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Be Subordinate for the Lord’s Sake: An Exegesis of First Peter 2.13-17

Introduction

The epistle of First Peter was written to instruct and encourage Christians who were living in difficult circumstances in Asia Minor. Throughout the letter, Peter[1] consistently encourages his audience to live good and holy lives despite the persecution and suffering they are experiencing. This paper will look closely at the text of 1 Peter 2:13-17, where Peter instructs believers how to live in relation to their governing rulers and surrounding society.

The Background of First Peter

The believers to whom Peter writes find themselves in difficult circumstances, the victims of persecution at the hands of the society in which they live.[2] That persecution is a dominant theme of Peter’s letter is undisputed, but the nature of that persecution is less obvious and has been frequently debated over the years. In the past, it was commonly believed that this was an official persecution sponsored by Rome,[3] but most scholars today have rejected this view.[4] There is no specific reference to state-sponsored persecution in 1 Peter,[5] and what seems to be described instead are persecutions that were “…sporadic, generally mob-incited, locally restricted, and unsystematic in nature.”[6] In the face of this persecution, Peter writes to encourage his readers to stand firm,[7] and to instruct them on how they should simultaneously live as members of society and faithful members in the community of God.[8]

The Context of 1 Peter 2.13-17

Having considered the historical background of 1 Peter and the purpose for which it was written, we now shift focus to 1 Peter 2:13-17, which occupies a central place in the letter, offering specific instruction as to how believers should live in society and interact with those who rule over them. These verses are generally grouped within a larger segment that extends from 2:11-3:12,[9] and are considered by many scholars to comprise Peter’s version of a haustafel.[10] Although the groups of slaves, wives, and husbands are addressed in this section, Peter is addressing the entire Christian community, and these specific groups are used as illustrative examples of the kind of behavior Peter is commanding.[11]

The Text of 1 Peter 2.13-17

First Peter 2:13-17 instructs the community of faith concerning the proper relationship to the governing authorities (vv. 13-14), a rationale for doing good in society (v. 15), a description of Christian freedom (v. 16), and then concludes with four brief statements which summarize the Christian’s responsibility to all people, the brotherhood, God, and the emperor (v. 17).

2:13a “Be subject for the Lord’s sake…”[12]

The Greek verb rendered “be subject” in the ESV is υποταγητε,[13] a form of υποτασσω,  which can be translated “subject oneself”, “be subordinated”, or “obey”,[14] but a majority of scholars seem to agree that “be subordinate” is the preferred translation because it emphasizes the recognition of one’s proper place in the established order of society[15] rather than an “absolute, slavish, uncritical obedience to the state.”[16] This command to be subordinate is justified not on the basis of the authority of the state, but as part of the Christian faith, regardless of whether δια τον κυριον refers to God or to Jesus Christ.[17]

2:13b “…to every human institution…”

To whom is Peter’s audience instructed to be subordinate? The words ανθρωπινη κτισει are translated here as “human institution,”[18] but this rendering seems to be called for more by the context of governmental authority than by the word itself, and most scholars suggest that a better translation would be “human creature.”[19] In addition to being a more natural translation of the word, “human creature” also provides a subtle judgment against any notion that the Roman emperor was divine—according to Peter, the emperor was a human creature; God is the creator.[20]

2:13c “…whether it be to the emperor as supreme…”

Following the introduction of the general idea of human creatures, Peter now goes on to give his readers specific examples. Bασιλει frequently means “king”,[21] but is sometimes used to refer to the Roman emperor as well, and this is clearly who Peter has in mind.[22] He is “supreme” in the sense that, “in the Roman world of the first century, the Roman emperor was the highest instance of human authority.”[23]

2:14 “…or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good….”

Of course, in an empire the size of Rome, the emperor did not rule over everything directly, so authority was delegated to provincial governors and magistrates who presided over the daily governing of the people.[24] Peter’s readers would be much more likely to come into contact with these public officials, and they are commanded to be subordinate to them as well.[25] As part of the responsibilities of rule, these governors have the task of keeping order by punishing those who do evil and violate the law and rewarding those who “do good.” In modern society, we are quite aware of the government’s role in punishing evil, but the idea of governing authorities giving “praise to those who do good” is less familiar to us.[26] To what does this refer?

One suggestion is that the praise talked about in 2:14 refers to the long established practice of governors bestowing public recognition on benefactors, or those whose good works benefitted the city in which they lived in some public way.[27] Those who disagree with this perspective argue that few of the Christians in Peter’s audience would have been in the social or economic position to practice public benefaction.[28] While this may be so, it does seem that “do good” must mean more than private acts of piety (which would have been unknown to public officials) or simple obedience to the laws of the land (which would have been taken for granted by officials and hardly deemed worthy of praise).[29] Peter was not instructing his readers to pull back from the world around them, but rather to perform good works in their lives in tangible ways that would have been readily observed and appreciated by their neighbors.[30]

2:15 “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”

Continuing the thought from the previous verse, Peter provides additional justification for the public doing of good, and once again grounds his commands in God’s will.[31] Here, he suggests that the sorts of good deeds he has described will put a stop to one form of persecution they are facing, which is the slander of their foolish neighbors.[32]

2:16a “Live as people who are free…”

In the Greek text 2:13-16 is all combined as one long sentence with υποταγητε from 2:13 serving as the main verb. Thus, it would be preferable to repeat the main verb (“be subordinate”) rather than supply a verb (“live”) that is not actually present in the Greek text as the ESV does.[33] It is possible that the freedom discussed here is civil freedom,[34] but it seems more likely that Peter is referring to the freedom from sin, law, and the ignorance of paganism that believers enjoy in Christ.[35]

2:16b “…not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”

In the Greek text, the construction of three parallel clauses beginning with ως in 2:16 (“as people who are free”; “as a cover-up for evil”; “as servants of God”) serves to emphasize that the freedom discussed at the beginning of the verse is limited by the conditions given later on.[36] In other words, the freedom enjoyed by Peter’s audience was neither a liberty without bounds nor was it to be used as an excuse for lawlessness; rather it was precisely their status as servants of God that ensured their subordination to the state.[37] Ultimately, they had “…been set free from human rulers by acceptance of another Ruler. But that Ruler wants them to submit to human rulers insofar as they do not demand disobedience to his will.”[38]

2:17 “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

This verse provides an excellent summary to 2:13-17, but scholars are divided as to how exactly it should be structured in English.[39] The first command in the verse (τιμησατε) is an aorist imperative while the final three (αγαπατε, φοβεισθε, τιματε) are all present imperatives, and the disagreement stems from whether or not this shift in tense was intended to convey some particular meaning. One perspective holds that the first clause, “honor everyone,” represents the main idea that is then more specifically explained by the following three commands.[40] Contrary to this perspective, most commentators hold that the verse is best rendered as four distinct short sentences as in the ESV.[41] This seems to make more sense in summarizing the passage as a whole,[42] and furthermore, these four statements form a chiasm which serves to place prominence on the relationships that Christians are supposed to have with other believers and God.[43]

Regardless of the correct punctuation of the verse, its overall message seems clear: Christians are supposed to honor the emperor[44] as they are to honor all men, and they are supposed to love their fellow Christians, but only God is to be shown reverent fear.[45]

Conclusion

The first epistle of Peter was written to believers who were facing persecution, but 1 Peter 2:13-17 allows no opportunity for Christians to use their suffering as an excuse for bad behavior. On the contrary, they are commanded to be subordinate for the Lord’s sake to those who are in authority over them, recognizing that those authorities have a role to play in maintaining societal order (2:13-14). This subordinate behavior, characterized by good deeds, will serve to earn the praise of those who are in authority while simultaneously silencing those who foolishly accuse them of wrongdoing (2:14-15). The Christians to whom Peter writes have been set free from sin, but they have willingly declared themselves to be servants of God (2:16), and he wills that they honor and respect all people including the emperor, while loving their fellow believers and reserving reverent fear for him alone (2:17).

The overriding message of the passage is clear. God is the ultimate authority, and to a significant extent, he wants his servants to also be servants of the society in which they live. They are to do good, to honor all people, and to be subordinate to their rulers, as long as that subordination does not place them in violation of his will.


[1] The authorship of 1 Peter is a much-debated topic, but is beyond the scope of this paper. I assume that Peter was the author, and write accordingly in this paper.

[2] See Allen Black and Mark C. Black, 1 & 2 Peter (Joplin, Mo: College Press, 1998), 18-19, Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter: A Commentary on First Peter, Hermeneia (Minneapolis, Minn: Fortress Press, 1996), 33-36, and John H. Elliott, 1 Peter, The Anchor Bible, vol. 37B (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 98-100.

[3] Elliott, 98, lists several proponents of this view, who, as a result of this idea, try to date 1 Peter sometime during the reign of Nero, Domitian, or Trajan. However, as Elliott points out, “…the first worldwide persecution of Christians officially undertaken by Rome did not occur until the persecution initiated by Decius (249-251 CE) in 250 CE.”

[4] Ibid., 100, lists a host of commentators who share the perspective that the persecutions of 1 Peter were not state-sponsored. Instead, these commentators tend to believe that the persecution came at the hands of the believers’ neighbors and surrounding community who made accusations against them.

[5] Black, 19.

[6] Elliott., 98. Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 9, concurs with this view: “In general, the specific persecution referred to throughout the book seems limited to verbal slander, malicious talk, and false accusations (1:6; 2:12, 15; 3:9, 16; 4:12, 16).” On the other hand, just because the persecutions of 1 Peter were not state-sponsored does not mean that they were not widespread. David G. Horrell, 1 Peter (New York: T & T Clark Ltd, 2008), 53, arguing from 1 Peter 5:9, states that similar suffering was experienced by Christians throughout the world, making the persecution described in 1 Peter “no local aberration.” Achtemeier, 34, concurs.

[7] Black, 19.

[8] The exact nature of the strategy that Peter suggests for daily living in society is a topic of fierce debate. David L. Balch, Let Wives be Submissive: The Domestic Code in 1 Peter, Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series no. 26 (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981), 81, 87, suggests that Peter was urging his readers to accommodate to the norms of the surrounding Greco-Roman culture in order to reduce the suffering they were experiencing and improve the quality of their lives. Edgar Krentz, “Order in the “House” of God: The Haustafel in 1 Peter 2:11-3:12,” in Common Life in the Early Church: Essays Honoring Graydon F. Snyder, ed. Julian V. Hills et al. (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1998), 285, concurs, saying “Peter urges conduct that will make the nascent Christian community survive, even thrive, in the social structure of the time.” On the other hand, Elliott, 510, argues that such accommodation “endangers exclusive commitment to God, Christ, and the brotherhood and obliterates the distinctive identity and boundaries of the Christian community.” For Elliott, the entire point of 1 Peter is that, rather than conforming to society, Christians are to practice “holy nonconformity” (509). Horrell, 94-95, takes a helpful middle ground between the two extremes of conformity and resistance, stating that Christians should be “willing to be good and obedient citizens as far as possible, but [draw] a clear line of resistance at certain points.”

[9] Elliott, 484-85, takes the standard viewpoint that 1 Peter 2:11-3:12 should be treated as a unit and states that this passage shifts the focus “from an affirmation of the dignity and favored status of the believing community before God (1:3-2:10) to the conduct of the community in society and its interaction with hostile outsiders. Further, he delineates 2:13-17 as a self-contained unit (485). Krentz, 281-82, offers a helpful summary of different ways in which this section of 1 Peter has been divided, one of which is exemplified by Balch, 125, who believes that there is no shift after 3:12 and that the entire section ranges from 2:11-4:11. Eugene M. Boring, 1 Peter, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999), 102-03, and Mary H. Schertz, “The Easter Texts of 1 Peter,” Word & World 24 (Fall 2004): 431-32, both support the separation of 2:11-3:12 as a distinct segment, and identify a chiasm contained in those verses which emphasizes the innocent suffering of Christ as an example for all Christians.

[10] Haustafeln, or “household codes”, were prevalent in the Hellenistic world and contained instructions for living and duties within the domestic setting. Boring, 105-06, states that this section of 1 Peter was likely composed and read in light of the prevalence of such codes, and lists Pauline haustafeln in Eph 5:22-6:9; Col 3:18-4:1; 1 Tim 2-3; 5:1-6:3; and Titus 2:1-10. See also J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 49 (Waco, TX: Word Books Publisher, 1988), 121-23. Other sources which take for granted that 2:11-3:12 is a haustafel include Mary H. Schertz, “Nonretaliation and the Haustafeln in 1 Peter,” in The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament, ed. Willard M. Swartley (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 258-86, and J. de Waal Dryden, Theology and Ethics in 1 Peter: Paraentic Strategies for Christian Character Formation, (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2006): 152-56. In opposition to this idea, Elliott, 504-05, rejects the theory that 2:11-3:12 is a haustafel because it “fails to explain the close relation of instruction concerning both civil and domestic duties.” See also Reinhard Feldmeier, The First Letter of Peter: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008), 156, “…[O]ne is not dealing here with a “Haustafel” in the normal sense.”

[11] Boring, 106-07.

[12] The text cited here for 1 Peter 2:13-17 comes from the English Standard Version.

[13] Greek citations come from the United Bible Society Greek New Testament.

[14] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., rev. and ed. Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1042; KJV, NASB, NIV (2011) “Submit”; NLT “Respect”.

[15] Achtemeier, 182; Elliott, 486-87; Boring, 108-09; John W. Kleinig, “Ordered Community: Order and Subordination in the New Testament,” Lutheran Theological Journal 39 (August and December 2005): 198-200; Raúl Humberto Lugo Rodríguez, ““Wait for the Day of God’s Coming and Do What You Can to Hasten It…” (2 Peter 3:12): The Non-Pauline Letters as Resistance Literature,” in Subversive Scriptures: Revolutionary Readings of the Christian Bible in Latin America, ed. Leif E. Vaage (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997), 200-01. Norman L. Geisler, “A Premillennial View of Law and Government,” Bibliotheca Sacra 142 (July-September 1985): 262, sees a significant difference between submission and subordination: “[Christians] can be insubmissive, but they must not be insubordinate. Even when a believer cannot submit to the law he must be willing to submit to the consequence of that law.”

[16] Arnold T. Monera, “The Christian’s Relationship to the State according to the New Testament: Conformity or Non-Conformity,” Asia Journal of Theology 19 (April 2005): 121. See also Boring, 108, “What is called for here is not mindless robotic obedience or servile cowering that denies one’s own identity and sense of worth….”

[17] Elliott, 489, and Achtemeier, 182, both hold “Lord” here to be referring to God as creator, but Michaels, 124, noting that o kυριον ”refers to Jesus quite consistently in 1 Peter,” sees it as a reference to Christ, and that it anticipates the words about Jesus in 1 Peter 2:21-25. Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 99, agrees. Although the argument that κυριον refers to Christ rather than God the Father seems better to me, ultimately, either viewpoint leads to the same conclusion: the subordination commanded to Christians is based on authority from heaven, not from the state.

[18] This translation is supported by BDAG, 573.

[19] Black, 71-72. Mark Dubis, 1 Peter : A Handbook on the Greek Text (Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press, 2010), 65, “Elsewhere in the NT, κτισiV refers to the world or beings that God has created. Here it is frequently rendered as “institution”… although evidence is lacking for this usage in ancient Greek literature.” Michaels, 124, “[T]he examples immediately introduced—the emperor and the local magistrates—are persons not power structures.” See also Achtemeier, 182; Elliott, 489. On the other hand, Edward Gordon Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes and Essays (London: Macmillan, 1955), 172, supports “institution.”

[20] Elliott, 489, “In contrast to devotees of the imperial cult who render obeisance to the emperor as “Lord and God”…Christians respect the emperor and his representatives only as human creatures….” See also Achtemeier, 182-83; Black, 72. Related to this idea, Elliott, 492-93, Boring, 116, and Davids, 100-01, are representative of many commentators who feel the need to distinguish between Peter’s thoughts on government here and those of Paul in Romans 13.1-7, specifically in the sense that Paul refers to governing authorities as “God’s servants” while Peter makes no such explicit claim. Ultimately, though, 1 Peter 2:13-17 is more like Romans 13:1-7 than it is different. After all, Peter describes human rulers as being tasked to keep societal and moral order, which can be assumed to be what God desires. Is this so very different than Paul calling them “God’s servants” in Romans 13? Black, 70-71, recognizing the similarities between the passages, states that both “should be understood as general truths: on the whole governing authorities are a good thing, and Christians should submit to them.”

[21] BDAG, 169-70.

[22] Davids, 101; Black, 72. Michaels, 125, notes that basileuV ”applied both to world monarchs…and to kings and princes of more limited domain,” but that only the emperor would be a basileuV both to Peter in Rome and his scattered audience.

[23] Elliott, 490.

[24] Black, 72.

[25] See Davids, 100, “Since [governors] at times had a direct effect on daily life and since their various evils were often well known, they would be much harder to submit to than the distant unknown Emperor,” and also Michaels, 125, “It is often easier to honor the emperor from a distance than to respect the authority of his local representatives.” This notion is also supported by the biblical account of Pontius Pilate, who would be an example of the type of “governor” mentioned by Peter here.

[26] Achtemeier, 184.

[27] Bruce W. Winter, “The Public Honouring of Christian Benefactors,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 34 (October 1988): 87-103, clearly establishes that it was common practice in Greco-Roman culture to publicly honor the benefactor of a city through public inscriptions. This provided both a reward for the benefactor, and also an incentive for would-be benefactors to do good deeds. Winter’s assertion that Peter is referring to this practice in 1 Peter 2:14 is more tenuous.

[28] See especially Elliott, 491-92. BDAG, 3, finds some support for αγαθοποιων referring to a benefactor in some extra-biblical materials, but suggests the more general “one who does good” or “is a good citizen” as better alternatives for the meaning in 2:14.

[29] Jobes, 175-76.

[30] See also Davids, 100-01.

[31] Cf. 1 Peter 2:13, “for the Lord’s sake.”

[32] Davids, 101. Geoffrey Wainwright, “Praying for Kings: The Place of Human Rulers in the Divine Plan of Salvation,” Ex Auditu 2 (1986): 119. Related to the earlier discussion on the persecution suffered by the recipients of 1 Peter, the indication here seems to be that if Christians were accused of wrongdoing and brought before the magistrates, their case would be improved if they had lived in such a way that they were praised for their good deeds. See also Davids, 101; Achetemeier, 185; Elliott, 495.

[33] Black, 73. Michaels, 128, translates 2:16 as modifying what follows in 2:17, but most commentators including Dubis, 68, and Achtemeier, agree with the explanation presented above. Achtemeier translates 2:16, “…(be subordinate) as free men and women…” to emphasize the connection to 2:13.

[34] Elliott, 496.

[35] Black, 73; Michaels, 128.

[36] Dubis, 68, “The recipients are free with respect to governing authorities, but their freedom has certain bounds determined by the ethical norms of the will of God, to whom they are ultimately subservient.”

[37] Selwyn, 174, “Christian freedom rests not on escape from service, but on a change of master.”

[38] Black, 73.

[39] Jobes, 177, has a more detailed analysis of the opposing viewpoints than is provided here.

[40] This is the reading found in the NIV. Scot Snyder, “1 Peter 2:17: A Reconsideration,” Filologia Neotestamentaria 4 (November 1991): 211-15, holds to this interpretation, and argues that the first part of the verse should not be rendered “honor everyone,” but rather, “give due honor to everyone,” and then goes on to describe what type of honor is due different groups and individuals in the next three commands (brotherhood, God, emperor).

[41] Ernst Bammel, “The Commands in I Peter II.17,” New Testament Studies 11 (April 1965): 279-80; Dubis, 69-70; Elliott, 497; Davids, 102-03; Michaels, 130-31; Wainwright, 117.

[42] If “everyone” is a general term which is then fully explained by the sub-categories of “brotherhood,” “God,” and “emperor,” then 2:17 leaves out the “foolish people” previously discussed in 2:15. What makes more sense is that “everyone” is a general category which covers those left out by the other terms. Literally, everyone is addressed by 2:17.

[43] Bammel, 280-81; Dubis, 69-70; Elliott, 497; Michaels, 102-03. The chiasm is marked by the repetition of timaw in the first and last clauses, and thus possesses an a-b-b’-a’ structure. Specifically on the last two commands, many commentators suggest that Peter is alluding to Proverbs 24:21 here (“My son, fear the Lord and the king…”), but intentionally changes verbs to emphasize that God alone and not the king is to be feared. See Davids, 103-04; Michaels, 131; Boring, 116; Achtemeier, 188; Feldmeier, 165.

[44] Warren Carter, “Going All the Way? Honoring the Emperor and Sacrificing Wives and Slaves in 1 Peter 2.13-3.6,” in A Feminist Companion to the Catholic Epistles and Hebrews, ed. Amy-Jill Levine and Maria Mayo Robbins (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2004), 14-33, makes the argument that in order to truly “be subordinate” and “honor the emperor,” believers would almost have to take part in imperial cult worship, and that without doing so, it would be impossible for them to be considered good citizens or to earn respect from their neighbors or praise from their rulers. This notion is a minority viewpoint, and seems to completely contradict 1 Peter’s emphasis on the ultimate authority of God. For arguments that the subordination and honor discussed in 2:13-17 was never to be in violation of God’s will, see Achtemeier, 185; Black, 73; Monera, 122-23; Davids, 99. For the specific argument that Christian faith required believers to withdraw from the very activities that Carter suggests they must have continued to participate in, see Boring, 103-04.

[45] Achtemeier, 188; Monera, 123; Boring, 116; Davids, 104; Horrell, 87.

La Vida y Obra de Jerónimo López Mozo

Jerónimo López Mozo es un dramaturgo muy prolífico quien es conocido por sus técnicas innovativas y también por sus relaciones antagonísticas con el gobierno de Generalísimo Franco en los años sesenta y setenta. Durante su vida, López Mozo ha escrito más que sesenta obras, incluyendo Guernica, un drama anti-guerra que fue inspirado por el cuadro famoso de Picasso, y que muestra ambos de sus características principales.

Jerónimo López Mozo nació en Gerona, Cataluña el 15 de mayo de 1942. Cuando López Mozo tenía cuatro años, su familia se trasladó a Toledo, y cuando tenía ocho años, su familia se trasladó otra vez a Madrid. López Mozo vivió en Madrid durante los años cincuenta y cursaba estudios en la Escuela Superior de Ingenieros Agrónomos de Madrid y recibió su título como Ingeniero Agrícola en 1964.[1] También en 1964, López Mozo escribió su primera obra de teatro, Los novios o la teoría de los números combinatorios. En 1966, fue instrumental en la fundación de la Federación Nacional de Teatro Universitario.[2]

Está considerado como parte de la generación llamada el “Nuevo Teatro Español”, un grupo de escritores de los años sesenta y setenta que trabajaban con grupos universitarios e independientes y participaban en numerosas creaciones colectivas.[3] Según a López Mozo, el Nuevo Teatro Español era unido por su odio al régimen de Franco, y no por sus estilos similares.[4] También, George Wellwarth, un profesor estadounidense se refiere a la obra de López Mozo como “underground drama” o “teatro censurado”.[5]

En facto, López Mozo tenía muchas problemas con el gobierno franquista, y la Junta de Censura no se permitieron casi 75 por ciento de sus obras, generalmente a causa del contenido crítico, aunque usualmente simbólico, de sus obras y sus creyencias ideológicas contra al régimen de Franco.[6] A pesar de sus problemas causado por la Junta de Censura, López Mozo dice que “escribí como si no existiera la Junta de Censura…supuso que buena parte de mis obras fueran prohibidas…[pero] no impidió…su publicación… en locales que escapaban a su control.”[7]

Desde la muerte de Franco en 1975 y el término de su gobierno fascista, la obra de López Mozo ha recibido más atención favorable crítica y popular también.[8] Pero, es todavía difícil encontrar sus obras en librerías y tiendas. López Mozo dice que es difícil encontrar obras de teatro en general porque “los textos dramáticos apenas interesan ni a los editores, ni a los distribuidores, ni a los libreros. Se venden poco y el precio no puede ser elevado.”[9]

Aparte de sus obras dramáticas, López Mozo ha sido muy activo en el mundo literario durante los años noventa. Desde 1995 a 1998, ocupó la Secretaría General de la Asociación de Autores de Teatro (AAT), desde 1998 ha pertenecido a la Asociación de Escritores de Teatro Infantil y Juvenil (AETIJ), y hasta 2004, formó parte del Consejo de Lectura del Centro Dramático Nacional.[10]

Desde López Mozo escribió su primera obra en 1964, ha escrito más que sesenta obras en solitario o en colaboración con otros autores. La mayoridad de las escrituras de López Mozo son creaciones teatrales, pero ha escrito cuentos, novelas, y ensayos también.[11] Sus dramas teatrales fueron influidos por el teatro del absurdo de la segunda mitad del siglo veinte, pero “a partir de 1990 ha incorporado a su obra elementos propios del teatro realista, que, hasta entonces, había rechazado.”[12] Sobre todo, los dramas de López Mozo son caracterizados por la búsqueda constante de nuevas formas de expresión teatral (por ejemplo, el uso de la proyección de película y el fragmentación estructural), y como resultado, sus dramas tienen “algunas de las técnicas más avanzadas, pero también más sólidas del teatro occidental contemporáneo.”[13]

Durante su carrera como dramaturgo, López Mozo ha recibido más que veinte premios y reconocimientos notables por su obra, empezando en 1968 cuando ganó el Premio Sitges de Teatro por Moncho y Mimí. Otros dramas y premios importantes incluyen el Buho de Bronce de la Institución Cultural Vox por Guernica en 1976, el Premio Tirso de Molina en 1996 y el Premio Nacional de Literatura Dramática en 1998, ambos por Ahlán, y el Premio Serantes de Teatro por La Infanta de Velázquez en 2000.[14]

Guernica, un drama anti-guerra que fue escrito por López Mozo en 1969, es una de sus obras mejor sabido. Esta drama fue inspirado por el cuadro famoso de Pablo Picasso del mismo título que cuenta la historia de un pueblo vasco que fue bombado por los Nazis de Alemania el 26 de Abril, 1937, durante la Guerra Civil Española. Durante la guerra, el gobierno fascista de Franco estaba aliado con los Nazis de Adolf Hitler, y Guernica fue atacado para desmoralizar las esfuerzas republicanas. Fue el primer ataque masivo aéreo contra una población civil en historia. En el cuadro y en el drama también, Picasso y López Mozo tratan de representar la vivacidad del pueblo y el horror que experimentó.[15]

El drama Guernica de López Mozo empiece con una sinopsis breve de que ocurrió—que 1.754 personas estaban matado y 889 estaban herido durante el ataque sorprendente. Entonces, los actores entran en la escena con piezas de un rompecabezas grande y se disponen a colocar las piezas como mural grande y reconstruyen el cuadro Guernica de Picasso.

Entonces, la voz de un narrador empiece a leer poemas anti-guerras del escritores tal como Pablo Neruda y Alberti. Al mismo tiempo, hay un ruido inmenso. Al primero, es el sonido de altavoces y el doblar de campanas, y entonces, se oye los motores de aviones en la lejanía. Se acercan hasta su rugido domina el sonido de las altavoces y campanas. Entonces, hay el sonido de bombardeo, los silbidos de bombas y proyectiles, explosiones, y gritos de miedo y dolor.

Después de eso, se proyectan fotografías y filmas en pantallas del bombardeo: un grupo de bombaderos en el aire, una bomba en vuelo, las calles del pueblo, le gente en refugio, una Guernica destruida, y unas cadáveres a los lados de un camino.

Finalmente, después de todo eso, los personajes comienzan a aparecer. En la Guernica de López Mozo, todos los personajes del drama son los mismos personajes del cuadro de Picasso: la mujer del incendio, la madre con su hijo muerto, la mujer que mira la luz, el toro, el caballo, el guerrero, el pájaro, la flor, y la portadora de la lámpara. Entonces, cada personaje dice su parte del cuento del bombardeo. Por ejemplo, la mujer del incendio está en la cocina recogiendo la mesa cuando oye el sonido de las campanas, y el ruido de aviones y explosiones. Ella va a la ventana, y ve que hay gente corriendo en las calles. De repente, una bomba estalla en su casa, y hay cascotes por todas partes. Las sabanas, los manteles, y las cortinas de la ventana se queman, y ella no puede respirar a causa del humo. Quiere salir de la casa, pero ve que muchas otras casas están incendiando también, que el pueblo entero es un fuego grande, y que es inútil salir. El fuego arde la ropa y la carne de la mujer. Ella grita desesperadamente, y se muere.

Los otros personajes dicen un cuento similar, y al fin, todos han muerto excepto la portadora de la lámpara, quien ha llegado tarde, después del bombardeo. Con la luz de su lámpara, ella ve las cadáveres y la destrucción del bombardeo, y con indignación y enojo, dice que “mi lámpara seguirá encendida señalando al mundo el lugar en que se ha consumado el crimen.”

Ella se sitúa ante el mural grande de la pintura Guernica, y el ruido y las proyecciones del bombardeo cesan. Los otros actores aparecen, y cada uno toma un cirio y lo encienda en el fuego de la lámpara de la portadora. Entonces, se dirigen al público y el fuego se multiplica de unos cirios a otros, y el drama termina.

Puesto que Guernica es un obra de teatro, es difícil a encontrar crítica acerca de la escritura de López Mozo en lugar de crítica de la música o los actores. Pero, hay alguna crítica de la organización del drama. Según a Tom Hawkinson, el drama es un poco tedioso a causa de los personajes del cuadro de Picasso están aislados y enfatizados tantas veces.[16]

Pero, Hawkinson tiene cosas buenas decir de Guernica también. Dice que el drama es muy bueno para transmitir el dolor de los personajes mientras recordando un importante incidente internacional de que la mayoridad de personas no han oido o han olvidado. También, piensa que el diseño del escenario, especialmente con el mural de la Guernica de Picasso es bello.[17]

A causa de no yo podía verlo el drama Guernica, tenía que usar mi imaginación cuando lo leía, pero todavía me gustaba mucho. Me gustaba el uso de los personajes del cuadro como los personajes del drama y sus historias individuales, y también me gustaba los efectos sonidos del bombardeo que continuaban por todo el drama. Pero mi cosa favorita del drama fue como la portadora de la lámpara daba la luz a la audencia que era simbólico de dar el conocimiento de la tragedia al mundo. Estoy seguro que, en un teatro, con los monólogos de los personajes, los efectos sonidos, y el uso simbólico de la luz, sería un drama muy conmovedor y poderoso.

Aunque López Mozo no es todavía bien conocido en los Estados Unidos, es un dramaturgo importante y influencia en España. Sus obras, como Guernica, no son solamente dramas innovativos y populares, pero también funcionan como acusaciones de la régimen turbulenta de Franco.


[1]“Jerónimo López Mozo.” Caos Editorial: http://www.caoseditorial.com/autores/ficha.asp?lg=es%id=29. March 26, 2005.
[2]Campal, José Luis. “Introducción a una bibliografía de la obra dramática de Jerónimo López Mozo.” La Ratonera: http://www.la-ratonera.net/numero4/n4_mozo.html. March 26, 2005.
[3]“Jerónimo López Mozo.” Cátedra Miguel Delibes: http://www.catedramdelibes.com/archivos/000103.html. March 26, 2005.
[4]Ferrer, Carlos. “Entrevista a Jerónimo López Mozo.” Anika Entre Libros: http://www.libros.ciberanika.com/entre51.htm. March 29, 2005.
[5]“El teatro español a partir de 1940.” http://free.hostdepartment.com//d/deflor/70.htm. March 26, 2005.
[6]Campal.
[7]Ferrer.
[8]“Cultural Night from Spain: Music and Theatre.” Loyola University: http://www.loyno.edu/newsandcalendars/release.php?id=707. March 26, 2005.
[9]Ferrer.
[10]Campal; Cátedra Miguel Delibes.
[11]Campal.
[12]Caos Editorial.
[13]“El teatro español a partir de 1940.”
[14]Cátedra Miguel Delibes.
[15]Hawkinson, Tom. “Picasso’s Guernica.” TheaterMania.com: http://1067litefm.theatermania.com/content/news.cfm/story/521. March 26, 2005. “Bombing of Guernica.” Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Guernica. March 27, 2005.
[16]Hawkinson.
[17]Ibid.

The Reign And Death Of King Josiah

Introduction

During the last few centuries, the Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles have come under intense scrutiny as their historical reliability, theological perspectives, and relationship with one another have all been thoroughly examined.

In the midst of this examination and relevant to each of its parts has been the reign and death of King Josiah of Judah. Josiah’s story is told in 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35, where both accounts describe a reforming king who is killed seemingly at the peak of his reign and in the prime of life.

Countless later authors have recounted or interpreted his story from both Jewish[1] and Christian[2] perspectives, but despite the vast amount of material written about Josiah, little is agreed upon beyond the fact that he died as a result of an encounter with Pharoah Neco II[3] in 609 BC.[4]

Although the different interpretations regarding Josiah vary greatly, underlying many of them is the common assumption that the accounts of Kings and Chronicles are contradictory and that only one,[5] or neither,[6] are historically reliable. Following this assumption, many scholars focus only on the account they consider to be more reliable and construct their evaluation of Josiah solely on that basis.

This paper contends that such claims of contradiction are exaggerated and that the biblical account, when considered along with extra-biblical information regarding the geopolitical background of Josiah’s time, provides an intelligible evaluation of Josiah’s reign and explains why he died an early death.

The Biblical Accounts of Josiah’s Reign and Death

It would be outside of the scope of this paper to examine every supposed contradiction between the two Josiah narratives in 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35. Instead, an examination of the two major sources for claims of contradiction—the accounts of Josiah’s reforms and his death—will suffice to illustrate the overall level of consistency between the two accounts. Before examining these accounts, however, a few issues must first be addressed.

First, many scholars who are quick to point to contradictions between the Kings and Chronicles accounts do so because they have made prior assumptions concerning the low historical value of the biblical texts. For scholars operating from this perspective, any perceived discrepancies between the accounts in Kings and Chronicles are immediately used to argue the inaccuracy of one, or both, sources. Although this is a common approach in modern critical scholarship, Iain Provan devastatingly critiques it, pointing to the impossibility of proving the majority of historical claims and our fundamental inability to learn information about the past without accepting testimony from historical sources.[7] Instead, Provan argues that the testimony of the biblical sources should be considered reliable unless or until it proves itself to be otherwise.[8]

Secondly, but related to the first point, is the persistent view held by some scholars that Chronicles is nothing but a reworking of Kings where inconvenient details are altered and new material is invented to convey a certain theological point. Stanley Frost represents this attitude in his well-known article, holding that the Chronicler accounts for Josiah’s death by creating an “unconvincing account of a battle”[9] that “no one in ancient or modern times is going to take…very seriously.”[10] Such a negative bias toward Chronicles is unfortunate and is certainly not shared by all scholars, but it does affect how many scholars interpret the Josiah narratives.[11]

Finally, although there are definitely some differences between the Josiah narratives in Kings and Chronicles, it is worth pointing out how remarkably similar the two accounts are in many respects. Both Kings and Chronicles describe Josiah as a good and righteous king[12] who “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2).[13] At a young age, Josiah is depicted as a reforming king who begins an effort to repair the Temple. During the repair work, the Book of the Law is found and read to Josiah who, upon hearing the words, humbles himself and tears his clothes. The Book is then read to the people and Josiah sets about to bring the city of Jerusalem, the territory of Judah and at least part of the territory of Israel in line with the commands of the book, ridding the land of idolatry and improper worship practices and re-instituting the Passover Feast. Furthermore, Josiah is told by God through Huldah the prophetess that although Judah will be destroyed for its many years of unfaithfulness prior to Josiah’s reign, because of Josiah’s personal faithfulness he will not see the destruction himself but will instead die in peace. Josiah is then killed in an incident involving Pharaoh Neco at Megiddo,[14] and is laid to rest in Jerusalem.[15]

Having discussed these preliminary issues, our attention now turns to the biblical accounts of Josiah’s reforms, which is the first area where many scholars are quick to see contradictions.

Admittedly, the accounts of Kings and Chronicles differ in some ways. In Kings, all of Josiah’s reforming work begins in the eighteenth year of his reign when he orders that the Temple be repaired (2 Kings 22:3ff.). During the work on the Temple, the Book of the Law is found and read to Josiah, who tears his clothes when he hears its contents because he realizes how unfaithful Judah has been and sends to Huldah the prophetess to hear a word from the LORD. In 2 Kings 23, Josiah establishes a covenant with the people to follow the LORD, and then begins a massive religious reform throughout Judah and parts of Israel, destroying anything related to idolatry or unapproved worship practices. A brief account of the Passover instituted by Josiah is then given (2 Kings 23:21-23).

In Chronicles, Josiah’s reforms are portrayed as taking place in a series of stages, and significantly, the reforms begin before the Book of the Law is discovered. First, in the eighth year of his reign, Chronicles says that Josiah “began to seek the God of his father David” and then in his twelfth year, “he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images” (2 Chron. 34:3). In Josiah’s eighteenth year, Chronicles describes many of the same events as Kings: the work on the Temple, the discovery of the Book of the Law and Josiah’s reaction to it, the consultation of Huldah, the covenant with the people, and the celebration of the Passover (although Josiah’s Passover is given much more attention in Chronicles).

However, just because the two narratives differ in some details does not mean that they contradict each other and that one of them must be incorrect. Instead, David Washburn points out that the differences between the two indicate the different purposes for which they were written.[16] Examining in detail the use of chiastic structure in both Kings and Chronicles, Washburn determines that the arrangement of both books is “thematic and was never intended to be chronological”[17] and that in both narratives, the discovery of the Book of the Law leads to the story’s climax and reveals the main theme of each account.[18] In Kings, finding the Book of the Law brings about Josiah’s repentance, the renewal of the covenant, and ultimately the cleansing of the land and the nation’s rejection of idols, which is Josiah’s major achievement. In Chronicles the discovery of Book of the Law leads to the detailed account of Josiah’s Passover. For the Chronicler, “an entire nation keeping the Passover was Josiah’s greatest accomplishment, the deed that demonstrated the real depth of his piety toward the Lord.”[19] Washburn’s perspective is helpful to show that there can be different purposes and emphases in the narratives without contradiction.

A second supposed area of disagreement between the narratives in Kings and Chronicles is with regard to the description of the death of Josiah.

The account in Kings is incredibly brief, declaring, “In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him” (2 Kings 22:29). Josiah is then placed in a chariot and brought back to Jerusalem for burial.[20]

The Chronicles account is somewhat longer, and instead of the ambiguous incident of Kings, describes a battle where “Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates and Josiah went out to meet him” (2 Chron. 35:20). Neco tries to prevent a battle with Josiah, sending messengers to him saying that Judah is not his enemy, that God has commanded him to hurry, and that if Josiah interferes he will be opposing God.[21] Despite Neco’s warning, Josiah disguises himself,[22] does not listen to the words from God and comes to Megiddo to engage Pharaoh in battle. After being shot and badly wounded by an archer (2 Chron. 35:23), Josiah is placed in a chariot and brought to Jerusalem where he dies and is buried. All Judah and Jerusalem mourns for Josiah, and Jeremiah chanted a lament for him (2 Chron. 35:24-25).

The two accounts of Josiah’s death are certainly different, but once again, whether or not one sees contradictions between them depends a great deal on the preconceptions one brings to the text. For those scholars who consider Chronicles to be of dubious historical value, it is only natural to write off the Chronicler’s battle account as a misunderstanding of the shorter account in Kings[23] or a later, poorly-constructed theological explanation for Josiah’s sudden death.[24]

However, if one has good reason to view the Chronicler’s portrayal of a battle as accurate,[25] the two narratives fit together quite well: after ignoring a warning from Neco telling him not to oppose God, Josiah goes up to meet him with the aim of engaging him in battle. During the conflict, Josiah is fatally wounded by Neco’s archers[26] and is removed from the battlefield and transported in a chariot to Jerusalem where he dies and is buried. All of Judah and Jerusalem mourns the loss of their righteous king.[27]

The Geopolitical Background of Josiah’s Reign

The events of Josiah’s reign occurred during a time of turmoil in which Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon were all vying for political and military supremacy in the Ancient Near East.[28] At the time when Josiah came to power in 640 BC,[29] Assyria was the dominant power in the area and had been for some time, and Assyrian rule likely limited the sovereignty of Judah to some extent.[30] However, the situation changed dramatically when the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal died around 630 BC, “plunging the Assyrian empire into an extended period of civil war and general strife”[31] which led to a power vacuum in Palestine[32] and signaled the beginning of a shift in the balance of power in the Ancient Near East from Assyria to Babylon.[33]

It was around this time that Josiah apparently took advantage of Assyria’s lack of control in the region[34] and began implementing his massive religious reforms throughout Judah and northward into the Assyrian province of Samaria.[35] Josiah’s reforms certainly would have had political implications as well as religious ones,[36] and numerous scholars have emphasized that Josiah seemed be “bent on reviving Judah to independent status and restoring Davidic control over the north Israelite territory”[37] and that Palestine was gradually being brought under his control.[38]

While Josiah took advantage of Assyria’s decline to enact his reforms and expand his territory, Babylon was taking Assyria’s place as the preeminent international power. Nabopolassar, the Babylonian king, invaded Assyria in 617 BC, conquered the capital city of Ninevah in 612 BC, and in 610 BC overran Haran, the Assyrian’s reserve fortress.[39] All of this happened despite Assyria’s alliance with Egypt, which dated to around 616 BC.[40]

Meanwhile, a new king, Neco II, ascended the throne of Egypt in 610 BC, and immediately rushed north to lend support to an Assyrian attempt to retake the city of Haran.[41] It is at this point that the biblical account records Josiah’s effort to intercept Neco at Megiddo.

Considering the larger geopolitical picture, the Chronicler’s description of a battle makes sense: Neco is trying to hurry (2 Chron. 35:21) in order to come to the aid of his Assyrian allies in their battle against the common Babylonian enemy. Josiah, the righteous king who has restored Judah to religious faithfulness and political significance, sees an opportunity to further solidify Judah’s position in the region by either delaying Egypt from coming to Assyria’s aid,[42] or by taking advantage of the right time[43] and place[44] to defeat Egypt and effectively claim the entire area of Palestine.[45]

Whatever Josiah’s specific intentions, they made him determined to go into battle despite Neco’s warning from God, and as a result, Josiah loses his life as described above.[46] In the short term, it seems likely that Neco was delayed to the extent that he was unable to help the Assyrians, who failed in their attempt to regain control of Haran.[47] However, this was of little comfort to Judah: their king was dead, they were now firmly under the control of Egypt, and Babylon, the very nation they had in some sense aligned themselves with, would soon reduce Jerusalem to ruins.

Conclusion: A Good King who Made a Bad Decision

Much has been written about the struggle to ascertain the meaning of Josiah’s reign and death. Some argue that the Josiah accounts seek to offer a less rigid interpretation of the reward-and-punishment retribution theology that was prevalent in Deuteronomic thought,[48] while others have suggested that the biblical witness is “silent” and at a loss to explain Josiah’s sudden death.[49]

However, all of the various attempts to give meaning to Josiah’s death are somewhat unwarranted,[50] because as this paper has demonstrated, for those who are willing to give them a fair hearing, the biblical narratives in Kings and Chronicles already present an intelligible account of Josiah’s reign and a clear reason for why he died.

The biblical account portrays Josiah as a good and righteous king who brings about extensive religious reforms and leads his people into a renewed covenant with God, expanding the territory of Judah in the process. However, despite all of the good that Josiah accomplishes, the prophetess Huldah makes it clear that there is nothing he can do to save his country—Judah will be punished after Josiah’s reign comes to an end. From this perspective, Judah’s only hope for continued existence was not political or military success, but having the righteous Josiah as their king.

Unfortunately, for a brief moment, Josiah seemingly forgot that his task was faithfulness to God rather than striving to achieve political dominance, and so he rushed to fight a battle that never should have happened, disregarding a warning from God in the process. The ironic result of Josiah’s actions was that a battle which was intended to solidify Judah’s position in Palestine did just the opposite, as it brought about the death of their king, whose personal faithfulness was the only thing delaying God’s judgment. With Josiah out of the way, it was time for Judah’s destruction to proceed. The people of Judah mourned their king, and rightly so: his demise ensured their own destruction.


[1]Steve Delamarter, “The Death of Josiah in Scripture and Tradition: Wrestling with the Problem of Evil?,” Vetus Testamentum 54, no. 1 (January 2004): 29-60. Delamarter traces the Josiah story through more than a dozen early Jewish texts including the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Septuagint, Vulgate, and early rabbinic writings in addition to the biblical texts.

[2]Lowell K. Handy, “The Good, Bad, Insignificant, Indispensable King Josiah: A Brief Historical Survey of Josiah Studies in the Church,” in Restoring the First-century Church in the Twenty-first Century: Essays on the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, ed. Warren Lewis and Hans Rollman (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005), 41-56. Handy gives a survey of the various perspectives on Josiah throughout the history of the Church, noting especially Josiah’s centrality in the writings of the Reformation period and since the nineteenth century.

[3]All biblical references in this paper are taken from the English Standard Version, which renders the Egyptian king’s name as “Neco”. Other sources spell his name in various ways, most often as “Necho” or “Neko”.

[4]Peter Cooper, “What Was Josiah Thinking?,” Bible Review 16, no. 3 (June 2000): 28.

[5]For example, Richard Nelson, “Realpolitik in Judah (687-609 B.C.E.),” in Scripture in Context II: More Essays on the Comparative Method, ed. William W. Hallo, James C. Moyer, and Leo G. Perdue (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1983), 188-89, discounts Chronicles, suggesting that Josiah was “double-crossed” and killed by Neco and that the account of a battle was a later invention by the Chronicler. Meanwhile, Abraham Malamat, “Josiah’s Bid for Armageddon: The Background of the Judean-Egyptian Encounter in 609 B.C.,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 5 (1973): 275, strongly affirms the historicity of the battle account in Chronicles.

[6]Nadav Na’aman, “The Kingdom of Judah Under Josiah,” in Ancient Israel and Its Neighbors: Interaction and Counteraction, Collected Essays Volume 1 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2005), 382-85, considers both accounts to be a manufactured version of reality with Josiah portrayed as being considerably more important than he actually was.

[7]Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 43-56. Provan, the primary author of the chapters in question, describes the central nature of testimony to our knowledge of the past and the inconsistency of scholars who unhesitatingly accept testimony from others on a daily basis in a variety of ways and then critically reject it in the case of the biblical texts.

[8]It is from this perspective suggested by Provan that this paper operates.

[9]Stanley Brice Frost, “The Death of Josiah: A Conspiracy of Silence,” Journal of Biblical Literature 87, no. 4 (December 1968): 376.

[10]Frost, 381.

[11]Provan, Long, and Longman, 237-38, argue that while Chronicles has its own purpose and perspective, it is nevertheless a work of historiography. Antony F. Campbell, Joshua to Chronicles: An Introduction (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 116, states: “For too long, it was regarded as a late and overly pious rehash of Samuel-Kings, historically unreliable and prone to reshaping reality in terms of its own interests. Relatively recently, biblical scholarship has resumed the task of taking Chronicles seriously.” Finally, Kenneth A. Ristau, “Reading and Rereading Josiah: The Chroniclers Representation of Josiah for the Postexilic Community,” in Community Identity in Judean Historiography: Biblical and Comparative Perspectives, ed. Gary N. Knoppers and Kenneth A. Ristau (Winona Lake: IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009), 221, argues that the dismissive nature with which many scholars treat the Josiah narrative in Chronicles is a “mistake”.

[12]Christine Mitchell, “The Ironic Death of Josiah in 2 Chronicles,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 68, no. 3 (July 2006): 421-35, disagrees with the unqualified description of Josiah as a good king, arguing instead that Chronicles portrays him as sinning by going too far in innovations regarding the Passover and that similarities between his death in battle and that of Ahab suggest his foolishness and arrogance. Although other commentators have also noted the similarities with the Ahab narrative, Mitchell alone suggests that Chronicles portrays Josiah as a “backsliding king” (p. 434); her interpretation seems unlikely in light of the many positive statements made about Josiah in the Chronicles account in 2 Chron. 34:2-3,26-28,33; 35:25-26.

[13]cf. 2 Chron. 34:2.

[14]Scholars have taken several different approaches to explain the fact that Huldah’s prophecy regarding Josiah dying in peace seems to conflict with what happens at Megiddo. L. J. Hoppe, “The Death of Josiah and the Meaning of Deuteronomy,” Liber Annuus 48 (January 1998): 41-43, holds that the prophecy was fundamentally unfulfilled. Ehud Ben Zvi, “Observations on Josiah’s Account in Chronicles and Implications for Reconstructing the Worldview of the Chronicler,” in Essays on Ancient Isael in its Near Eastern Context: A Tribute to Nadav Na’aman, ed. Yairah Amit et al. (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 97, argues that Josiah dying in peace was a conditional part of the prophecy that he forfeited by going up against Neco and ignoring the word of the LORD. John Gray, “I & II Kings,” in The Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964), 713, suggests that the term “peace” might refer to the well-being of the kingdom rather than the individual king. In this interpretation, the focus of the prophecy would be on Josiah dying before the fall of Judah.

[15]Handy, 41.

[16]David L. Washburn, “Perspective and Purpose: Understanding the Josiah Story,” Trinity Journal 12, no. 1 (March 1991): 61, “It would be unfair to say that the two stories contradict each other; rather, they both arrange material by topic, with little regard for chronological sequence. An examination of how each book’s material is arranged can show what events each author considered most important to the overall story….” Jesse C. Long, “1 & 2 Kings,” in The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 2002), 502, “These differences reinforce…that the two accounts of the same underlying historical events have been framed to address specific concerns.” Peter Ackroyd, I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah: Introduction and Commentary (London: SCM Press, 1973), 200-01, points out the theological rather than chronological emphasis of both Kings and Chronicles.

[17]Washburn, 75.

[18]Ibid., 75.

[19]Ibid., 76. Washburn concludes: “…[C]onstruction of a precise time line is impossible. This does not mean, however, that the accounts are contradictory. Each author was more interested in building up to his own particular high point than he was in giving us a chronology of Josiah’s reign.”

[20]Long, 519, argues that the participle mēth in the original text literally says “brought him dying from Megiddo” which indicates that, although wounded at Megiddo, Josiah ultimately dies in Jerusalem. This agrees with Chronicles where it is stated in 2 Chron. 35:24 that Josiah died in Jerusalem. Gray, 748, agrees that mēth should be translated as “dying” rather than “dead”.

[21]Sara Japhet, “I & II Chronicles: A Commentary,” in The Old Testament Library (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 1056-57, argues that in Neco’s warning to Josiah in 2 Chron. 35:21 he is claiming that his god (not YHWH) has commanded him to hurry and that when he refers to “god who is with me”, he is possibly referring to an idol of his god which is in his possession at the time. For a good king such as Josiah, this prevents a problem: how can he submit to the command of a god other than YHWH? Refusing to do this, Josiah persists in going to battle, but when he does so, he sins by not listening to YHWH (2 Chron. 35:22). Japhet’s interpretation, though interesting, is not shared by other scholars, perhaps because she is inconsistent in her translation: why should 2 Chron. 35:21 refer to an Egyptian god when the same word in the very next verse clearly refers to YHWH?

[22]Multiple scholars have noticed the similarities between the account of Josiah’s death in Chronicles and that of Ahab in 1 Kings 22 where he also disguises himself prior to battle: Mitchell, 422-25; Ristau, 234-37, expands the comparison, saying that the Chronicles account of Josiah’s death alludes to Ahab, Ahaziah, and Saul. Despite these similarities, Edgar Wayne Phillips, “The Death of Josiah,” (master’s thesis, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1970), 51, says, “Though the circumstances were similar and the accounts appear schematized, there is little reason to suspect the validity of the basic elements involved.” Certainly the similarities between the death of Josiah and Ahab are no coincidence, and it is likely that by framing Josiah’s death in such a way that it clearly alludes to Ahab’s, the Chronicler is trying to underscore the negative aspects of it. Japhet, 1043, “Josiah, like Ahab, received the Lord’s warning to refrain from going to battle and, like him, ignored the warning.” However, Malamat, 278, disagrees with the translation “disguises himself” and argues that the verb should instead be rendered, “girded himself”.

[23]Zipora Talshir, “The Three Deaths of Josiah and the Strata of Biblical Historiography (2 Kings xxiii 29-30; 2 Chronicles xxxv 20-5; 1 Esdras i 23-31),” Vetus Testamentum 46, no. 2 (April 1996): 213-20, argues that the Kings account depicts Josiah as a vassal under the authority of Egypt who was summarily executed by Neco and that the Chronicler misunderstood this political situation Kings describes and “created a fictitious war” (p. 219). Na’aman, 382, agrees, describing the Chronicles account as “no more than a far-ranging, speculative interpretation” of the Kings account.

[24]Frost, 369-81, speaks of a “conspiracy of silence” surrounding the death of Josiah, suggesting that the Kings narrative is at a loss to explain why a king as righteous as Josiah would meet such an end. For Frost, the Chronicler assumes a battle and, through Josiah’s disregarding of Neco’s warning, conjures up a sin for which the good king can be fairly punished. Frost sees the Chronicles account as an unconvincing theological solution. Nelson, 188, agrees with Frost, saying that the purpose of the Chronicles narrative “was to provide a reason for Josiah’s early and violent death”.

[25]And we do—in addition to the earlier discussion of the historical value of Chronicles in general, as we shall see, the specific historical value of the Chronicler’s description of a battle is supported by the geopolitical background of Josiah’s reign.

[26]There is no reason that 2 Kings 23:29, “…Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo,” has to be interpreted to mean that Neco personally killed Josiah in some sort of hand-to-hand combat. This would be similar to an author saying that George Washington won a battle—no one would assume that the author was claiming that Washington won the battle on his own, but rather that he was in charge and was responsible for the result. Similarly, 2 Kings 23:29 simply indicates that Neco was in command of the situation that resulted in Josiah’s death.

[27]Certainly the biblical account leaves us with certain unanswered questions—how is the seeming lack of fulfillment of all parts of Huldah’s prophecy to be explained? Why was it through the mouth of Neco, a foreign king, that Josiah was warned not to go into battle? Why was Josiah determined to enter into battle in the first place? However, the presence of unanswered questions is a basic part of historical study, and these by no means invalidate the biblical account.

[28]Uriah Yong-Hwan Kim, “The Realpolitik of Liminality in Josiah’s Kingdom and Asian America,” in Ways of Being, Ways of Reading: Asian American Biblical Interpretation, ed. Mary F. Foskett and Jeffrey Kah-Jin Kuan (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2006), 96.

[29]The dates mentioned here come from Rodney R. Hutton, Fortress Introduction to the Prophets (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 63-69 and Malamat, 267-75, but the timeline of events is generally agreed upon.

[30]Leo Duprée Sandgren, Vines Intertwined: A History of Jews and Christians from the Babylonian Exile to the Advent of Islam (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 15, states, “The kingdom Josiah inherited had been a vassal kingdom to Assyria since the days of his great-grandfather Hezekiah.” Most scholars agree with Judah’s vassal status.

[31]Provan, Long, and Longman, 276.

[32]Phillips, 27. The idea of a power vacuum in Palestine following the death of Ashurbanipal is supported by the majority of scholars. However, Na’aman 367-68, argues that no such vacuum existed, and that Assyria’s declining influence in the region was replaced by the rise of Egypt.

[33]Provan, Long, and Longman, 276.

[34]Philippe Guillaume, Waiting for Josiah: The Judges (London: T & T Clark Internation, 2004), 107.

[35]2 Kings 23:1-20; 2 Chron. 34:3-7

[36]The distinction between political and religious policy is a modern concept and is foreign to Josiah’s day. The idea that Josiah could enter Assyrian territory in Samaria and destroy worship sites without there being any political implications is inconceivable. In the words of Phillips, 37, When Josiah “imposed his reform on a specific area it was, in effect, the conquest of that area.”

[37]Carl D. Evans, “Judah’s Foreign Policy from Hezekiah to Josiah,” in Scripture in Context: Essays on the Comparative Method, ed. Carl D. Evans, William W. Hallo, and John B. White (Pittsburgh: The Pickwick Press, 1980), 171; Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman, “Josiah’s Revolt Against Assyria,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 12, no. 1 (January 1953): 56, “Josiah laungched a full-scale politico-religious program for the re-establishment of the Davidic kingdom. Phillips, 31-39.

[38]Phillips, 39. Although most scholars support the idea of some level of a “Golden Age” during Josiah’s reign, Na’aman, 384-89, disagrees that Judah increased significantly in territory of power under Josiah. Even Na’aman admits some level of territorial expansion though.

[39]Sandgren, 18-19.

[40]Phillips, 39-41, “Egypt associated itself with Assyria for its own ends; to strengthen its empire and possibly inherit Assyrian possessions.”

[41]Sandgren, 19.

[42]Would Judah have any particular reason to want Babylon to defeat Assyria? Gwilym H. Jones, “1 and 2 Kings: Based on the Revised Standard Version,” in New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1984), 629, “Josiah was not unaware of the consequence for Judah in the event of Egyptian success against Babylon. In taking action against Neco in 609 BC, he was throwing his dice for Babylon against Egypt and Assyria, and may have hoped for control over Palestine after their defeat by Babylon.” Furthermore, Phillips, 46-47, suggests the possibility of some sense of an alliance between Judah and Babylon, pointing to the affinity between the two nations that seems to be present during the time of Hezekiah, when Merodach-Baladan sends envoys to Jerusalem in 2 Kings 20:12ff. Additionally, antagonism between Judah and Assyria can also be traced to Hezekiah’s time with regards to his conflict with Sennacherib, as described by Sandgren, 14-15.

[43]Phillips, 47, suggests that Egypt perhaps showed signs of weakness because of the very recent ascendancy of a new king.

[44]Malamat, 277, argues that Megiddo was the best place for an ambush that Josiah had access to, specifically “at the strategic pass leading out of Wadi Ara, before the Egyptian army could deploy on the plain or find protection within Megiddo.”

[45]Phillips, 47, “Cautiously Josiah had usurped control of Assyrian possessions in Palestine; but now, perhaps, was the appropriate time to take bolder action and claim all of David’s former holdings. Egypt was the only obstacle that prevented the reality of claiming all of Syria-Palestine….”

[46]Most scholars hold to the Chronicler’s account of a battle, even though it was likely little more than a skirmish due to Josiah’s fatal wound at the beginning, Malamat, 275. Kim, 96, points out that a minority voice discounts the battle narrative, arguing instead that Josiah’s death is better explained at a “court-martial based on sovereign-vassal relations.”

[47]Jacob M. Myers, I and II Esdras, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974), 28-29.

[48]Ristau, 242-43.

[49]Frost, 369-82.

[50]In a sense, the story of Josiah does critique a rigid understanding of retribution theology, although not in the way that many scholars have claimed. In both Kings and Chronicles, Josiah continues his religious reforms and devotion to God even after learning of Judah’s doomed fate. The implication is clear: the truly righteous (like Josiah) will do God’s will regardless of the threat of punishment or promise of reward.

The Role And Character Of Elihu In The Book Of Job

Introduction

The Book of Job is widely regarded as one of the great written masterpieces of history, equally impressive for the depth of the issues it wrestles with and the great literary quality it displays.[1] In this frequently discussed and often disputed book, one of the most frequently discussed and most often disputed figures is the character of Elihu, a young man who suddenly appears following Job’s final speech in Job 31, delivers a series of speeches to Job in chapters 32-37, and then disappears from the scene as quickly as he came when God begins to speak to Job out of the whirlwind in Job 38.

Perhaps no other biblical character has been characterized by scholars in such radically different ways as Elihu. Concerning wisdom, Elihu is described as either an “exceeding wise” man[2] or a “buffoon”;[3] concerning his motivation, he is seen as anything from a divinely-inspired “man of God”[4] to the “person assumed or adopted by Satan” to attack Job;[5] concerning his contribution to the Book of Job, he is considered to be “irrelevant”[6] or “integral”.[7]

This paper will focus on the character of Elihu in the Book of Job, and will seek to determine how he should be viewed and what his role is in the overall context of the book. First, we will consider whether the Elihu speeches were an original part of the Book of Job or a later addition. Then the speeches themselves will be summarized in an attempt to determine what Elihu was trying to say and what theological contributions he makes. Finally, we will draw conclusions about the overall role that Elihu plays in the drama[8] of Job.

Elihu’s Speeches: Are They Authentic?

Before the character and role of Elihu in the Book of Job can be considered, the question regarding whether or not the Elihu speeches are an original part of the Book of Job must be addressed.

Put simply, many scholars believe that the Elihu speeches as we have them now were not part of the original Book of Job. James Ross sums up the standard viewpoint on the inauthenticity of the Elihu speeches saying, “there no longer seems to be any serious doubt that they are a later addition to the work, stemming from an author who was ‘angry‘ both with Job and with his friends….”[9] Variations on this basic perspective include Robert Gordis, who holds an intermediate view on the authorship of the Elihu speeches, suggesting that they were added by the original author later in life,[10] and David Clines who, without drawing conclusions about authorship, suggests that the speeches as we have them today are located in the wrong place.[11]

Although there are many variations, the reasons for rejecting the authenticity of the Elihu speeches basically fall into four categories. First, Elihu is mentioned nowhere in the Book of Job outside of his speeches in Job 32-37. Second, the style of the Elihu speeches is different from the style used in the other parts of the book. Third, Job’s challenge in chapter 31 calls for God, not Elihu, to make an appearance. Finally and perhaps most significantly, Elihu’s speeches supposedly contribute nothing to the Book of Job.[12]

On the other hand, many scholars reject these arguments as unconvincing and strongly believe the Elihu speeches to be an original part of Job.[13]

Although it is certainly true that Elihu is not mentioned in the prologue or epilogue of Job, it is not clear that this is significant. After all, both the Satan and Job’s wife appear only in the prologue, but they are not rejected as inauthentic characters in the book simply because they do not appear in the dialogue or the epilogue.[14] Furthermore, the only reason that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar appear in the epilogue is because they are rebuked by God for what they have said. If Elihu’s words were more pleasing to God than those of the three friends, then there would be no reason for him to appear in the epilogue in the same context.[15]

It is also readily apparent that there are differences in the vocabulary and style of the Elihu speeches when compared to the rest of Job,[16] but these differences could be due to the fact that Elihu, as a younger man, simply spoke in a different manner than the other characters, rather than being indicative of a different author.[17]

In his concluding speech in chapter 31, Job does demand that God appear before him, and in a sense, it is somewhat surprising for Elihu to appear instead.[18] Based on this, some scholars argue that the Elihu speeches are currently located in the wrong place. However, even those scholars who agree that the Elihu speeches are in the wrong place disagree about where they should be located,[19] and this indicates the subjective nature of the argument. Furthermore, if God truly is the all-powerful sovereign that he portrays himself as in Job 38-41, it seems unlikely that Job’s concluding remarks in chapter 31 could in some way compel him to appear. The present location of Elihu’s speeches in Job 32-37 creates distance between Job’s demands and God’s appearance, thereby affirming God’s sovereignty and freedom to act how and when he chooses.[20]

The final argument against the Elihu speeches being an authentic part of the Book of Job is the claim that the speeches make no contribution to the book.[21] However, as this paper has already implied, Elihu’s contribution to the Book of Job is very much debated, and if it could be demonstrated that Elihu does have something significant to add (as this paper will endeavor to do), this argument would lose its merit.

When the arguments against the authenticity of the Elihu material are considered individually, it is clear that they are not particularly strong and are easily rebutted. This leads to the conclusion that there is no compelling reason to consider the Elihu speeches as anything other than an original part of the Book of Job.

Elihu’s Message: What Does He Say?

With Elihu’s authenticity safely assumed, we now shift our attention to the speeches themselves in an attempt to briefly summarize his thoughts.

After Job finishes speaking, chapter 32 opens with the introduction of “Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram…” (Job 32.2),[22] a description which likely designates him as a fellow countryman of Job.[23] We are told in Job 32.2-5 that Elihu is angry with Job “because he justified himself rather than God” and that he is angry with the three friends because they had been unable to adequately answer Job’s arguments. As a young man, Elihu has waited for the older men to speak first, but can now hold his tongue no longer and decides to give his opinion.

Scholars are in general agreement that Elihu’s words can be easily divided into four distinct speeches.[24] In Elihu’s first speech (Job 32.6-33.33), he begins by justifying his intrusion into the debate between Job and his friends. In Job 32.9, he says that “it is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right,” but “the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand” (Job 32.8). This idea that understanding comes primarily from God is important in Elihu’s speeches, and it gives Elihu the courage to speak up despite his youth. After summarizing Job’s claims of his innocence (Job 32.9) and God’s injustice (Job 32.10), Elihu goes on to suggest that God uses both dreams (Job 33.15-18) and physical affliction (Job 33.19-21) to instruct people and turn them away from sin.[25] He then says that God sends a special mediating angel to help people escape from death (Job 32.22-30),[26] before closing his speech and inviting Job to respond in Job 32.32.

When Job fails to answer, Elihu begins to speak again, and in his second speech (Job 34.1-37), he vigorously attacks Job’s denial of God’s justice (Job 34.5-6). In a verse which is representative of the entire speech, Elihu says in Job 34.12 that “God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice.” He goes on to assert that God justly governs the world without exception (Job 34.24-25),[27] although he does not try to explain Job’s individual case.

In his third speech (Job 35.1-16), Elihu points out the inconsistency in Job’s competing claims that God owes him something because of his righteousness (Job 35.2), and that he is no better off than if he had sinned (Job 35.3).[28] Elihu then claims that God is not affected by righteous or sinful acts of humans, at least in the sense that he is not obligated to respond in some particular way.[29] This idea, in addition to rejecting Job’s claim that God owes him some sort of vindication, also shows that Elihu’s view of retribution is more nuanced than that of Job’s friends in that he rejects the idea that man’s good or bad actions compel God to respond mechanistically with either reward or punishment.

In his fourth and final speech (Job 36.1-37.24), Elihu seems to change his approach.[30] Now, instead of citing Job’s arguments and focusing on refuting them, Elihu focuses solely on God, reaffirming his justice (Job 36.5-7) and his ability to use suffering to teach people (Job 36.22). At this point, Elihu uses the appearance of an approaching thunderstorm (Job 36.27-37.6) as an object lesson to reflect on the greatness of God,[31] anticipating the appearance of God himself in a whirlwind.

Elihu’s Role: What Does He Add To The Book Of Job?

Having examined the content of Elihu’s speeches, we now turn to the role he plays within the Book of Job: what does Elihu have to contribute? Is he to be viewed as a primarily positive or negative character? The responses to these questions fall into three basic categories.[32]

First, many commentators who view Elihu in a negative light basically see him as just a younger version of Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.[33] From this perspective, “Elihu was no more an inspired theologian than were Job’s friends,”[34] and he was bound by the same rigid retribution theology they were.[35]

However, upon close examination, there are several indications that Elihu is more than just another of Job’s “friends”. First, as we have already seen, Elihu appeals to God as the source of his wisdom, rather than experience or the traditions of men. Secondly, as was mentioned earlier, Elihu’s view of retribution is more nuanced than that of the three friends, as he firmly upholds that God cannot be compelled to do anything, including rigidly causing someone to suffer as punishment for sin. Elihu also sees suffering as accomplishing several purposes in addition to punishment.[36] Third and perhaps most importantly, Elihu is different from the friends in the way he approaches Job, calling him by name,[37] giving him the opportunity to respond, and focusing on Job’s sinful attitudes in his present life rather than conjuring up a list of sins from Job’s past that are supposedly the source of his suffering.[38]

The second basic viewpoint of Elihu’s role in the Book of Job is that he is primarily intended to be an ironic character whose self-perception differs greatly from the way in which the author of Job portrays him.[39] Some commentators take this idea even further, suggesting that the Book of Job is intended to be a comedy and that Elihu is the exemplar of the fool.[40]

Although there may be some validity to this viewpoint (after all, Elihu is unable to solve Job’s problems despite his best efforts), any suggestion that Elihu is intended to be viewed as a laughable buffoon surely goes too far for the reasons we have already mentioned. Elihu clearly comes off better than Job’s friends, as he appeals to God as the source of his wisdom, has a more subtle understanding of retribution and suffering and seems more sympathetic to Job in general. Together, this indicates that, whatever his faults, Elihu is intended to be seen in a more positive than negative light.

The third and best understanding of Elihu’s role in the Book of Job is that he helps to prepare Job for God’s appearance in the whirlwind.[41] This can be seen in several ways.

First, the name “Elihu” is a variant spelling of the name “Elijah”, and Elihu’s actions in the Book of Job suggest a strong connection to the great prophet. Elijah was described as a defender of God (1 Kings 17-21) and God’s forerunner (Malachi 4.5-6), and in a similar way, Elihu has vigorously defended God’s justice and immediately preceded God’s appearance with a speech focused on his greatness.[42]

Secondly, as mentioned before, Elihu’s final speech in particular shifts Job’s attention away from his personal suffering and toward God. As Larry Waters points out, “before Elihu’s intervention the debate had been anthropocentric and not theocentric. Elihu rectified that situation and injected a recognition of the divine into the discussion.”[43] It is only after Elihu speaks that Job is ready for the solution to his problem[44] because ultimately, God himself is the solution, and it is not until Elihu speaks that Job is ready to focus on God rather than himself.

Third and finally, even the style of Elihu’s final speech prepares Job for God’s appearance, as the series of rhetorical questions that Elihu asks in Job 36-37 to demonstrate God’s greatness and incomprehensibility clearly foreshadow similar questions that God asks in Job 38-41.[45]

Conclusion: What Are We To Make Of Elihu?

An enigmatic character in a difficult book, Elihu deserves better treatment than most commentators have given him. Though he has been quickly dismissed by many authors as a later and unnecessary addition to the Book of Job, as we have seen, these arguments are not convincing.

Furthermore, upon closer examination of Elihu’s speeches, it is clear that he is commendable in much of what he says—he is more nuanced and accurate in his views of suffering than the three friends, and he is more understanding of Job as well.

Nevertheless, Elihu’s arguments fail to really help Job, maybe because his more refined view of the purpose of suffering still does not apply to Job’s specific situation. His words seem to fall on Job’s deaf ears, and perhaps sensing this, Elihu changes his approach and shifts the focus of his speeches toward God. This is Elihu’s real contribution to the resolution of Job’s problem—not that his words contain the answer to Job’s suffering, but that they serve to center Job’s attention on the God who in himself is the answer that Job is looking for.

In the end, Elihu is the forerunner who prepares Job for God’s appearance and as such, he plays a vital role in Job’s life and story.


[1]Gregory W. Parsons, “The Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job,” in Sitting With Job: Selected Studies on the Book of Job, ed. Roy B. Zuck (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1992), 17; Robert Gordis, “The Language and Style of Job,” in Sitting With Job, 79.

[2]Charles H. Spurgeon, “Songs in the Night,” in Great Pulpit Masters Volume II (New York: Fleming H. Revelle Company, 1959), 211.

[3] William Whedbee, “The Comedy of Job,” Semeia 7, (1977): 20. Whedbee goes on to say that, “Though there may be ‘no fool like an old fool,’ Elihu, as a young fool, comes close.”

[4]Thurman Wisdom, “The Message of Elihu,” Biblical Viewpoint 21 (November 1987): 27, 29-30.

[5]David Noel Freedman, “Is it Possible to Understand the Book of Job?” Bible Review 4 (April 1988): 29.

[6]H. H. Rowley, “Job,” in The Century Bible, New Series (London: Nelson, 1970), 263.

[7]Lindsay Wilson, “The Role of the Elihu Speeches in the Book of Job,” The Reformed Theological Review 55, no. 2 (May-August 1996): 94.

[8]The term “drama” is not meant to imply doubt in the historicity of Job, but is simply an acknowledgment of the literary nature of the Book of Job. The character of Elihu, whom I believe to be an actual historical figure, also fulfills certain literary purposes in the Book of Job.

[9]James F. Ross, “Job 33:14-30: The Phenomenology of Lament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 94, no. 1 (March 1975): 38. Other commentators who hold to this same basic viewpoint include David Noel Freedman, “The Elihu Speeches in the Book of Job: A Hypothetical Episode in the Literary History of the Work,” Harvard Theological Review 61 (1968): 51; Marvin E. Tate, “The Speeches of Elihu,” Review and Expositor 68, no. 4 (Fall 1971): 487; A. S. Peake, “Job: Introduction, Revised Version with Notes and Index,” in The Century Bible, ed. Walter F. Adeney (Edinburgh: T. C. & E. C. Jack, 1905), 274-75; Rowley, 262-63.

[10]Robert Gordis, The Book of God and Man: A Study of Job (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1965), 105-114. Gordis believes that, at an advanced age, the original author became more convinced of the disciplinary function of suffering, and wanted to give this idea a place in the story without taking away from the primary answer given in the God speeches.

[11]David J. A. Clines, “Putting Elihu in His Place: A Proposal for the Relocation of Job 32-37,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 29, no. 2 (2004): 243-53.

[12]Don H. McGaughey, “The Speeches of Elihu: A Study of Job Chapters 32-37” (master’s thesis, Harding Graduate School of Religion, 1957), 62.

[13]Scholars upholding the authenticity of the Elihu section of Job include McGaughey, 62-74; J. Gerald Janzen, “Job,” in Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985), 217-18; Larry J. Waters, “The Authenticity of the Elihu Speeches in Job 32-37,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (January-March 1999): 38-41; Wilson, 81-94; Walter L. Michel, “Job’s Real Friend: Elihu,” Criterion 21 (Spring 1982): 30.

[14]Wilson, 82.

[15]McGaughey, 63; Wilson, 83.

[16]Tate, 487-88, mentions Elihu’s use of a different name for God, his preference for the first person singular pronoun, and his tendency to directly quote Job’s statements as all being distinctive. Nevertheless, he ultimately concludes that “…the arguments from style are difficult to sustain.”

[17]McGaughey, 65-66; Waters, 40.

[18]Whedbee, 18.

[19]For example, Freedman, “Elihu Speeches,” 51-59, suggests that the Elihu speeches were part of a major revision project, were originally divided into four distinct speeches, and were intended to be placed at certain points in the dialogue. Meanwhile, Clines, 248-53, suggests that the Elihu chapters are intended to be kept together, but should be moved after the third cycle of the dialogue ends in chapter 27, before the poem on wisdom in chapter 28, and Job’s final speech in Job 29-31.

[20]Donald Arvid Johns, “The Literary and Theological Function of the Elihu Speeches in the Book of Job” (PhD diss., St. Louis University, 1983), 182. “For God to appear at the summons of Job, and then present a powerful speech on his sovereignty over the universe would be very inconsistent.”

[21]Gordis, The Book of God and Man, 109, actually calls this the “heart of the argument” against the authenticity of the Elihu speeches.

[22]All biblical references in this paper are taken from the English Standard Version.

[23]Scholars disagree about the exact implications of the detailed description of Elihu’s familial background. Wisdom, 29, states that the formal identification points to the importance of Elihu’s character and message. John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 429, says that the full genealogy “reflects Elihu’s youth and lack of personal accomplishment” but also that his name is similar to the name Elijah and reflects his role in the book as God’s forerunner. Tate, 489-90, mentions that the references seem to make Elihu a countryman of Job and hint that he is more closely related to the Hebrews than the three friends.

[24]Hartley, 430; Rowley, 262-91; Freedman, Elihu Speeches, 51. Even those commentators who typically count five speeches only differ in that they count Elihu’s introductory comments in chapter 32 as a separate speech. See Matthew J. Lynch, “Bursting at the Seams: Phonetic Rhetoric in the Speeches of Elihu,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 30, no. 3 (2006): 349-60.

[25]Hartley, 430.

[26]Ross, 38-46, focuses extensively on this idea of an “angelic spokesman.”

[27]Hartley, 430.

[28]Robert V. McCabe, “Elihu’s Contribution to the Thought of the Book of Job,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 2 (Fall 1997): 58. “On the one had, Job feels his innocency and God’s denying him justice should qualify Job for a legal hearing…On the other hand, Job claims that his righteous lifestyle has had no effect on God.”

[29]Hartley, 430.

[30]McCabe, 60.

[31]Hartley, 475; McCabe, 61.

[32]In addition to these main viewpoints is the perspective of H. D. Beeby, “Elihu—Job’s Mediator?,” South East Asia Journal of Theology 7, no. 2 (October 1965): 33-54. Beeby sees Elihu as a “Covenant Mediator” who makes possible the presentation of Israel’s faith to Job, a Gentile. Beeby’s viewpoint, while interesting, is not supported by other commentators.

[33]Tate, 495.

[34]H. L. Ellison, From Tragedy to Triumph: The Message of the Book of Job (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), 107.

[35]Norman C. Habel, “The Book of Job,” in The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible (London: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 182.

[36]Larry J. Waters, “Elihu’s Categories of Suffering from Job 32-37,” Bibliotheca Sacra 166 (October-December 2009): 405-20, says Elihu suggests that suffering can be preventive, disciplinary, educational, glorifying, revelational, organizational, relational, and judgmental. This stands in contrast the three friends, who argued that “punishment for evil is the only reason for suffering,” p. 416.

[37]J. W. McKay, “Elihu—A Proto-Charismatic?,” The Expository Times 90, no. 6 (March 1979): 168.

[38]Wilson, 86; Johns, 163: “Elihu is not nearly so harsh in his attitude towards Job as many commentators have led us to believe. He comes down hard on Job only for specific statements made during the course of the debate.”

[39]Lynch 345-64, suggests several ways in which Elihu’s self-perception could be called into question, including Elihu’s burning anger as emphasized by the narrator in Job 32.2-5, and his declaration that he is “full of words” (Job 32.18), despite the fact that Job is already tired of the many words of the three friends and has suggested that wisdom is indicated by silence (Job 13.5).

[40]Norman C. Habel, “Literary Features and the Message of the Book of Job,” in Sitting with Job, 108; Whedbee, 20, is particularly hard on Elihu, calling him a “caricature” of the three friends and saying that he “…emerges in the total context of the book as a comic figure whom the author exposes and ridicules.”

[41]There are many scholars who hold this view including Hartley, 427; Gordis, The Book of God and Man, 115-16; Wisdom, 29; McKay, 167; McGaughey, 72; McCabe, 79-80; Johns 169-70; Parsons, 20-21.

[42]Gordis, The Book of God and Man, 115-16; Johns, 163-66, lists more similarities between Elihu and Elijah, but those mentioned above are the strongest connections.

[43]Larry J. Waters, “Elihu’s Theology and His View of Suffering,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (April-June 1999): 144.

[44]Michel, 30: “Why is it possible for God to speak to Job and for Job to hear God only after the Elihu speech?”

[45]McCabe, 62; Johns, 169-80, gives a detailed comparison of Elihu’s final speech and God’s speech.

He Came To Jesus By Night: The Character Of Nicodemus In The Gospel Of John

Introduction: An Enigmatic Figure

The Gospel of John focuses on the revelation of Jesus as the Father’s Son, and stresses the necessity of believing in him in order to receive life. In the process of revealing who Jesus is, the Fourth Gospel chronicles the interactions he has with several minor characters, and in so doing displays the different responses that people have to the works and character of Jesus.

Of all the minor figures John introduces, few have been emphasized and written about as often as Nicodemus.[1] Nicodemus is found nowhere else in the Bible and appears only three times in John. His first and longest appearance is in John 3:1-21,[2] where he has a brief conversation with Jesus but seems to be incapable of understanding any of Jesus’ teachings. He is mentioned a second time in John 7:45-52, and this time raises a legal question to ensure that Jesus is treated fairly when the chief priests and Pharisees want to have him arrested. Nicodemus appears a final time in John 19:39-41, where he helps Joseph of Arimathea prepare the body of Jesus for burial.

Based on these three appearances, it is generally agreed that the portrayal of Nicodemus in John’s Gospel is supposed to be significant,[3] but commentators disagree sharply as to what the significance is or exactly how Nicodemus should be characterized.

This paper will examine the words and actions of Nicodemus in the scenes in which he appears, and in the process, the conclusion which John wants his readers to draw concerning Nicodemus will become clear.

John 3:1-21: A Night of Confusion

We are first introduced to Nicodemus in John 3:1, which describes him as “a man of the Pharisees” and “a ruler of the Jews.”[4] Although some scholars also suggest allusions to Nicodemus in the Talmud and in rabbinic tradition,[5] these claims are more interesting than they are conclusive, and ultimately, most of the biographical information we have about Nicodemus comes from this one verse.

John’s classification of Nicodemus as a Pharisee seems to immediately portray him in a negative light, as even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus and the Pharisees did not get along. However, this initial characterization is perhaps diminished by the fact that, unlike his colleagues, Nicodemus came to Jesus with what appears to be a genuine interest in and openness to his teachings.[6] As a Pharisee, Nicodemus would have been a man of some influence,[7] and as a “ruler of the Jews”, he would have likely been a member of the Sanhedrin.[8]

The next verse tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus “by night”, and is a source of much debate among scholars. Those who draw more favorable conclusions about Nicodemus usually contend that the expression is simply a reference to the time of day[9] or that Nicodemus was just visiting Jesus at the period of day that was best suited for theological discussion.[10] However, the fact that Nicodemus specifically came “by night” is important enough to the Evangelist that he repeats it when he describes Nicodemus in John 19:39,[11] and that indicates a deeper level of significance to the nocturnal nature of Nicodemus’s visit. It has also been suggested that Nicodemus visited Jesus at night in order to keep his visit secret from the other Pharisees,[12] but D.A. Carson likely has the best interpretation when he says that based off of the other uses of “night” in the Gospel of John, the word always seems to be used metaphorically for moral and spiritual darkness, and in this context, suggests that Nicodemus came to Jesus at a time when he was spiritually in the dark.[13]

Nicodemus begins his discussion with Jesus by addressing him as “Rabbi”, and then proceeds to explain that he knows that Jesus is a teacher from God because of the signs that he is able to perform. John 3:10 indicates that Nicodemus was a teacher of some distinction himself,[14] and his use of the term Rabbi and acknowledgment of Jesus being from God shows his respect for Jesus, even if it does fall short of a full recognition of who Jesus was.[15]

Regardless of how Nicodemus comes across to this point, scholars are in general agreement that for the rest of the dialogue in John 3, he does not fare well, as he appears to be completely unable to understand what Jesus tells him.[16] When Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3:3 that one must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God, Nicodemus takes him literally, and cannot understand how a man can physically be born a second time. After Jesus explains this teaching more fully, Nicodemus’s only response in John 3:9 is to ask, “How can these things be?” which prompts Jesus to rebuke him for being a teacher of Israel and yet failing to understand basic teaching. Paul Julian suggests that Nicodemus’s interaction with Jesus is doomed to failure from the beginning because he tries to define who Jesus is using his own predetermined criteria,[17] and Terence Donaldson takes this line of reasoning a step further, saying, “Even though he seems to want to understand, the point of the story seems to be that as a Pharisee, a leader of the Jews, and a teacher of Israel, he is almost by definition unable to understand.”[18] At this point, the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus becomes a monologue, as Jesus continues to speak and Nicodemus fades into the background.[19]

Ultimately, when all the evidence from the first appearance of Nicodemus is taken into account, it seems clear that he is not really a believer at this point. He distances himself from the other Pharisees by coming to Jesus, he is impressed with the signs that Jesus has performed, and he is openly curious about him and his teachings, but he also appears to be so baffled by those teachings that for now he remains, from a spiritual standpoint, in darkness.

John 7:45-52: A Voice of Reason

After his evening discussion with Jesus, Nicodemus exits from the narrative of the Fourth Gospel, and does not reappear until John 7, at the end of an episode where Jesus’ teachings at the Feast of Tabernacles have prompted the chief priests and Pharisees to try to arrest him. When the officers return empty-handed, implying that there is something special about Jesus, the Pharisees rebuke them and decry the supposed ignorance of the common people who do not know the law.

As a Pharisee himself, Nicodemus is present in this gathering, and in John 7:51, raises a question in Jesus’ defense when he asks, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” This question, in addition to exposing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees violating their own law immediately after criticizing the common people for being ignorant of it,[20] also serves to draw the collective ire of the Pharisees against Nicodemus. The Pharisees respond toward Nicodemus in a mocking fashion in John 7:52, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” The learned and respected Pharisees once again display their own ironic ignorance,[21] and at the same time attack Nicodemus by implying that he too must be a follower of Jesus.[22]

What are we to make of Nicodemus’s second appearance in the Gospel of John? Predictably, scholarly opinion is divided. Margaret Beirne argues that this is a positive scene for Nicodemus, and points out the growth that he displays, saying, “Now he is seen to speak with a degree of courage, wisdom and precision not evident at his first appearance.”[23]

On the other hand, some scholars downplay Nicodemus’s role in this passage, by first noting that John 7:50 associates Nicodemus with the Pharisees, describing him as “one of them”,[24] and then also claiming that by speaking out in John 7:51, he is just upholding a legal principle in order to seek a fair trial rather than making any statement about his belief in Jesus.[25] However, such views really miss the point. Certainly Nicodemus is a Pharisee, and also as a likely member of the Sanhedrin Council, is accurately classified as “one of them”, but the weight of the passage emphasizes how Nicodemus is different from the rest of the Pharisees, rather than how he is like them. Furthermore, even if Nicodemus’s defense of Jesus is motivated more by a desire to uphold the law rather than his own personal faith in Jesus, the fact that Nicodemus is willing to give Jesus a fair hearing at all shows an open-mindedness on his part that speaks well for him and distinguishes him from the rest of the Pharisees.[26]

If Nicodemus’s scene with Jesus in John 3 shows him to be little more than a curious man who is completely baffled by Jesus’ teachings, his appearance in John 7 seems to show improvement on his part: whether or not he has come to a full understanding of who Jesus is, he is willing to speak out publicly on his behalf, an act which he undoubtedly knew would draw criticism from his peers.

John 19:38-42: An Act of Devotion

Nicodemus makes his final appearance in John 19, following the death of Jesus, where he assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing Jesus’ body for burial. All four of the Gospels relate that Joseph went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body, but only John relates that Nicodemus was also involved, that he brought 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes,[27] and that along with Joseph, he bound the body of Jesus in linen cloths with the spices according to Jewish burial customs.

As is the case with his other appearances in the Gospel of John, scholars are divided as to the implications of Nicodemus’s actions in this passage.

For those who believe that Nicodemus ultimately falls short of being a disciple of Jesus, this passage supports their view in three ways.

First, much is made of Nicodemus’s association with Joseph, who is identified in John 19:38 as being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one due to his fear of the Jews. Alan Culpepper suggests that the characterization of Joseph can be applied to Nicodemus as well, and that together, they are representative of those who refuse to publicly stand for Christ because they are afraid that they will be put out of the synagogue, and that ultimately, Nicodemus “remains, therefore, “one of them,” not one of the children of God.”[28]

Secondly, it is also argued that Nicodemus’s role in the burial of Jesus, although indicative of a certain respect he has for Jesus, also expresses the inadequacy of whatever faith he had. Marinus de Jonge is representative of this view, and says that “…Joseph and Nicodemus are pictured as having come to a dead end; they regard the burial as definitive.”[29] Basically, the suggestion is that their roles in the burial suggest that Joseph and Nicodemus have no expectation of Jesus’ resurrection and therefore cannot really be true disciples.

A third negative argument from this passage stems from John’s description of Joseph and Nicodemus burying Jesus according to the burial customs of the Jews. From this reference, Bassler argues that whatever distance Joseph and Nicodemus are portrayed as having from their Jewish colleagues is somewhat negated by the care they show in adhering to Jewish burial customs: “Even when defined most clearly as disciples, they remain firmly rooted in their Jewishness. The link with the “Jews” in this pericope is a disturbing but ambiguous element.”[30]

However, all of these arguments have clear problems. First, for Nicodemus’s association with Joseph to be a negative one, the testimony of the Synoptics has to be completely ignored. There, rather than being regarded as some type of inferior semi-believer, Joseph is described in Matthew 27:57 as someone “who had himself become a disciple of Jesus”, in Mark 15:43 as a man “who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God” and “took courage and went to Pilate”, and in Luke 23:50-51 as a “good and upright man” who had not consented to the Sanhedrin’s plan to kill Jesus. Furthermore, when properly considered, Joseph’s actions clearly contradict the secretive nature of the discipleship that he previously participated in. As Carson points out, asking Pilate for the body of Jesus would have certainly made Joseph an outcast from the Sanhedrin, and the fact that Joseph and Nicodemus would have had servants helping them with the burial would have prevented it from being anything but a public act.[31] In light of the apparent public nature of the act of burial and the testimony of the Synoptics, what seems most likely is that John is pointing out the contrast between Joseph’s former “secret discipleship” and the public act of devotion he now displays. If we are now meant to associate Nicodemus with Joseph, then it clearly seems to be a positive association.

Secondly, the argument that Nicodemus’s actions with regard to the burial of Jesus prove that he misunderstands that Jesus will rise from the dead and somehow invalidate his faith is easily dismissed. After all, John 20:9 clearly indicates that Peter and the “beloved disciple” did not understand the resurrection until after Jesus appeared to them.[32] Surely if this lack of understanding does not invalidate their faith, it should not be held against Nicodemus either.

Finally, the argument that Joseph and Nicodemus burying Jesus according to Jewish customs somehow carries sinister connotations seems entirely baseless. After all, Joseph and Nicodemus were Jews; if they were going to bury someone, according to what other customs would they do so? In the context of the passage, the reference to Jewish burial customs makes more sense to explain the use of the immense quantity of spices brought by Nicodemus rather than to in some way remind readers that Nicodemus is not really a true disciple.

When these arguments are removed a more positive reading of the passage emerges where Nicodemus is portrayed as a man who, though once a secret disciple, has now shed his inhibitions and courageously shows his devotion to Jesus publicly.[33] As F. F. Bruce points out, the massive amounts of spices brought forth by Nicodemus suggest a royal burial, but to Nicodemus, that is exactly what Jesus deserved. To Nicodemus, Jesus “…was in fact what the inscription on the cross had proclaimed him to be in mockery—‘The King of the Jews.’”[34]

Conclusion: A Believer’s Journey to Faith

As we have seen, each of Nicodemus’s appearances in the Gospel of John are interpreted differently, depending on whether or not the interpreter believes that Nicodemus ultimately came to belief in Jesus. Based on these differing interpretations, some scholars propose that the character of Nicodemus is intentionally meant to be ambiguous, but that viewpoint only makes sense if the opposing interpretations of Nicodemus are equally valid. Is that the case?

Simply put, no. Although Nicodemus certainly appears out of the darkness as a mysterious figure in John 3, his subsequent appearances clarify who he is, as each scene portrays him in an increasingly positive light: from a respectful but utterly confused teacher of Israel in John 3, to a fair-minded man willing to stand up to a hostile group of his peers in John 7, to a mourner who by his actions publicly declares his allegiance and devotion to his crucified King in John 19.

In the end, Nicodemus’s role in the Gospel of John is clear, as the Evangelist uses him as an example for all “secret” believers who cannot make up their minds about Jesus: the man who came to Jesus by night has now entered into the light that is manifested in him.


[1]Jouette M. Bassler, “Mixed Signals: Nicodemus in the Fourth Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (December 1989): 635; Richard L. Rohrbaugh, “What’s the Matter with Nicodemus? A Social Science Perspective on John 3:1-21,” in Distant Voices Drawing Near: Essays in Honor of Antoinette Clark Wire, ed. Holly E. Hearon (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2004), 145.

[2]It is difficult to tell how much of John 3:11-21 is spoken by Jesus and how much is from the narrator, and, therefore, how much is meant to be directed specifically to Nicodemus. Some scholars consider only John 3:1-10 to apply to Nicodemus, see R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 134.

[3]Marinus de Jonge, Jesus, Stranger from Heaven and Son of God: Jesus Christ and the Christians in Johannine Perspective (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977), 29. De Jonge is representative of this perspective and points out that the narrator’s remarks in John 7:50 and 19:39 which tie those appearances to the first in John 3 indicate that the three instances are meant to be considered together.

[4]All biblical references in this paper are taken from the English Standard Version.

[5]Richard Bauckham, “Nicodemus and the Gurion Family,” in The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 137-72. Bauckham devotes an entire chapter of his book to exploring the references in rabbinic traditions to a Jerusalem aristocrat named Naqdimon (Nicodemus) ben Gurion. Based on repeated family names, Bauckham believes this man to be a family member (probably a nephew) of the Nicodemus described in the Gospel of John. Also, Bauckham mentions another rabbinic tradition that refers to a man named Naqqai, who is described as one of five disciples of Jesus. Bauckham identifies this man with John’s Nicodemus.

[6]Gabi Renz, “Nicodemus: An Ambiguous Disciple? A Narrative Sensitive Investigation,” in Challenging Perspectives on the Gospel of John, ed. John Lierman (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2006): 260.

[7]F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 81: “The Pharisees…exercised an influence on the general public out of all proportion to their numbers.”

[8]Some commentators simply state Nicodemus’s membership in the Sanhedrin as fact, see Paul Julian, Jesus and Nicodemus: A Literary and Narrative Exegesis of Jn. 2,23-3,36, (Frankfurt: Lang, 2000), 72, 74. Bruce, 81, mentions specifically that it is the wording of John 3:1 that implies that Nicodemus was actually a member of the Council.

[9]F. P. Cotterell, “The Nicodemus Conversation: A Fresh Appraisal,” The Expository Times 96 (May 1985): 238-39; Bruce, 81.

[10]Patricia Farris, “Late-night Seminar,” Christian Century 119 (January 2002): 19; Karl Barth and Eduard Thurneysen, “Jesus and Nicodemus,” in Come, Holy Spirit, trans. George W. Richards, Elmer G. Homrighausen, and Karl J. Ernst (New York: Round Table Press, 1983), 106.

[11]Bassler, 638.

[12]Julian, 73-74.

[13]D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 186: “Doubtless Nicodemus approached Jesus at night, but his own ‘night’ was blacker than he knew.”

[14]Bruce, 87: “The description of Nicodemus as the ‘teacher of Israel’ implies that he had some standing among the rabbis of his day.”

[15]Carson, 186-87.

[16]Rohrbaugh, 153, disagrees with the assumption that Nicodemus is just misunderstanding what Jesus is trying to teach him, and argues instead that Jesus is intentionally confusing him by using a “Johannine anti-language” which underscores that Nicodemus is an outsider, and not part of the group: “…in the Nicodemus episode, the function of the language is not to reveal but to obscure.”

[17]Julian, 74.

[18]Terence L. Donaldson, “Nicodemus: A Figure of Ambiguity in a Gospel of Certainty,” Consensus 24 (January 1998): 122-23.

[19]Raimo Hakola, “The Burden of Ambiguity: Nicodemus and the Social Identity of the Johannine Christians,” New Testament Studies 55 (October 2009): 441.

[20]Bassler, 640; Severino Pancaro, “The Metamorphosis of a Legal Principle in the Fourth Gospel,” Biblica 53 (1972): 361.

[21]Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1981), 160-61, mentions that Jonah was from Galilee (2 Kings 14:25), and that Elijah possibly was as well (1 Kings 17:1).

[22]Bassler, 640, notes that this should not be taken as confirmation that Nicodemus now believes in Jesus: “…[A]lthough the Pharisees immediately accuse Nicodemus of being a Galilean, a label that is tantamount in this Gospel to that of believer, such an epithet on the lips of those notorious for poor judgement (v.24) does not constitute a solid confirmation of Nicodemus’s status in the Gospel.”

[23]Margaret M. Beirne, “Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman,” in Women and Men in the Fourth Gospel: a Genuine Discipleship of Equals, (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003), 95.

[24]Culpepper, 135-36.

[25]de Jonge, 36, “Nicodemus’s remark does not deal with Jesus’ teaching and acts as such; he only emphasizes the legal requirement that the accused should be granted a proper hearing.” Also, Donaldson, 123.

[26]A fundamental characteristic of the Pharisees in the Gospel of John is that they are so closed-minded that they are incapable of giving Jesus a fair hearing. This can be seen clearly at the end of John 9, when after healing the man born blind, Jesus calls the Pharisees blind because they are unable to see the sign as evidence of who Jesus is. Nicodemus’s defense of Jesus, if not motivated by faith, at the very least shows an openness to who Jesus is that distances him from the rest of the Pharisees in a fundamental and profound way.

[27]Carson, 629, mentions that 100 litrai of spices was actually less than 75 pounds, and would be closer to 64.45 pounds.

[28]Culpepper, 136.

[29]de Jonge, 34.

[30]Bassler, 642.

[31]Carson, 629-30.

[32]Bassler, 642-43.

[33]Julian, 77, makes an interesting argument emphasizing the degree of Nicodemus’s devotion to Jesus, pointing out that the handling of Jesus’ body would have made Nicodemus unclean and would have prevented him from celebrating the Passover. This would have been another indication of the public nature of Nicodemus’s actions in John 19. As Julian explains, “Nicodemus has cut himself off from his fellow Pharisees and members of the Sanhedrin for the greatest celebration of the year, and that to respect the body of Jesus….”

[34]Bruce, 379.

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