Friday, June 09, 2023

The Vision (6.9.23): Barabbas


Image: "Devil's Walking Stick," North Garden, Virginia, June 2023

Note: Devotion taken from sermon on Sunday, May 28, 2023.

Matthew 27:15 Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.

16 And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.

17 Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ.

The Passover was a festival of liberation, remembering how the Israelites had been set free from their bondage in Egypt by their savior Moses. So, the release of a prisoner at this time seemed a fitting custom.

Even Pilate, a battle-hardened soldier known for his personal cruelty and ruthlessness, could clearly see that the Lord Jesus posed no threat to the common good. This custom seemed to pose the perfect opportunity, the perfect loophole, to arrange the release of Christ from the penalty of death. Surely the people would choose to free Jesus rather than another prisoner he held named Barabbas.

He is mentioned in all four Gospels (cf. Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:13-25; and John 18:39-40), and we learn more of him in the other accounts:

Mark 15:7 says, “And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.”

Luke 23:19 says of him, “(Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.)”

John says simply in John 18:40b, “Now Barabbas was a robber.”

Even his name is spiritually significant. Barabbas is an Aramaic or Semitic name, composed of two words.

First, there is the word Bar, which means “son.” Peter was known as “Simon Bar-jonah” or “Son of Jonah” (Matthew 16:17). Maybe you’ve heard of the contemporary Jewish practice of a Bar mitzvah, when a Jewish boy is made a “Son of the covenant.”

Second, there is word abbas, which comes from the word abba, which means “Father.” Mark tells us that when Christ was praying in Gethsemane he cried out “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36).

So, Jesus is the Son of God, and Barabbas means “Son of the Father.”

In the end the people chose to release Barabbas (v. 21: “They said Barabbas”). We see in v. 26a Pilate’s final decision: “Then released he Barabbas unto them.”

We cannot overlook the spiritual depths of this decision. The just and sinless man, the Lord Jesus Christ, would go to the cross, while the sinful and guilty man, Barabbas, would be set free.

It pictures for us what will happen writ large on the cross. It pictures what the theologians call the penal substitutionary death of Christ on the cross.

We are all Barabbas. We were guilty sinners, deserving of God’s wrath, and we were set free, while Christ, the sinless and just man, died in our place. In Romans 5:8 Paul says, “But commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Let us grasp hold anew today to the depths of the salvation that is in Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, June 08, 2023

WM 284: Eusebian Canons, Mark's Ending, Mark 15:28, & Luke 23:34a


Notes for this episode:

The Eusebian Canons:

In this episode I want to make a few brief comments drawn from my recent reading through Francis Watson’s The Fourfold Gospel: A Theological Reading of the New Testament Portraits of Jesus (Baker Academic, 2016).

As the subtitle indicates, this volume offers a series of theological reflections on the four Gospels and their relationship to one another. The author is a mainstream NT scholar at Durham University with whom I certainly do not agree on everything, but the book still provides many helpful insights.

One aspect of the book that is rather unique is the fact that in the second half, Watson gives emphasis to how the Eusebian canons give insight into ancient understandings and interpretations of the fourfold Gospel.

The Eusebian canons were composed by Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-c. 340), the “father of church history,” best known for his Ecclesiastical History, and it was among the earliest attempts to provide a cross-referencing system and a harmony among the four Gospels, long before the development of modern printed Bibles with their chapter and verse divisions and in-text cross-references.

Eusebius had adapted his canons from an even earlier one composed by Ammonius of Alexandria.

These canons appeared in mss. (Greek and versions) for about a thousand years.

The canons are included in the front matter of the NA 28, along with Eusebius’s Epistle to Carpianus (in Greek) which introduces the layout of the canons.

There are 10 separate canons which group various passages in the Gospels along with their parallels. Canon I has passages that appear in all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); Canon II has passages that appear in the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke); etc. The final Canon X consists of four sub-canons which list passages that are unique to each individual Gospel.

Then, in the text of the NA 28, references to these canons are listed on the inside margin of each page with two numbers (top and bottom). The top number provides a sequential reference for the passage and the bottom number provides the reference to the canon where the passage is located.

It seems there has been a revival of interest in these canons and in examination even of how they influenced early Christian reception and interpretation of the Fourfold Gospel. Some are even giving credit to Eusebius and his canons for solidifying the canonical consensus on the fourfold Gospel.

For a very recent work on this subject, see Jeremiah Coogan’s Eusebius the Evangelist; Rewriting the Fourfold Gospel in Late Antiquity (Oxford, 2023).

The Eusebian Canons and the Ending of Mark:

If you have ever done any research or study relating to the traditional ending of Mark, you have probably heard as one of the arguments against its authenticity is that it is not included in the Eusebian canons.

We know that Eusebius was well aware of controversy over the ending of Mark. One key evidence of this is his Letter to Marinus in which he discusses the fact that the ending is disputed by some. Interestingly enough, he says that the source of the controversy had to do with harmonizing Matthew and Mark with respect to the timing of the resurrection (Matt 28:1 “at the end of the Sabbath” and Mark 16:2 “And when the sabbath was past” and Mark 16:9 “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week”).

This letter is the first hint of controversy over the TE that lasts till c. 500. Clearly the TE was known from earliest times (see its citation in Irenaeus’s Against Heresies).

So, the absence of the TE in Eusebius’ canons is given as an argument against its authenticity, though it is ironic that these canons appear in various Greek and versional mss. which nonetheless include the TE.

The Eusebian Canons and other disputed passages:

The thing that struck me in reading Watson is the fact that he points out that the Eusebian canons make reference to several passages whose authenticity is challenged by modern critics.

Here are two examples:

The first is Mark 15:28 “And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors” and its citation of Isaiah 53:12.

This verse is removed from the modern critical text on the assumption that it is harmonization with Luke 22:37 “For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end.

Watson points out, however, that Mark 15:28 is listed in Canon VIII which shows parallels between Mark and Luke. So Mark 15:28 is listed as 216/VIII and Luke 22:37 as 277/VIII.

This is not to say that Watson accepts the authenticity of Mark 15:28. He thinks it is “transplanted” from Luke (154). Still, it is striking that the Eusebian canons are a witness in favor of inclusion.

The second is Christ’s intercessory prayer in Luke 23:34a, “Father, forgiven them; for they know not what they do.” I did a talk on this passage last year for the TBS in London.

Watson points out that this passage is present in the Eusebian canons listed as 320/X. He observes, “Although the passage is missing from some early manuscripts and may be a later insertion, it was present in Eusebius’ text and is identified in his analysis as a passage unique to Luke” (156). Watson further notes that this prayer fits thematically with earlier teaching of Jesus in Luke, including love of enemy (156).

Concluding Thoughts:

I was really intrigued by Watson’s insights on what the Eusebian canons reveal to us about ancient understandings of the Gospels.

I am no expert on the canons, but I think it would be interesting do further study see what other “disputed” passages appear in the canons.

Given the information in the Letter to Marinus it is unsurprising that Mark 16:9-20 is not labelled in the canons.

It seems, however, that the evidence from the canons has not always been consistently used by some scholars and apologists. Though I have heard many cite the absence of Mark 16:9-20 from the canons to justify a verdict of that passage’s secondary nature, I have not heard those same scholars make reference to the presence of passages like Mark 15:28 and Luke 23:34a in the canons to justify the conclusion that those passages are original and authentic (though, as noted, Watson seems to lean that way with regard to Luke 23:34a).


Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists.2.9-11: Harmonizing the Infancy Narratives



In this episode, we are looking at Book 2, chapter 9-11where Augustine addresses several points where some readers might see apparent contradictions in the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke.

2.9: An explanation of the circumstance that Matthew states that Joseph’s reason for going into Galilee with the child Christ was his fear of Archelaus, who was reigning at that time in Jerusalem in place of his father, while Luke tells us that the reason for his going into Galilee was the fact that their city Nazareth was there.

This brief chapter continues the discussion concerning Archelaus which began in 2.8. Augustine harmonizes Matthew’s account of Joseph’s fear of going into Judea given the reign of Archelaus, the angelic warning, and the decision to go into Galilee (Matthew 2:22) with Luke’s account noting that Mary and Joseph were originally from Nazareth of Galilee.  He suggests that if there had not been fear of Archelaus, they might instead have settled in Jerusalem, where the temple was.

2.10: A statement of the reason why Luke tells us that His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover along with the boy; while Matthew intimates that their dread of Archelaus made them afraid to go there on their return from Egypt.

Augustine must have known of some critics who saw the mention of Archelaus in Matthew as somehow being at odds with Luke’s account on various levels including the mention of the family’s frequent trips to Jerusalem. Augustine notes that none of the Evangelists reveal how long Archelaus reigned. Thus, he  might have had only a short reign. If it was longer, the family might have gone up stealthily, without drawing notice to themselves. If this were the case, it only magnifies their piety and faithfulness, despite these threats. Objections to the harmony of Matthew and Luke are not insuperable.

2.11: An examination of the question as to how it was possible for them to go up, according to Luke’s statement, with Him to Jerusalem to the temple, when the days of the purification of the mother of Christ were accomplished, in order to perform the usual rites, if it is correctly recorded by Matthew, that Herod had already learned from the wise men that the child was born in whose stead, when he sought for Him, he slew so many children.

Augustine here tackles another perceived difficulty. How did the family of Jesus go to the temple in Jerusalem for purification if Herod was threatening his life? Augustine offers several explanations. One is that Herod would have been too busy with other royal affairs to notice their visit. Another is that he might not yet have been aware of the escape of the wise men. Only after this purification rite was done and they escaped to Egypt did it enter Herod’s mind to slay the innocents. Augustine even suggests Herod might have been prompted to perform this evil act after hearing the publicity relating to the words spoken by Simeon and Anna at the infant Christ’s visit to Jerusalem.


In these three short chapters Augustine suggests various reasonable explanations as to how the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke might be fit together into a unified and harmonious narrative. Armed with such explanations one need not worry about any apparent conflicts in the story but receive them as being in symphony with one another.


Saturday, June 03, 2023

WM 283: An error in Matthew 27:9?


Outline of notes:

1. Introduction: An error in Matthew 27:9?

2. Review of Protestent commentaries: A "hard knot" to untie

3. Towards a solution that upholds Biblical infallibility

4. Conclusion:

In the end, Matthew 27:9 was not considered a controversial matter in the days of early Christianity. As Metzger put it, the traditional text was “firmly established,” and it raised no serious questions about the infallibility of Scripture.

We can safely assume this same pre-critical posture in our generation.

In the end, the most reasonable explanation as to why the reference is given in Matthew 27:9 to Jeremiah when the quotes which follows is taken from Zechariah, is the fact that Matthew and his hearers would have been accustomed to making reference to the whole of the prophets by use of the name Jeremiah as a reference to the whole corpus of prophetic writings.


Friday, June 02, 2023

Vision (6.2.23): Pilate's Wife


Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 27:15-25.

When he [Pilate] was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him (Matthew 27:19).

One of the unique details provided by Matthew in his account of Christ’s passion is the reference to Pilate’s wife and the message she sent to her husband in the midst of our Lord’s trial.

Notice four things about this:

First, she declared that the Lord Jesus is a “just [righteous] man.” This is a reminder to any who read this account that Christ had committed no actual transgression. He was not worthy of death in any sense (cf. Rom 6:23 where Paul says the wages of sin is death; Christ committed no sin; he was undeserving of death).

Her testimony of Christ’s innocence comes on the heels of that of another unbeliever, Judas, who said to the Jewish leaders, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood” (27:4).

Second, there is an ironic contrast in that this pagan woman sees and acknowledges something that the Jewish men who serve in elite offices as chief priests and elders cannot see and refuse to acknowledge.

Third, she claims that her conscience has been burdened, suffering all day about this matter because of “a dream” she received. This is another ironic contrast with the Jewish leaders, because they have the Scriptures and the all the things which the prophets wrote about Christ (cf. 26:24: “The Son of man goeth as it is written about him”), but they do not recognize him. All this woman had was an extra-biblical experience, apart from Scripture, and yet she understood that Christ is a just man (cf. Romans 2:14-15).

Fourth, she anticipates many Gentile women who will eventually come to recognize, trust, and serve the crucified and risen Christ. Luke, for example, will say of Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, “And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few” (Acts 17:4).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, May 26, 2023

The Vision (5.26.23): The false "repentance" of Judas


Note: Devotional taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 27:1-14.

“Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself…” (Matthew 27:3a).

Judas stands in the Gospel accounts as a prototype for the “false professor.” What privileges and advantages had been given to him, to be close to Christ and an eyewitness of his ministry! In the end, however, Judas showed that he was not a genuine disciple.

Did he betray Christ because he thought it might spur a revolt against the Romans? We do not know. Matthew does tell us that when Judas saw that Christ was condemned by the chief priests and taken to the Roman governor Pilate to be crucified (as Christ had prophesied) that Judas “repented himself.”

This description stands out and might be easily misunderstood. Does this mean that Judas was filled with godly remorse? Was his conscience made tender and burdened with guilt at his sin against God? Does this correspond with the bitter tears of Peter (26:75)? Sadly, we must conclude when the situation is studied closely that there is no evidence of true “evangelical repentance” by Judas.

The verb (metamelomai) used in Matthew 27:3 to describe the “repentance” of Judas has the meaning of regret. There is no real evidence that Judas exhibited godly sorrow for what he had done to Christ. It is more accurate to say he felt sorrow for what he had done to himself. Judas had compromised his integrity and been used by the religious leaders to reach their ends, and then he felt deep regret about this.

The verb (meta-no-eo) is the term used in the New Testament to refer to evangelical repentance, godly sorrow for one’s sin that leads to a spiritual change of mind and heart, to turning away, with sincere revulsion from sin, and turning toward Christ. This is the term used in Acts 2:38 when Peter preached the cross and resurrection of Christ at Pentecost and their hearts were pricked. Peter declared, “Repent, and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins….” This is not the term, however, used to describe Judas’s “repentance.”

If Judas shed tears that day, they were crocodile tears, not the bitter tears of true repentance, which Peter wept.

The experience of Judas stands as a warning, a sign-post, for all those who falsely profess faith in Christ and who then betray the Lord. Their end is disgust and destruction.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle