Word Study #158 — “Inspiration”

August 30, 2012

(Please use this as a companion study to #148)

Here is another requested word that appears only once in the entire New Testament.
I find it interesting that in all the arguing and pontificating that goes on regarding the many versions of “inspiration” ascribed to the Biblical writings, virtually no attention is given to internal evidence – statements by the writers themselves – of the reasons or motivations for their writing. These statements are plentiful, and should certainly be viewed with a seriousness at least equal to the stature accorded to the documents in which they are contained!

Does it surprise you that only one of those writers – John, in the Revelation – makes any claim to having been told what to write, by the Lord or a messenger of his? John reports that he was instructed to write specific messages to particular churches (2:1,8,12,18, 3:1,7,14). Other instructions are (1:19)to “write what you have seen”, and not to write the message of the “thunders” (10:4). And John makes no similar claim about either his letters or the gospel that bears his name.

Neither Matthew nor Mark includes any explanation in his narrative. Luke,though (1:1-4), not only states his purpose very clearly, but also describes his careful research and organization efforts, in order that Theophilos may “be assured of the accuracy of the teaching (he) had received.” And John, as he concludes his account, notes (20:30-31) that although he left out a lot of things, he wrote what he did in order to enable his readers “to trust that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Son of God,” and, having become faithful, to “have life in his name”. John thus declares the purpose of his work to be deliberately evangelistic, whereas Luke’s is to give additional evidence to someone who has already been taught.

Although the history recounted in Acts is addressed to the same individual as Luke’s gospel, the introduction is simpler: after all, here, in a considerable portion of the narrative (the “we” passages), Luke is a participant, and no longer just a researcher.
There are two records of “writing” by believers contained within that history. First is the letter written by the folks at the Jerusalem Conference (Ac.15:23-29) to the Gentile believers. It was written, reporting the consensus of the gathered group, to reassure them that they were not required to adopt Jewish customs, but merely to avoid (15:20) “the pollution of idols, sexual perversions, strangled things, and blood”, all of which were components of idol worship.
The other letter (Ac.18:28) was written by brethren in Ephesus to counterparts in Achaia (Corinth), urging them to welcome Apollos into their fellowship.
There were also letters written by the Roman officials.

Paul’s letters frequently included a note about his purpose in writing: Rom.15:15 – to remind them about what he had taught; I Cor.4:14 – not to scold, but to warn them about false teaching; I Cor.7:1 – to reply to questions they had sent him; II Cor.7:12 – to settle a dispute; 9:1 – to urge the collection of a relief offering; and 13:2, 10 – to correct errors. His purpose stated in Gal.1:20 was to recount his own personal history, in Eph.3:3 to share a revelation; in Phil.3:1 to keep them safe from error; and in Philemon, to encourage his acceptance of Onesimus. He says he wrote I Thes.4:9, 5:1, to commend their love, and to reassure them about Jesus’ return, and I Tim.3:14 to communicate his plans to visit.
Several times, notably in I Cor.7, he says, “I have no instructions from the Lord – this is my best judgment”. Only once (I Cor.14), after a lengthy outline for orderly sharing in a meeting, does he claim to be wielding the Lord’s own authority.

Peter writes (I Pet.5:12) to encourage the faithfulness of his readers, and (II Pet.3:1) to remind them of his message.
John (I Jn.1:4) says that his goal is to make their mutual joy complete, (2:1), to prevent error, and (2:12) because they are faithful and growing!
Jude (3) also writes to encourage faithfulness.

Nobody claims to be writing a definitive statement of “doctrine” to which all are required to subscribe, or an inviolable code of conduct which all must observe – except for the one requirement imposed by Jesus himself and repeatedly appearing in all John’s works – mutual love in the brotherhood.

So – who – or what – is “inspired”?
The word, theopneustos, appears only one single time in the entire New Testament, and not at all in the LXX. It likewise does not appear at all in ancient classical literature, although Plutarch (2nd.century AD) used it occasionally. It may have been an “invented” word, since no etymology is given in any lexicons, other than its component parts: theo – God, and pneustos, from pneo, to breathe or to blow. The sound linguistic approach of examining other usages of a word, is not possible, since there are none. The use of theo- indicates clearly that the reference is to inspiration by/from God – people can also be “inspired” by other people, by a cause, by an idea, etc. – but as noted in Word Study #148, the rest of the sentence is problematic, due to its lack of any verb. Please see that treatment.
There is another valid consideration, suggested in a conversation with my son, Dan, who pointed out that help could be found in the broader context of this quotation, specifically the reference in v.15 to Timothy’s “knowledge of the holy writings / scriptures since childhood” , and the beneficial results of that knowledge. Later,I realized that this would also solve the problem of what to do with the kai in v.16, before ophelimos, “useful”, by enabling the reading, “From early childhood, you’ve known the holy scriptures/writings that empower you to be wise for deliverance /salvation, through the faithfulness that is in Christ Jesus.  All writing inspired by God is also useful …”.  This may be the best solution of all, and I intend to incorporate it in the next edition of the PNT.  (If you have downloaded it, please add this to your copy!)

In either case, for anyone who takes the New Testament seriously, it is unwise, if not downright impossible, to make a dogmatic, definitive statement regarding its “divine” or “human” origin.
Far more productive would be redoubling our most earnest efforts to understand and to follow its precepts, and to honor the One by whose gracious Kingdom its narrative is “inspired”!

Word Study #157 — Healing

August 21, 2012

The subject of “healing” has probably generated as much discussion among earnest followers of the Lord Jesus, ranging from desperate hope to equally desperate discouragement, and from loving, encouraging ministrations to bitter blaming and recriminations, as any other topic. This study does not pretend to settle all questions, nor to present the elusive, infallible formula which so many have sought – or arrogantly claimed to have discovered. It merely seeks to offer, by means of examination of the vocabulary used in the New Testament, a bit of insight that may be helpful as we try to learn, to discern, and to follow our Lord’s instructions.

He did, after all, empower and instruct his disciples, when he sent them around the nearby countryside, to “heal the weak [sick], raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (Mt.10:8 and parallels), as they announced the arrival of his Kingdom. Similar instructions are included in Mark’s version (16:17,18) of the Great Commission, and in the experience of the early church as recorded in Acts. Healing had been a significant part of Jesus’ own ministry, with at least 40 instances recorded in the gospels. Although some of these refer to the same events, the count would be even higher if we were to include cleansing lepers, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and mobility to the lame and paralyzed, that don’t specifically use the word “heal.” Some of the lesser manuscripts include “to heal those with broken [crushed] hearts” in Jesus’ announcement of his mission in Lk.4:18.

There can be no question, then, that healing is intended to have a significant place in the ministry of Jesus’ followers. An examination of the vocabulary expands that responsibility tremendously.

Of the words denoting healing, therapeuo (v.), with 38 translations as “heal”, 5 as “cure”, and one as “worship”, and its noun equivalent therapeia, 2x “healing” and 2x “household”, are by far the most common.
Historically, these words were much more versatile, including “to do service (to gods or men), to honor parents or wait on a master, to care for a person, to treat medically, to mend garments, to train animals, to cultivate land, to prepare food or drugs”! It would be an interesting exercise to consider some of these as alternative translations! Perhaps there is more involved than we realize in Jesus’ instructions.

The other word, more exclusively referring to medical healing, iaomai (v) “heal” 26x and “make whole” 2x, and iasis (n) “healing” 1x and “cure”1x, was also more restricted historically, listed as “to heal, cure, or attempt to do so, to treat disease, to repair or remedy, to be healed, to recover.”
Ten times, the verb sozo is used. This is treated in #5, being more often traditionally rendered “save”.

The conditions from which people are “healed” are likewise varied.
Arrostos (5x) is used of any sickliness, or bad state of health. In the plural, it referred to epidemics. Only rarely does it describe moral weakness.
Astheneo (20x), asthenes (22x), astheneia (22x), asthenema (2x), is by far the most frequently used, and the most ambiguous. In traditional translations, the noun and the adjective are more frequently rendered “weak, weakness” and the verb more often “be sick”, but lexically, they all carry both meanings, as well as “to be needy, to be unable to do something, to be without power (opposite of dunamis) or influence, poverty, want of strength, feeble, sickly, or morally weak.” That pretty well covers most “needs”!
Kamno, used only 3x (Jas.5:15, Rv.2:3, Heb.12:3) can refer to physical illness, but its primary lexical meaning is “to be weary or fatigued from work or exertion”, as well as “to win by toil” and “to meet with disaster”!
Malakia, used only of disease, is seen only in Matthew 4:23, 9:35, and 10:1, each time in tandem with
nosos (12 occurrences), which is a broader term, including “sickness, disease, distress, anguish, disease of the mind” (L/S), and (Bauer) “vice or character defect”. These latter two words appear exclusively in the synoptics, except for a single case in Ac.19:12.

With this semantic background, we can see that James’ choice of vocabulary in 5:13-16 may be more significant than we commonly realize. Only once does he employ the most common (and most ambiguous) of the words, when he addresses asthenei tis “whoever is sick / needy / weak /unable to function properly”. This is about as broad a category as you can imagine. Such a person is encouraged to call upon the elders for prayer (#91) and anointing (#155) in the name (#24) of the Lord – as his representatives and on his behalf. The prayer of the faithful (#1) is represented as the agent of “saving / rescuing” (#5) the supplicant, who is described as kamnonta, for which “worn-out” or “exhausted” is at least as valid a rendition as “sick”, thus greatly expanding the “eligible clientele” for such merciful service. IF he has somehow brought it on himself (note, that is NOT assumed), by either deliberate or immature behavior (v.15), that condition will also be remedied. This is the context for James’ admonition to the mutual confession and prayer, whose goal is revealed to be perhaps beyond our idea of merely physical healing, by the use of iathete, rather than a form of therapeuo, which includes deliverance from all sorts of ills or suffering, as well as the cure of disease.
How beautifully are the Lord’s people utterly dependent upon one another!

Other than that one instance, we have no record of a pre-condition being imposed upon any person in need of healing. It is true that Jesus remarked upon the faithfulness of the friends who carried a paralytic to him for healing (Lk.5:20), rebuked the disciples who had been unable to heal a child (Lk.9:41), and challenged the child’s father to trust him (Mk.9:22-24), but he made no such demand upon any person in need! In at least one case (Jn.5:13), the person didn’t even know who had healed him!
I suspect there are very good reasons for which the specific illnesses or disabilities are usually not clearly identified. The preponderance of references are to “all manner of” or “divers diseases”, “infirmities”, or simply “all who had need of healing.”

It is also true that while amazing healings bore testimony to the power of Jesus in the New Testament church (Ac.3 and 4, 8:7, 9:17-18, 14:9, 19:11-12, 20:10, 28:8), there were also occasions when healing did not take place (Gal.4:13, I Tim.5:23, I Cor.2:3, Phil.2:26-27, II Tim.4:20). We still face similar dilemmas.

There is no prescribed formula offered to “guarantee” healing. Jesus often accomplished it with a touch, and at other times simply with a word. On occasion, the disciples were instructed to apply oil (Mk.6:13, Jas.5:13-16), but this was not “standard procedure”.
Someone once suggested that the plague of “denominations” began when three blind men whom Jesus had healed, met each other at a “healing meeting.” One boasted that all it had required was a single touch of the Master’s hand (Mt.20:30). Another argued that wasn’t sufficient (Mk.8:25), but that a second touch was necessary in order to see clearly. The third maintained adamantly that unless Jesus put mud on your eyes, you had not experienced “the real thing.” So instead of rejoicing together at the mercy they had been shown, each went off to start his own church, criticizing the others for “teaching false doctrine”!

We are also not provided with any easy explanation of why, although many of us today can also point to times when the Lord has graciously intervened with his gift of healing, we have to acknowledge that , as we saw in the New Testament accounts as well, this does not always happen. Blaming the victim, as we have seen above, is unwarranted – and also cruel.
Notice, also, that neither Jesus nor his disciples ever urged anyone to “claim” or “believe” a healing in the absence of any observable evidence.
When unsuccessful disciples asked Jesus why they had been unable to help a child (Mk.9:29), his reply was a need for prayer (some manuscripts add “fasting”). We all have a lot to learn about that! (See #91)
There may be another key, in I Cor.11:30, where Paul suggests that simply going through the motions of some ritual without “discerning the Lord’s Body” (#84) may account for the weakness, sickliness, or even death, of some members of the group. Healing is listed among the functions described in a healthy Body, in the following chapter (12).
Might we become a more successful demonstration of our Lord’s Kingdom, if we allowed ourselves to be built more completely into a united, interactive Body? (Please see chapter 7 of Citizens of the Kingdom).
This concept needs a lot more attention than it receives.

In addition to “healing”, the Lord’s people are urged to “support the weak” (I Thes.5:14), to exercise patience with those whose conscience is weak (I Cor.8:7-10), and to recognize the value of members who “seem” to be more weak (“feeble”) (I Cor.12:22). Although a person “weak in faithfulness” (Rom.14:1,2, 21) is not to be included in discussions requiring mature discernment, the “strong” are admonished to “bear with” their weakness, for their benefit (Rom.15:1). These are all necessary functions of a Body, although they would be merely a nuisance to an institution, which simply eliminates those who are perceived not to “fit”. The Lord never told his people to form – or to become – an institution.

It is deliberate, that this study does not end with a summary, or a coherent conclusion.
I have none to offer.
I merely present these observations in the hope of their being augmented and corrected by yours.

May we help each other toward both faithfulness and wholeness.

Word Study #156 — “Brokenness”

August 15, 2012

I have been trying without success to track down the provenance of a relatively recent arrival among the “buzz-words” in some popular “Christian” literature and teaching: the characterization of the world, and the lives of both the committed and the uncommitted, as “broken”. I have found no such reference anywhere in the New Testament. Can you help me?

By a huge majority, the primary reference in the New Testament to anything being “broken” is (are you ready for this?) to BREAD! Either as Jesus broke bread to feed the crowds that were following him (Mt.14:19, 15:36; Mk.6:41, 8:6, 8:19; Lk.9:15, etc.), or the pieces that were gathered up afterwards (Mt.14:20, Mk.6:43, 8:9; Lk.9:17) “so that nothing be wasted” (Jn.6:12), or in descriptions of the last supper (Mt.26:26, Mk.14:22, Lk.22:19), and later similar observances by gathered disciples (Lk.24:30, Ac.2:46, 20:7, 20:11, 27:35; I Cor.10:16, 11:24), it is bread that is “broken.”

There are a few other things that are described as “broken” – or not – a fishing net (Lk.5:6, Jn.21:11), improperly prepared wineskins (Mt.9:17), an alabaster container (Mk.14:3), the chains of a demon-possessed man (Mk.5:4), branches from an olive tree (Rom.11:17,19,20), a house invaded by thieves (Mt.24:43, Lk.12:39), and a bone of the Passover lamb (Jn.19:36.) The Law of Moses (Jn.7:23), the Sabbath (Jn.5:18), and the Scripture (Jn.10:35) use a different word, luo, which has many other uses, most frequently with the sense of being released, set free, or made of no effect. But the term “broken”, is never applied to “the world”, and very rarely to people. The only references involving people are Mt.21:44 and its parallel in Lk.20:18, warning of the results of an unfriendly encounter with “the stone the builders rejected”, and Jesus’ announcement (Lk.4:18) that “healing the broken-hearted” was integral to his mission. (Is it, to ours?)

This brief survey covers all five “word families” traditionally rendered “broken” – klao / klaomai / klasma; suntribo / suntribomai; sunthlaomai; diorusso; and schizo (for this last, please also see #127). Only klao appears more than twice with this translation. Suntribo is also rendered “bruised” in Mt.12:20 (Jesus won’t break a bruised reed); Lk.9:39 (the injury of a child by an evil spirit), and Rom.16:20 (the promise of Satan’s ultimate defeat!)
So the word “break/broken” does occur – but there is simply no New Testament reference to either a “broken world” or “broken lives.”

The fervor with which this subject is usually addressed, however, leads me to wonder whether it is not just the plain, old-fashioned Calvinist “original sin” story, re-cast in language deemed more acceptable to contemporary thought. That story is not derived from the New Testament, either, as we saw in word studies 3,5,7, 23, 27, 34, 88, 120, 121, 128, and 141. And may I remind you that even using the very latest of proposed estimates of the dating of New Testament manuscripts, our present New Testament pre-dates Mr. Calvin by more than a thousand years, and consequently is bound to be closer to the “real” story!

Just as surely as our Lord Jesus came to TAKE AWAY old-fashioned “sins” (#7), he certainly has also TAKEN AWAY whatever more euphemistic brokenness” exists. To use the term “broken” without any regard for who “broke” what, constitutes avoidance (whether deliberate or not is not mine to say) of personal responsibility. The first three chapters of Romans make abundantly clear that the futility to which all creation – including people – is presently subject, is the result, NOT of some inherent, inborn defect, but of willful ignorance of the ways and intentions of the Creator.

We do not live in a world that has been “broken” by some invasive, external force, but in a world whose people have selfishly and deliberately chosen (Rom. 1,2,3) to flaunt the gracious plans of its Creator, and to submit rather to the power of darkness.
But this is the very power – the very futility – from which the Lord Jesus rescued us, when he installed us as citizens of his Kingdom! The glorious announcements are all cast in past tenses (Gal.1:4, Col.1:13, I Pet.1:18, and many others)! It is also this same rescue for which the rest of the creation waits with eager anticipation (Rom.8:20).

Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage!” (Gal.5:1, KJV).

I refer you specifically to the conclusions proposed in #141, as relevant here as well. In order properly to function in the Kingdom, the Lord’s people must quit digging themselves into a hole, whether they call it “sinfulness” or “humility” or “brokenness”, and work at moving on toward maturity!

We must learn to distinguish between the errors of deliberate disobedience, the “former life” which was put to death and buried in our baptism (Rom.6:4), and errors of simple immaturity, which will be superseded as we learn to “walk in newness of life”.
Ironically, the folks who make the most noise about being “born again” seem blissfully unaware that new life – of whatever kind – is never “born” as a fully mature individual!
Admonitions to “grow up!” (I Pet.2:2, II Pet.3:18, Eph.4:15), and to “put off” old behavior and “put on” new (I Cor.13:11, 15:53; Gal.3:27, Eph.4:20-25, Col.3:8, 10-12; I Thes.5:8) abound throughout the New Testament text.

We have a choice, folks! We are not victims of a “broken” status quo.

Where will you expend your efforts?

Forget the lamentations over what is/was “broken”.

Let’s choose to “grow up” into life!

Word Study #155 — Anointing

August 11, 2012

It has become common, in some circles, to enthuse effusively about an “anointed meeting”, “anointed” preaching or singing, or some other type of flamboyant performance. The speaker / writer is usually describing some sort of emotional high, the achievement of which is interpreted as being Spirit- induced, and therefore assumed to be desirable. Others credit (or blame) a “strong anointing” or “heavy anointing” for an irresistible impulse to speak or act in an unusual manner, implying that they are following the Lord’s direction. This is yet another popular concept that is completely absent from the New Testament text.
While it is true that there are occasions described in the Old Testament in which bizarre behavior is attributed to “the spirit of the Lord” (Jdg.14:6,19; 15:14; I Sam.10:10-11, 19:24), the term “anointing” is not used.

“Anointing” was used, under the old covenant, for the selection and coronation of kings, the dedication of artifacts (tabernacle, temple, or their furnishings), and the appointment of priests. Except for the few instances where it refers simply to personal hygiene (Ruth 3:3, Mic.6:15), it was the act of a prophet or other leader. Only rarely (Ps.45:7, Is.61:1) is God himself the actor.

There are no such incidents described in the New Testament at all. Bizarre or uncontrolled behavior is never attributed to the Holy Spirit. In fact, the only references to out-of-control behavior are recognized overtly as an attack by an evil spirit (Mt.17:14-18 and parallels; Mt.8:28-29 and parallels, Ac.19:13-16). In fact, Paul’s sensible instructions for public meetings include admonitions to the careful exercise of control (I Cor.14).
The word “anoint” does appear several times, however, so it behooves us to examine what is intended by its use. Please notice that the direct object of “anoint” is almost exclusively the Lord Jesus himself, unless he is the subject.

New Testament occurrences represent five different Greek verbs: aleipho, egchrio, epichrio, murizo, and chrio, and only one single noun, chrisma. (This is NOT the same word as charisma,with which some people confuse it.)

Historically, aleipho, the most commonly used of the words, was an athletics-derived practice: the rubbing of one’s body with oil in preparation for gymnastic training or competition. In New Testament usage, it referred to simple personal hygiene (Mt.6:17), to honoring a guest with extra attention after the normal courtesy of washing his feet (Lk.7:38,46; Jn.11:2, 12:3), or the preparation of a body for burial (Mk.16:1). Mark (14:8) also uses murizo in this latter sense – its only New Testament appearance.
Aleipho, egchrio, and epichrio all describe the therapeutic application of any substance in connection with physical healing, whether by disciples (Mk.6:13), or elders (Jas.5:14), or by Jesus himself (Jn.9:6,11), as well as in Jesus’ instructions to the (willfully) blind church of Laodicea (Rv.3:18).

Only the un-prefixed form of chrio is used in what might be called a “spiritual” sense. Lexically, this word was also used of the cosmetic and hygienic application of oil, but additionally includes the symbolic expression of “anointing in token of consecration.” I think it is significant that four of its five appearances refer overtly and specifically to Jesus having been “anointed” by God.

Jesus himself made that claim, in quoting Isaiah’s prophecy upon the inauguration of his ministry (Lk.4:18). The folks at the prayer meeting (Ac.4:27) when Peter was delivered from prison bore testimony to the same fact, as did Peter in his sermon at Cornelius’ home (Ac.10:38), and the writer to the Hebrews (1:9). Only Paul (II Cor.1:21 ) extends the term to “us” – the faithful – and it is clearly considered a part of our incorporation into the Body of Christ (perhaps the means of that incorporation). Read vv.20-22 as a unit. Notice that in no instance is either privilege or responsibility conferred upon any individual except Jesus!

The adjective, christos, universally rendered “Christ”, of course, is related etymologically, and is never used of anyone but the Lord Jesus, except in the occasional claim of an impostor (Mt.24:5 and parallels).

There remain for consideration only the three occurrences of the noun, chrisma – all of which occur in John’s first letter (I Jn.2:20, 27) – twice traditionally translated “anointing” and once “unction”. Yes, that is the ONLY New Testament use of the word.
From 2:18 through the end of the chapter, John is addressing the issue of deserters, deceivers, and deceptive teaching. He reminds his readers that they (together – it is plural!) are already equipped to sort out questions of faithfulness. He had quoted Jesus in his gospel account, explaining that the Holy Spirit / “Spirit of Truth” would be coming for the purpose of guiding his people (Jn.16:13) “IN (not “into”) all truthfulness.” Here is another of many places where prepositions matter! Faithful disciples do not need to be led INTO truth: that is the sphere they already inhabit, by virtue of their commitment to Jesus and his Kingdom. But they / we will always need to be led properly to function IN the truth, as different challenges / situations will require differing responses.

Enabling this discernment is a major function of the Holy Spirit, who, I believe, personifies the “anointing” to which John refers here. Notice how the “job description” in v.27 matches the Jn.16 passage.

Notice also the results of the anointing, when applied to the people of God: occasional physical healing (Jas.5), incorporation into the Body of Christ (II Cor.1), and the discernment necessary to function appropriately in that Body (I Jn.2).

As we have seen so frequently elsewhere, in every case, the mortal recipients of the “anointing” are addressed in the plural. It is neither a gold medal awarded, nor a position of power or status granted, to any individual, but rather the gracious enabling provided to the gathered citizens of the Kingdom, in their mutual quest for faithfulness to their anointed King!

Thanks be to God!

Word Study #154 — “It is Finished!”

August 4, 2012

For far too long, these words, quoted by John as Jesus’ final statement from the cross, have been represented as if they were a pathetic whimper of abject submission to the unmitigated evil which sincere, but misguided, interpreters insist that God inflicted upon his Son in vicarious (one could just as well say “vicious”!) punishment for the offenses of mankind.
Woven skillfully into closely reasoned doctrinal positions, most of which bear no resemblance whatever to anything that Jesus himself said or taught, the resulting package has been accepted without question, despite its absurdly circular reasoning, as authoritative “proof” of those systems, and consequently has escaped serious examination.

The two words traditionally translated “finish”, teleioo and teleo – treated briefly in the studies on “perfection / maturity” (#13) and “fulfillment” (#108), both of which make more frequent use of pleroo – have a distinctly different flavor. Lexically, teleioo generally carries the freight of completion, (hence its frequent parallel with pleroo, referring to maturity and commonly translated “perfect”), while teleo leans more toward the idea of accomplishment, although the lines between those two are not easily defined.

Although he makes no reference to the spectacular splitting of the temple veil (#127 and Chapter 8 of Citizens of the Kingdom) mentioned by all the synoptic writers, John nevertheless displays a unique understanding of what is “finished.” Not only is he the only writer to quote this statement from the cross, but earlier, he had also noted Jesus’ telling the disciples (4:34), “My food is that I may do the will of the one that sent me, and that I may finish / complete his work!”, and replying to the Pharisees’ challenge (5:36) “The work that the Father gave me to finish: these deeds testify about me, that the Father has sent me.” Both of these are purpose clauses, employing aorist subjunctive forms.
As Jesus prayed (17:4), “I glorified you on earth (by) finishing the work that you gave me to do,” the verb is aorist indicative, indicating past, completed action.
But notice that at the time of that statement, Jesus had not yet died or arisen! What, then, was “finished”? (Jn.19:28-30)

For a partial answer, please refer back to #23, where we explored Jesus own version of his purpose, which is quite different from the condensed and distorted version usually promulgated. Additional light can be gleaned from Luke’s use of teleo, where it was traditionally translated “accomplished” (12:50, 18:31, 22:37), describing respectively an unexplained reference to an impending “baptism” (usually assumed to involve his suffering), to the fulfillment of prophecy “about the Son of Man”, and to “all that has been written about me”. Each of these is related in some way to a prophetic message: however, the second, with its parallels in Mt.20:17-19 and Mk.10:32-34, requires particular attention.
While the Matthew and Mark accounts specifically refer to Jesus’ betrayal and execution, Luke’s account does not. Instead, he records Jesus’ forecast that when they get to Jerusalem, “everything that has been written about me will be completed / fulfilled / finished”! If Jesus is correct – and I believe he always is – then there remains no “unfulfilled prophecy” from the ancient writings! And the folks who confidently construct future scenarios out of Old Testament prophecies, are seriously out-of-line.

This observation is corroborated by Jesus’ own words mentioned above in John’s gospel, as well as by his earlier statements (Mt.11:13, Lk.16:16) that “the law and the prophets were (in effect) until John” (the Baptist).

Please note this in no way discredits genuine New Testament prophecy, whether articulated by Jesus himself (Mt.24, 25; Mk.13, Lk.21, and elsewhere), or by various ones of his followers (parts of the Revelation and epistles) – although as Brother Paul reminds us (I Cor.14), we do need to be careful to evaluate what is represented to be prophetic. (See #45). And it does raise questions about folks who, ignorant of history, label many of the earlier writings as “yet to be fulfilled”. I venture to contend that the Lord Jesus represents authority and understanding far greater than theirs!

So – what was “finished”, when he proclaimed it so, and deliberately dismissed his “spirit / breath” (pneuma) (Jn.19:30)?
Exactly what he had declared in his prayer the previous evening: “I finished the work you gave me to do!” He had introduced the Kingdom designed by his Father to “the people you gave me out of the world” (Jn.17:6), and equipped them to carry on that Kingdom’s work. He had inaugurated a “demonstration project” to make his Kingdom accessible to the world. He had thereby finished / fulfilled the purpose of his Incarnation, and set the stage for its next installment (#150).
He had set the ultimate example of selfless obedience (Phil.2:6-8), so that the only “unfinished” thing remaining was (Phil.2:9-11) in the hands of the Father, who would shortly validate the whole affair by effecting his Son’s triumphant resurrection, and with it the definitive defeat of death and despair.

It is for this reason that I urge you to take another look at this “last word”, and at least entertain the possibility that, far from a “last gasp” of surrender or defeat, it is rather a shout of triumph!
The synoptics are unanimous in characterizing the departure of Jesus’ spirit as energetic, and not as a feeble expiration due to his terrible suffering. Mt.27:50 records “shouting with a loud voice”. Mk.15:37, “letting out a great shout”, and Lk.23:46, “shouting in a loud voice”, even though only John recorded the actual words of that climactic shout.
Jn.19:28 : “Jesus knew that everything had already been completed, in order for the Scripture to be fulfilled …” and announced in glorious victory, “It is finished!” (19:30) Having successfully crossed that “finish line”, he sat down at the right hand of God, (Heb.10:13) – you sit down when the work is all done! – , where “all he has to do now is wait until his enemies are placed as a stool for his feet!”

It is finished!”

Praise the Lord!