Does John 4:22 say that salvation is just for Jews?

[Note – this is a very live topic in Latin America, and I wrote this for the church there. I also offer it for the English-speaking church].

Every time I write that salvation is for all who believe the gospel; that Gentile believers are not obligated to be circumcised or observe the 613 laws of the Torah; or that we can keep our Gentile names (as Paul, Luke, Silvanus, and so many others did in the early church); or any number of other basic truths of the gospel, someone, inevitably, writes in and says:

But wait! Salvation is of the Jews! It says so in John 4:22!

These people rarely specify what they think this verse means, or proves, or whether it indicates that Gentiles cannot be saved. It seems to be used more as a mantra than as a clear statement of intent.

What do my readers think that Juan 4:22 really means, and why don’t they say so openly and clearly? Why speak indirectly, as does this website: [1]

“Salvation is from the Jews”. As you can observe, salvation does not come from Catholicism, nor does it come from evangelical Christian churches, neither through the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and much less does it come through Muslims, Adventists, or Mormons. The Messiah Himself, Yahshua [sic] [2], tells us that Salvation comes through the Jews.

The author implies that you cannot be saved in the Roman Church, nor in the evangelical churches, but only through…what? Converting to Judaism? In another place they urge Gentiles to return to their “Jewish roots”. It’s all very vague. By the way, I don’t believe that anyone is saved by going to meetings of the Catholics, evangelicals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Adventists, Mormons, nor of Messianic groups.

And note that he switches the terms around: Jesus said that salvation comes from the Jews, but it gets changed somehow to “through” the Jews.

I will suggest that those who say that “salvation is only for the Jews” or “only for those who submit to the messianic rabbis of today” misinterpret the meaning of John 4:22; neglect its historical and theological background in Second Temple Judaism; and also are not informed with regard to the actual teachings of rabbinic Judaism for the past 2000 years.

   1. Many Messianic teachers of today misunderstand John 4:22

The flow of John 4:22

Readers of my blog will know me, but I will also add that I serve as a consultant for an organization that translates the Bible into the world’s languages, and that the gospel of John is one of our current projects; that I have taught the gospel of John for many years, based on my own research; that I teach among other topics Second Temple Judaism on the graduate level. Therefore I provide my own translation of the passage in question. I also wish to point out that I am looking at John 4 in the original language – not in some faked “Hebrew” original that everyone talks about – but which no-one seems able to show us – but the real Bible text as represented in the earliest available manuscripts. [3]

Aerial view - the ruins of the Gerizim temple

Aerial view – the ruins of the Gerizim temple, the “mountain” where the Samaritans worshiped

Why don’t we begin at the beginning, and study precisely what the Messiah told the Samaritan woman? (more…)

“You want to share the gospel? Then do as we do!” 1 Thess 2:1-6 [Sermons on 1 Thessalonians, Week 6]

1 Thess 2:1-6 – You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.

Paul has spent the first chapter giving thanks for the Thessalonians. His comments were along the lines of: We thank God for his work in you, and here are several pieces of evidence of his presence. At the end of the chapter they are living as healthy functioning Christians, free from idols and living every day in light of Jesus’ second coming. Not that they were setting dates, or trying to identify the antichrist. Rather they lived conscious that, Let us live our lives as if the end were upon us. Paul will mention this again in 2:12 – “we are encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” In this passage, “kingdom” is the future kingdom, when Christ will return; and “glory” is shorthand for our future resurrection

Now in chapter 2 Paul turns the focus away from the Thessalonians toward the team that had evangelized them, the people he mentioned in 1:1 – “Paul, Silas and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians”.

So in chapter 1, his theme is: “before the presence of God, let’s look at you”

In chapter 2, it becomes: “before the presence of God, let’s look at us”. We can sum this up in v. 10 – “You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers”.

A lot is riding on this truth, because if the apostles are phonies (more…)

“The First Task of the Church is to Preach the Word” [Sermons on 1 Thessalonians, Week 5]

Our text for today is:

8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.

They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Throughout 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul lists one evidence after another that God is truly working in them. They have faith, hope, love, endurance; they imitate the apostles; they persevere in tribulation; and now finally here is one more piece of evidence, a really extraordinary one: they share the gospel.

Sometimes when Christians are under pressure, they are able to survive, but they turn in on themselves. They are like turtles that pull their heads in until they stop banging on the shell.

The Thessalonians didn’t pull inward; instead they reached out to their neighbors and beyond their neighbors with the gospel message. (more…)

Elisabeth Elliot – to what extent was she defined by her sex?

Elisabeth Elliot was a spokesperson for a definite view of gender. Her book Let Me Be a Woman (1976) was a traditionalist – some would say “complementarian” – blueprint for women in the home: assertive women are missing out on God’s plan and divine joy, and they should not seek to be equal to men, beyond the fact that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace. “Why subject women to purely masculine criteria? Women can and ought to be judged by the criteria of femininity, for it is in their femininity that they participate in the human race.” I’m summarizing of course, and leaving a lot out, but that is much of her point.

On the other hand: Elisabeth Elliot also demonstrated by her actions, words, writings, that a woman in Christ can be every much the mighty warrior that a man in Christ can be; that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on both “sons and daughters”, leading us to rethink what is men’s and women’s work; that a woman can take a degree in Greek and work cross-linguistically (in Spanish, Quechua – she co-authored a Bible translation – and Waorani), and cross-culturally both without a husband (she was married to Jim Elliott after they had both gone to Ecuador as single missionaries), with a husband, as a widow and single mother; that a woman can in our collective memory outshine three husbands – even the martyred first one – in her faithful and determined labor.

On the back cover of her book for men, The Mark of a Man, it reads: “The world cries for men who are strong: strong in conviction, strong to lead, to stand, to suffer…glad to shoulder the burden of manliness.”

No argument here, that we need strong, godly men. But Elisabeth Elliot showed that you could swap out “men” for “women” in that blurb, and in the New Covenant it makes perfect sense for the sisters as well. Not feminism; not pc; just the gospel.

Many Christian women have been blessed by her teachings about the woman’s role, but I hope we can also – principally – remember her as a model to all women and men to take God’s call seriously. This is how I will remember her and try to honor her memory.

images

Elisabeth Elliot – 1926-2015

“A Disciple is basically an Imitator” [Sermons on 1 Thessalonians, Week 4]

In 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-7, Paul is still thanking God for the Thessalonians, and his thanksgiving sets the pace for the rest of the letter.

You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.

And again in 2:14 –

For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews.

disciplesLet’s read some verses that use the word “disciple”. In the gospels we see the word “disciple”. Disciples are learners. When Jesus called his first disciples, he said “follow me”. Later on in Matthew 5:1b-2, “His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”

But being a disciple is not just learning about Jesus or the kingdom of God; it means to learn to do what Jesus does (more…)

“How do we know God is at work in us?” Part B [Sermons on 1 Thessalonians, Week 3]

Paul has spoken about how he knows that the Thessalonians are genuine Christians: first of all, because they have the fruit of the Spirit. Words, yes, but also attitudes, actions, values that go beyond what we would expect from a human being, apart from Christ.

imagesYou can’t see the Spirit, but you can see what he does. Let’s start with v. 5 and later go to v. 4.

In v. 5 we read about “power, the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”

When Paul speaks of power and the Holy Spirit, he is usually talking of miracles that he performed.

2 Cor 12:12 – I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.

Rom 15:18-19a – I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.

In Macedonia, we assume that there were many miracles, although we have the record of only one, and that was in Philippi, not Thessalonica – the exorcism of the demon from the slave girl.

If there are miracles, Paul is saying, then God is at work. (more…)

“How do we know God is at work in us?” Part A [Sermons on 1 Thessalonians, Week 2]

Paul was in a terrible fix: he had been forced to leave his new disciples in Macedonia, and he was particularly uneasy about the new Christians in the second church, planted in Thessalonica. After all, hadn’t Jesus taught that sometimes the gospel mission ends in disaster? (Matthew 13:20-21)

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

The underground shopping mall of ancient Thessalonica

The underground shopping mall of ancient Thessalonica

And what had happened in Macedonia looked ominously like that parable: the Thessalonians had received the word with joy; then trouble and persecution had come, and come precisely because of the word. Had they, then, just as quickly fallen away?

No wonder Paul was anxious, as we saw last week in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2:

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith…

Paul said that Satan had kept him and Silas from returning from Athens to Thessalonica (2:18). We have no idea what that might have looked like, we only know that it was effective. But what happened? (more…)

Is There Prophecy Today? John Piper, along with John MacArthur, John Wesley, John Calvin, and John/Joan Q. Christian

Download a pdf version here: Prophecy and John Piper

Is the New Testament gift of prophecy operative in the church today? Many say Yes; [1] many, No, famously John MacArthur in 2014, in his Strange Fire conference and book. [2]

There is third response, a Yes, but viewpoint which has been popular among some non-charismatic evangelicals, and affirmed in recent times by John Piper: the gift of prophecy is a special experience that befalls a preacher while in the act. In an essay that synthesizes and defends Piper’s view:

 “I pray for the gift of prophecy almost as often as I pray for anything, before I stand up to speak.” This prayer for prophecy is a desire to preach under an anointing, in order to “say things agreeable to the Scriptures, and subject to the Scripture, that are not in my manuscript or in my head as I walk into the pulpit, nor thought of ahead of time, which would come to my mind, which would pierce in an extraordinary way, so that 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 happens.” [3]

The Corinthians text is he refers to is:

But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all. After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, “God is really among you.”

imagesThe difficulty here is the fact that in the New Testament the sina qua non of prophetic utterance is that the prophets passes along information from God which is not knowable from mere human observation or reasoning. [4] (more…)

“Come over here and help us!” [Sermons on 1 Thessalonians, Week 1]

Note: this post is the first in a series that I am giving at San Pedro Christian Fellowship, a small congregation of English-speaking believers in Costa Rica. Those who live in the Valle Central are more than welcome to visit us, Sundays at 10:30am. This expository series is based on my volume in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament; readers might want to acquire that commentary if they wish to see the exegetical work behind these talks – warning: it’s written at a technical level.

LOCATION: Beginning at the rotonda of Mall San Pedro, go about 1.25 km east. Turn right at the corner at the COMEX and the Yokahama restaurant. A very short distance in you will see 2 vacant lots on the right. The church meets in a home, on the right, just past the second lot. Coffee at 10am, service at 10:30am.

Contact me here or on FB or Mark at 2267-6038

Introduction

A few years ago I went to a reunion; there were people I hadn’t seen in decades. There are only one or two believers in my class. Most of them know I am a missionary, and some of them cannot understand why I would want to waste my time doing that. On the other hand, I heard from a few people: “Gary, your work must be so fulfilling.” The value these people were expressing is, It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money or success; if you feel personally fulfilled, then what you’re doing is right and admirable.

Now, I can assure you that I do feel fulfilled. But what we have there is a half-truth, since it isn’t the same as what the Bible tells us. By the same token, people might imagine that Mother Theresa worked with the lepers because it made her feel really good about herself. No.

I believe that all who are Christians are called to serve God, not just pastors or missionaries. That means that if you are a disciple of Jesus, he has called you too, period. From that point on, it’s just a matter of finding out how and where.

However, if you serve the Lord because it is fulfilling, that program will only take you so far, and will sooner or later end in disillusionment and defeat. And God may at some point make us confront another truth, a deeper one: that God’s call is true even on the days we feel like victims, disappointed, stressed, confused, cheated, failures.

We know this, because this is what the apostle Paul experienced when he went to Thessalonica (more…)

“The Cross”, a Dirty Word

You go down town to the park where there are always people begging for money; selling something; preaching some message. So you circulate around to see what new doctrines are in the air.

Over there is a new guy, talking earnestly to a small group. You pick up a few words of his discourse: “Now you must understand that the heart of my message is” …and he rips out what you could have sworn was a dirty word!

You do a double-take, and draw closer. Sure enough, it happens again: “The truth is that the power for living, being right with God, and eternal life comes only one way, through &#)#*%^@” – and he utters a filthy word.

You might even shout back: “Hey buddy – there are kids running around here, there are ladies present; can’t you talk about something more pleasant than that word?”

My point is that, that is how it would have seemed in 1st century city like Corinth or Philippi, if you had run into a man who calls himself Paul the apostle.

And his dirty word? It’s one of the first vocabulary words my students learn in Greek 1, this because it is used so often in the New Testament:

It is σταυρος/stauros.

In Latin, crux.

In English:

 THE CROSS

easter-jesus-cross300x150 In the Roman empire crosses took various shapes – X, T (which looks like the letter tau in Greek), and the traditional cross. It was probably the latter on which Jesus was crucified.

But let’s go back to that public obscenity. It is revealing to study what a society regards as obscene language. In English our “dirty words” usually have to do with sex, sexual organs, or toilet words. But in ancient Rome one of the very worst obscenities was “I in malam maximam crucem” = “Get really badly crucified!!” It was a shocking profanity. (more…)

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