Word Study #24 — “In the Name of Jesus”

November 19, 2009

The word “name” (to onoma) appears in the New Testament text more than 200 times, with several different implications, many of which are poorly understood – largely for cultural reasons.  More than 50 of those are merely identifying individuals – as our western culture would expect.  A few are simply counting – used as a synonym  for “people”, and 15-20, especially in the Revelation, refer to evil entities of some sort, or identification with them.  But that leaves us with the vast majority – primarily those referring to the name of God, of the Father, of Jesus, or of the Lord – which are not so easily sorted by dwellers in 21st century western culture.  The implications of these must be gleaned from the context, which means that any “conclusions” we may draw are merely conjecture, and open to challenge.

Classically, to onoma referred either to a specific person, to one’s fame or reputation, to someone’s financial account or credit, to one’s ancestors, or to a political or business attachment to some source of authority. (Liddell/Scott).  The Arndt and Gingerich translation of Bauer’s lexicon (see appendix) contains a few more anthropological notes:  “The belief in the efficacy of a name is extremely old….This (N.T.) period of literature sees in the name something real:  a piece of the very nature of the personality whom it designates, that partakes of his qualities and his powers.”  It may refer to attributes, ownership, or loyalty.  “The use of a name without the attendant loyalty is seen as hypocrisy or deceit.”  In a similar manner, millenia earlier, people had been warned against “taking the Lord’s name in vain” – i.e., outside the realm of honor and obedience to him.
A name is often assumed to convey the power of the one named, for good or ill.  To “believe in the name” of someone is to certify that he is genuine.  To “call on the name” of someone – human or divine – was an attempt to access his power or intervention.

The Gospels are replete with references to Jesus’ having “come in his Father’s name” – as his representative (Mt.21:9 and parallels, Jn.5:43).  His deeds of power and compassion are offered as witness to the truth of that claim (Jn.10:25).  Consequently, when he sends out disciples “in his name”, or when anyone claims to represent him, similar evidence is reasonably to be expected (Mk.16:17, Lk.10:17, Lk.24:7).  Nevertheless, it is also clear that “in the name of Jesus” is NOT legitimately to be used as a pious version of “abracadabra”!  False claims of his name are roundly condemned, as is obvious in his categorical rejection of those who claimed a non-existent relationship to him in Mt.7:22, and similarly referenced in Mt.24:5, Mk.13:6, Lk21:8 and 21:8 and 17, and illustrated most dramatically in Ac.19:13-16.  This sort of situation does require careful discernment, however:  see Mk.9:38 and Jesus’ response in 9:39.

”Calling on” the name of Jesus (Ac.2:21, 4:12, 9:21, 15:17; Rom.10:13, I Cor.1:2, II Tim.2:19), like “trusting/believing/becoming faithful to” (see W.S. #1) his name (Jn.1:12, 2:23, 3:13-17) seems to carry a strong flavor of commitment to him and his cause, and a consequent expectation of obedience.  That commitment was assumed to be evidenced by “being baptized in the name of the Lord” (Ac.2:38, 8:16, 10:48, 19:5, 22:16), regarding which Bauer’s lexicon notes: “Through baptism ‘eis to onoma’ [literally into the name] of someone, the one who is so baptized becomes the possession of, and comes under the protection of the one whose name he bears:  he is thenceforth under the control of …that one – wholly dedicated to him.”

Associating/acting “in someone’s name” was also assumed to access his power or intervention, as is evident in the various accounts of healings, both when disciples were sent out as Jesus’ representatives during and after his earthly ministry, and as the gathered group of committed followers took on their responsibility as the Body of Christ, ministering discipline (I Cor.5:4, II Thess.3:6) as well as healings (Ac.3:6, 4:7, 4:30, 16:18; James 5:14).
A huge amount of rhetoric has been expounded, (loosely) based upon Jesus’ encouraging his disciples to make requests “in his name.”  In the context of this more accurate understanding of the use of the concept of “name”, it should be abundantly clear that he was NOT offering anyone a “blank check”!  Instead of a license to append “in the name of Jesus” like an incantation (certified mail, or an insurance policy!) to every prayer or admonition, his statement must be viewed as a caution:  Be certain that the entreaty is motivated by, and is completely in harmony with the totality of his being – his personality – his Kingly position – and the work of his Kingdom – before attaching the name of Jesus to anything!

Contrary to many modern assumptions is the observation that there are more references to abuse/persecution “for the sake of his name” (at least 17), than there are to glorious “successes” (a few in Revelation, but not before that!)
Consistently, those who associate themselves with the name of Jesus are reminded of their responsibility to take care to bring no reproach upon that name/reputation! (I Cor.1:10, Col.3:17, II Thess.1:12, I Tim.6:1)
It is “in his name” that praise and thanksgiving are to be offered to God (Eph.5:20 and many other places), and that the unity of the brotherhood is to be maintained (I Cor.1:10).

And it gets even better!  The “name” given to Jesus after his triumph over death implies the awarding of a well-deserved title – “above all names” (Phil.2:9) – “above every conceivable rank or power” (Eph.1:21) – “higher than the name of any angels/messengers” (Heb.1:4).  The day will come when that truth is universally acknowledged (Phil.2:10) – and “every knee shall bow” in submission to the name of Jesus!  May God – and his people – speed that day!

But meanwhile, all who do acknowledge Jesus’ name have a clear assignment:  to represent their Sovereign faithfully.  Paul expressed this concern to the brethren in Thessalonica (II Thess.1:12): “That’s what we always keep praying for you all: that our God may make you worthy of the calling, and may fulfill (your) every good intention and faithful deed in (his) miraculous power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified among you all, and you in him.”  The instructions are simple: (Col.3:17) “And everything – whatever you do, in word or deed, (do) everything in the name of the Lord Jesus …” — as his representatives – by his power – and for his honor!


Word Study #23– Why DID Jesus come?

November 7, 2009

You have all heard some version of these tear-jerking lines:

“Jesus was ONLY born in order to die!”

“If I/you had been the ONLY sinner on earth, Jesus would have come and died for me/you!”

“YOUR sinfulness sent Jesus to the cross!”
Impassioned speakers have used these declarations for years, maybe centuries, to create enormous guilt-trips, and the indictment is meekly accepted by thousands.
The only trouble is, JESUS NEVER SAID THAT!!!

Increasingly annoyed by the self-centeredness inherent in that focus, which seems so contradictory to the God-ward and out-ward focus of all of Jesus’ words and actions, I decided to comb carefully through the Gospel accounts to discover what HE presented as the purpose of his coming.  Seems like it should be a no-brainer to consider Jesus himself as the best authority on such a subject.
Now, before you get all up-in-the-air about “inspiration”, please understand that I am not denying the inspiration of the writers of either the Gospels or the Epistles.  However, I do maintain that their explanations must be understood in the light of what Jesus himself has said.  So let’s take a look at his own words.

Purpose, in the Greek language, may be expressed grammatically in three ways:  with the particle hina and a subjunctive verb (usually translated “in order that”); with a simple infinitive (translated “to”); or with the use of the preposition eis, or the phrase eis touto (translated “for this reason”, or “this is why”).  A fourth, more ambiguous form uses the particle dei, “it is necessary” – which may, but need not have a purpose implication.  It is usually more of a forecast than a statement of purpose.  Here is a simple list of reference where Jesus is quoted as using one of these constructions.

Mt.5:17 – to fulfill the law and the prophets (which he then proceeds to correct)
Mt.9:13 – to call not the just, but those who have failed
Mt.10:34 – to throw fire on the earth (separation, based on relation to him)
Mk.2:17 – parallel to Mt.9:13

Lk.12:49-53 – parallel to Mt.10:34
Mt.20:28 – not to be waited on, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (a ransom secures release from captivity, and is the only – even oblique – reference to his death)
Lk.4:18-19 – to announce good news to the poor, to be a herald of healing to the blind and release to captives, to send out in freedom those that are “broken”
Lk.19:10 – to seek and to rescue those who are lost/destroyed.

Lk.22:29-30 – The Father gave him a Kingdom so that he could pass it on to the disciples
Jn.3:15 – both the conditional (believing/being faithful) and the subjunctive (“may have”)are in the present tense – not future.
Jn.3:16 – same combination of present tenses
Jn.3:17 – so that the world may (also present tense) be rescued/ “saved”
Note that if these referred to a single event, the tense would be aorist, and the result future.  Neither is the case.
Jn.6:38 – “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but to do the will of him that sent me.”  (used 3x in 38-40)
Jn.10:10 – “I have come that they may have life (present tense) and have it abundantly.”
Jn.12:46 – “I have come, a light, into the world, so that everyone who is (present tense) faithful to me may not remain in darkness.”
Jn.12:47 – not to judge the world but to rescue it
Jn.17:2 – to give eternal life (present tense), which he then proceeds to define as intimate acquaintance with the Father and with himself, to those who were given to him.
Jn.17:13 – “that they may have my joy complete among themselves.”

Mk.1:38 — “That’s why I came out” (to preach in other communities)
Jn.9:39 – for discernment (eis krima)
Jn.18:37 – (before Pilate) eis touto – “That’s why I was born and came into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”

dia touto: Jn.12:27:  “This is why I came to this hour” – Jesus does not explain this statement, but virtually everybody else does!

dei:  Remember, this indicates a forecast, not necessarily a purpose:
Mt.16:21 – to suffer abuse from the hierarchy, die, and be raised
Mk.9:31-32 —  parallel
Lk.22:37, 24:26, 24:44 – will deal with these later
Jn.3:14 – to be “raised up” or “exalted”
Jn.10:16 – to round-up the “other sheep” who will listen.

Conspicuous by its absence is any reference to private, individualistic “forgiveness of sins”.  See W.S.#7.  Jesus certainly did make that offer on occasion (Mt.9:2-6, parallels in Mark and Luke, and Lk.7:47), but when challenged, the objection had nothing whatever to do with his death, but rather with his right/authority  to forgive because of his identity with God!

Where, then, did this distorted limitation of Jesus’ purpose come from?  His comments in Lk.22:37 and 24:44 may be helpful.  Jesus explains on both occasions, “everything that is written about me must be fulfilled.”  Many times, he had found it necessary to correct misperceptions of what the “anointed one” would be or do.  Religious authorities had  concocted elaborate – but mistaken – ideas of a political emancipator, and other glorious (to them) job descriptions for the awaited “messiah.”  Is Jesus perhaps cautioning his people to sort carefully which of the oft-quoted prescriptions of the Law and the Prophets really are “about him”?  Perhaps we need to look at these again, and instead of trying to cram Jesus into the traditions of an ancient sacrificial system, turn our energies rather to participating in the Kingdom that HE SAID he came to inaugurate!  Not everything “written” is necessarily “about him.”
Notice also the accounts (Mt.27:11, Mk.14:61 and 15:9, Lk.23:5 and 13-22, Jn.19:6-16) of Jesus’ trial.  The charge against him was his Kingship and Sonship – there was no “religious” element at all.

Jesus has come “in the Father’s name” – as his representative (Jn.5:43), as the Light that can enable us no longer to “walk in darkness” (Jn.12:46).  He has come to rescue the world (12:47).  He has fulfilled the (legitimate) promises of ancient writings (Mk.5:17), and ransomed his people from whatever captivity they suffer.  He has come that his “sheep” may know abundant life (Jn 10:10), and to bestow “eternal life” – which he has defined as intimate acquaintance with both himself and the Father (Jn.17:2), upon those who trustingly follow him in faithfulness.  He has covered all the bases – provided for every need.  My son Dan has an excellent summary in his blog post “Enough with salvation already!” which I commend to your attention.  http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com/2009/05/enough-with-salvation-already.html

The crucial question here is the same as in so many other places and situations, and the only one that matters, in the last analysis: