Interconnectedness of the Bible: 1 Chronicles 28:9

"It's clear that the Bible is too superintended to be a random collection of books," a pastor friend once said to me.  I agree.  Like watching a good flick, reading the Bible a few times opens up a fascinating realm of things missed on a first or second pass.  This exploration can continue for a life time if you just keep reading the Bible.  It's a supernatural interconnected single story, woven together through the merciful revelation of God to his creation over the course of about 2,000 years through forty or so human authors.  (More technically, the Bible is God's divinely authored revelation of himself to his people, written through his people.  It's a complex dual authorship!)  And it is the Holy Spirit who illuminates new things as you read, learn, and grow; therefore,  as you keep reading you grow more and more convinced of the truth of God's Word, the Bible.

Evidence of the Bible's interconnectedness abounds.  I've not done a formal study or count, but I'd venture a guess that there are thousands of passages that point to other passages in one way or another and they all point toward Christ.  We'll use 1 Chronicles 28:9 as an example.

Chapter 28 of 1 Chronicles opens with David, the king of Israel, giving a speech to the officials assembled in Jerusalem.  He tells them that he had a heart to build a temple for God but God had not allowed him to do so.  He also expressed that Solomon, his son, was chosen by God to be his successor and it will be Solomon who will build the temple.  At verse 9 David shifts his speech directory toward Solomon.  He gives him a charge and some instruction.  "And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever" (ESV).

I found well over 100 cross references for the various aspects of this passage, but for the sake of this post, I'll only deal with a couple parts of this very loaded verse, and even in that, I'll only provide a small sample of interconnected verses. 

First, much of the Old Testament talks about God in terms of the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, or in other terms--the God of our fathers.  Many times the God of one's father becomes one's own God, as if there's a transition from one to another or a personal acceptance or relationship as the son grows and begins to know the God of his father for himself.  God is no longer the God of someone else, but personal.  This talk of the God of our fathers as well as the transition can be seen in verses like Genesis 28:13, Exodus 3:16, and Exodus 15:2.  In 2 Kings 21:22 Amon walks away from the God of his fathers, whereas Josiah does walk in the way of the God of David, that is, the God of his fathers (1 Kings 22:2). This language is found over and over again until Christ walks among his people and actually calls God his Father! No longer is the worship and service to the God of our fathers, but the Heavenly Father himself. Then, because of Jesus, we too are able to call God our Father because we are adopted into his family (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; and Ephesians 1:5).  

Next, as early as Genesis 6:5, the Bible indicates that God knows the thoughts and intentions of man.  1 Samuel 16:7, at the time when they boy David was being identified as Israel's king, it is said that God does not look at the outward appearance, but at man's heart.  Psalm 7:9 identifies God as one who tests minds and hearts. Psalm 139:2 says that God can even discern these thoughts from a distance.  The idea of testing thoughts and intentions is present again in Jeremiah 11:20 and again in Jeremiah 17:10.  So it should help us see that Jesus is God when he has this very ability.  In John 1:47 Jesus looks into the deep of Nathanael. Repeatidly, Jesus knew what the Pharases were thinking as well as his disciples (see: Matthew 9:4; Matthew 12:25; Luke 1:51; Luke 5:22; Luke 6:8; and Luke 11:17).  And the disciples new and believed that God searches the heart as is evident in Acts 1:24.  Paul also writes about it in Romans 8:27.

Jeremiah 29:13 says that seekers of God find him.  Jesus, as the Messiah and God, repeats the same seek and you will find  theme in Matthew 7:7-8, and in Revelation 3:20 he extends an invitation for a relationship.  Throughout both the Old and New Testaments there are repeated invitations to enter into a relationship with God, no longer serving the God of our fathers but the Heavenly Father himself.

It is because of the interconnectedness that we use the Bible to interpret the Bible.  The more plain passages help us understand the more complex ones.  The connections between the books, the players, and various smaller stories help us understand the larger story of God's redemption.  It's all interconnected.  It's one story woven together like a beautiful basket.

*Photo of weaved basket by Damian Gadal is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.

Hebrews Relationship with the Old Testament


It is difficult for a student of the New Testament to miss the significance of the Old Testament. These two sections of the Canon are like two acts of a play that depend upon each other for the proper presentation of the plot, conflict, and resolution. Character development—a necessary tool for any successful play—usually spans from the first raised curtain to the final curtain call. To properly understand the conclusion, one must understand the beginning. Like the two-act play, the New Testament depends upon the foundations set in the first act, which is typically called the Old Testament. Hebrews, probably more so than any other New Testament book is a second-act book that is highly dependent upon the first act. Its author demands that the reader know the Old Testament in order to fully understand the claims made by the book.

Hebrews, written to an audience with an old covenant background, makes heavy use of the Old Testament. George Guthrie writes of the book, “Thirty-five quotations from the Greek translation of the Old Testament and thirty-four allusions work to support the development of Hebrew’s argument. In addition, the writer offers nineteen summaries of Old Testament material, and thirteen times he mentions an Old Testament name or topic, often without reference to specific context.”[1] Carson and Moo write, “[T]he author cites the Greek Old Testament as if he assumes his readers will recognize its authority.”[2] Clements believes that the original readers are “men and woman who are assumed to be fully familiar with the scriptures of the Old Testament, although they themselves are Christian.”[3] Regardless of the exact identity of the original readers (which will be discussed below), George Guthrie argues, “The author assumes his audience has an extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. Of all the writings of the New Testament, none is more saturated with overt references to the Old Testament. The author so filled his discourse with Old Testament thoughts and passages that they permeate every chapter.”[4]

The Hebrews author exhorts that the new is better than the old. “His line of approach,” according to Donald Guthrie, “was that everything in fact was better – a better sanctuary, a better priesthood, a better sacrifice, a better covenant. Indeed, he aims to show that there is a theological reason for the absence of the old ritual, glorious as it may have seemed to the Jews.”[5] And Scott contends, “The Epistle to the Hebrews clearly affirms that because the final age (‘these last days,’ Hebrews 1:2) is present, the new covenant has made the former obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear; (Hebrews 8:13).”[6] Thus, to understand the thing that is better, it seems that the reader must have some familiarity with the former.

In an effort to understand the exhortation of author of Hebrews, this post will examine the author’s of use of the Old Testament. First, a brief discussion of the potential identity of the author and the most likely original audience should serve to provide an appropriated backdrop for the author’s Old Testament usage. Once the background is set, specific passages will be explored; however, for the scope of this post, not every reference to the Old Testament will be mined for additional understanding. In concluding this post, attempts will be made to understand how dependent the book of Hebrews is upon the Old Testament. Can the key points of Hebrews be understood by a reader with no previous knowledge of the Old Testament passages cited or alluded to in Hebrews? Does Hebrews require further study of the old covenant or does the author provide enough background information that right new covenant understanding can come from the book of Hebrews alone? How should a present-day teacher or preacher approach Hebrews in light of the examination of this post?

The author of Hebrews is a mystery. Most introductions contain convincing arguments on why the author was not likely Paul, who wrote Romans and many other Epistles, despite that P46 places Hebrews behind Romans in the Pauline corpus.[7] And it may have been an Eastern Church belief that Hebrews was associated with Paul that allowed it its inclusion in the Canon. Even with the support of Jerome and Augustine, after the forth and early fifth centuries the idea of a Pauline authorship was drawing fire.[8] Today, Carson and Moo write, “The Greek of Hebrews is more polished than that of Paul, and the consistent quality of the rhetoric is quite remarkable.”[9] Hagner points to Hebrews 2:3 as proof that Hebrews was not written by Paul because the author claims to have only second-hand knowledge of the gospel but in passages like Galatians 1:12 and 1 Corinthians 9:1, Paul claims to have learned directly from God.[10] And Davies contents, “It would be very unusual to find a modern scholar holding this view, for there are no positive reasons for it, and strong reasons against it.”[11] But if Paul is not that author, who might the author be?

Luther first proposed that Apollos might be the author. Hagner provides a case for this authorship pointing to Acts 18:24, which states that Apollos was a “learned man” and held a “thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.” And Apollos would know Timothy enough to reference his release from prison (Hebrews 13:23).[12] Tertullian supported Barnabas as the author. Hagner lists that Barnabas was a Levite and would be interested in the livitical system, he was from Cyprus, and was likely influenced by Hellenistic culture.[13] Other suggested authors include Clement of Rome, Priscilla, Jude, Philip, and Silvanus.[14] Presently however, only aspects of the author can be gleaned from the text but there is still no clear evidence—internal or external—that leaves scholars with any solid suspects.

The audience on the other hand is shrouded in slightly less mystery. From Hebrews 10:23, it is fair to assume that the author had some specific people in mind when writing his Epistle.[15] There is silence on the temple, and the Old Testament is quoted from polished Greek, leaving one to conclude that either author or the audience did not know Hebrew. The audience was either not in Jerusalem or if in Jerusalem, they were most likely Greek-speaking expatriates.[16] And while there is no clear identification of who the original audience was, Hagner argues, “the early church was very probably correct in understanding the first readers to have been Jewish Christians. The vast majority of modern scholars have agreed with this conclusion from analysis of the content of the book.”[17]


As one tries to understand how the Hebrews author uses the Old Testament, one must first ask how the author viewed the Old Testament. Yisa believes that the author was not arguing against the Old Testament, but rather building upon his position with a strong trust and understanding of the Old Testament. He writes, “At surface level, it may seem that the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament in an allegorical and fanciful way. However, that is far from the truth. A closer examination of the book proves that the author shared the Jewish and early Christian presuppositions and exegetical principles of the literal and natural sense of the text, a high view of Scripture, and the divine inspiration of the Old Testament as the Word of God.”[18] Like Yisak who essentially argues that the author of Hebrews holds to a Christocentric hermeneutic, Hagner writes, “Christ is seen to be the key to the real meaning of the OT as it can now be understood in this era of fulfillment. From this point of view, all of the OT points directly or indirectly to Christ, who is by definition the telos (goal) of God’s saving purpose.”[19] And Yisak rightly points out, “[The author] intended to teach that Jesus is the unifying factor of Scriptures.”[20]

Also worth noting is the source (or sources) from where the author drew his information. “In quotations,” writes Hanger, “the author regularly follows the Greek (LXX) rather than the Hebrew (or Masoretic) text that has come down to us.”[21] Bruce identifies two Greek texts that are in agreement with the author’s quotations (Alexandrinus and Vaticanus), but twice as many quotes are in agreement with Alexandrinus than Vaticanus. Interestingly, some of the quotations agree with neither.[22] Bruce explains, “[The author] may have selected his variants (where he knew more readings than one) for interpretational suitability. These variants were sometimes borrowed from the other parts of the Greek Bible or from Philo, but appear for the most part to have been introduced on his own responsibility. It has been argued on the basis of his use of certain Old Testament quotations that he was familiar with the interpretations of Philo and used some quotations in such a way as to counter these interpretations.”[23] And it may even be argued (as Bruce does) that the author of Hebrews actually influenced other Greek texts.[24]

From the broad background, this post will now adjust the attention to some specific Old Testament passages found in Hebrews. One way to outline Hebrews by major themes is to look at Chapters 1-10 as an argument that Christ is superior. In nearly every case, the inferior items are something argued from the Old Testament. Christ is superior to angels, Moses, the previous priesthood, the previous sacrifices, and even the entire old covenant. The remaining three chapters are centered upon the necessity and superiority of faith. To understand the thing that is better there is a necessity to understand the previous thing, and the author often reminds his readers of the Old Testament to make his case. Examining the book of Hebrews in this fashion will not give equal treatment to every Old Testament quote and allusion found in Hebrews, and in fact, some quotations will be neglected all together; however, this approach should provide enough examples to support the thesis of this post.

Christ is superior to the angels. The book of Hebrews wastes no time with an introductory opening and is quickly arguing that Jesus is superior to the angels. To make this argument, the author appeals to Deuteronomy 32:43, 2 Samuel 7:14, Psalm 2:7, Psalm 45:6-7, Psalm 102:25-27, and Psalm 110:1. Most of the entire first chapter is actually comprised of Old Testament quotes. Davies points out that all the Scripture appealed to in this specific argument is ascribed to God as the speaker, showing the author’s belief of divine authorship of the quoted passages.[25] Also worth noting is how short many of the quotations are. Most of them are one sentence, and of those, the first four quotes are rather short sentences. It is as if they are to serve as merely a reminder rather that a first-time presentation of the material. And the reader must already trust these statements as God’s Word, that is, divine Scripture, or there is no value in using the passages to support the argument for Christ.

Christ is superior to Moses. In Chapter 3, the author compares Jesus to Moses, saying, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses […].”[26] And while the author provides a little glimpse of who Moses was in verse 5 when he says, “Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant,” he provides very little about Moses the character. It is as if the reader must already be aware of Moses or the author wants to the reader to do some research. In providing commentary on this passage, Bruce discusses aspects of the golden calf, the relationship with Aaron, and even the unfavorable report from spies.[27] None of this is mentioned in the Hebrews passage, but Bruce seems to feel the need to express it to explain the comparison. Guthrie feels that he must do the same thing in order to explain the rebellion in verse 8.[28] In order to see a complete picture of Moses, one must read the Old Testament, and it seems the author understood this and expected it of his readers, just as Bruce, Guthrie and many others have done.

Christ is superior to the Old Testament priesthood. Much like the author’s argument about Jesus’ superiority to Moses, he also argues that Jesus is superior to any present priesthood system. This argument spans from the tail end of Chapter 4 through Chapter 7 with some minor breaks. For this argument, the author specifically only quotes Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4, but he alludes to the order of the Melchizedek priesthood and even of the high priest system that his readers would likely be familiar with. But unlike the Moses argument, the author provides some background on the mysterious person called Melchizedek. It is as if he expects the readers to be slightly less informed of Melchizedek—maybe aware of the person but not the magnitude of meaning wrapped up in him— because Hebrews 7:1-10 offers an explanation of who Melchizedek was before the author compares Melchizedek and Jesus. One might point out that the author of Hebrews provides enough information that the reader may not need to do additional research to understand the comparison, and this is a valid observation. This demonstrates the author’s awareness of his original audience and his awareness of the common understanding of Moses compared to that of Melchizedek. When likened to the author’s treatment of Moses, there is an indication the author must teach where necessary but depend upon the audience’s knowledge of the Old Testament where he can afford to do so.

Christ is superior to the old covenant. In making the argument that Christ as the new covenant is better than the old covenant, the author appeals briefly to Exodus 25:40 and extensively to Jeremiah 31:31-34. In appealing to Jeremiah, the author cites what might be the largest quotation from the Old Testament found in Hebrews. Hagner suggests that this citation is “of major importance to the epistle,” and “the explicit reference to the new covenant in this text makes it ideal for his purpose.”[29] This Old Testament passage is so useful in the argument in fact, that is quoted again in Hebrews 10. And just as with the previous uses of the Old Testament, little is outlined or summarized of the old covenant. It seems that the original readers must already hold some understanding of the old covenant, or at least the author assumed they did. And there must be some foundational information the author is assuming because the author is making an appeal that Jesus is better than the thing the reader already knows. What is different here compared to previous passages is that the author is using the Old Testament to demonstrate that the new covenant is actually spoken of in the Old Testament. The new covenant is actually inline with previous writings and the author wants his readers to see what they may have missed.

Christ is superior than the old sacrifices. In Chapter 10, the author argues that Christ is the ultimate sacrifice and writes, “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”[30] Like the argument about the better covenant the author is using the Old Testament to demonstrate that his point has already been made in the Old Testament. The readers should have seen the perfect and final sacrifice in Jesus. In this section, the author turns to Psalm 40:6-8 and again to Jeremiah 31:33-34. Here, the Old Testament supports the displeasure of the old sacrifices and then commentary is offered by the author. He states, “[E]very priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”[31] The author finds not only support in the Old Testament, which is treated as if spoken by God, but also boldness from within God’s Word.

So great a cloud of witnesses. The latter portion of the book of Hebrews argues for the superiority of faith. While many Old Testament allusions and quotations may be examined here, the cloud of witnesses proves most interesting. In a single chapter, the author uses 16 characters from the Old Testament as examples of 14 faithful men and two faithful women. This “great cloud of witnesses” includes Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel.[32] Some background is provided for some of these figures, but hardly more than a sentence. And Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel are lumped together in the explanation. Clearly, the author believes his readers know who these individuals were and need only a simple reminder. But to get a better understanding, the reader could consult Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Ruth, where the accounts and writings of these individuals are found within the Old Testament. The author also includes many unnamed people who have suffered and then he said of them, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”[33] With the exception of the unnamed and more recent faithful witnesses, it is almost a requirement for one to know at least some of the names listed if one is to truly understand the better thing that God has in store. After all, how can one understand the thing that is better without first seeing the thing it is compared to?


John Patrick’s stage play, “The Hasty Heart” (1945), takes place in a World War II allied field hospital. In Act I, the hospital patients learn that a Scotsman named Corporal Lachlan "Lachie" MacLachlan is being transferred to the spare bed in their recovery area. Lachie sustained a wound to his kidney and had to have it removed; however, his other kidney is not functioning properly and within about four weeks, Lachie will die of the toxins in his own unfiltered blood. He has no family and he is a bitter, angry man. The commander in charge of the hospital felt that it would be best if Lachie did not know of his condition. While he informed the other patients in the hospital, he asked them to keep it a secret. He also asked the patients and floor nurse to befriend this lonely transfer patient in an effort to improve the quality of his short remaining life. The drama that unfolds shares a remarkable story of the condition of the heart. However, if a theatergoer were to enter and find her seat at intermission between the first and second acts, there is almost no way she would understand the activities playing out before her. In many ways, the play would make no sense. While many things could be learned about Lachie, Yank, and Sister Parker, the overarching plot and conflict would be rather hazy at best. The development of the characters would be only half the story. The same is true of many New Testament books, most especially the book of Hebrews.

As much as the author of Hebrews depends on the specific Old Testament passages, he depends even more upon the reader’s understanding of the scrolls from where those quotes were drawn. Like a playwright, the author is expressing the second act of a two-act play. This is where the conflict is resolved, the plot is concluded, and the character’s development is show to its full capacity.

Hebrews teaches the world much about Jesus; but if the student of the book is to gain the understanding the author intended, it is almost demanded of the student to turn back a few pages and examine the Old Testament. The student must see to what the author is alluding. He or she must observe what was before so there is a solid understand of what is better. In most cases, the author does not provide enough of a summary. The original readers were most likely Jewish Christians and it is assumed that they had the background knowledge of the material. This may not always be the case for modern-day readers; which is why pastors and teachers should be prepared to provide the summary that most students need in order to gain the two-act understanding.

Reading Hebrews a number of times and even studying the Old Testament verses will not fully plum the depths of this rich book. In its pages there is much to be learned, applied, and lived. There is an amazing Savior to be loved. Many commentaries provide additional insight into the author’s use of the Old Testament and these may serve as additional material for further study. However, it is the recommendation of this author that further study consist of starting with Hebrews 1:1 and reading line by line. At any point a quote or allusion to the Old Testament is presented, place a bookmark in Hebrews and explore the passage from where the quote came. Once the Old Testament passage has been read and studied to the point that a good understanding is achieved, turn back to Hebrews and continue where the reading left off. When the end of the book is reached, try it again and see what was not seen the first time. Chances are, this will take years and the journey will move the reader through much of the Old Testament. But the reward will be well worth the journey. It is the prayer of this author that this post is not where the investigation ends, but rather, this post has only served as an appetizer to such a rich reading of the book of Hebrews and even of the Old Testament upon which Hebrews depends.


Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised). The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Publishing, 1990.

Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005.

Clements, Ronald E. "The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews." Southwestern Journal of Theology 28, no. 1 (September 1, 1985): 36-45. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 23, 2011).

Davies, J. H. A Letter to Hebrews. The Cambridge Bible Commentary. London, Engl: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Guthrie, Donald. Hebrews. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, Illi: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983.

Guthrie, George. Hebrews. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zonderan, 1998.

Hanger, Donald A. Hebrews. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1990.

Scott, Julius, J., Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 1995

Yisak, Suru. “The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews: Understanding the interpretive method of the writer of Hebrews.” Th.M. diss., (2007) Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dissertations & Theses: Full Text [database on-line]. (publication number AAT 1450952; accessed April 24, 2011).


1 George Guthrie, Hebrews, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1998), 19.

2 D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005), 610.

3 Ronald E. Clements, "The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews" (Southwestern Journal of Theology 28, no. 1, September 1, 1985: 36-45, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost) [accessed April 23, 2011], 36.

4 Donald Guthrie, Hebrews, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, Illi: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), 19.

5 Guthrie, Hebrews, 1998, 32-33.

6 J. Julius Scott Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapid, Mich: Baker Academic, 1995), 327.

7 Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2005, 600.

8 Donald A. Hanger, Hebrews, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Mass: Henderickson Publishers, 1990), 8-9.

9 Carson, An introduction to the New Testament, 2005, 601.

10 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 9.

11 J. H. Davies, A Letter to Hebrews, The Cambridge Bible Commentary (London, Engl: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 10.

12 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 10.

13 Ibid.

14 Guthrie, Hebrews, 1998, 23.

15 Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2005, 608.

16 Ibid.

17 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 2.

18 Suru Yisak, “The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews: Understanding the interpretive method of the writer of Hebrews,” Th.M. diss., 2007 (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dissertations & Theses: Full Text [database on-line., publication number AAT 1450952; accessed April 24, 2011), 83.

19 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 15.

20 Yisak, 2007, 62.

21 Hanger, Hebrews, 1990, 15.

22 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised), The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Publishing, 1990), 26.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid., 27

25 Davies, A Letter to Hebrews, 1967, 22.

26 Hebrews 3:3a.

27 F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 1990, 91-92.

28 Guthrie, Hebrews, 1983, 102-104.

29 Hanger, Hebrews, 1990, 122.

30 Hebrews 10:18.

31 Hebrews 10:11.

32 Hebrews 12:1.

33 Hebrews 11:39-40.

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

Isaiah 7:14 and the Immanuel Sign

As one reads Isaiah 7:14 in isolation of the New Testament, questions may surface about the identity of the boy named Immanuel, but it would seem less significant than the circumstances surrounding this passage. King Ahaz has not placed his trust in the Lord. Isaiah indicates that Ahaz was instructed to ask God for a sign, likely regarding the future of his kingdom in the face of heated politics and a looming invasion. But Ahaz, indignant, will not ask for a sign, but God says he will provide one anyway, maybe now a different sign in light of Ahaz’s rejection. The sign is that a young woman will give birth and name her child Immanuel, which means God is with us. This, on its face does not seem too unusual considering that surrounding this passage Isaiah has already been instructed to give two other symbolic names to his children. Before the boy Immanuel knows the difference between good and evil, Ahaz’s frightful enemies will be no more. That's it. That's the sign.

Only there's something more in this Isaiah text. The boy’s mother (who is left unidentified) is either young, young and unmarried, soon to be married, and likely a virgin. Or maybe she is a combination of these possibilities. If this is where the story ended, the vast amount of word studies, articles, and books on this passage would seem rather unusual, but this is not where it ends. Centuries later, Matthew writes of Jesus and Mary, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoke by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’” (Matt 1:22-23, ESV). Matthew is quoting the Isaiah text. Matthew claims Immanuel in the Isaiah passage is pointing to Jesus.  Jesus is the sign and Jesus is the fulfillment.

But if Jesus is the sign and fulfillment of the Isaiah text, how did Ahaz understand the sign that was given to him? How did readers of Isaiah before the Matthew Gospel understand the sign? How did they understand the identity of Immanuel? Who is he?

This presents a number of problems. Is Matthew wrong?  If he is, how are his readers to believe the rest of his Gospel? If Matthew is right, how are readers to view the Isaiah text? Is there a possibility that there was a duel meaning in this text—that is, could there have been two events that fulfill this sign prophecy? If there is indeed a near and a far view of this passage, were both mothers virgins and was there two boys to fulfill the product of a virgin conception prophecy?

Before we go any further, I should say that I believe that Matthew is correct; therefore, any understanding of the Isaiah passage must include Matthew’s statement. Matthew’s text means that Jesus fulfills the sign prophecy given to Ahaz and the Isaiah text was indeed talking about Jesus, at a minimum. But could the Isaiah text have a duel meaning? Some would argue that a text can only have a single meaning, but Matthew seems to find a duel meaning in other passages too. Hebert Wolf, in his article, “A Solution to The Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22” calls these duel meanings “secondary interpretations” (Wolf, 456). Matthew uses Hosea 11:1, which spoke of the Exodus from Egypt, as a prophecy of Jesus coming back from his flight to Egypt.   Jeremiah 31:15, where Rachael is weeping for Ramah, is tied to Herod’s mass killing of the young boys in an effort to kill the Messiah. “In an analogous manner,” writes Wolf, “Matthew selected Isa 7:14 to describe the birth of Jesus. The language was perfectly suited to Matthew's purpose; and where he went beyond the normal interpretation, he clearly explained the circumstances” (Wolf 456).

Given that at a minimum, the sign was indeed a prophecy of Jesus, how was Ahaz to understand it? And how is a modern reader to see the Isaiah passage? John Oswalt’s approach seems to shed some light on this matter. “I believe,” states Oswalt, “that the sign originally given had a single meaning but a double significance” (Oswalt, 140). This approach does much to resolve what appears to be conflict. “Its meaning is that God is with us and we need not fear what other human beings may do to us” (Oswalt, 140). To Ahaz, Oswalt argues, the statement would provide significance regarding Assyria. He need not worry because God is with Judah. In this case, a specific child may have been indicated and the significance seen in the physical reality of the sign through the birth of a child named Immanuel. Oswalt even argues, “The fact that ‘almah has the definite article suggests that Isaiah is identifying a particular woman” (Oswalt, 140). The second significance is found in the birth of Jesus. The meaning is the same: God is with us. Even considering that Mary named the boy Jesus, the meaning in Isaiah remains the same. Some may suggest that this sign is too simple because God originally directed Ahaz to ask for a deep and high sign, that is, one that is amazing and miraculous; however, the reality that God is with his creation should been seen with this kind of miraculous wonder. Indeed, God entering flesh is so amazing that for many, they cannot even accept it. Given the larger context of Immanuel in Isaiah, Oswalt’s argument seems valid.

There is still a problem however. Two virgins? The word in Isaiah identifying the woman is the Hebrew word ‘almah. This particular word is a difficult word because it neither definitively points a woman who has never had sexual relations or a young woman. It seems both could be correct. Richard Niessen writes 15 pages and 72 footnotes on the word only to conclude, “The evidence supports both the traditional translation of ‘virgin’ and the modern translation of ‘young woman,’ but each must be qualified. The English term ‘virgin’ does not suggest age limitations while the English phrase ‘young woman’ does not suggest virginity. The word [‘almah] demands both, and so a more accurate translation would be ‘young virgin’” (Niessen, 1470).

It does not become less complicated when we see that the LXX translated the word as parthenos, a word that points more toward a young unmarried woman and mainly by implication is one who has not had sexual intercourse.

At any rate,  it appears that Isaiah is referring to a young, unmarried, virgin who will at some point in the future have a son. There is little in this statement that would demand that she is still a virgin, unmarried, or even young at the time of Immanuel’s birth. Matthew on the other hand, uses the term in the context that Mary had not ever been with a man at any point before the birth of Christ (see Matt 1:25). There is nothing in Isaiah that would dictate that the near and far view of this prophecy are physically the same. The meaning remains.

For the present-day student of the Bible however, we have the far view in our sights and it is much more significant for us today. Seeing Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the Isaiah passage speaks a much more meaningful message to us at this point in time than does a sign to Ahaz that God was with Judah. We should spend more of our time looking to Jesus when we read this text.

Niessen, Richard. “The virginity of the `almah in Isaiah 7:14.” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (1980): 133-50.
Oswalt, John. Isaiah: The NIV Application Commentary: from Biblical Text- to Contemporary Life. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2003.
Wolf, Herbert M., “Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22,” Journal of Biblical Literature 91 (1972): 449-56.

* Photo by Flickr user, Lawrence OP, and is used by permission. 

John and the Holy Spirit


The Fourth Gospel, that is, the Gospel of John, is often viewed in light of the author’s stated purpose of documenting specific signs “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[1] In addition, this Gospel is often viewed as providing great evidence of the hypostatic union of Jesus’ simultaneous deity and humanity. And Carson and Moo argue, “The elements of what came to be called the doctrine of the Trinity find their clearest articulation, within the New Testament, in the Gospel of John.”[2] However, while the Fourth Gospel’s main focus appears to be on Jesus, the Gospel also demonstrates the person, purpose, and deity of the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

John, the son of Zebedee, walked with Jesus and was his disciple for the duration of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Synoptic Gospels often record that John was among Jesus’ inner-circle of disciples, regularly present for many special events as an eyewitness. And if John, the son of Zebedee, is the beloved disciple and author of the Fourth Gospel (as this author believes he is), there is clear evidence through the Gospel of John that John had a special relationship with Jesus. In addition, John was present in the upper room at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the small group.[3] And the remainder of the New Testament provides an indication that John experienced many aspects of the faith, being animated and moved by the Holy Spirit, which greatly aided him in his calling as an Apostle to teach the world. This post will examine one aspect of his teaching—the Holy Spirit. First, a discussion of many sections of the Gospel of John and one unique word choice will be offered. Next, this post will examine (and speculate) what John may have understood during the time of his narrative compared to what he understood at the point of authoring his Gospel. Then, before the conclusion, this post will look at what aspects of the Holy Spirit would be unknown without the Fourth Gospel.


When attempting to understand what the beloved disciple’s Gospel teaches on the Holy Spirit, it is best to look at the evidence from John’s hand. John uses two words when referring to the Holy Spirit. The first is pneuma, which is the more common use for the Spirit throughout John, as well as throughout the New Testament. Fifteen times this word is used in reference to the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel. Eight times John’s Gospel uses pneuma in reference to the nonphysical part of a person or a person’s soul, and once it is in reference to wind. Looking to John’s other canonical writings, pneuma twice refers to breath, twice to a mood or intention, 12 times to demonic or angelic beings, and 20 times it is used in reference to the Holy Spirit. There are 319 uses of the same word outside the Johannine corpus, all being employed much in the same way as John’s usages. And considering that Klein Bloomberg and Hubbard argue, “[The Septuagint (LXX)] became the Bible of most of the early Christians during the writing of the NT,” there is a possibility that John knew the Hebrew Bible by way of the Septuagint (LXX); therefore, it may be worth noting that pneuma appears 350 times in the Septuagint (LXX).[4] The second word John uses in reference to the Holy Spirit is parakleōtos. This word is used significantly less, only by John, and will be discussed in greater detail below. Attention will now shift to specific passages in John where either one of these two words is used in reference to the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit on Jesus: 1:32-33. John the Baptist, the man who baptized Jesus in the Jordan river, declared that he did not know who the Lamb of God would be, but that God told him he would know when he saw the Spirit descend and remain on him. In addition, John said of Jesus, “I saw the Spirit descent from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.”[5] The Spirit served as an anointing sign to the Baptist. And through John the Baptist’s witness, John, the Gospel author, is able to provide a sign of Jesus’ anointing for his soon-coming ministry. “The descent of the Spirit on Jesus,” states Bruce, “marked him out as the Davidic ruler of Isa. 11:2ff, of whom it is written, ‘the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him’, as the Servant of whom God says in introducing him in Isa. 42:1, ‘I have put my Spirit upon him’, and as the prophet who announces in Isa. 61:1, ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord as anointed me . . .’”[6]

Baptizing with the Spirit: 1:33. John the Baptist was baptizing with water, but the one who sent him to baptize reviled that another would be coming with a greater baptism. This baptism is different than anything the Baptist could offer, and in fact could only be given by the Son of God. Carson suggests that this Baptism in (or with) the Holy Spirit points forward to a new age when God will pour out the Spirit onto (or into) his people, alluding to Ezekiel 36:25-26 where following a water cleansing, God implants within the person a new heart and a new spirit.[7]

Born of the Spirit: 3:5-8. Jesus introduces and interesting concept to Nicodemus, a Pharisee. He tells Nicodemus that he must be born again and that rebirth is of water and Spirit. Morris suggests a couple meanings of this passage. The first is that the water represents a repentance baptism, such as John the Baptist was administering; and the Spirit is, “namely the totally new divine life that Jesus would impart.”[8] The second meaning of being born of water and Spirit could suggest that being born of water points to a natural birth and then being born of the Spirit is a birth of spiritual regeneration. Either way, Jesus is clear that one must be born of the Holy Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God, meaning that the Holy Spirit holds a significant role in this second birth and man’s ability to enter the kingdom of God.

Given without measure: 3:34. Fulfilling Isaiah’s prophetic words in Isaiah 11:2, 42:1, and 61:1, the Holy Spirit rests upon the Servant. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is suggested as having an empowering quality. Jamieson suggests that while some human-inspired teachers might have the Holy Spirit to some degree, God has bestowed the Holy Spirit upon Jesus in an unlimited measure.[9]

Giver of life: John 6:63. In this passage, Jesus gives credit to the Spirit as the giver of life. The Fourth Gospel has already shared the words of Jesus stating that the Holy Spirit plays a significant role in the new birth. Now he confirms that it is the Holy Spirit that gives life. Carson claims, “One of the clearest characteristics of the Spirit in the Old Testament is the giving of life.”[10] However, in this verse the Spirit as the giver of life is being sharply contrasted against the flesh. And in the very next sentence, Jesus says that it is the words that he speaks that are spirit and life. If it is in Jesus’ words that life and spirit are discovered, than there is a connection between the Spirit and the words of Jesus. To this idea, Morris suggests,
A woodenly literal, flesh-dominated manner of looking at Jesus’ words will not yield the correct interpretation. That is granted only to the spiritual man, the Spirit-dominated man. Such words cannot be comprehended by the fleshy, whose horizon is bound by this earth and its outlook. Only as the life-giving Spirit informs him may a man understand these words.[11]
Receive the Holy Spirit: 7:39; 20:22. At the Feast of Booths, Jesus declared that for anyone who believes in him, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”[12] John writes that this statement is in reference to the Spirit, “whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”[13] Marsh states, “This is written not only from the perspective of this particular narrative of the gospel, but also from the later perspective of the Church, in which every believer has received the Spirit (at baptism).”[14] The Spirit was not yet present in the form that Jesus was stating, but at a point after Jesus’ ascension, man would be in a position to receive the Holy Spirit. The Greek word behind the translation of receive, is lambanō, which means, “to take.”[15] There is an implication of some level of choice or action of willingness involved. Recorded in John 20:22, Jesus breathes on the disciples and commands them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Spirit of Truth who dwells in you: 14:15-17. It is here for the first time that parakleōtos is used in reference to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is about do depart and he is preparing his disciples for the time when he is gone. But Jesus is not leaving them alone and without a helper or champion; he will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit, the parakleōtos. But while this coming Helper will dwell among men just as Jesus did, he will also dwell within the disciples. Jesus also declares, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”[16] John, it seems, has painted a picture of an amazing union between the Holy Trinity and the believer.

The Teacher: 14:25-26. Jesus has been with the disciples for some time, teaching and training them. He has taught them many things, and soon it will be their responsibility to teach others. However, it seems that at times, the disciples failed to understand what Jesus was attempting to teach them. Understanding did not come until after they received the Holy Spirit (see John 2:22 and 12:26, among many passages contained in the Synoptic Gospels.) But in this text, Jesus promises them a teacher who will “teach [them] all things and bring to [their] remembrance all that [Jesus had] said to [them].”[17] Bruce points out, “Now they are told that when the Paraclete comes, he will enable them to recall and understand when Jesus taught: he will serve them, in other words, as remembrancer and interpreter.”[18]

The Person and Witness: 15:26. There are two significant aspects about the Spirit in verse 26. First, as time moves forward, the Spirit will serve as a witness to testify about Jesus. Here, as elsewhere, the Spirit is given a purpose. (Subsequently, the disciples are also called upon the testify about what happened while they walked with Jesus.) Second, John says, “he will bare witness about me.”[19] Carson argues that it is no accident; John intentionally used the word ekeinos.[20] The Greek word, ekeinos, is a masculine pronoun and Carson demonstrates that its use is inconsistent with the “(formally) neuter status of the preceding relative pronoun.”[21] John is referring to the Holy Spirit in personal, male terms. He is thinking of the Holy Spirit as a person! Incidentally, John uses ekeinos for the Holy Spirit again in John 16:13-14.

The Guide who only speaks what he hears: 16:13-14. This passage specifically demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is not operating by his own authority, but is declaring what he hears, which glorifies Jesus. Theologically, this is one of many demonstrations of the Trinity’s simultaneous unity and equality of being in perfect submission to one another in the service of their unique purposes. “The Holy Spirit never magnifies Himself,” writes Duffield and Van Cleave, “nor the human vessel through whom He operates. He came to magnify the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. Whenever He is truly having His way, Christ, and none other, is exalted.”[22]

Parakleōtos: 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7. In addition to the summary of passages above, there is some value in looking at a special term only John uses for the Holy Spirit. The use of parakleōtos is found only five times in the New Testament—four times in the Gospel of John and once in First John (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 John 2:1). Incidentally, it makes no appearance in the Septuagint (LXX). Köstenberger states “The translation of this term has proved particularly difficult, since there does not seem to be an exact equivalent in the English language.”[23]

English Bible translations each seem to handle the parakleōtos differently. For example, the English Standard Version (ESV) uses the word “Helper” in all of the Gospel uses and “Advocate” in John’s first Epistle. The American Standard Version (ASV) uses “Comforter” in the Gospel use and “Advocate” in the letter. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) uses “Counselor” in the Gospel, and once again, “Advocate” is used in First John; and the same is true for the King James Version (KJV). The New International Version (NIV) also selected “Counselor” in the Gospel and simply says “one” in the Epistle. “Helper” is the choice for the New American Standard Bible (NASB) except in the letter, where “Advocate” is the selected word. The New English Translation (NET) uses “Advocate” for every occurrence, as does the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the New Living Translation (NLT).

Turning to dictionaries and lexicon a variety of meanings for parakleōtos are presented. Perschbacher defines it as, “one called or sent for to assist another; an advocate, one who pleads the cause of another, [. . .] one present to render various beneficial service, and thus, the Paraclete, whose influence and operation were to compensate for the departure of Christ himself.”[24] Strong defines it as, “counselor, intercessor, helper, one who encourages and comforts; in the NT it refers exclusively to the Holy Spirit and to Jesus Christ.”[25]


As mentioned above, there are clear indications in the Fourth Gospel that suggest that while John was with Jesus during his earthly ministry, there were many things John did not fully understand. John 2:22 states, “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” John 12:16 echoes this same idea. Both of these texts offer strong support for the development of John’s theology, and John 14:25-26 leaves the reader with the impression that the Holy Spirit likely had a profound impact upon John’s understanding sometime after the Pentecost. While it would only serve as speculation to attempt to determine what John learned from Jesus and what he learned from the Holy Spirit, a survey of John’s teaching on the Spirit can be juxtaposed against the Old Testament to determine how much John could have learned from Scripture. And what John teaches that has no counterpart in the Old Testament can then be assumed to have been taught to John either by Jesus or the Holy Spirit.

Before an examination of John’s teaching is contrasted against the Old Testament, it should be noted that there is still a possibility that John was unaware of a specific scriptural teachings on the Holy Spirit; and in fact, it was still Jesus or the Holy Spirit that served to teach John about these things. However, by conducting this examination, it can at least be determined what knowledge might have been available to John prior to encountering Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

John’s knowledge from the Scriptures. Staring with the Spirit being upon Jesus as an anointing power, John may have understood the idea of empowerment of the Spirit upon a person by examples from David and Saul, such as the example in First Samuel 16:13. And he may have understood the idea of the Holy Spirit coming upon the Servant of God as Isaiah’s prophecies dictated (Isaiah 11:2, 42:1, 59:21, and 61:1). However as far as the Spirit dwelling within the believer, the Old Testament showed the Spirit coming on someone for a time to empower him, but there is no indication of the Holy Spirit actually dwelling within a person.

As for a baptism of the Spirit, this concept is only alluded to in Ezekiel 36:25-26; but even with this allusion, it likely would have been difficult to formulate a solid understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role in the cleansing and regeneration of the heart. Joel 2:28 provides a picture of a pouring out of the God’s Spirit that leads to an empowerment, but this picture of empowerment is lacking in the regeneration suggested in Ezekiel. Without encountering Jesus or the Holy Spirit, it is unlikely John would understand the baptism of the Spirit as he writes about it in the first chapter of his Gospel. And if baptism of the Spirit was a difficult concept without Jesus or the Holy Spirit’s teaching, being born of the Spirit would have been even more so. Not even Nicodemus, an educated Pharisee understood what Jesus was teaching at the time.

As John came to understand that the Spirit is in some way the giver of life, his thoughts were likely contrasted against passages that declare that God is the giver of life (like Genesis 2:7 and Psalm 80:18, for example). But in reading these passages, one would probably not concluded that that the Holy Spirit is the giver of eternal life as Jesus was teaching. And John would not likely be alone in this lack of understanding because John’s sixth chapter of his Gospel shows many disciples turning away from following Jesus due to confusion of Jesus’ statements about the life found in the Spirit and the lack of life in the flesh.

Psalm 25:8-9 and Isaiah 54:13 are examples of God being the teacher and instructor to his people. It may have been difficult to understand this teacher as being the Holy Spirit, but it certainly would not be a stretch to know that God does want to teach and remind his people of his ways. In fact, Jeremiah 31:33-34 suggests that God would eventually write his law upon the hearts of the people.


The Fourth Gospel provides some unique contributions to the believer’s understanding of the Holy Spirit. Without John’s Gospel, we would not have the discourse with Nicodemus, which includes a unique picture of being born of water and the Spirit as a requirement to enter the kingdom of God. John is also the only one to use the term parakleōtos, offering a different understanding of the Holy Spirit. Yes, John does use this word once in First John, but that use has legal cogitations, where as the other four uses suggest that the Spirit is a helper, counselor, and assisting presence. John’s use of ekeinos clearly demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is a person and not a thing or force. This is the most articulate argument for the personage of the Holy Spirit; without John, the other arguments may not have led the Church to the same conclusion. And John makes it clear that the Holy Spirit came because of Jesus’ death and glorification. He is present because Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father.


While John demonstrates the humanity and deity of Jesus, he also teaches a great deal on the Holy Spirit. After reviewing the ten passages of Scripture and reviewing John’s unique reference for the Holy Spirit, it should be clear that John held a strong understanding of the purpose and function of the Holy Spirit. Some of these characteristics of the Holy Spirit are found only in the Fourth Gospel, and given his understanding of the many aspects of Holy Spirit (some demonstrated only by John), the Fourth Gospel should be viewed as a valuable source for teaching on the Holy Spirit. It is the hope and prayer of this author that the readers of this post will be compelled to examine John’s articulation of the Holy Spirit for themselves, so that they will develop a stronger understanding of John’s written demonstration of the person, purpose, and power of the Holy Spirit.

Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1994.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1991.
Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005.
Duffield, Guy P., and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Los Angles, Cali: Foursquare Media, 2008.
Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. OakTree Software, Inc., 1871. Version 2.4. [Acccessed by Accordance Bible Software 9.2.1, March 6, 2011.]
Klein, William W., Craig Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson, 2003.
Köstenberger, Andreas J. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2002.
Marsh, John. Saint John. Philadelphia, Penn: Westminster Press, 1977.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1984.
Perschbacher, Wesley J. The New Analytical Greek Lexicon. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1990.
Strong, James, John R. Kohlenberger, James A. Swanson, and James Strong. The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001.

1. John 20:31, English Standard Version (ESV). Unless otherwise noted, all quotes from the Bible will be taken from the ESV.
2. D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005), 278.
3. Acts 1:13ff.
4. William W. Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 253.
5. John 1:23b.
6. F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1994), 53-54.
7. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1991), 152.
8. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans 1984), 216.
9. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (OakTree Software, Inc., 1871 Version 2.4.) [Acccessed by Accordance Bible Software 9.2.1, March 6, 2011.]
10. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 301.
11. Morris, 385.
12. John 7:38b.
13. John 7:39b.
14. John Marsh, Saint John (Philadelphia, Penn: Westminster Press, 1977), 344.
15. James Strong, John R. Kohlenberger, James A. Swanson, and James Strong (The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), 2986.
16. John 14:20.
17. John 14:26.
18. Bruce, 305.
19. John 15:26
20. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 529.
21. Ibid.
22. Guy P. Duffield, and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angles, Cali: Foursquare Media, 2008), 295.
23. Andreas J. Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2002), 157.
24. Wesley J. Perschbacher, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1990), 308.
25. Strong, 3884. 

* "Ausgießung des Hl. Geistes" pictured in this post is in the public domain.
** This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

One Christian on Capital Punishment and Abortion (Part II)

In an earlier post, I introduced a  question:  How can a Christian be against abortion but in favor of capital punishment?  In Part I, I explained that I am against both, and I discussed what the Bible has to say about the issue of capital punishment.  In this post, I am shifting to the topic of abortion.  I admit that neither Part I or Part II are exhaustive discussions on the matter, but hopefully they contribute to the conversation and offer some food for thought and encouragement toward further study.

Before I get started, I should offer my bias and position right up front.  I am against abortion.  I'm against the practice and I do not approve of the US government supporting or funding the practice.  In addition, my wife and I tried to conceive a child for many years.  The one time we did conceive resulted in a miscarriage, which greatly shaped the way I think about life and children prior to birth.  We have since adopted two boys who I love very much.  Although I do not have biological children and really can't know for sure, there is no way I could love children who share my DNA any differently then I do these two boys. 

My wife's miscarriage was extremely hard on she and I, but the reality is that miscarriages have been around almost as long as pregnancies.  Sadly, miscarriages were not a foreign concept in the Old Testament (see Job 3:10-11 or Exodus 22:26 for examples). I believe the miscarriage might be a part of the curse of sin that came with the fall of man in Genesis 3.  In verse 16, God said to Eve, the woman, "I will surely multiply your  pain in childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children" (ESV).  It is often thought that this in reference to the birth process itself, which it probably is, but it can also be all the other pain women feel for children, born or unborn.  But what about the intentional termination of a viable pregnancy?  (For the purposes of this post, I will use this as the definition of 'abortion.')  It seems that this idea--although not appearing as a medical service preformed by people in scrubs and white lab coats--was not foreign either.  In the book of Jeremiah, the author's lament seems to suggest that his life could have been intentionally ended in the womb.  Jeremiah 20:14-18 reads,
[14] Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed!   [15] Cursed by the man who brought the news to my father, 'A son is born to you,'  making him very glad. [16] Let that man be like the cities that the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, [17] because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. [18] Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?
In Exodus 20:22-25, the legal code made provision for the event of a pregnant woman getting hit in such a way that labor is induced or the baby is lost.  The punishment for the loss of the unborn child's life would result in a penalty of death for the person who struck the woman.   (It's interesting to note that verse 23 reads, "But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life," indicating that the unborn child was a life.)  Now, in fairness, it could be argued that this passage assumes that the mother and father want the baby opposed to the idea that the mother desiring to terminate the pregnancy.  In response, we should start not with the desires of the mother and father to have a child, but instead ask what is life and when does it begin? 

What is life? This is a fairly large discussion, but I'll boil it down to some simple points.  First, God  is the source and creator of life.  We can see this in the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2; but another example is found in 1 Samuel 2:6 that says, "The LORD kills and brings to life" (ESV), and Deuteronomy 32:39 in part says "I kill and make alive" (ESV).  Job 1:21 quotes Job saying, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return.  The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (ESV).  Job, in 10:8 says to God, "Your hands fashioned me." Isaiah 68:8 says, "But now O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand" (ESV).

Second, we have a general understanding of what is alive and what is not.  Plants--alive.  Rocks--not alive.  Dinosaur  bones--once living tissue, but now, not alive. Of course we can draw a distinction between living tissue and 'life.'  Skin is made of living tissue but we are more likely to see it as part of a system that requires other tissues.  We can look at skin cells under a microscope and see that there's some kind of life activity there, but we don't tend to think of skin as a stand-alone life. However, there is a difference between a single skin cell and a single-cell organism.  That single-cell organism is life.  If we find it on Mars, we will declare that there is life on Mars; but if we find a skin cell we will say we've found evidence of life (and then declare there is life on Mars anyway).  So life, it seems, is a living system, be it one cell, a plant, an animal, a human. Where this gets really interesting is when we think of a seed.  It might be dry and appear dead, but in the right conditions it shifts from that dead-looking thing to life.  If I crushed a seed nobody would say I killed it, but if it had a little white or green shoot growing from it and I failed to give it water or if I put it out in too much sun and it dried up and withered, you would say I killed it. To kill it, it must have had life.

In the debate on the legality of abortion, one issue of contention is the parents' right (specifically the woman's right) to terminate life, if indeed there is any agreement that an unborn child is life, that is, a thing in the womb that can be killed.  I will deal with this more in a moment.  

When does life begin? This is the other issue where a difficulty of the abortion debate resides. This, like the right to terminate life, is the other big question item where differences are found.

Luke, a first-century doctor and writer of one of the four gospel accounts, made a detailed investigation in order to write his Gospel.  In the opening of the book, he records a fascinating event. When Elizabeth greeted Mary (both of whom were pregnant), the baby in Elizabeth's womb leaped.  Elizabeth, being filled with the Spirit, understood this to be caused by the presence of the baby in Mary's womb and proclaimed,
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy." Luke 1:42-43, ESV.
While we don't know exactly how far along either of these women were in their pregnancies, this passage suggests that it was more than just developing cells void of life in their wombs.  The Greek word used for these babies in utereo is berphos, which we is translated 'child.' Twice Luke uses the same word for the baby Jesus (post birth) in chapter 2.  I think in today's society, we would be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue that life starts at the point of the doctor's spanking that gets the baby to cry.  I can think of nobody that would say a baby that has been in the womb for 9 months and is making his or her way down the birth canal is not life. Anyone, myself included, that's seen and heard the heartbeat on the monitor is overwhelmed by the awe of life there in the womb.  Where the challenge comes is in answering the question, when (maybe even before the heartbeat) does life begin? 

If we back up to the point of a sperm cell and an egg, we see that we have cells that seem to be more a part of a system than a single-celled, stand-alone organism.  After these to come together, an interesting thing starts to happen.  The little glob of sperm and egg create a cell that can divide and multiply.  Soon, there's an 8 celled organism, then 16, then 32, and so-on.  Is this life?  Maybe.  Is this like the little plant shoot that I killed earlier in this discussion?

God had us in mind before the creation of the world (but do not confuse this with the idea that we were all created and stored in some "pre-existence" before the creation of the universe), but this doctrine does not give us a practical answer as to the moment life begins in the womb.  Some argue at conception, some at the first heartbeat, and some even at viability outside the womb.  The first two arguments bear weight, but the viability argument is greatly flawed.  Here's why:  What is viability?  A full-term baby cannot survive, free of help and care, outside the womb for long on his or her birthday.  If we start looking at 'viability' being earlier and earlier in the pregnancy we have to start looking at the technology that aids in keeping the baby alive.  Therefore, our definition of the beginning of life under the viability definition seems dependent upon outside technology.  This would mean that we define the start of life by our advancements in medicine.

The other two arguments, that is, at conception or at the first heartbeat seem compelling.  No matter how much I think about it, I struggle with the idea of life beginning at the moment of conception.  It seems a little like the seed. There's  something there, but it doesn't seem like life. . . but I am willing to be wrong.  And I'll admit, it is spectacular that something (or more rightly, someone) gets the heart pumping.  That first beat seems like a magic moment for an organism that requires a heartbeat as a sign of life.  The reality however, is that it could be at either of these moments or at some point in between.  The Bible does not clearly identify at what moment  life begins, so I argue it is probably better to lean on the side of caution, closer, much closer to conception.

So, what about the practice of abortion?

We have two issues in tension when it comes to abortion: when life begins and the right, as an individual, to terminate life.  I would like to argue that in practice, the point when life begins is almost irrelevant with the exception of specific types of birth control such as the morning after pill.  To the best of our ability, we should err on the side of caution.  The real issue at hand is the attitude the leads one to have an abortion.

If we can agree that at some point, either at conception or at the heartbeat, life has begun, it seems that terminating that life is killing the life; it's murdering another human being.  "But wait, what about capital punishment?" you might ask.  There are two differences.  The first is that capital punishment is administered by the state, not an individual.  The second is that the life in the womb has not violated a law of the state.  (If for some reason being conceived was against the law, this law would be unjust in that the violator, in his or her very creation, would have absolutely no ability to not violate the law.  The violation and punishment should really fall upon the man and woman who conceive the child.)       

When a woman learns that she is pregnant, time has already passed.  We are now flirting with the very real reality that was is growing in the womb is life, more specifically, a human being.  So to think that one has the ability and right to terminate this life, especially out of mere convenience, is a serious act of self-worship, placing oneself in the position of God.  It says "my rights are more important that the rights and sanctity of the life I'm carrying."  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds us (especially those who are in Christ) that we are not our own; our bodies are not ours because we were bought with a price.  We, to include our bodies, belong to Christ.  This runs into direct conflict with the argument that a pregnant woman has the right to terminate a life simply because she is not ready to care for an image barer of God.  

The truth is we do not clearly know the exact moment life begins, so there is the very real potential that an abortion at any point after conception is killing a life.  Abortion is wrong.  The attitude that typically drives abortion is wrong.  And to celebrate abortion as some kind of family planning tool is akin to spitting on the very face of God's creation.

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* Photo/drawing by Leonardo da Vinci is in the public domain.