Worship in spirit and truth–John 4:24 (part II).

A frequent prayer of mine, for I don’t know how many years, is, “Lord, make me so I worship you in spirit and truth, whatever that might mean.” I know from John 4:24 that God wants that. If I don’t know what the prepositional phrase means, I want to know what it means in my life even more than I want to know what it means in my head. I want God to know that, too. And I know that God knows the meaning of the phrase. And, whether I understand the phrase or not, I know I’m still deeply dependent on his help to weave that meaning into my life, even into who I am. Still, I’ve wrestled with the meaning for a very long time.

I started out with Worship in spirit and truth–John 4:24 (part I) and I’m heading to this result:

The worship of God by his worshippers must be spiritual and authentic.

How do I get there?

A.T. Robertson, in his BIG grammar says:

[Prepositions were originally adverbs]. This is now so well recognized that it seems strange to read in Winer that “prepositions e.g.often assume the nature of adverbs, and vice versa,” Giles puts the matter simply and clearly when he says: “Between adverbs and prepositions no distinct line can be drawn.”…Brugmann …adds that we cannot draw a sharp line between the use as adverb and the use as pre-verb or preposition. [pg 554]

Essentially, a preposition connects the phrase to something in the sentence adverbially—that is, it modifies it. The intent of using prepositions was to speak and write more clearly, to hone away any misunderstanding. Interestingly, even though he is speaking about Greek prepositions, Robertson points out that the Emperor Augustus was noted for his extensive use of Latin prepositions to increase clarity. He points out that one must first consider the grammatical case, then the preposition, then the context. The order is important.  He says the preposition was used to clarify the case meaning.

It’s when we transfer the result of that process over into English that we get into trouble.  We tend to think we have to “do it with a preposition.”  If the result is adverbial in nature, we have some leeway on our voyage to accuracy.

Generally, grammars convey that this adverbial function carried by the preposition is geometric. Many of us, I’m sure, have seen Machen’s diagram. Therefore, we very easily seek an analysis of ἐν which is always locative. Robertson’s discussion even supports this mindset. So, when considering the John 4:24 clause, we try to make worship occur in spirit and in truth. Therefore we go through extensive mental gymnastics to make sense of that. For me, that has never worked. I’ve tried.

Let’s look at some other examples (English text is from the NASB).

Matthew 11:21: πάλαι ἂν ἐν σάκκῳ καὶ σποδῷ μετενόησαν (“they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”). Does this repentance occur in the location of sackcloth and in ashes? Not really. The sackcloth and ashes are viewed as highly related to the repentance. This is the dative idea which the preposition strengthens and makes more clear. Compare Mat. 11:21 with the meaning of “repent in a car and the front seat” and you should see what I mean. This later is obviously speaking of location alone. Now, does that mean that the repentant person was not viewed as having put on the sackcloth? No, he or she was viewed that way—even though they might not have actually put on the sackcloth. The emphasis is not on the actual location; it’s on modifying the conceptual implications of the verb.

Luke 4:36: ὅτι ἐν ἐξουσίᾳ καὶ δυνάμει ἐπιτάσσει (“with authority and power he commands”). Is the power and authority in the commanding? Obviously not. The people were stunned by who this Jesus was. The power and authority are highly related to the commanding, but they did not exist in it; they existed in Jesus. Again, this is the dative idea strengthened by the preposition. There’s an adverbial relationship between the objects of the preposition and the verb.  In this case, the translators captured this by using ‘with’.

Luke 21:34: μήποτε βαρηθῶσιν ὑμῶν αἱ καρδίαι ἐν κραιπάλῃ καὶ μέθῃ καὶ μερίμναις βιωτικαῖς (“your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life”). Is the burdensome difficulty located in the drunken behavior and anxiety? Again, no. Though with some mental gymnastics you can make that work. It’s better to think of these occurrences in instrumental terms and not locative terms. I think it would be appropriate to translate this clause using ‘by’ instead of ‘with’.

To get a little closer to the words used in John 4, we can consider Luke 1:17: αὐτὸς προελεύσεται ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ δυνάμει Ἠλίου (“he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah”). This can be easily rendered as, “He will go…with the same spirit and power as Elijah.” If you think very carefully about what you mean when you say, “going in the spirit of” you can see that using the phrase ‘with the same’ means essentially the same thing.

How does one say worship with one’s spirit in English? One can say just that. However, one can say the exact same thing by saying worship spiritually or one can say, the worship must be spiritual. The adverbial nature of the relationship is more clear without the preposition.

There’s still a question of what worshipping spiritually refers to in the real world. I’ll address that in a moment. But, at least we now have a clause that is starting to look like English.

As an aside, I’ve wondered whether Matthew 11:21 should be “ash permeated sackcloth”, Luke 4:36 should be “powerful authority”, Luke 21:34 should be “anxiety filled drunken behavior” (recall a primary driver to drunkenness is depression), and Luke 1:17 should be “powerful spirit”. That is, the two joined objects of the preposition should be thought of as a single concept. But, I’m getting off track.  I just bring it up here since it rather surprises me how often it seems to work quite well.

Let’s move on to ἀλήθεια (“truth”). I’ll not spend as much effort here.  As I’ve been mentioning, we have to connect the concepts to the real world.  This intentionally considers the Pragmatic features of the text (that is, it considers the words as they relate to the communication context).  We have to work through the Pragmatics of the original as well as the Pragmatics of the destination.

Conceptually, truth, authenticity, and integrity are related. Truth is thought of as more theoretical, more ethereal, more abstract. Don’t misread me; it can be relied on and in my epistemology, must be. However it is cognitive; it can’t have flesh and bones, it can’t be seen unless embodied in something. However, integrity and authenticity are truth practiced. When truth becomes embodied, it becomes integrity. Integrity and authenticity refer to the pragmatic (ie. practical, not Pragmatic) side of truth. These are when we see truth.

In our language it is more natural to talk about truth in doctrine or to talk of an axiom or thought that is true. However, when we talk about an action or a person, we talk in terms of authentic behavior or having integrity. Even in Bible translation topics, when we talk about an authentic translation, we’re referring not to the doctrine contained in the text.  We’re talking about how faithfully the translation has reproduced the original content in our real textual world, the one we hold in our hands.

Here’s an example of these two types of “truth”.  In their world the two types can be referred to with one word.  In our world, they are different words.

John 8:44: ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ οὐκ ἔστηκεν ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν ἀλήθεια ἐν αὐτῷ (“[The devil] does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.”). Notice the two different phrases. One is “person in the truth.” The other is “truth in the person.” What does it mean to stand in the truth? And what does it mean to have truth in you?

Let me ever so slightly change the wording of the NLT in John 8:42-47 so you can get your mind around a larger context (a conceptual metaphor) within which these phrases are used. My change is underlined:

Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me. Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has no authenticity, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin? And since I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.”

The whole argument here revolves around who is authentic—Jesus or the Jewish leadership. The leadership said they were the authentic children of God. Jesus answers by saying the devil isn’t authentic because he’s a liar, and since the leadership can’t even understand Jesus (who speaks and lives only the truth), that makes them liars, too. Therefore, they can’t be authentic children.

This argument rests on the difference between two expressions: the person who is in the truth and the truth that is in the person. The later refers to one’s understanding of what is true. The former refers to how the person lives out what is true. In our words, the later refers to truth, the former refers to authenticity.

Dealing with such a difficult to translate text deserves a much more thorough explanation. Certainly, it needs more proof. My intent here is to give people some linguistic meat to chew on. We won’t solve all the issues here. I certainly haven’t. However, I think it’s very important to notice a translation which doesn’t communicate. If a translation doesn’t communicate, then any argument that it is accurate falls to the side—how can it be accurate when no-one knows what the translation means? Or, how can it be accurate when it can mean so many different things to different people?

Well, more needs to be done. However, for now I’ve arrived at: the worship of God by his worshippers must be spiritual and authentic.

Ok, I had asked above what it was in the real world that worshipping spiritually referred to. So, you’re probably wondering, what’s the real world referent of πνεύματι?

To clarify that is the preacher’s job. 🙂

Tell you what, I’ll address that in another, very short, installment. It will be short since I’m going to simply express my own view. The reality of it, however, is that spirituality is a big topic. And the disjunction between modern psychology and anthropology and the same of 2,000 years ago is quite substantial. There is simply no way to capture the reorientation via a single word (or two) in John 4:24.  Many Christians disagree what spirituality means (which is why the posting will be short 🙂 )

Lastly, consider what I’ve said above by comparing it to Peterson’s translation in The Message.  Personally, I find it rather satisfying since I hadn’t seen this before I started writing these posts.

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” [verses 23-24]

16 thoughts on “Worship in spirit and truth–John 4:24 (part II).

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    Does this repentance occur in the location of sackcloth and in ashes?

    Well, surely the person is dressed in sackcloth and covered in ashes. Maybe that needs to be explicit in an English translation, but it is still a literally locative idea. A locative may refer to the location of a participant rather than the location of the main action.

    Now your other examples may be less literal, but I still see in them an idea of being metaphorically clothed or covered in something. In Luke 1:17 that should be clear as we think of the mantle of Elijah which was known to symbolically bring his spirit and power.

    So there is at least the possibility that this clothing metaphor is relevant to John 4:24: worship (clothed) in “spirit” and truth. But what would that mean? No full answer here.

  2. WoundedEgo says:

    My take…

    Adam was made of two elements:

    * dirt/clay->> flesh (SARX)
    * breath (PNEUMA)

    Moving the dirt/clay/flesh/SARX from one mountain to the other was at one time important, since God had sanctioned the Judean altar, but not the Samaritan one (in John’s scriptures, though not in Samaritan scriptures). But the time was coming and had arrived when worship would not have border issues.

    This is the same thing that Jesus told Nick:

    Joh 3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit [breath].

    God, like the wind, is borderless. So are those born of the breath.

    So, what God is not excited about is moving one’s flesh from one place to another (except as it involves obedience) but rather that the things of the breath (such as words and ideas) are important. Because God too is a breath (in that he is borderless).

    “EN ALHETHEA” just means “in fact” or “in reality.” This is to prevent the idea that “talk is enough”:

    1Jn 3:18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

    Mat 26:41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

    In other words, “talk is cheap” but “the flesh is vulnerable.”

    So what the father seeks is worshippers who are full of meditations and expressions of faith, backed up with corresponding actions.

  3. Mike Sangrey says:

    Well, surely the person is dressed in sackcloth and covered in ashes.

    Probably, but I don’t think it’s necessarily so. The reason I say that is because being in clothing was not the point. What’s really supporting my point is what Rich was referring to when he said, “I have long argued on this blog that we do not do a good job of distinguishing between primary reference and implicational meaning..

    I think the implicational meaning (which is not locative) becomes obvious if I say, “Repent in a three piece suit and Royall Lyme cologne.” The “sackcloth and ashes” implies meaning which is used by the reader’s mind to form their understanding. This implicational meaning is very adverbial. That is, it modifies the meaning of the verb and it does so in a very non-locative way. If anything, it’s a lot closer to the instrumental sense.

  4. bobmacdonald says:

    I am the way the authenticity and the life. – if you go with authentic – and I think it is not a bad try – then what do you do for all those other references to truth. John has come to be regarded as a poet, so the poetry has to have some concordance.

    Thanks for the link between preps and adverbs – I was told in one writing school to remove every word that ended in -ly. The reason is show not tell. In a story, your reader has work to do, so you should not do it for them. My soul likes preps over adj and adv.

    I think the ‘place’ motif should not be hidden. It is a vital part of the thrust of John chapters 1-4. And this is poetry – these are not ipsissima verba of Jehoshua. They are a 7 x 24 matrix of theological reflection on the completion of creation.

  5. John Radcliffe says:


    Thanks for this. Now I’m aware that it’s often easier to criticise than suggest something better, but one problem I see with your rendering is that we lose the connection with the immediately preceding context, in which WHERE one should worship is discussed.

    19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped ON this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is IN Jerusalem.”
    21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither ON this mountain nor IN Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father IN spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship IN spirit and [in] truth.”
    (John 4:19-24, NIV1984)

    The Greek behind each preposition I’ve capitalised is “en”.

    Bearing that in mind, I’d suggest it’s likely that the use by Jesus (or rather, by John in translating Jesus) of “en” in verses 23 and 24 is also locative. Of course, because in English we say “on” a mountain, not “in” one, the connection is already partly obscured, but at least “in” and “on” are both locative. On the other hand, taking the same (Greek) preposition in verses 23 and 24 to describe manner rather than location (“how” rather than “where”) seems to me to not just obscure the connection, but to totally obliterate it.

    So I’d suggest something like:

    “Yet a time is coming, and in fact is now here, when true worshippers will worship in the realm of the spirit and of truth”.

    Or to unpack (what I understand as) the underlying reasoning:

    “Yet a time is coming, and in fact is now here, when [people won’t feel they have to worship in a particular physical location, or follow particular rituals, for their worship to be considered acceptable; no,] “true worshippers”, [those whose worship is accepted by God,] will [simply be able to] worship in the realm of the spirit and of truth”

    (Or possibly, “the Spirit”, but to be honest, I’m not convinced by that, which is why I quoted from the 1984 NIV rather than the current update. I also think it unlikely that Jesus would have introduced the woman to the idea of the Spirit in addition to everything else at this time – that would have been just too much to expect her to take in all at once.)

    Of course, we still have to unpack “in the realm of …”, but I think it’s difficult to unpack it more in the translation without obliterating the locative contrasts.

    So I’m with Bob: I think losing the “place motif” loses too much.

  6. Peter Kirk says:

    John, that’s good, and ties up with what I was saying earlier about metaphorical locatives. Your argument implies that “spirit and truth” is the metaphorical temple in which the worship will take place. On this basis I would go with capitalising Spirit – the human spirit as a temple hardly makes sense. Indeed this reminds me of Revelation 1:10 – what was John doing “in the Spirit” if not worshipping?

  7. Mike Sangrey says:

    Thank you Bob, John, and Peter.

    I think we’re dealing with the first law of Bible translation motion. That is, we’re parked, we’re comfortable with the scenery, we’re not moving. 🙂 Let me see if I can apply a gentle bump.

    It is certainly true that the context explicitly raises the question of where worship should happen. However, is not Jesus’ answer contrastive? Isn’t he saying, “‘Where’ is not the point. ‘Where’ is the wrong question. You’re talking ‘location’. But real worshippers focus on the core, spiritual issues and the integrity of their lives.” Note how Jesus explicitly turns off the location focus in verse 21. And then turns on the more cognitive, more internal, focus in verse 22[1]. It’s not worship that moves from one location to another[2]; it’s the very question itself that changes. Jesus gets even more emphatic with the change by stressing that the change is happening right now (see beginning of verse 23).

    Think about how much semantic weight we’re heaping onto a word whose job is to mark a relationship between words. And we’re doing that, aren’t we, simply to maintain an intertextuality link (as opposed to a semantic, and therefore meaningful, link). I think Jesus uses the intertextuality link in the original in order to be more clear–so I think it’s a good observation. However, just because that intertextuality link is useful in the original, does not mean it is necessarily useful in the destination text.

    [1] I’ve wondered if the original audience understood an association between οἶδα and πνεῦμα. Jesus did not use γινώσκω which is more experiential and less internal.

    [2] In fact, worship continued in Jerusalem.

  8. iverlarsen says:

    It is very good to ask this kind of questions, since it makes us think.

    If the English “in” is understood as pointing to a physical location, the translation “in spirit and truth” obviously makes no sense, but would anyone understand it in that sense?

    When I checked the Hebrew lexicon for the corresponding “b”, one of the senses which might fit here was: “in a mental condition.” Another common sense for ἐν as well as בְּ is instrumental. That could apply to “s/Spirit” but not “truth”, so I think it is less likely.

    It is unlikely that the woman understood much of what Jesus was referring to, since it pointed to the future. (John often gives us words of Jesus that the addressees did not fully understand.) She probably did understand that it was not a question of physical location. True worshippers would soon worship neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, but in a different realm altogether. Neither spirit nor truth refer to alternative locations.

    One way of handling the adverbial sense could be “worship in a true and spiritual way”. This spiritual way may well be understood as either “in association with the Spirit” or “as aided by the Spirit.”

    Years later Paul talked about praying and singing in or with (using) the spirit as opposed to praying and singing with (using) the mind. I prefer NLT’s “pray in the spirit” for 1 Cor 14:15 rather than “with” as KJV had it (and most versions copied). But that may be because of my background. It was a special and awe-inspiring moment for me the first time I heard a congregation sing in the spirit. That is how the phenomenon is described by those few who know it. I am not saying that “worship in spirit” is the same, but there may well be an association which is lost by other translations.

    I find it easier to understand “worship in spirit and truth” than “his worshippers must be spiritual and authentic”. The first may have several possible meanings, but that is fine, since the original would not have been crystal clear. I don’t understand the meaning of the second in the context in which it was said.

    Some translations have unpacked and did quite well (that does not include the Message in my view):

    TEV: “only by the power of his Spirit can people worship him as he really is.”

    CEV: “those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship him according to the truth.”

  9. John Radcliffe says:

    Mike said:

    “However, is not Jesus’ answer contrastive? Isn’t he saying, “‘Where’ is not the point. ‘Where’ is the wrong question.”

    But if Jesus’ answer is contrasting “where” with “how”, isn’t John being rather unhelpful in using the same preposition with the same verb? I’m sure there are many other ways we could have phrased it (without a preposition or with a different one).

    “And we’re doing that, aren’t we, simply to maintain an intertextuality link (as opposed to a semantic, and therefore meaningful, link).”

    I’m also not sure I’d go with you in contrasting “intertextual” and “meaningful”. We are talking of something that occurs only 2 or 3 sentences earlier. I’d say that was intra- rather than inter-textual.

  10. bobmacdonald says:

    @ Mike “on the core, spiritual issues and the integrity of their lives…more cognitive, more internal,”
    @ Iver “in a mental condition.”

    Now, beloved, do not confuse mental with the instrument that creates and sings the tune. Do not confuse the part for the whole. We are a living temple, an incarnate fleshly temple, a sanctuary of his body, every thought captivated by the gifts given to the captives (Psalm 68). Our bodies are a fleshly temple alive to God through the anointed Jesus – or in Johanine terms, we are past the judgment through our hearing Jesus’ words and believing on the one who sent him.

    We are not ‘merely’ a mental abstraction mechanism for spouting truth. Better we should not spout at all than claim for our ‘words’ something that confines Spirit to mind. In spirit does not exclude body. We are to be pure as he is pure. So the replacement of the place is not bodiless, but body full. Our temple, our holiness, our actions, our whole being is included.

    So circumlocutions in translation can do much more harm than good if they make people ‘think’ they ‘understand’ and don’t prod them into reworking their whole bodily lives.

    If I am truly ‘in’ him and he ‘in’ me – which is where John will go with his language to the prayer of John 17, then the preposition cannot be replaced with adjectives or adverbs. If we do this, we will deny the oneness by our explanations of it.

    Even for the elementary reader, we must leave open some questions so that that one can do his or her work of understanding without interference from the translator.

    I remind you that I have two children with brain damage. They are incapable of understanding circumlocution. They cannot be saved by explanation. I will not judge their faith by confessional terminology. If they are not saved, then neither am I, for a grafted them into my body, and for their sake I consecrate myself. It is not a mental problem. It is a fundamental problem. They too are instrumental in their own salvation, but by a mystery that is beyond my explanations.

    Worship in spirit and in truth – this is a loving invitation – the Father seeks such. Does that Father have any need that He should seek such. O beloved, Adam, – Where are you?

  11. Mike Sangrey says:

    But if Jesus’ answer is contrasting “where” with “how”, isn’t John being rather unhelpful in using the same preposition with the same verb?

    Not at all. Prepositions are marker words more than anything else.

    Here’s an example: “He spoke in honor of the lieutenant, but in an out of the way place. Such a humble man did not want the attention.” The first use marks the purpose of speaking. The second marks a location. Both modify the action of the same verb.

    In any case, using the same preposition (ie. the form or symbol) heightens the contrast. This is easily done in Greek since ἐν can perform the different roles. English ‘in‘ is a different word.

    As far as the ‘intra’ versus ‘inter’…as far as I’m concerned we can just drop the prefix and use “textual link.” There’s no significant semantic link–at least in my opinion.

  12. Gary Simmons says:

    So, we can’t even agree whether “in spirit and in truth” is contrasting locations or is contrasting the previous clause by providing a more relevant piece of information: manner as opposed to location.

    And we can also determine that some of what Jesus said in John was clear as mud to the hearers in the story. Cf. Nicodemus mentioned above. Figuring out what Jesus meant with “the pneuma blows where it will” is like roping the wind.

    Can’t we just admit this text is every bit as mystical as Revelation and thus difficult to grasp? The author intends to be understood, but not by everyone. I assume that is the case because that’s how he portrays Jesus. Can’t we leave the readers with a sense of enigma when we the translators struggle in [during] the act of translating?

    Not every communicator intends to be understood by every potential hearer. Often, communicators speak in a way that only someone with a given context will understand it. For instance, two Canadians in America saying something in French so the American hearers (not having the context of knowing French) will not understand. It happens.

    How often does the word or concept euaggelion appear in John? Compare it to the frequency of the word in the other Gospels. If John’s intent is to convey the Gospel to all anthropois, then perhaps we could assume he intends to be understood by all listeners. But that doesn’t seem to have been his motive in writing.

    Ergo, we should leave the phrase as is. First law of Bible motion should remain enforced.

  13. EricW says:

    Ergo, we should leave the phrase as is. First law of Bible motion should remain enforced.


    Except…how are we to translate the ἐν and the καὶ? To “leave the phrase ‘as is'” depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. 🙂

  14. Bob MacDonald says:

    “The author intends to be understood, but not by everyone. ”
    or not by everyone on one reading. Rather like the sayings of the wise, a goad.

    John sinks in over a lifetime. The lifetime is retroactively redeemed too. As C. S. Lewis noted, redemption works backwards in time (somewhere in the Narnia books)

  15. iverlarsen says:

    Well, I cannot understand what Bob is trying to say, but I know I am partially brain damaged. My wife is right-brained and she loves C. S. Lewis. I am left-brained, and I don’t appreciate him.

    The real problem I have as a translator (into English or Danish) is that the Greek EN (and the corresponding dative)does not correspond to English “in” or Danish “i”. Sometimes it is best translated as “in”, sometimes that does not work at all. In most cases it is fairly clear whether “in” will work or not. That is not easy to decide for the text Mike chose. Sometimes it is too hard to make a choice. For instance, when we came to “baptise in/with water” we chose “with” in the text but had a footnote saying that it could also be translated with “in”. NIV and NLT did the same.

  16. Mike Sangrey says:

    One quick comment about Nicodemus not understanding…

    Jesus was either surprised at Nicodemus not understanding or he was rebuking him for not understanding. In either case, the expectation was that Nicodemus should have understood and didn’t. (cf 3:10) If Jesus intends to not be clear to the audience standing in front of him, and therefore chooses language which is difficult to understand, then his rebuke is disingenuous, possibly even deceptive. I hope it’s obvious that I don’t think that’s possible.

    What Nicodemus (and similarly, we) bumped up against was the disjunction between his pre-exegetical assumptions and the clear and natural “text” before him.

    I wish I had a nickel for every time this has happened to me.

    Also, there’s some rabbinical idioms and even a rabbinical protocol being used in the interchange between Jesus and Nicodemus. I don’t fully understand them.

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