offer metric units. And the ESVUK retains biblical units in sensible British fashion.)

I don’t know what I think about this choice. I have been familiar long enough with cubits to have little trouble picturing the size of objects measured with this unit. But other ancient units (shekel, hin, etc.) still leave me searching for footnotes. So I appreciate the assistance that using modern units gives to readers.

On the other hand, an ark that is “twenty-seven inches wide” (not 24″ or 36″) sounds less natural than one that is “one and a half cubits wide.” The same is true of:

  • an altar that is “7 ½ feet” long and wide (not 8 feet) versus one that is “five cubits” long and wide (Ex. 27:1), or
  • hangings that are “22 ½ feet” long (not 20 feet or 25 feet) versus “15 cubits” long (Ex. 27:14).

It is clear that God used measurements that were ordinary sizes in the culture of ancient Israel, but using modern unit conversions doesn’t convey this.

A second potential concern is that some biblical measurements have symbolic meaning that can be lost in conversion. That said, I am not aware of any such symbolism in the measurements of the tabernacle, apart from ratios of length which are not lost in conversion. The dimensions of the Most Holy Place form a cube in feet just as well as in cubits, thus preserving the link to the cube-shaped New Jerusalem in Revelation. And in Revelation, where the units measuring the New Jerusalem do indeed have symbolic significance (being multiples of 12), the CSB does use the biblical units, excluding modern units to footnotes:

He measured the city with the rod at 12,000 stadia. Its length, width, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall, 144 cubits according to human measurement, which the angel used. (Rev. 21:16-17)

I would need to examine this further to see how well the CSB handles this balance. But what I see so far suggests that in their handling of units of measurement the CSB translators have achieved the “optimal equivalence” they aimed for between faithfulness to the original text and readability for the modern ear.


Every translation philosophy has trade-offs. I enjoy reading multiple translations to help me better ponder and understand God’s words.

Have you read from the CSB? Do you have any most- or least-favorite translation choices from the CSB? Share them in the comments below. And keep reading…


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On Which Day of the Week Did Jesus Die?

On which day of the week did Jesus die?

The first thing that must be said about this question is that it is not a question of first importance, nor even of second importance. It is much more important to understand why Jesus died than to pinpoint when. So if today’s question doesn’t interest you, that’s fine.

Nevertheless, the question of when Jesus died has often been debated. And it becomes an important one if it threatens to either divide Christians or erode our trust in the Scriptures.

Three answers have been commonly given to my question: Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. According to Harold W. Hoehner, “the Friday crucifixion view has had the overwhelming support of scholars throughout the history of the church.”1 But the Thursday view and the Wednesday view (though to a lesser extent) have also been defended by some scholars. (Note: I will be relying heavily on Hoehner in this post, using his book Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, available on Kindle right now for only $2.99.)

According to Hoehner, “the primary support” for both the Wednesday and Thursday crucifixion views “is the literal interpretation of Matthew 12:40 where Jesus states: ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.'”2 But Hoehner believes that this piece of evidence for a Wednesday or Thursday crucifixion is not as strong as it first appears.

In this post I will build on Hoehner’s thoughts on this one specific argument. I acknowledge that there are other factors that should also be weighed to better answer my original question. But hopefully addressing this one factor will help strengthen our trust in the Scriptures.

The place to begin is to compare all the ways that Jesus spoke about how long after his death he would rise. There are at least five phrases that he and others used:

  1. “On the third day” (τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ). This is the most frequently used phrase, occurring nine times (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 46; Acts 10:40; 1Corinthians 15:4).
  2. “After three days” (μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας). There are four times this phrase is used (Matthew 27:63; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34).
  3. “Three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ τῆς γῆς τρεῖς ἡμέρας καὶ τρεῖς νύκτας). This phrase is used once, as cited above (Matthew 12:40).
  4. “In three days” (ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις). This occurs twice, where Jesus says “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” and the Jews discuss his saying. John clarifies that Jesus was speaking about his own body (John 2:19-20)).
  5. “In three days” (διὰ τριῶν ἡμερῶν). This similar phrase occurs twice, where Jesus’ accusers report his saying about rebuilding the temple (Matthew 26:61; Mark 14:58).

The first thing to note is that a very literalistic interpretation of all five phrases leads to direct contradictions. Phrase (3) “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” seems the most specific, so it is tempting to try to reconcile all the others to this one. Phrase (2) “after three days” could indeed be reconciled quite nicely with (3); the presence or absence of “nights” makes little difference. But there is no way to make a hyper-literal reading of phrase (1) “on the third day” mean the same as phrase (2) “after three days.” If I tell you to come to my house “on” Sunday, that is not the same as if I tell you to come “after” Sunday. So there is no way that phrases (1), (2), and (3) can all be synthesized if they are interpreted in a hyper-literalistic fashion.

Thankfully, parallel passages in the synoptic Gospels point to a solution. In three of the four occurrences of “after three days” (2), there are parallel passages where the phrase “on the third day” (1) is used instead (Mark 8:31 = Matthew 16:21 / Luke 9:22; Mark 9:31 = Matthew 17:23; Mark 10:34 = Matthew 20:19 / Luke 18:33). This shows that the Gospel writers understood the two expressions “on the third day” and “after three days” to mean the same thing. They did not have a hyper-literalistic understanding of time references as we often do.

The fourth occurrence of “after three days” (2) also points toward this understanding, for the response of the Jewish leaders to Jesus’ statement about rising “after three days” was to ask for a guard “until the third day” (ἕως τῆς τρίτης ἡμέρας), not “until after the third day” (Matthew 27:63-64). So the Jewish leaders, too, understood phrases (1) and (2) to be equivalent.

To my amateur mind, phrases (4) and (5) could naturally match either (1) or (2), especially since (1) and (2) are actually equivalent. If so, we have now found a biblical way to synthesize four of the five phrases. (Hoehner does not discuss the last two phrases on my list.)

This leaves phrase (3)—the Matthew 12:40 statement—as the only “three-day saying” that seems to point toward a Wednesday crucifixion. But an examination of OT and rabbinic Jewish ways of discussing the passage of time shows that this passage, too, should not be ready in a hyper-literalistic fashion. For example, in Esther 4:16 Esther tells the Jews, “Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day… Then I will go to the king.” But in Esther 5:1 we read that she went to the king “on the third day,” not “after three days and three nights.” (See also 1 Samuel 30:12-13; Hoehner mentions more passages.)

Similarly, several passages in the rabbinic literature reportedly “combine” the Jonah time-table (“three days and three nights,” Jonah 1:17) with various “on the third day” passages such as Genesis 22:4 and Genesis 42:17-18. (I am not sure what Hoehner means by “combine.”) More clearly, Hoehner reports that Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (c. A.D. 100) stated, “A day and night are an Onah [‘a portion of time’] and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it”3

There are other factors to discuss when determining which day of the week Jesus died, but this is how Hoehner summarizes this primary factor:

“When one examines all the evidence, it seems that the New Testament, the Old Testament, and Rabbinic literature all agree that a part of a day is counted as a whole day-and-night. Thus, the expressions: ‘the three days and three nights,’ ‘after three days,’ and ‘on the third day’ are all one and the same time span.4

Even when using an ancient Jewish approach to when a new day starts (at sundown), the above data could fit with either a Thursday or a Friday crucifixion—though it seems to me that by Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah’s method Friday works somewhat better:

Thursday crucifixion:
1st day—Thursday afternoon
2nd day—Friday
3rd day—Saturday
(don’t count Sunday morning)

Friday crucifixion:
1st day—Friday afternoon
2nd day—Saturday
3rd day—Sunday morning

If the analysis in this post is correct, then there is little reason to argue for a Wednesday crucifixion and one of the primary reasons to argue for a Thursday crucifixion has been removed. Other factors would need to be discussed to explain why some scholars still prefer a Thursday crucifixion but most conclude that the traditional view, Friday, makes most sense of the biblical and historical data.

My goal in this post was not primarily to convince you about which day of the week Jesus died. Rather, it was an exercise in reading the Scriptures carefully. I admit I enjoy that sort of investigation for its own sake! But hopefully this post will also increase your confidence, as it did mine, that the Scriptures can be trusted to make sense when we read them on their own terms.

What do you think? I can’t promise to answer your further questions, but do ask or instruct as you wish in the comments below.

  1. Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1977), p. 74.
  2. Ibid., p. 65, cf. p. 68.
  3. Ibid., p. 74. Hoehner cites three passages in Midrash Rabbah and Midrash on the Psalms regarding the Jonah passage, and the Jerusalem Talmud (Shabbath ix. 3) and the Babylonian Talmud (Pesahim 4a) regarding Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah’s statement.
  4. Ibid., p. 74, emphasis added.

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