Blood and Water

Blood and waterI have continued to be more deeply convinced that giving undue historical emphasis in explaining texts leads in a direction not normally intended by the writers of Scripture. A case in point came to mind in a recent conversation with two of my students. One was reading a volume Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (David C. Cook, 2013) by J. Warner Wallace. I have not read this volume so I can make no claims about its contents. It simply spurred the conversation. We were discussing the historical intent of the crucifixion narratives of the various writers and specifically we discussed John’s account of Jesus death and how when the Romans came to him they found he was already dead so instead of breaking his legs (as would be necessary to bring about a quick death due to asphyxiation which might normally take days for the crucified to succumb to under normal conditions) one of them pierced him with a spear and the text says “blood and water flowed out immediately” (John 19:34 NET, emphasis mine).
Why does John emphasize that blood and water flowed from Jesus side? He is after all the only writer of the story of Jesus in the canonical accounts to mention this. John states right afterward that “the person who saw it has testified (and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth), so that you also may believe” (John 19:35 NET). He writes with theological intent to convince his audience to trust in the Lord Jesus and also to know that this particular witness is trustworthy. So why does John tell us that “blood and water” came from Jesus side? Why doesn’t he just say “blood”? Is he trying to saying something more specific about the death of Jesus?
There are numerous accounts I have read and heard where it is proposed that John is simply saying that Jesus was truly dead and this is typically followed by an attempted forensic pathology discussion of how one’s body reacts post-mortem. However, this seems to do an injustice to John’s specific intent. Not that it isn’t John’s intent at all to speak of the certainty of Jesus death (it seems to be a part of it) and therefore the certainty of resurrection, but to treat the account as if this is all it really is saying. John seems to be doing more than simply providing some historical claim to “blood and water”.
The following note found in the New English Translation is helpful in placing John’s comments within their greater Johannine context:

101 sn How is the reference to the blood and water that flowed out from Jesus’ side to be understood? This is probably to be connected with the statements in 1 John 5:6–8. In both passages water, blood, and testimony are mentioned. The Spirit is also mentioned in 1 John 5:7 as the source of the testimony, while here the testimony comes from one of the disciples ( 19:35). The connection between the Spirit and the living water with Jesus’ statement of thirst just before he died in the preceding context has already been noted (see 19:28). For the author, the water which flowed out of Jesus’ side was a symbolic reference to the Holy Spirit who could now be given because Jesus was now glorified (cf. 7:39); Jesus had now departed and returned to that glory which he had with the Father before the creation of the world (cf. 17:5). The mention of blood recalls the motif of the Passover lamb as a sacrificial victim. Later references to sacrificial procedures in the Mishnah appear to support this: m. Pesahim 5:3 and 5:5 state that the blood of the sacrificial animal should not be allowed to congeal but should flow forth freely at the instant of death so that it could be used for sprinkling; m. Tamid 4:2 actually specifies that the priest is to pierce the heart of the sacrificial victim and cause the blood to come forth. (NET)

When we look at a sampling of the Church Fathers on this passage we discover a decidedly unhistorical intent rules their exegesis (or better, a decidedly theological intent rules their exegesis). None of them denies the historicity, but each in turn recognizes a greater theological intent to John’s including this detail.
Tertullian (On Baptism XVI) writes: “For He had come “by means of water and blood,” just as John has written; that He might be baptized by the water, glorified by the blood; to make us, in like manner, called by water, chosen by blood. These two baptisms He sent out from the wound in His pierced side, in order that they who believed in His blood might be bathed with the water; they who had been bathed in the water might likewise drink the blood.”
Augustine (Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John): “Three things then we know to have issued from the Body of the Lord when He hung upon the tree: first, the spirit: of which it is written, “And He bowed the head and gave up the spirit:”  then, as His side was pierced by the spear, “blood and water.” Which three things if we look at as they are in themselves, they are in substance several and distinct, and therefore they are not one. But if we will inquire into the things signified by these, there not unreasonably comes into our thoughts the Trinity itself, which is the One, Only, True, Supreme God, Father and Son and Holy Ghost, of whom it could most truly be said, “There are Three Witnesses, and the Three are One:” so that by the term Spirit we should understand God the Father to be signified; as indeed it was concerning the worshipping of Him that the Lord was speaking, when He said, “God is a Spirit:” by the term, blood, the Son; because “the Word was made flesh:” and by the term water, the Holy Ghost; as, when Jesus spake of the water which He would give to them that thirst, the evangelist saith, “But this said He of the Spirit which they that believed on Him were to receive.” Moreover, that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are “Witnesses,” who that believes the Gospel can doubt, when the Son saith, “I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me, He beareth witness of me.” Where, though the Holy Ghost is not mentioned yet He is not to be thought separated from them. Howbeit neither concerning the Spirit hath He kept silence elsewhere, and that He too is a witness hath been sufficiently and openly shown. For in promising Him He said, “He shall bear witness of me.” These are the “Three Witnesses,” and the Three are One, because of one substance. But whereas, the signs by which they were signified came forth from the Body of the Lord, herein they figured the Church preaching the Trinity, that it hath one and the same nature: since these Three in threefold manner signified are One, and the Church that preacheth them is the Body of Christ. In this manner then the three things by which they are signified came out from the Body of the Lord: like as from the Body of the Lord sounded forth the command to “baptize the nations in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” “In the name:” not, In the names: for “these Three are One,” and One God is these Three. And if in any other way this depth of mystery which we read in John’s epistle can be expounded and understood agreeably with the Catholic faith, which neither confounds nor divides the Trinity, neither believes the substances diverse nor denies that the persons are three, it is on no account to be rejected. For whenever in Holy Scriptures in order to exercise the minds of the faithful any thing is put darkly, it is to be joyfully welcomed if it can be in many ways but not unwisely expounded.”
Cyril (in his Catechetical Letters) writes of baptism (water) and martyrdom (blood) as the referents in this passage. This doesn’t mean he understood it as a non-historical event, but only that he saw in John’s comments something more. In fact, he saw a theological agenda intended to speak to the place of the Church in the sufferings of Christ: identifying with Christ through baptism and martyrdom.
John of Damascus writes in the context of the “water and Spirit” (drawing a link to John 3) that these two (blood and water) refer to “water for our regeneration, and the washing away of sin and corruption; and blood to drink as the hostage of life eternal.” This is a decidedly sacramental (baptism and eucharist) hearing of the text. Again, this is not to suggest that John of Damascus denied the historicity of this event, but to note he hears something more in the words of the Gospel writer.  John of Damascus also places this firmly within the context of the endowment of the Spirit in connection with the washing of the waters of baptism (not identifying Spirit and water baptism, but connecting them as both essential features of the Christian life; perhaps this is a reflection of the later theological gloss in 1 John 5:6-8).
Jerome (A Commentary on the Apostle’s Creed 23): “It is written that when the side of Jesus was pierced “He shed thereout blood and water.” This has a mystical meaning. For Himself had said, “Out of His belly shall flow rivers of living water.” But He shed forth blood also, of which the Jews sought that it might be upon themselves and upon their children. He shed forth water, therefore, which might wash believers; He shed forth blood also which might condemn unbelievers. Yet it might be understood also as prefiguring the twofold grace of baptism, one that which is given by the baptism of water, the other that which is sought through martyrdom in the outpouring of blood, for both are called baptism. But if you ask further why our Lord is said to have poured forth blood and water from His side rather than from any other member, I imagine that by the rib in the side the woman is signified. Since the fountain of sin and death proceeded from the first woman, who was the rib of the first Adam, the fountain of redemption and life is drawn from the rib of the second Adam.”
So I guess what I’m getting at is that there may be a “thicker reading” of the text (see Kevin Van Hoozer’s numerous works on this term) than simply John making a historical claim (which he is). He may be heard to make the claim of Christ’s fullest provision for the sanctification of His Church in the outflow of blood and water from his side. It is these that bear witness to us: the blood and the water.
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Related articles:
Beyond the Historical Grammatical Malaise
On Theological Interpretation and Authorial Intent
Hearing Scripture Together

On Theological Interpretation and Authorial Intent

I offer the following several paragraphs from my M.Div.Honours thesis concerning an essential aspect of the nature of theological interpretation:

The primary intent of Scripture (i.e., the theological intent) is normative for a proper interpretation that regards authorial intent with due respect. If the theological meaning and significance were excluded from one’s interpretation this would suggest that the reading of Scripture is not to be read as Scripture, but simply as objectified artifact.Certainly the Scriptures can be read in this manner with some benefit, but it fails to grapple with original intent. This “original intent” does not pertain to any fabricated attempt to get behind the text to an undocumented “original” of the text, but understands the text to offer its own implied author and audience. The implied author and audience are suggestive for how one should read the text. Any other manner of reading the text may be helpful in other studies, but is not ultimately helpful for reading the text as Scripture and therefore theologically. [1]

The failure to read Scripture theologically may in fact explain much of the maelstrom of debate surrounding Gen 1, specifically concerning the use of yôm. A theological reading understands there is more to be interpreted than simply one term in relation to other terms or in relation to genre, but also recognizes the grounding of any reading within the overall cultural, sociological and conceptual worldview as the text has been preserved. The context and genre provide the means by which one should arrive at any proper theological interpretation. It would seem that many fail to understand the importance of the theological intent of a given passage. This, more often than not, leads one to inadequately interpret the theological meaning of the passage and thus the intended theological significance of the passage. “When it comes to the Bible, the energy necessary to ‘hear clearly’ may be considerable, especially given the Bible’s ‘remove’ from the listener’s own language, literary traditions, and culture.” [2] In fact, the “ability to ask the proper questions presupposes that we come to the text with the proper expectations, and this in turn presupposes that we make an effort to bridge the spatio-temporal gap by developing, as best we can, an ancient linguistic-literary-cultural competence.” [3]
(To read more: Go HERE)
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[1] Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress,1979), 72-76, 132-135; C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), 36, 37.
[2] V. Phillips Long, “History and Hermeneutics: How Then Should We Read the Bible‘Historically’?,” in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation: Six Volumes in One (ed., Moisés Silva;Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 394.
[3] Long, “History and Hermeneutics,” in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, 394.
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Beyond the Historical Grammatical Malaise

English: Icon of Jesus Christ
English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things which has long bothered me about “historical-grammatical” (HG) methods of interpretation is the sense that it presupposes itself to offer a “scientific” approach to Scripture.  While the methods of HG can not simply be ignored in the context we find ourselves in (nor should they be)…they simply can not be allowed to dominate our study and exposition of Scripture.  What one needs is to be conformed into the image of Christ by the hearing of the Word.  It is the making of the “virtuous reader” who is formed by this text through the enabling of the Spirit who inspired and now illuminates these words.  Two particular things come to mind:
There must be humility in our hermeneutics that simply doesn’t seem present (or at least dominant) in the HG methods. It is the openness not simply to hear the text, but to be changed by the text, and by being changed to re-hear the text anew.  This is not to be confused with the notion of unthinking embrace, but to genuinely take great care in hearing and therefore being transformed in that hearing.  We are not to “check our brains at the door” of interpretation…we are to use all we have been given (knowledge, wisdom, experience) for the purpose of interpretation.  In the giving of our whole selves to the Spirit we can then be remade (wholly) by that same Spirit.
Love must define our hermeneutic.  This is another component that just seems lacking in the HG methodology. If our interpretation does not drive us to love God and neighbor more fully, than we are not interpreting in a manner befitting the revelation of Scripture. Too often the HG school of interpretation would have us believe that we must be “objective” (as in removed from the text), but we are subjects both confronted and embraced by the subject of the text as the living voice of the living God. This is a hermeneutics of relationality, not of scientific abstractions.  Our affections are called to the obedience of Christ…to the sanctifying work of Christ’s Spirit in and through us by this Word.  To interpret correctly is to respond correctly is to love correctly.

Hearing Scripture Together

A sower went out to sow
A sower went out to sow (Photo credit: Fergal of Claddagh)

I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading about (and application of) theological interpretation over the last short while (see the brief bibliography below) and thought I’d share some thoughts over the next few weeks concerning some of my readings.
A thought that was particularly poignant by Joel Green (citing James McClendon) concerns the collapsing of time past, present and future for reading Scripture.  The dichotomy postulated concerning the “then” and “now” of the Biblical text and its world does not belong properly to a theological reading of the text.  The community of God which received the texts of Scripture is the same community which pertains to this day.  We stand in continuity as the one people of God.
We do this in our practice of the sacrament of Eucharist.  We partake of the supper (as it were) by the very hand of Christ Jesus who instructs us “take” and “eat”/”drink”.  We obey along with the Church throughout the ages (past and yet to come) and across the globe.  We do not simply receive it as individuals or individual congregations.  We are in continuity as “One holy, catholic and apostolic Church” and our God is a God of the living (not the dead).
It is in this same vein that McClendon states: “The present Christian community is the primitive community and the eschatological community.” [Green 2011: p.16, original emphasis]  The world of the Bible is “strange” and removed from us not so much by time, culture, language, but by our own hearing (i.e., obedience) to the voice of the Lord.  Our difficulty with Scripture is not that we have to leap over generations and cultures back to the era of Scriptural revelation, but that we must “hear what the Spirit is saying to the church”.  It is a matter of faithful and faith-filled hearing.

Brief Bibliography

Adam, A.K.M, Stephen E. Fowl, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and Francis Watson, Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006).
Briggs, Richard S., The Virtuous Reader: Old Testament Narrative and Interpretive Virtue (Studies in Theological Interpretation; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010).
Briggs, Richard S. and Joel N. Lohr, eds., A Theological Introduction to the Pentateuch: Interpreting the Torah as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012).
Green, Joel B., Practicing Theological Interpretation: Engaging Biblical Texts for Faith and Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011).
Martin, Lee Roy, The Unheard Voice of God: A Pentecostal Hearing of the Book of Judges (Blandford Forum, Dorset, UK : Deo Pub., 2008).
Seitz, Christopher R., The Character of Christian Scripture: The Significance of a Two-Testament Bible (Studies in Theological Interpretation; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011).
Thomas, John Christopher, The Apocalypse: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2012).
Treier, Daniel J., Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008).
Vanhoozer, Kevin J., Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998).
Watson, Francis, Text, Church, and World: A Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994).

The Theological Meaning and Significance of Yom in Genesis 1

I have just uploaded my Master’s thesis to Scribd for anyone interested in reading it.  Also, I’ve got a link to it on my “Writings” tab under “Theology” which can be found HERE (along with some of my other writing).  Any feedback is appreciated as I continue to reflect on this topic that I have spent the last number of years working through. 

I have been truly fortunate to study with a fine and godly OT scholar like Dr. August Konkel over these last years.  He was invaluable to the development and direction of my thesis and I pray that my work is representative of his tremendous investment into me.  I was greatly benefited also by the careful reading of all things SBL-standards related by Joel Banman (who cannot in any way be held accountable for any remaining mistakes which I may have additionally created) and the library staff of Providence Theological Seminary (thanks to Terry Kennedy and her wonderful staff).  And also I must thank Tremper Longman for his overly kind comments on my draft of this thesis and his recommendations for several key areas.

The short of it all is that it turns out “day” means and signifies far more than I had initially anticipated when I first set upon writing this thesis.  I truly do hope at some point to contribute further in a positive way to the ongoing discussion of this crucial text of Scripture and trust my thesis might serve as a launch toward that direction.