Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: Theology After Wittgenstein, by Fergus Kerr

Theology After Wittgenstein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If I could describe Theology after Wittgenstein in two words, it would be intriguingly disappointing. It's intriguing mainly because of what the title infers. Ordinarily, one does not associate theology proper with the philosophical investigations of Wittgenstein. Nor does one ordinarily think that Wittgenstein could help reshape Christian epistemology. Yet this is the road that Fergus Kerr attempted to pave.

Kerr divided the book into three parts: 1) Stories of the soul, 2) Changing the subject, and 3) Theology without the mental ego. In part one, Kerr sorts through some the ways in which Rene Descarte’s philosophical writings and Saint Augustine’s Confessions have influenced the Western traditions of theology. His concerns are mainly aimed at those traditions of Cartesian-like ego that reduce objectivity in meaning to the mind of the solitary individual, thereby indirectly influencing a fixation of dispassionate objectivity in real knowledge, and the correlative retreat into subjectivism in morallity and aesthetics which dominates many people’s lives in Western culture. Kerr observes that, “The inclination to think of meaning, or any other mental or spiritual activity, as something that is radically private, ‘in our head,’ is explicitly related to the ancient religious myth of the soul” (p. 43). This radically private source of meaning, as Kerr derives from Wittgenstein’s work on the subject, is egocentric and “needs no demonstration” (p. 41). Working with a quotation from Augustine’s Confessions concerning an infant self already aware of its own identity and what is going on around it, prior to and independently of mastering a particular language, Kerr points out a serious dilemma regarding this epistemological identity of ‘self’ in the world. Utilizing Wittgenstein’s observations in this regard, Kerr writes:
Language is assumed to be necessary neither for framing one’s thoughts nor for identifying one’s desire. Prior to, and independently of, all ability to talk, one is supposed to be already aware of one’s mental states and acts. The self is pictured as ‘inside’, fluttering with its limbs, spluttering out words, striving with gruntings, and so on, to get its mind understood by the surrounding company. One has to be taught to read and write, but we apparently learn to speak by a sort of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps” (p. 41).

Kerr begins by paving a new way of appreciating Christian theology, and that new way is paved by beginning with Wittgenstein and reconsidering his approach to this epistemological dilemma, which was to learn the value of exposing our Cartesian and Augustinian metaphysical illusions about the place of the self in nature and history.

In part two, Kerr dives into the nitty-gritty of how Wittgenstein exposed certain Cartesian and Augustinian metaphysical illusions about the ‘self’ which the Western world has inherited. “Wittgenstein strives to voice our deepest metaphysical inclinations in order to permit ‘an acknowledgement of human limitations which does not leave us chafed by our own skin’.” (p. 76). “Again and again, Wittgenstein reminds the reader that all meaning, even the very gesture of pointing something out, must have conceptual links with the whole system of the human way of doing things together. There is nothing inside one’s head that does not owe its existence to one’s collaboration in a historical community” (p. 76). “Wittgenstein’s constant theme is that, for our inner life, we are radically dependent on customs, uses, and institutions.” (p. 77). Kerr’s unique contribution in this part of the book is to argue that Wittgenstein has been falsely labeled as a struggling realist or idealist of sorts, when in fact he offered a distinctive challenge to both—that our human experience and relation to the world is neither essentially cognitive nor a mere description of brute facts that are mind-independent realities. According to Wittgenstein, “what is primary and foundational” of our relation to the world is “neither ideas nor beliefs nor any other class of mental events, but human beings in a multiplicity of transactions with one another.” (p. 119). For Wittgenstein, even our experiential use of language is better understood as an expressive activity, with the ‘self’ as a responsive agent in vital connection with others (p. 134). “We are so much accustomed to communication through speaking, in conversation,” Wittgenstein observed, “that it looks to us as if the whole point of communication lay in this: someone else grasps the sense of my words—which is something mental: he as it were takes it into his own mind. If he then does something further with it as well, that is no part of the immediate purpose of language.” (p. 141).

In part three, Kerr offers a fresh perspective of Wittgenstein in light of some overlooked theological aspects present in his later writings. He then explores a handful of ways in which Wittgenstein’s insights affect the metaphysical implications of Christian theology.

Some of the most insightful questions in the book that Kerr asks the reader to consider are found on page 147:
Why is it that we doubt it can be in mere words or signs or bodily activities that we discover anything interesting about our inner selves or about the divine? Why is it that we are so strongly tempted to turn away from what we say and do, as if these were not ‘significant’ enough?”

Kerr responds to these questions by, of course, appealing to Wittgenstein’s insights:
“Wittgenstein reminds us that we have no alternative to attending to the signs, the repertoire of gestures and so on that interweave our existence. We have no access to our own minds, non-linguistically. We have no access to the divine, independently of our life and language. It goes against the grain, so captivated are we by the metaphysical tradition, but Wittgenstein keeps reminding us of the obvious fact: we have nothing else to turn to but the whole complex system of signs which is our human world. The great question remains: why do we retreat from our world; why do we withdraw from the body in hope that more direct illumination about our minds and about the gods is to be found by gaining access to something other than what we say and do? This is the hidden theological agenda of Wittgenstein’s later writings.

All of this leads me to finally mention why I originally described this book as intriguingly disappointing. As I trenched through the muddy terrain of Cartesian philosophical bias’ and epistemological dilemmas, I longed for the goal of practical application. Instead, when I reached the end where I thought I would learn the profound impact of Wittgenstein upon practical theological affairs, I found more of the same regurgitated ideas about radically questioning the whole way of thinking about one’s ‘self’ in relation to God and others in this world. That, to me, was a big let down. Even though the journey through Kerr’s research of Wittgenstein initially peaked my interest and held it for a while, in the end I found it to be disappointing, at least, as far as his own stated application of those insights are concerned. I might have missed it, but Kerr seems to have overlooked all of the orthodox Trinitarian insights that arise from his research. I suspect that he avoided a full-fledged discussion of those insights because Wittgenstein would not have contributed favorably, having repudiated any need to advance traditional metaphysical jargon altogether in the way we speak about God and the nature of reality.

Monday, October 21, 2013

God is not nice

Commenting on I Kings 22:1-40, Peter Leithart makes some interesting observations about Yahweh being a God who challenges our plans in order to reform His Church. Leithart even approaches the story of Micaiah's prophecy and the deception of King Ahab in a very practical, pastoral manner, treating Yahweh exactly as He has revealed Himself. Dr. Leithart writes:

According to Torah, the true prophet is ultimately revealed by the outcome; if he is a true prophet, then what he prophesies will happen (Deut. 13:1–11), and in this story, Micaiah is shown to be the true prophet because Ahab dies in battle. But Ahab and Jehoshaphat have to make a decision before they know the outcome. How can they know which advice to follow? How can they tell a wolf cleverly disguised in sheep’s clothing from a sheep?

Jehoshaphat apparently discerns that something is wrong. When he hears all four hundred prophets in agreement, all agreeing that Yahweh promises success, he still wants to hear a prophet of Yahweh (1 Kgs. 22:7). Jehoshaphat is probably spiritually attuned enough to know that the word of God does not come with the message, “Everything is perfectly okay. You’re okay just the way you are.” As Barth says, dogmatics is the science that tests the church’s proclamation by the standard of the word of God, and if dogmaticians emerge from their study to announce “all is well; steady as she goes,” they have made a mistake in calculations. Or, to put it in the blunt terms that Long uses, “God is not nice” (2004). He does not exist to underwrite our projects, to ensure that our pursuit of money and fame and American empire goes smoothly. He is the “judge of all the earth,” whose word is an instrument for bringing all our projects, intentions, and aims, especially the most pious of them, under scrutiny and judgment.
It is always a temptation to prefer a smooth, self-affirming word over a confronting word, and that temptation has been institutionalized, systematized in many contemporary churches. The word “sin” is avoided as needlessly offensive, especially to wealthy church members. Churches advertise their welcoming, nonjudgmental atmosphere, not so subtly (and viciously) implying that there are harsh judgmental churches out there and we all know which ones they are. American churches mirror consumer culture, offering a range of choices so that everyone can settle back into a Muzak spirituality, confident that they will not be confronted by any demands for radical change. But the word of Yahweh does not affirm us in our plans. It challenges our plans, confronts them, undoes them.1
...Micaiah’s vision of Yahweh asking for a volunteer to entice (פתה) Ahab is one of the most puzzling passages in the Bible and difficult on many levels. The least problematic aspect of this incident is that Yahweh is seeking help from surrogates, though the quaintness of the scene almost seems more at home in Goethe than in the Bible. The more troubling problem is the moral one: how can the God who is truth, whose word is truth, send out a lying spirit to inspire people to lie to Ahab? Is Yahweh ultimately just another trickster God, unreliable and deceptive?2 
...What kind of God is this that puts misleading prophesies into the mouths of the court prophets of Israel? How is this consistent with the New Testament’s affirmations that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18) and that “in him is no variation or shifting shadow” (Jas. 1:17)?
As Davis points out, there is ultimately no deception here or, more accurately, the deception is completely telegraphed (2002, 327). Yahweh’s Spirit inspires the prophets to mislead and lure Ahab to his death, but then Yahweh sends Micaiah to tell Ahab he is being lured to his death. Yahweh sets a trap for Ahab, but politely shows Ahab the trap before he springs it. Yet, Ahab blindly goes to Ramoth-gilead, confident that he can cheat death and escape the word of Yahweh. Further and more basically, this passage makes it abundantly clear that Yahweh is not a great marshmallow in the sky. He is not a God who plays softball. Nor is he the god of the philosophers, a gorgeous but impotent force in heaven. He is a warrior who fights to win, and deception is part of his art of holy war. Elsewhere, Yahweh encourages his people to use deceptive military tactics (e.g., Josh. 7), and on more than one occasion he deploys an “evil spirit” to set traps for his enemies (Judg. 9:23; 1 Sam. 16:14; 18:10; 19:9; Ezek. 14:9).
Many of the church fathers gesture toward the insight that God is a trickster when they develop atonement theories that suggest the cross is a divine trap laid for Satan. Recent work on the historical Jesus confirms the patristic insight into God’s shrewdness without adopting the “bait theory.” Jesus’s challenging parables, his provocative prophetic actions, his counterintuitive images and exhortations, his shrewdness in debate—all this testifies that Jesus is the incarnation of the God who lured Ahab to the battlefield of Ramoth-gilead.
He is straight with the straight, merciful to the humble, but cunning with the wicked (ועם־עקש תתפתל) (Ps. 18:25–26), the God who catches the wicked in their own devices, who leads his enemies into the very traps that they set for the righteous. This is a God to be loved. But he is also a God to be feared. One should be grateful to be and remain in his good graces, for it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of this God. Yahweh is the ultimate trickster that outfoxes all human attempts to escape him. Yahweh is not only cunning. He is transcendently, infinitely cunning. The conclusion that God employs deception against deceivers should not lead to distrust or anxiety. There is a simple way to avoid falling into the traps of the infinitely cunning God: humbly trust him, for he is merciful to the merciful, and to the pure he is pure.3

1.  Peter J. Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings [Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006] pp. 160-1
2.  Ibid. p. 162
3.  Ibid. p. 163-4

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Center of Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 13 & it's literary structure)

Continuing where I left off in this series of Matthew's Gospel, we finally arrive at the center of the book: chapter thirteen. As usual, with the way I prefer approaching each section of the Bible, identifying the literary structure is very important. It's not crucial or absolutely essential to a proper interpretation of every section, but it's extremely valuable to identify nonetheless. But chapter thirteen poses a few dilemmas in this regard. Some aspects of the structure are obvious, but because of multiple overlapping layers, it's difficult to reduce the overall structure to something simple.

At first glance, what is most obvious about chapter thirteen is that it's one of the five "pillar" discourses of Matthew's gospel, and it clearly begins at verse 1 and ends at verse 52. Verse 53 begins a new section with the literary marker, "and when Jesus had finished...", as found at the end of each of the five "pillars" of Matthew's gospel. 

A second glance will show that chapter 13 consists entirely of parables and explanations about parables. There are seven parables about the "Kingdom of Heaven" and an eighth parable addressed to the twelve apostles about scribes being trained for the "Kingdom of Heaven."

A few more glances will show similarities between parables. For example, the first parable (the parable of the sower) is presented and explained later on. The same is true for the "parable of the tares." That too is presented and then followed by a detailed explanation. Also, between these two parables (the parable of the sower with it's explanation and the parable of the tares with its explanation), there are two quotations from the old testament Scriptures in reference to "fulfillment." Even a cursory glance at the way modern bibles often subdivide each chapter into smaller sections will make this appear very obvious. This arrangement certainly seems intentional on Matthew's part. But that's not all. There are also a handful of very brief parables, sharing similarities between them. The third and fourth parables, the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven, are similar in meaning to each other. The fifth and sixth parables (of hidden treasure and a merchant who finds a pearl of great value) are both similar in meaning to each other

Below are a number of ways in which this structure can be laid out pictorially. Davies & Allison structure chapter 13 in three sections of three (as seen below)1:

13:1-9            Parable of the sower
13:10-17        Discussion of parables (+ scriptural allusion)
13:18-23        Interpretation of the sower

13:24-30        Parable of the tares
13:31-32        Parable of the mustard seed
13:33             Parable of the leaven
13:34-35        Discussion of parables (+ scriptural citation)
13:36-43        Interpretation of the tares

13:44             Parable of the treasure
13:45-46        Parable of the pearl
13:47-48        Parable of the net
13:49-50        Interpretation of the net
13:51-52        Discussion of parables (saying on treasure)

R.T. France attempts to lay the structure out somewhat chiastically2:

1-3a      Teaching by the lake
      3b-9      Opening parable: the sower
            10-17      About teaching in parables
            18-23      Explanation of the sower
      24-33      Three further parables of growth (weeds, mustard seed, leaven)
            34-35      About teaching in parables
            36-43      Explanation of the weeds
      44-50      Three further short parables (treasure, pearl, net)
      51-52      Concluding parable: the householder
53      Moving on

In my own attempt to outline the structure of chapter thirteen, I came up with three potential layouts, the first of which is very similar to France's chiastic outline above, and the last of which is similar to the triadic outline of Davies & Allison. Perhaps most important aspect worth noting about each of my outlines  (below) is the three fold division & progression of sowing, cultivating, and harvesting. That, to me, seems to be the logical progression of each triad of parables. 

Layout #1

A)  Teaching many things in parables (vv. 1-3a)
     B1)  Parable of The Sower, sowing the word of the kingdom (vv. 3b-9)
            C1)  Understanding parables (vv. 10-17)
            C2)  Parable explained (vv. 18-23)

     B2)  Three parables of cultivating the Kingdom (vv. 24-33)
            C1’)  Understanding parables (vv. 34-35)
            C2’)  Parables explained (vv. 36-43)

     B3)  Three parables about harvesting the Kingdom (vv. 44-50)

A’)  Understanding all these things in a parable (vv. 51-52)

Layout #2
A1)  Parable of The Sower, sowing the word of the kingdom (vv. 1-9)
      B1)  Understanding parables (vv. 10-17)
            C1)  Parable explained (vv. 18-23)
A2)  Three parables of cultivating the Kingdom (vv. 24-33)
      B2)  Understanding parables (vv. 34-35)
            C2)  Parables explained (vv. 36-43)
A3)  Three parables about harvesting the Kingdom (vv. 44-48)
            C3)  Parables explained (vv. 49-50)
      B3)  Understanding parables (vv. 51-52)

Layout #3

A1)  Parable of The Sower, sowing the word of the kingdom (vv. 1-9)
      B)  Understanding parables (vv. 10-17)
A1’)  Parable explained (vv. 18-23)

A2)  Three parables of cultivating the Kingdom (vv. 24-33)
      C)  Understanding parables (vv. 34-35)
A2’)  Parables explained (vv. 36-43)

A3)  Three parables about harvesting the Kingdom (vv. 44-48)
      D)  Parables explained (vv. 49-50)
A3’)  Understanding parables (vv. 51-52)

1.  W.D. Davies and D.C. Allison, International Critical Commentary: Matthew 8-18 (vol. 2) [New York, NY: T&T Clark, 1991] p. 371
2.  R.T. France, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2007] p. 501

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kingdom Not of this World

In my last post on John, I mentioned briefly the way in which I understand Jesus's statement about His kingdom not being "of this world." In context, I believe Jesus was describing a kingdom which has an origin that is not of ethnic Israel, and therefore Jesus' own kingship is not of ethnic Israel either, which Pilate had asked Him about immediately before. Jesus' response was to clarify that He is a king, but He is not a king in the sense which Pilate had asked concerning uniquely Jewish character and limitations (i.e. "are you the King of the Jews?"), as though being a descendant of David, the King of Israel, limits is His kingly domain and origin to geopolitical Israel.

In response to this perspective of mine, I imagine that someone reading this post might object, arguing that Jesus spoke of a "world," not a Jewish territory, and therefore Jesus was contrasting this present world in which fallen humanity lives (the cursed world prior to the promised consummation of all things) with another "world" that is not essential to this present world (whatever that looks like). My response to such an objection is two fold: first, I have a difficult time understanding why some christians have a fascination with imagining other "worlds," as though the Scriptures actually talk that way, using the term "world" in the same ways they imagine. I especially find this emphasis upon an imaginative duality of "worlds" to be odd considering the dominating emphasis of Scripture upon restoring this present world. And so, even the concept of "dual worlds" seems, in my mind, to be misplaced and even unnecessary. Second, such a duality of emphasis is not the way John uses the term "world" all throughout his own gospel, nor is that the way Jesus used the term in the immediate context surrounding His discussion with Pilate. 

As we saw a couple posts earlier, Jesus' discussion with Pilate takes place in the center of a much larger narrative, in the center of chapters 18 & 19. In the preceding pericope, Jesus uses similar language, arguing before the High Priest, saying,  "I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together" (18:20). Here, I think it is clear that "the world" is intentionally parallel with those meeting places of Jews. Jesus began with a reference to the world, but he clarifies further about where in "the world" and to whom in "the world" he spoke publicly. He spoke "in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together." In fact, as far as John's gospel is concerned, there are very few places where Jesus is not found teaching Jews, speaking in "the world" of first century Judaism. John's gospel just so happens to be the only gospel in which the majority of Jesus' ministry takes place in Jerusalem, and I find it incredibly unlikely that John's audience would not have noticed that. All three synoptic gospels portray Jesus teaching outside Jerusalem and finally traveling to Jerusalem at the very end of His ministry. But John portrays "the world" in which Jesus ministered very differently. In John's gospel, Jesus is portrayed as "tabernacling" among His people in "the world" of Jews, especially in the world's capital, Jerusalem. And in John 18:20, Jesus describes this ministry, primarily located in Jerusalem, and more broadly with Jews, as speaking "to the world." In my mind, "the world" to which Jesus made reference about the origin of His kingdom is directly connected with a very Jewish cosmos.

But still there are those who may argue differently, insisting that I'm missing the point (or some excuse like that). A few recent examples come to mind, actually. Not too long ago, an acquaintance of mine told me that Jesus' kingdom does not presently reign over this fallen world, but instead consists of some qualitatively different reality, a reality that is "heavenly" and reigns over a qualitatively different "world" (whatever that means). One result from this view is that our citizenship in Jesus' kingdom consists of this same duality, a duality which does not actually reign over this fallen world. Indeed, through such a view, the kingdoms of this world are presumed to not become subservient to the Kingdom of our Lord, which seems to me to conflict with the dominating themes of Scripture that speak of dominion and victory in and over this world for the people of God.

In another recent discussion, a christian man told me that Jesus' words to Pilate about His kingdom were referring to where Christians ought to focus their attention at all times. He even went so far as to say that Jesus' words are "all the support needed for where our concern should be." In other words, he believed that according to Jesus' words to Pilate, and only Jesus' words to Pilate, Christians should be concerned with things going on in a location that is not "of this world" (ek tou kosmou). Of course, I questioned the arbitrariness of that interpretation. As far as I understood things at that time, I considered Jesus words to be very similar to words which He has spoken just a couple chapters earlier, in His high-priestly prayer. In John 17:14-16Jesus referred to Himself and His disciples in a similar way as He did with His kingdom before Pilate. There His disciples are said to be not "of the world" (ek tou kosmou). I interpret that as meaning of a "wordiness" akin to the Jews who repeatedly rejected Him throughout John's gospel. Certainly what Jesus did not mean was that His disciples were not located within this present fallen world. That would be absurd because Jesus was in this fallen world as He prayed that prayer. And also, He couldn't have meant that His disciples were to have no direct transformational influence upon this present fallen world, because in the very next verses Jesus prays that they would impact the world in which they are sent. Jesus says, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth." Whatever kind of "world" we think Jesus was sending His disciples into, whether it's a particularly Jewish territory antagonistic to Jesus' message or a region encompassing all the earth, Jesus' point remains the same: He sent them into the "world" to have a transforming affect upon it. The earthly emphasis of Jesus is really difficult to avoid, especially given the much larger context of John's gospel. 

But still some might say, 'Well, what about Philippians 3:20, in which Paul says that "our citizenship is in heaven"?'

To answer that question, I will link to a blog post of John Barach which begins with a lengthy and helpful quote from N.T. Wright, and then follows through with some further thoughts about "citizenship in heaven." That blog post can be found here. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

No guilt found in Him (John 18:28-19:16)

Continuing where I left off in John's gospel, we finally arrive at the central section of chapters 18 & 19. As shown below, John structures this section in a seven-point chiasm, with the center focusing upon Jesus' coronation as King. All seven points are easy to distinguish as well, primarily because the most noticeable literary feature of this section is its frequent movement from outside to inside and back outside again, repeated twice (as seen below):

John 18:28-19:6

A)  Outside the Praetorium  (18:28-32)
   B)  Inside the Praetorium  (18:33-38a)
      C)  Outside the Praetorium  (18:38b-40)
         D)  Pilate takes Jesus, punishes Him, crowns and clothes Him as "King of the Jews"  (19:1-3) 
      C')  Outside the Praetorium  (19:4-8)
   B')  Inside the Praetorium  (19:9-11)
A')  Outside the Praetorium  (19:12-16)

There are many ironies found within this central section, only a few of which I have time to list below in this post, but two great ironies come immediately to mind: first, ever since Jesus' arrest in the garden began in chapter 18, no one has been an advocate of Jesus' kingship, but in this section, John portrays Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, as being a ruler over the Jews, a "world ruler" of sorts, able to apply the heaviest punishment upon evildoers, the punishment of death; and in John's narrative, this world ruler is the only sincere advocate of Jesus' Kingship. This is especially noticeable when set in contrast with the second irony, that the chief priests refuse to enter the Praetorium where Jesus and Pilate privately discuss His kingship. John even tells us why they refused to enter the Praetorium. John says that " was early, and they [the Jewish Leaders] themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover" (John 18:28). It was because of their own misunderstanding and distortion of God's Law that a firm belief developed about God disqualifying them from eating the Passover lamb, had they entered "unclean" space among the Gentiles. These kinds of man-made traditions were so precious that their eyes became blinded to who Yahweh really was, and by the time their Messiah arrives on the scene, they cared more about slaughtering and eating a literal lamb in God's sight than they did betraying and slaughtering the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29, 36).

The way John compacts all of this together in chapters 18 & 19 is really interesting. Jesus has been arrested in a garden, examined in a courtyard, and now he's dragged out into the world, outside the courtyard, to be crowned by a world ruler and presented back to the Jews as "your King" (John 19:14). The "chief priests" (18:35) accuse Jesus of "doing evil" (18:30) in order to justify handing Him over to this world ruler to die (18:31-32). They would crucify Jesus themselves, but empirical Law won't allow them to do so (18:31). John also makes a point of telling us that this day of crowning and slaughtering Jesus was also the "Day of Preparation of the Passover" (19:14). So then, while the chief priests stay back in the "courtyard", they think they are spared from defilement in preparation for Passover; but little did they know that by handing Jesus over to Pilate they were defiling themselves by handing over the Lamb of God with hands full of innocent blood.

The narrative gets even more interesting once we see what goes on inside the Praetorium. While the chief priests stay outside, Pilate engages in two private discussions inside with Jesus. Pilate asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews (18:33), which is an odd question in and of itself unless rumors had already spread throughout Judea about Jesus being the King of the Jews. Jesus' response to Pilate's question is also kind of odd. Instead of answering with a simple 'yes' or 'no', Jesus responds in a way which makes Pilate affirm His kingship (18:36-37). Pilate also asks Jesus what evil He has done to deserve being handed over by the chief priests, and Jesus responds, again somewhat oddly, by talking about His kingdom. By affirming that He has a kingdom, He infers that He is a King. By affirming that His kingdom is not "of this world" (ek tou kosmou), He is inferring that His kingship originates outside of and rules beyond Jewish aristocracy. In other words, Jesus answers Pilate's question negatively about being the "King of the Jews," while at the same time maintaining positively that He is indeed a King who has a Kingdom that is not of Jewish, or "this-worldly" origin. Jesus even repeats Himself, clarifying some of what we might consider to be ambiguity of meaning, saying that His kingdom is "not from this world" (18:36). In the second discussion with Jesus, Pilate asks Jesus where He, not His kingdom, is from, and Jesus gives no answer (19:9). Pilate informs Jesus that he has the authority to crucify or release Him, but Jesus reminds Pilate what it means for His kingdom to not be "of this world." Jesus informs Pilate that he would have no authority over Him unless it had been given to him from above (19:11); therefore Pilate is really off the hook as far as ultimate authority is concerned, and the Jewish rulers have the greater sin for preparing Him for slaughter.

Pilate then offers to release Jesus in the place of an insurrectionist named Barabbas. Pilate doesn't want to be the "bad guy," and so he declares Jesus' innocence and then appeals to the Jewish rulers to choose between Jesus and Barabbas. By appealing to the Jewish rulers to make a decision, the blood is on their hands. Interestingly, the name Barabbas means "son of the Father," but when given the choice between releasing a false son of the Father or the true Son of the Father, the Jewish rulers choose the false "son." This irony only adds to the contrast between Pilate's intentions and the chief priests. After each discussion inside, Pilate goes outside to defend Jesus, declaring Jesus' innocence publicly three times, saying "I find no guilt in Him" (18:38; 19:4, 6, sections C & C' above). By seeking to release Jesus, Pilate takes upon himself the role of a high priest, releasing a scapegoat on the day of atonement, the day in which Jesus would atone for the sins of the world. By publicly confessing Jesus' innocence three times, John also portrays Pilate as a type of Peter who makes a greater confession in all three places where Peter had the opportunity to, but instead denied his Lord. As a greater confessor, Pilate is portrayed as a "good guy" who, above all the people in chapter 18 & 19, seems to actually treat Jesus as a true King, a true world ruler whose authority is not vested in Jewish aristocracy. Pilate wants to release Jesus and He knows there is something significantly wrong with the situation he is in. He knows Jesus doesn't deserve death. He knows Jesus is considered a king of sorts in the eyes of some Jews, and so he shames Jesus by scourging and presenting Him before the Jews in mock-coronation fashion. Jesus is crowned with thorns and arrayed in a purple robe, a royal robe of glory worn by people of nobility. Jesus is even mocked by Pilate's officers, hailing Him as the "King of the Jews." Over and over again Pilate wants to release Jesus, but the Jewish rulers won't stop pressuring him until Jesus is slain. By handing Jesus over to Pilate, along with his repeated declaration of there being no blemish of evil in Him, the chief priests are portrayed as the ones who prepare the paschal lamb to be slaughtered on the Day of Preparation.

Toward the end of all these events with Pilate going inside and out, again and again, John tells us that Pilate finally brings Jesus out and sits down upon a "seat of judgment" in a place called "The Stone Pavement." Here the Greek is ambiguous, leaving at least the grammatical possibility that Pilate sat Jesus down in the "seat of judgment." Regardless of who actually sat down in the judgment seat, whether Pilate or Jesus, the overall scene of Jesus with Pilate, two "world rulers" together, at the judgment-seat is really the main picture John is portraying for us. Here at the judgment-seat, John tells us that the place of this final scene of judgment was called "The Stone Pavement." In Greek this "Stone Pavement" is lithostroton, and is found elsewhere in Scripture, and in a passage that would be very familiar to first century Jews. In II Chronicles chapter seven we find Solomon dedicating the Temple, and in verse 3 Yahweh is described as descending in glorious fire upon His House with the people of Israel bowing down with their faces to the "stone pavement" (lithostroton) before Him. In John's narrative, the King of the world stands before Israel, scourged and bloody, crowned and robed in purple, but they won't bow down with their faces to the stone pavement before Him. They act as though they are in the judgment-seat, saying things like "He ought to die because He made Himself the Son of God" (19:7). When faced with a choice of releasing a "son of the Father," they release an insurrectionist. When faced with acknowledging their king on the stone pavement, they cry out, "We have no King but Caesar!" (19:15). When faced with a choice of remaining clean and eating the Passover or defiling themselves by crucifying the Lamb of God, they shout, "Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!" (19:15). The rulers of Israel think the Son of God ought to die, even though there truly was no guilt found in Him. They think they're purging leaven from their house in preparation for Passover, but what they're actually doing is leavening another lump. They think they're preparing for the angel of Yahweh to pass over their house, but what they're actually doing is preparing the blood of the Lamb to be spread upon the doorposts of new "house" prepared by His Father, a house made of disciples of Jesus, filled with the Spirit of God and fed with the flesh and blood of Jesus, fed with true meat and drink indeed.