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Significance of Jesus’ Healings and Exorcisms


“What was Jesus’ Understanding of the Significance of the Healings and Exorcisms he Performed?”

Jurgen Hofmann

Total word-count: 2500


Reading the Bible, one can hardly ignore the presence of remarkable miracles. In the New Testament we find Jesus proclaiming the kingdom of God and at the same time performing many healings and exorcisms. The understanding on this topic has been discussed from one end of the spectrum to the other. From the understanding that these phenomenons were merely used by Jesus because he felt compassion with the afflicted, to the understanding that Jesus had a deep theological agenda which he demonstrated through these signs.

While examining Jesus’ understanding of the healings and exorcisms he performed, the emphasis will be on Luke’s Gospel. Luke carefully arranges his writings in order to explain Jesus’ mission. This, together with the actual miracles of Jesus, will show that Jesus’ actions were not only brought to pass out of compassion, but also as an eschatological reinterpretation of Israel.


Israel had prophets throughout her history to guide and speak God’s words to her. A prophet, who was an instrument of revelation of God, was able to do miracles and signs (Deuteronomy 34:10-12). God used prophets to look after his people and to show his mercy through the miracles they performed. There are remarkable similarities between Jesus and the Old Testament (OT) prophets. For example, in Luke 7:11-15 the parallel is quickly drawn with Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-24). There are, however, some crucial differences, such as Elijah praying for the life of the son whereas Jesus spoke with an authoritative voice: ‘Young man, I say unto thee, Arise’.1 Witnessing this great healing, it is not surprising that the people regarded Jesus as a prophet and said ‘God hath visited his people’ (Luke 7:16). Undoubtedly, Jesus was aware of the fact that he himself had the power to perform miracles. Furthermore, being brought up in the Jewish tradition he knew that the works of miracles were fundamentally linked with prophets of God and with God stretching out to his people. It was through this understanding that he saw himself as more than a prophet (Luke 11:31-32). In that respect it is safe to say that the miracles at least gave him the awareness of being a key-person or Messiah in God’s end-time reign—a reign which took place through his works.2


Luke 8:26-39
An important part of Jesus’ proclamation was exorcism. One of the exorcisms can be found in Luke 8:26-39. Here Jesus finds a man who was occupied by demons, just like Israel was occupied by gentiles. The demons begged him to be sent into a herd of pigs. Jesus allowed them, and the whole herd rushed down into the lake and drowned. When Jesus asked for the name of this demon the answer was ‘Legion’ because they were with many. This name directly draws attention to Israel’s political state—that of being occupied by the Legions of Rome. Most likely many Jews wanted to see the Romans be treated the same as these demons—drive them out of the country and destroy all their idols. Early writings demonstrate that this longing was going hand in hand with the eschatological understanding of Israel.3 Instead of answering this longing, Jesus reveals the real enemy (and battle), which are Satan and his minions.2

Finger of God
Another hint to Jesus’ understanding of the exorcisms can be found in Luke 11:17-23, were Jesus’ exorcisms are connected with the coming of the kingdom of God: ‘But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you’. The emphasis is on the ‘finger of God’. This in contrast with exorcists who used magical objects or cited the name of a holy person.5 Effectively Jesus claims that the kingdom of God has its existence in him. Lee annotates that the kingdom of God is not just a system but rather God himself.6 In this light, Craig correctly states that ‘in claiming that in himself the kingdom of God had already arrived, as visibly demonstrated by his exorcisms, Jesus was, in effect, saying that in himself God had drawn near, thus putting himself in God’s place’.7

Again one can detect the understanding that God manifests his mercy through miracles (exorcism in this case). This fundamental meaning of the exorcisms is used by Jesus to expound on a much bigger yearning—the inauguration of the kingdom of God.

Davidic Kin
The effect on the bystanders was, that they saw Jesus defeating an enemy and wondered if he could be the son of David. In effect they compared him with the one who fought the enemy on Israel’s behalf (Matthew 12:23). The early eschatological understanding was mainly about a Davidic king who would reign over Israel and the nations—the submission of evil spirits and demolishing Satan’s kingdom is absent in this early expectation. Early writings, however, show that it is in the time of Jesus that this extra dimension emerged.8 Consequently it is not uncommon for at least some of Jesus’ contemporaries to see Satan as an enemy who needs to be defeated before Gods kingdom can be established.

The aforementioned examples show that Jesus believed that the exorcisms were integral with the commencement of the kingdom of God. In addition, it seems apparent that he, because he casts out demons with such ease, is the Stronger One, and thus worthy to rule over the ‘spoils’ (Luke 11:21-22). In other words, the exorcisms are a deliberate demonstration of Jesus’ messiahship. However, the Messiah did not come with an army to annihilate Israel’s physical enemies, but rather to destroy Satan’s rule and freeing its captives (thus in fact plunder Satan’s kingdom).

House of Israel
In Luke 11:23-26 Jesus warns about returning demons. Wright states that Jesus seems to reflect on the earlier attempts of Israel to inaugurate Gods kingdom. These attempts, e.g. the Maccabaean revolt, ‘could clean up the house for a while, but they could not prevent the demons [foreign armies] returning in force.’9 Wright has a good point when he notes that Jesus actually meant Israel when he talked about the ‘house’, because in verse 29 he refers to the nation as ‘an evil generation’. Nonetheless, Knoch notes that Jesus likely referred to Israel who, since the Babylonian captivity, did not break the first commandment any more. He further states that this absence of idolatry did not result in the true worship of God but in a legalistic religion (hence Jesus’ remark in verse 29), thus leaves the house (cleansed of idols) empty.10

People were discussing if Jesus could be the Davidic king (Matthew 12:23). Jesus did not repudiate this, but instead confirmed their thoughts by stating that God’s kingdom came. At the same time he explains the exorcisms in symbolic terms to give an even deeper insight. Jesus fought Israel’s battle, whereas Satan was Israel’s biggest enemy. Israel would only be able to fill the house properly if they would recognise him (Matthew 12:30). Knoch notes that at the end of the time the ‘unbelieving nation [empty house] will be forced to worship the image of the wild beast [Matthew 24:15].’ Armies will once again surround Jerusalem and an ‘abomination’ will be done in the city. This will make their state far worse than their previous plight.11

To conclude Knoch’s and Wright’s interpretations, the explanation given by Knoch is more thoroughgoing. On the surface the two look identical but Wright’s idea seems to focus on a physical explanation alone. Knoch takes both physical and spiritual aspects of the eschatological context into account and thus gives more credit to the overall teaching of Jesus.


Cosmic Battle
Just as with the exorcisms we see that Luke delineates Jesus’ approach towards the healings as liberation from evil and by doing so Luke seems to make little difference in source between the two. The sickness of the woman in Luke 13:10-17 is explained to be caused by a spirit of infirmity. Jesus states that this woman was bound by Satan and thus implies that the ultimate source of sickness can be traced back to a cosmic battle with evil. This understanding is not strange if one keeps in mind that God initially created a world which was good but became corrupted by the interference of Satan. Jesus healed this woman on the Sabbath-day. In Jewish tradition the creation-account became synonymous with victory and God intended to give rest after this victory. In other words, creation found his fulfilment at Sabbath and the Sabbath was depicted as a sign of resurrection.12 Jesus was victorious in this battle and the ‘people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.’

Daughter of Abraham
In the aforementioned passage Luke uses the phrase ‘daughter of Abraham’, which can only be found in Luke’s gospel. Ringe points out that Jesus brought the woman ‘from the margins to the heart of her people’, just like ‘Zachaeus […] receives the blessing of being restored to being “a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:1-11)’.13 This interesting note of Ringe points towards a deeper layer in Jesus’ understanding. One can see a parallel to Exodus, just like YHWH liberated Israel from Pharaoh (and thus restored them as Abraham’s descendants), Jesus liberated this daughter of Abraham from Satan.14 The healings are part of bringing the people out of captivity into the promised land, which is the kingdom of God.

Year of Jubilee
After the liberation from Pharaoh, Israel received their Sabbath-day (Exodus 16:23). Consequently, the salvation (loosening her from Satan) of this woman on a Sabbath was more appropriate than loosening cattle in order to drink. Kennard annotates that the Sabbath was more than the seventh day. For example, the Sabbath included a seventh year of release of debt (Deuteronomy 14:28-16:17) and after the last year of seven sabbatical cycles the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:10). The Jewish Christians saw the kingdom of God as a future Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:9). Kennard states that this Deuteronomic ideal urged Jesus to release and liberate the oppressed.15 Kennard’s explanation is a justified observation. That is to say, Jesus deliberately heals on the Sabbath-day because healing is what he ‘ought’ to do on the Sabbath-day (Luke 13:16). This, together with Luke 4:16-21, where Jesus read about the fulfilment of the year of Jubilee (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2, 35:5-6), seems to conclude that he believed that these healings demonstrated that the rest and feast of the Sabbath found its fulfilment in him. This interpretation of Jesus’ miracles was not straightforward—as mentioned before, the idea of a Messiah who would battle and subdue spiritual forces was recently new. One can see the doubt in John the Baptist’s question: ‘Art thou he that should come’ (Luke 7:19). Jesus’ answer in Luke 7:22 demonstrates that he understood these miracles as essential for his mission—in effect the miracles proclaim the good news (cf. Isaiah 61:1). Merz and Theissen think that Jesus rather referred to the miracles happening around him without saying that he was the author. The answer to John was more in the sense of that ‘he himself was perhaps the “coming one” announced by John.’16 Merz and Theissen seem to imply that the miracles are no more than a side effect of the kingdom of God. Jesus, however, explained the miracles as part of his identity and through which he liberated the people from sin, diseases and oppression (cf. Isaiah 35:5-6). These miracles were there to proclaim liberty and Jesus was the author.

Matter of Life or Death
That Jesus saw his healings as part of a battle becomes apparent if one takes Mark 3:4 in account. Jesus’ question, ‘Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?’, refers to a principle, which can be found in 1 Maccabees 2:29-48, that saving a life overrides the Sabbath. Jesus addresses this rule (halakhic argument) and thus implies (as with the exorcisms) that he was fighting Israel’s battle. According to Merz and Theissen the healings were not a direct ‘life-threathening emergency’ and thus a liberal interpretation of the law by Jesus.17 Although some of Jesus’ contemporaries undoubtedly argued down this line, it is not compelling since the Torah does not explicitly state what one can and cannot do on Sabbath-day. Merz and Theissen’s argument, demonstrate that they in fact separate the spiritual realms from the natural world. Jesus, however, lived in a society with an overarching holistic worldview.18 In such a worldview it is not strange to see a battle with evil as a matter of life or death. It is clear that Jesus did not break the law as he was fully aware of all the aforementioned implications and rules of the Sabbath.19 Through the healings Jesus reminded the people of the rest they received when YHWH liberated them. However, Jesus’ deeper understanding was, as demonstrated through the healings, that the future Sabbath-rest started with recognising him.


Through the exorcisms Jesus emphasised a new eschatological understanding which was already surfacing in his time. The exorcisms demonstrate the real battle which was not against Rome, but against Satan and his minions. By driving out demons, Jesus believed that he liberated people from their exilic state, and was thus fighting Israel’s fight. This clearly resonated with the exilic history of Israel. Although they lived in their own country again, they were in effect still ‘scattered’ (occupied by a foreign army and marginalised). Through these exorcisms he demonstrated that he was the one who could restore and fill the house of Israel with true worship. Moreover, by claiming and demonstrating that he had the authority to exorcise, he believed that the kingdom of God had its existence in him.

Jesus’ understanding of the healings he carried out, show more or less the same agenda as with the exorcisms. Again the resonance of Israel’s history is to be detected. With the healings, however, Jesus seems to focus more on Israel’s roots. By using the term ‘daughter of Abraham’ he illustrates the exodus from Egypt, where the descendants of Abraham were liberated and brought into the promised land. The fact that Jesus did these works on a Sabbath-day did not only reminded people of the covenant, which they received at mount Sinai, but also foreshadowed the promised rest which would come with the kingdom of God.


  1. Cf. Van der Loos, The miracle, 237-239; Perel, Die Wunder, 77.

  2. Twelftree, Jesus, 275.

  3. E.g. The assumption 10:8. Cf. Patzia & Petrotta, kingdom of God, 70.

  4. Twelftree, Jesus, 263.

  5. Josephus, Antiquities, 2:5.

  6. Lee, The Economy, 38-39.

  7. Craig, Reasonable, 322.

  8. E.g. The assumption 10:1; The Testament of Levi 18:12.

  9. Wright, Jesus, 456.

  10. Knoch, Concordant, 112.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Levenson, Creation, 101. Cf. The life, 51:2.

  13. Ringe, Luke, 187-188. Cf. Jeremiah 50:17; Matthew 10:6; Luke 15:4-7.

  14. Exodus 3:20; 7:4-5; 8:19; 15:6.

  15. Kennard, Messiah, 128-129.

  16. Merz & Theissen, Historical, 212 (italics mine).

  17. Merz & Theissen, Historical, 294.

  18. Twelftree, Jesus, 28.

  19. N.b. rather than breaking it, he intensified the law (Matthew 5:1-8:1).


All biblical references are taken from The Holy Bible: King James Version (1611).

Craig, W.L., Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008.

Josephus, F., ‘Antiquities of the Jews – Book VIII,’ Early Jewish Writings website (26 April 2013, http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/josephus/ant8.html).

Kennard, D. W., Messiah Jesus: Christology in His Day and Ours, New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2008.

Knoch, A. E., Concordant Commentary on the New Testament, Santa Clarita: Concordant Publishing Concern, 1968.

Lee, W., The Economy of God and the Mystery of the Transmission of the Divine Trinity, Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 2001.

Levenson, J. D., Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence, Chichester: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Merz, A. & Theissen, G., Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide, trans. John Bowden , Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998.

Patzia, A.G. and Petrotta, A.J., ‘Kingdom of God,’ Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies, Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Perel, O., Die Wunder Überlieferung der Synoptiker in Ihrem Verhältnis zur Wortüberlieferung, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1934.

Ringe, S.H., Luke, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.

The assumption (Testament) of Moses, Wesley Center Online website (20 June 2013, http://wesley.nnu.edu/index.php?id=2124).

The life of Adam and Eve, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English Vol. 2, ed. Charles, R. H., Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1913, pp. 123-154.

The Testament of Levi, Christian Classics Ethereal library website, (21 June 2013, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf08.iii.v.html).

Twelftree, G.H., Jesus the Miracle Worker: A Historical and Theological Study, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1999.

Van der Loos, H., The Miracles of Jesus, Leiden: Bill, 1965.

Wright, N.T., Jesus and the Victory of God, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996.

Research File on Islam

Research File

Consisting of three parts:

PART 1: A Reflective Report on a Mosque Visit.

PART 2: My Personal Reflection on Islam and Muslims.

PART 3: Academic Essay on the Challenges of Communicating the Gospel among Muslims in the UK.

Jurgen Hofmann

Total word-count: 5299

21th June 2012

Persons and institutions, who have given their cooperation for this paper, have been given fictitious names.


PART 1: A Reflective Report on a Mosque Visit.

First impression
Obligatory prayers
PART 2: My Personal Reflection on Islam and Muslims.

Contact with Muslims in my home town
Contact on the We
PART 3: Academic Essay on the Challenges of Communicating the Gospel among Muslims in the UK.

Muslims in the UK
Challenge 1: Communication
Challenge 2: Contextualisation
Individualistic society
Challenge 3: Fear
Overcome fear by dialogue


A Reflective Report on a Mosque Visit

First impression

Visiting a Mosque was a new experience for me. I did see several mosques on video but have never entered one before. The first thing I noticed was the building. In finding my way I was looking for a bombastic building, but this Mosque was situated in a big terrace building. The welcome was very friendly, and after some attempts to pronounce each others’ names we entered the building.

After taking off our shoes, Mr. Hami, who is a teacher in the Mosque, guided us to the upper room where he had prepared a table with different sorts of literature. Four other Muslims, including the Mosque leader, joined us. This room has all the facilities for lectures. Mr. Hami told us that Mondays to Fridays this room is used for Islamic lectures. The group, which attends these lectures, is mostly youth in the age of 5 to 18 years.

Apparently Hami prepared himself to have a debate with us about Christianity. One of Hami’s English converts was there in the room with us—a prove of Hami’s ability to convince people of the ‘truth’—and explained that all that is necessary to become a Muslim is doing the shahada, the confession of faith by repetition of the word of witness: “There is no god worthy of worship except Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger”. After several, passionate, attempts to debate us about several myths and doctrines in Christianity, it was time to go down for prayer.

Obligatory prayers

It was 20:30 and time for prayer assembly (jamaat). This prayertime is called ‘Asr’ (mid-afternoon), and is one of the five obligatory prayers. During this prayer the Muslim has to perform four Rak’ahs After turning to Allah in mind (niyyah) and ritual cleansing (wudu), the Muslim stands silently (qiyam) while reciting the first verses of the Qur’an. The second part of the rak’ah involves bowing low (ruku) with hands on knees, as if waiting for Allah’s instructions. The third movement (sujud) is to prostrate oneself on the ground, with forehead and nose on the floor and elbows raised, in a position of submission to Allah. The fourth movement is to sit (julus) with the feet folded under the body. The prayers end as the worshippers turn to the left and right saying, “peace be upon you, and Allah’s blessing”. This action reminds Muslims of the importance of others around them, both in the Mosque and in the rest of the world. The other four prayers are called: Fajr (dawn prayer: two rak’ahs), Dhuhr (afternoon prayer: four rak’ahs), Maghrib (sunset prayer: three rak’ahs), and Isha’a (night prayer: four rak’ahs). These five prayers are part of the five pillars within Islam (cf. Glassé 2002:377,399).


Back in the upper room we had the opportunity to ask questions. During prayer time I saw a man lifting up his hands—a similar gesture to what some of the Christians do during worship. Mr. Aariz (the Mosque leader) stated that it is a gesture of receiving blessing from Allah. When I asked if there was something like spontaneous prayers, Hami showed us a map on the wall. This map exhibited the two different prayers, the obligatory prayers and the spontaneous prayers. The latter are considered as dua supplication, which means that they are preferable but not necessary. The dua can be seen as a composed individual prayer or spontaneous with personal petitions. Mostly the dua prayers are formal and in that sense not comparable with the spontaneous prayers in Christianity.

The conversation turned towards the five pillars of Islam. Hami expounded about the zakāt (‘that which purifies’ or ‘alms’). The rules about the alms are very strict and required for every Muslim. Hami described that, every year, a Muslim has to count all of his money (minus debts). After this, the Muslim has to pay 2.5 percent of the amount that exceeds the value of 85 grams of pure gold. If the money does not exceed this amount, the Muslim has to pay in other ways, such as good deeds. One of Hami’s objections towards Christianity is the fact that there are many interpretive debates among Christian scholars. According to Hami the Qur’an can not be debated like the Bible and thus one does not find this form of theology in Islam. In contrast to this claim we cannot find any straightforward guidelines about the zakāt in the Qur’an—concluding that the issue of rates were determined by the interpretations of Islamic scholars and tradition (Kuran 2004:19-21). Due to time we did not discuss the other two pillars (fasting during the month of Ramadan, and Pilgrimage to Mecca: ‘hajj’).

A question about what would happen to a Muslim who converts to Christianity, caused some disturbance among the present Muslims. One of them, Areez, wanted to answer but Hami interrupted him by stating that he knew how to answer this. Hami continued by stating that he was aware of my aspiration of becoming a missionary. The tension was high, but Hami acceded. Areez, possibly not remembering what he wanted to say, set forth that I made him remember a joke. It was a lurid joke about someone who was circumcised first and later they circumcised his head. I participated in the joke by noting that the first circumcision is hygienic but the second one a bit unhealthy. It became apparent that converting is no option. Furthermore, Hami was convinced of the fact that no Muslim ever converted to Christianity, and every example we gave was, according to Hami, based on lies. Surprisingly, in a one to one conversation, Aariz declared that he did know of several Muslims who converted to Christianity—he could not tell what happened to them afterwards because he lost contact. Regretfully I concluded that the reactions on this topic confirmed what we learned during lectures—Islam is a feared based religion. Normally one will not be confronted with this kind of reaction in everyday life, but by asking the ‘right’ questions, the reaction is easily provoked and seen. Also the difference in cultural background became apparent through this short tense moment. There where the Westerners try to ovoid these ‘outbursts’ in debates, it is considered normal is some Eastern cultures.

My Personal Reflection on Islam and Muslims

Contact with Muslims in my home town

Coming from a city in Holland with many immigrants, it was not difficult to get in touch with Muslims. After several attempts to communicate the Gospel to Muslims I realised that this was not as simple as I thought. The discussions were quickly drawn to a doctrinal debate. The debates were mostly about the Trinity, death and resurrection of Christ, and the virgin Mary. This has partially to do with my apologetic approach of things. As a result I thought that reaching out to Muslims was not the work for me. Still I was not certain of this statement because it seemed that I had more in common with Muslims than I thought.

Contact on the Web

Because of my predilection for apologetics, I maintain a Dutch language website on apologetics in a broad sense of the word. For this website I often use videos on topics like creation and evolution, or immorality. To my surprise there are several Muslims who watched the videos and even left positive reactions. Because of my earlier failed attempts to evangelise Muslims, I was still sure that this group was not within my reach. What I did not see or notice, was the fact that Christians share quite some commonalities with Muslims. Just like Christians, Muslims struggle with the naturalistic approach of our society. Muslims also participate in the creation/evolution debate and thus they can relate to orthodox Christians reasonably easy. As a Christian I would like to see that people return to faith in God and banish immorality from our society. In this, Christians do not stand alone—Muslims would like to see that as well. Of course Muslims have other ideas about faith than Christians, but the feeling of being alienated in one’s own society is the same.


As a Christian I feel secure knowing that God takes care of me. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice I can be truly free. There is no constant pressure of doing everything right—my salvation does not depend on my good deeds. I know that this is different for Muslims. The struggle of living righteously, and then hoping that Allah is in a good temper when you meet him, is a frightening idea. My presuppositions are more established after listening to Mr. Hami, who came to the university to talk about and discuss Islam. Mr. Hami expounded about the proper way of living and behaviour. He explained that almost every move had to be thought through. Entering the toilet with your left foot and leaving the toilet with your right foot. This sounded very much like legalism and superstitiousness. The reason for using the left hand to clean after using the toilet was because Satan is left-handed (e.g. Sahih Muslim 23:5008). It almost sounds like a children’s game: “If I do not clap my hands before entering the house, something terrible will happen.” Hearing about these behaviours makes me feel sorry for Muslims. How different is the freedom in Jesus.


Christ came to show life in its fullness. Christianity is about the relationship between humans and God. As humans we are created uniquely. Being allowed to pray to and worship God as our Father establishes this uniqueness. The implication of a Father-son relationship is that there is a family structure within Christianity. This concept of Father-son relationship is unknown in Islam. Instead of a relationship there is absolute subordination. Muslims do not allow themselves to think about Allah in a relationship-context. There are five prayers which must be performed and are obligatory (the Salah). These prayers are formal and prescribed, although there is an informal form of prayer (dua supplication), these are often still very formal. The five prayers integrate particular words and actions which symbolise and express a Muslim’s faith. In prayer, Muslims praise Allah, seek guidance and forgiveness, and develop self-discipline. It is a great sin to neglect performing any of these obligatory prayers.

This impersonal faith is so unfamiliar to me that I would gladly share about my experiences with Muslims. However, I understand that this is one of the main problems Muslims have with Christianity. The metaphors, such as a personal father and child relationship, that are common for westerners, are likely hard to grasp for people who grew up in an Islamic culture. This gives me a challenge—how am I going to explain these ‘alien’ principles to Muslims?


The last issue I want to reflect on is the situation of women in Islam. At the visit to the Mosque we asked where the women were. The answer to this question was the same for all the questions about women. It is better for the women to stay home, and the man in the Mosque added that it was out of protection for the women. A Hadith of Rasulullah states that it is better for the women to pray at home (although not postulated). According to the Muslims we interviewed, it is not wise to let a women walk on her own on the street—she could become a victim of crime.

This sounds very good and up-front, but I cannot help wondering how these Muslim women will ever hear the Gospel, if they are so closely watched. I have had many conversations with Christians who worked among Muslims. Women’s meetings was one of the main strategies. The setting was pretty simple—while the children were playing the women gathered together for a drink and something to eat. These meetings always seemed a bit simplistic to me, but now I see that this will probably be a very good way to make good contacts. Throughout these relationships the Gospel can be shared. According to my friends, this could take years of investment. Because of the closed culture within Islam, building relations will most likely work best. Through a transparent relationship a Muslim can look into the life of a Christian, and that in itself should be a witness to them.

The Challenges of Communicating the Gospel among Muslims in the UK


For many centuries the Christian and Islamic countries were divided and both lived in an isolated situation from each other. After the second World War this changed dramatically. The Western countries needed manpower to answer the demand of welfare. Muslims immigrated, with this prospect of welfare, massively to the West.

Many Islamic countries are closed to the Gospel, while others are so far from Christian influence that widespread mission work is almost unthinkable. Yet, through this immigration, new doors opened. Christians can walk out of their homes and evangelise among Muslims without actually moving out of the country.

“[Now Christians] can become involved in a ministry that, for nearly fourteen hundred years since Islam began, has largely been impossible. An opportunity has been laid right at the feet of the Church which hitherto could not be conceived” (Gilchrist 1987:Vol2-1a).

However, the Christians will have to face different challenges in their approach to Muslims. These challenges are considered to be difficult, but not impossible. This paper will discuss three areas which need to be tackled in order to effectively evangelise Muslims in the UK.

Firstly there will be a summary of the statistics of the Muslim population in the UK, followed by a short enumeration of some differences between Islam and Christianity. After this the paper will expound on the problem of communicating with Muslims. Are the Western emphases in social life the same as what people from Eastern countries would emphasise? The second challenge is about how to communicate and live the Gospel in a way understandable for a Muslim. Can a Muslim relate to the way British Christians experience their faith? Finally, this paper will look at the understanding the average Christian has of Islam. Especially after the several terrorist attacks of the last decades this view has dramatically changed among Christians.

This paper’s emphasis is on the challenges of communicating with Muslims in the UK. It mainly concerns Christians in the UK, unless otherwise noted. Whenever this paper mentions Muslim, it describes Muslims who are actively participating in their own faith and who are committed to the worldview of their culture of origin. This is not always straightforward since many second generation Muslims in the UK have learned to understand the Western worldview. In this case it depends on which worldview they find most acceptable.

Muslims in the UK

According to the 2001 census, 1,546,626 Muslims live in England and Wales, where they then formed 3.3% of the population (Census 2001a). At least 1,503,638 of this population lives in less sparse urban areas (Census 2001b). During the first quarter of the 20th century it was estimated that there were around 10,000 Muslims in Britain. Britain’s Muslim population are by majority people who immigrated to Britain in the 1950s-70s, or their descendants (cf. Hellyer 2009:149).


In this Muslim population, one can see the influences from their original countries. There, where born and bred Western Christians view their world with an emphasis on the future, the immigrated Muslims celebrate their past and traditions. The glorious times will be taught and treasured in the families (Parshall 2003:87). British people struggle with the seeming unwillingness of Muslims to assimilate into the modern Western culture. The cyclical rituals like the yearly fast (Sawm) during the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar), and the obligatory prayers (Salat) each day, are still alien to the Westerner.

Islam holds that mankind’s present separation from Allah is not caused by sin, but due to Allah’s transcendence. Allah is essentially unknowable—that is to say, he does not disclose himself to humans. In the Muslim’s worldview, humans are inherently good and pure (Surah 30:30, 95:4). Although they recognise the fact that people sin, they believe that every human has the ability not to do sin. In order to live righteously they need to know how. Allah provided the guidance in the Qur’an and the Muslim traditions. Muslims believe that this guidance came into being when Muhammad founded the first Muslim community.

In retrospect one can say that the above enumeration is in many ways the opposite of what a Christian believes. Sin plays a different role in Christianity and goes deeper than Muslims’ belief—sin is not only about the actions of a person, but also about a person’s thoughts (Burnett 2002:123). Most Christians believe in an inherent sinful character and tend to look forward in order to improve. Parshall (2003:87) states that Christians most often regard the past as ‘out dated’ and irrelevant. Future-oriented Christianity can clearly be seen in church—the newest songs, little Old Testament preaching, fast changing liturgies. This is where Islam has more in common with the Hebrew culture than with the Western Christian culture. Furthermore, Christians believe that revelation is primarily of the character and acts of God, Muslims believe it is a revelation of the will of Allah, and not about who he is, because Allah is unknowable.

Challenge 1: Communication


Despite the fact that Christians do not recognise the Qur’an, it is useful to learn what the book teaches about Jesus. The Qur’an speaks of Jesus with great respect—although not as the Son of God—and can be used as a starting point for conversations. Moreover, the Qur’an also narrates about the high value of the Bible. This knowledge can be used to communicate with Muslims (cf. Rooyen 2005).

Communicating with Muslims can be a shock for a Christian—especially if it concerns Muslims who are not ‘westernised’. First of all, there can be a language barrier, particularly when a Muslim lives and participates in a Muslim community. A language barrier can be amusing for both parties, in particular if the Christian tries his or her utmost best to speak some of the foreign words. But there is another issue to bear in mind. In the Western culture it is unknown, or ‘not done’, to argue the issue with much emotion—logic and composure should prevail. In many Eastern countries conversations seem to be much more passionate, to such an extend that a ‘well mannered’ British person may think that they are about to fight each other. A Muslim, who is engaging in a discussion with a Christian, will have respect for a passionate defence of the Gospel. According to Lingle and Delancy, this has to be done with correct body language. Westerners do tend to look stern or even frown when they disagree with their counterpart. They continue by stating that “you can say anything to a Muslim if you say it with a smile on your face” (Delancy and Lingle 2011:150).


An important aspect for a respectful dialogue is a good relationship with the Muslim. This does require time and effort. The gap between differences needs to be bridged and most will agree that this can be accomplished through sincere friendships. This is a big challenge for almost every Westerner. Developing a genuine friendship is time consuming, especially with Muslims. Nonetheless Gilchrist states that “Muslims are unlikely to become your brethren until they first become your friends” (Gilchrist 1987:Vol2-2a). Unlike many Muslims, Christians are very time-oriented. This makes the challenge of genuine friendships even bigger. Rhodes notes that Muslims sometimes say that Americans are shallow and trivial in their friendships. This could easily be projected on the English, or many of the other Westerners for that matter. Rhodes continues by urging that a Christian needs to develop genuine friendship, regardless of the Muslim’s response to the Gospel (Rhodes 2002:22).

In contrary to the aforementioned suggestion, it should be noted that there is a risk to ‘friendship-evangelism’. This term has surfaced in recent years and is undoubtedly well intended, but as Miller states:

“As Christians we do not become friends with people in order to produce a certain result. We do so because we are friends, because that is what we have become in Christ.”

If there is this hidden agenda of ultimately bringing the other to Christ, what happens if this does not happen? Miller further states that friendship is not genuine if it is used as a methodology—rather than a method, friendship is the way Christians ought to look at people (Miller 2005:164).

Challenge 2: Contextualisation


Although Christians and Muslims share similarities, such as ideas about morality or the concept of afterlife, there are fundamental differences. One such difference is the guilt oriented mind of the Westerner in contrast with the shame-oriented mind of many Muslims. The majority of Evangelical Christians believe in the Penal Substitution theory of atonement. The theory appeals strongly to the Western understanding of judgement: “You are guilty and need to pay, and without payment you will stay guilty”. This however is not the understanding of many Eastern people. Kraus (cited in Baker and Green 2011:198) expounds on an event in America, where a Japanese student commented that he would never say, “I forgive you.” This sounds strange for Christians, who want to be forgiven in order to be released of guilt. For the shame-orientated Japanese it would mean that the one who says, “I forgive you”, essentially admits the other person’s badness, “and thus forgiveness reaffirms his or her shame.”

This principle of shame can also be found among Muslims, and thus the Penal Substitution metaphor for the atonement is a principle that is hard to grasp for Muslims. Jesus died in an eastern shame-based culture. In this culture the Roman crucifixion of a convict was not so much about how to hurt the victim the most, but more about the humiliation. The victim was hanging totally naked, helpless in agony and exclusion. Afterwards the Romans just disposed of the body, without any honour. How do Christians explain this to their Muslim friends? Why did Jesus have to become a curse (Deuteronomy 21:23), and how could the great prophet have been alienated. For the Muslim, this amount of shame and dis-honouring of a man is unbearable.

Baker and Green (2011:202) define that

“the cross was not a unique moment of shame and exclusion in the life of Jesus. The cross was the epitome of Jesus’ identification with us in shame, but his whole life displayed this identification.”

By emphasising this aspect, one can illustrate that Jesus can fully identify with the fear of being shamefully excluded. Kraus continues by annotating that Jesus’ identification offers us the potential of identifying with him and conquer shame. This goes further than reuniting with God, it also means that God removed alienation by love, through exchangeable identification. The good news for Muslims is that the cross is the revelation of God’s love and that this love banishes shame. Therefore a Muslim can be free from this burden and freely come to God (Kraus cited in Baker and Green 2011:202).

Individualistic society

Contrary to the Muslim, many Christians are very individualistically oriented. Much emphasis is put in a personal faith and relationship with God. In the time of Jesus, religion was a group activity. More in conformity with the Jewish society, the Muslim sees no difference between faith and politics. For the Muslim this ought to be interwoven. In the Arabic society, individual decisions are restricted. Before an important decision can be made, the group mind has to be formed and has to come to a consensus (Haleblian cited in Parshall 2003:90)). A Muslim’s life is inextricably linked with the community.

Parshall comes with an interesting thought of evangelising whole groups. He states that the common form of evangelism is to win individuals to Christ. He notes that this has, in group-orientated cultures, led to separation from society and regularly to total estrangement (Parshall 2003:91). It seems that Parshall is suggesting to implement this ‘group-evangelism’ in Muslim countries. This approach is likely less obvious among Muslims in the UK. Muslims who live in their own country are more at ease than Muslims who live in a society where they are in the minority. A minority group is probably more determined to maintain their traditions and thus the pressure on individuals not to deviate will be high.

The challenge will be to offer a Muslim, who wants to convert, a genuine community. It is not enough to meet with a new convert on the Sunday morning. The ‘Sunday morning’ relationship among Christians can be very disturbing to a Muslim. Many Christians will settle for one hour a week. A converted Muslim is likely to be alienated from his own community. One hour on the Sunday morning is not ‘community’ for the Muslim convert, who is used to a very formal way of worship and a highly organised daily and monthly schedule of rituals and ceremony. Christians need to realise that Muslim converts are in a difficult situation. Their relatives consider it a choice made against family, the community and ultimately against Allah (Braswell 2000:153-154). House-groups are a good alternative to meet with the converts. This way the convert can adopt to the ‘strange’ habits. On Sunday morning it is disturbing for a convert to see couples holding and hugging each other—something many Muslim couples won’t even do outside their own house, let alone in a holy place like a mosque or church. Small groups are more likely to regulate some behaviour code, at least until the new Christian is used to the habits and traditions of the Christian community (Delancy and Lingle 2011:163).


Contextualisation is a beautiful concept, but Christians need to consider how far they are willing (and allowed by Scripture), to go. Syncretism has been recognised as a big danger in contextualisation. Hesselgrave (cited in Ot and Straus 2010:275-276) states that

“Syncretism often results from devoting too much attention to the outer layers of culture and not enough attention to its inner core or worldview”

Ot and Straus (2010:276) argue that focussing on changing only the outward behaviour of converts, the Gospel will unlikely reach and change their old beliefs, values, and emotions. In the light of this it needs to be said that Christians ought to take time to disciple converts. Moreover, sound doctrine needs to be taught and demonstrated.

Challenge 3: Fear

Volf states that the main fear in religion is “that of imposition—one faith imposing aspects of its own way of life on others”. He continues by stating that even Secularists know this fear, but then the fear of imposition by any faith—”since they tend to deem all of them irrational and dangerous” (Volf 2011:x). The fear towards Islam, and thus Muslims, became very strong in just a few years. Terrorist attacks amplified these feelings—sometimes to such an extend that we can speak of ‘islamophobia’. Islamophobia refers to unfounded hostility towards Islam, with the consequence of discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities, and of an unwillingness to listen to what Muslims have to say (Runnymede Trust 1997:4).

The Runnymede Trust (1997:5) report mentions two ways to look at Muslims. Firstly, there is the closed view. This view can be described as strongly prejudiced. It leaves little or no room for people to deal with their fear. The second way is to look at Muslims with an open view. This way does not mean that one has to agree with everything, but it leaves room for dialogue.

Overcome fear by dialogue

The apostle Paul said: “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corintians 9:22b). For a Christian this ought to be the starting point if it comes to understanding Muslims. A good start for Christians to overcome their fears, is by learning from Muslims instead of teaching them. This was what Paul did in Athens. He was able to direct the people to one of their own poets in his speech (Acts 17:28). This must have made a good impression on the people of Athens: “This man does not merely come to convert us, but he is interested in our culture as well.”

Kreeft gives four points in Islam which are worthy of the attention of Christians. First there is faithfulness in prayer, fasting and alms giving. Secondly, the sacredness of the family and children and hospitality. Then there is the absoluteness of moral laws and of the demand to be just and charitable. Finally, the absoluteness of God and the need for absolute submission, surrender and obedience to him (Kreeft 2010:12).

By genuine exploration of a Muslim’s faith, Christians can overcome their prejudice and in return the Muslim will recognise your interest. Kreeft argues that there are two different Christianities in the world. There is the authentic New Testament Christianity, and there is

“the Christianity of accommodation to modernism, egalitarianism, niceness, naturalism, pop psychology, secular humanism, relativism, subjectivism, individualism, ‘Enlightenment’ rationalism or postmodern irrationalism” (Kreeft 2010:18).

The second version of Christianity is the kind Muslims disapprove of most. By proving a veracious Christian, the Muslim will show respect because an upright Christian stands for much of the same morality. Kreeft (2010:20) mentions that only the New Testament Christianity and real Qur’anic Islam can have a real dialogue—both fear terrorism, extremism and abandonment. This consistency is a fertile ground to start an honourable dialogue, despite the continuous media attention to the execrescence of terroristic Islam and modernistic Christianity.

Only when Christians independently investigate the beliefs of other religions—instead of forming their opinion by listening to the media—they will overcome their fears. It is through God’s Spirit that Christians can stand firm in their faith and have the power to overcome their fears, through love and the use of their minds. Paul summarised this principle in one sentence: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (1 Timothy 1:7).


In this paper some of the challenges of communicating the gospel among Muslims in the UK have been discussed. Just a few decades ago, reaching out among Muslims was typical missionary work, which had to be done abroad. Christians had to do this with their utmost discretion because of the closed character of many Muslim countries. This has changed radically with the enormous immigration of Muslims to the UK. This made it possible for Christian to evangelise among Muslims without actually moving out of the country, although the need of missionary work in closed countries has remained.

Christians experience different challenges in their approach to Muslims. There are big differences between Islam and Christianity, notwithstanding there are several similarities which can be used as a starting point for a dialogue.

In this dialogue Christians should remind themselves of the fact that many Muslims came to the UK with different ideas and views of the world around them. Especially in the first conversations it is helpful to discuss common interests and to show a genuine curiosity in the Muslim’s life.

Friendship proved to be the most successful way to reach Muslims. To build a friendship with a Muslim takes a lot of time. The friendship has to be one out of love and not a methodology to evangelise.

To explain the Gospel to a Muslim requires the ability to displace the Muslim’s worldview. This means that the Gospel has to be told in a way relevant for the Muslim. Most of the Gospel in the West is explained through a guilt-based view. This view is not shared by many Muslims, who are more familiar with a shame-based view of life.

All the mentioned suggestions are only attainable with genuine love and interest for the life of the Muslim. Fears are more likely to overcome through personal exploration instead of forming presuppositions through the information provided by the media. As stated, there are challenges in reaching Muslims, but it is surely not impossible.


All biblical references are taken from The Holy Bible: King James Version (1611).

Baker, M. D. and Green, J. B. (2011) Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Context. 2nd. ed. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press.

Burnett, D. (2002) Clash of Worlds: What Christians can do in a World of Cultures in Conflict. London, Monarch Books.

Braswell, G. W. (2000) What You Need to Know About Islam and Muslims. Nashville, B&H Publishing Group.

Censusa (2001) National Report for England and Wales – National Report for England and Wales: All people Part 1. [Internet] Newport, Office for National Statistics. Available from: <http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/census-2001-national-report-for-england-and-wales/national-report-for-england-and-wales/national-report-for-england-and-wales–all-people-part-1.xls> [Accessed on 08 June 2012].

Censusb (2001) Key Statistics – Rural and Urban Area Classification 2004 KS07 Religion. [Internet] Newport, Office for National Statistics. Available from: <http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/census-2001-key-statistics/rural-and-urban-area-classification-2004/rural-and-urban-area-classification-2004-ks07–religion.xls> [Accessed on 08 June 2012].

Delancy, R. and Lingle, W. (2011) Burning Questions about Islam: A Panoramic Study for Concerned Christians. Bloomington, Crossbooks.

Gilchrist, J (1987) The Christian Witness to the Muslim. [Internet] Answering Islam. Available from: <http://www.answering-islam.org/authors/gilchrist.html> [Accessed on 07 June 2012].

Glassé, C. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Islam – Revised Edition of the Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. Drake, N. and Davis, E. (eds.). Walnut Creek, AltaMira Press.

Hellyer, H. A. (2009) Muslims of Europe: The ‘Other’ Europeans. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

Kreeft, P. (2010) Between Allah & Jesus: What Christians Can Learn from Muslims. Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press.

Kuran, T. (2004) Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Miller, E. R. (2005) Muslims and the Gospel: A Reflection on Christian Sharing. Minneapolis, Lutheran University Press.

Ot, C. and Straus, S. J. (2010) Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues (Encountering Mission). Grand Rapids, Baker Academic.

Parshall, P. (2003) Muslim Evangelism: Contemporary Approaches to Contextualization. 2nd. ed. Waynesboro, Gabriel Publishing.

Rhodes, R. (2002) Reasoning from the Scriptures With Muslims. Eugene, Harvest House Publishers.

Rooyen, van, L. (2005) Evangelism II: Breaking Down Barriers to Effective Evangelism. [Internet] Tampa, Global Ministries & Relief Inc. Available from <http://www.books.google.co.uk/books?id=T6yMk6FXy6YC> [Accessed: 13 June 2012].

Runnymede Trust (1997) Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All. Richardson, R. (ed.) [Internet] Available from:

Sahih Muslim (2011) [Internet] SearchTruth.com. Available from: <http://www.searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=023&translator=2&start=0&number=5008> [Accessed 4 June 2012].

Volf, M (2011) A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good. Grand Rapids, Brazos Press.


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Critical Essay

Critical Essay

Outline and comment on the development of the
Trinity to the end of the Patristic era.

(Maximum 2500 words)

Jurgen Hofmann

Word count: 2740

29th May 2012


The widespread doctrine of the Trinity is a well supported doctrine within the Christian faith. This was not always the case. The Trinity doctrine knows a turbulent history if it comes to establishment. The intention of this paper is to exert a closer look into the development of the Trinity doctrine.

The Trinity doctrine is rooted in a number of meaningful sources which go back to the Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) Scriptures, as well to early liturgies, short credal statements, and worship practises. All these sources, and the overshadowing rule of faith within the early Church, handed the church fathers the necessary tools to contemplate the reality of God, who must exist as both a unity and a trinity (Hall and Olson 2002:15).

As the development of this doctrine will be discussed, the emphasis will be on a part of the patristic era (c.100-381AD). Within this exploration, comments and critical analyses will be given on different viewpoints on the matter.

Modern opposition

Different groups—mostly anti-trinitarian groups, such as the Mormons—argue that the main source of this doctrine can be found at the Nicene council in AD 325, with Emperor Constantine as its main patron. Hopkins, who advocates the Mormon’s viewpoint on the Trinity, points out that the Trinity doctrine has its roots in a pagan tradition as that was very tempting in an overarching Greek thinking society. Furthermore, he states that the Romans threatened to destroy the Christians if they did not explain their theology in Greek terms (Hopkins 2006:81). This is a faulty representation of the facts, as will become apparent through the next paragraphs.

Root of trinitarian thinking

Trinitarian thinking was already latent in the early Church—attempts were made to link Christ’s relation to the Father. Throughout the Scriptures one can discover several indications of the plurality of God (e.g. Genesis 1:1-2, 1:26-27, Isaiah 6:8). At the same time God is referred to as ‘Father’ twenty times in the OT. As the early Christians tried to understand this concept, they had to consider that it was God who said that he was one (e.g. Exodus 20:2-3).

According to Wright (2001:75), Theophilus (c.120-190AD) was the first recorded Christian writer who used the word ‘trias‘ (trinity) in reference to the deity. Wright states that

“This account had undoubted apologetic value. Not only was the eternity of God’s Reason-Word vindicated, but also no change or division in God was implied in his mind’s being expressed or uttered as word in engagement with the cosmos.”

However—although Wright is correctly assuming that Theophilus was the first (recorded) writer who used the word ‘trinity’—Theophilus did not use this word in the same way modern theology would understand it. Theophilus contributed this word to God, his Word (Logos), and his Wisdom (Sophia)—Word and Wisdom represented God’s hands during creation. He did not write of plurality within the Godhead, rather it was an attempt to explain (to his atheist friend, Autolycus) the role of the three (the Father, Christ, and the Spirit) through a metaphor taken from the creation account (cf. Theophilus 2012, Rogers 2000:71-80). Nevertheless, Theophilus’ writings do show that the word ‘trias‘ was already in use.

Rather than using the word ‘trinity’, early Christian writers tried to explain the rationale behind this rule of faith. Christians baptised converts in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19, cf. Didache 7:3). Not only this phrase but many others hints, which are to be found in the Gospels and letters (e.g. John 1:1-14, Hebrews 1:2-3), forced the Christians to formulate their beliefs. Many of these attempts came through letters, the author of 2 Clement (c.100AD) for example, writes in 1:1;

“Brethren, it is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God…” (2 Clement 2012).

Another example can be found in the epistle of Barnabas (c.100-150AD), who implies in 5:5 that Jesus is pre-existent:

“…unto whom [Jesus] God said from the foundation of the world, Let us make man after our image and likeness…” (Barnabas 2012).

Different understandings

The necessity of a coherent doctrine became more apparent during the third century. Because of a non-coherent doctrine, different ideas started to develop and spread among Christians.

Logos theologians

A widespread teaching was that of the early Gentile Christian theologians. This group expounded on the concept of Christ as the Logos. Although completely legitimate to see Christ as the Logos (John 1:1-18), the proponents of this theory treated Christ as inferior (Subordinationism) to God. They saw Christ as an intermediary between God and creation. McGrath states that early Christians wanted to annotate the richness and profundity of their impressions and experiences of Christ. This could not be done in one simple term and thus the Christians might have used ideas from paganism. McGrath illustrates a situation, where Christians had to address to the Greek philosophy and ideas, in order to get the message across. He notes that the concept of ‘Messiah’ and ‘the Son of God’ already existed among the Jews—this made it easier to evangelise them. In the case of the Gentiles, the Christians just simply used the Gentiles’ terminology to make the message more comprehensible (McGrath 1997:57-58).

This sounds a feasible assumption, but the question arises why this terminology was not used by the Jewish Christians. The concept of Christ as inferior to God was merely a misinterpretation in the Greek orientated minds of many Gentile Christians. The Greek philosophers basically stated that an intellectual system (logos) could explain how a transcendent supreme principle could relate to the material cosmos. Taken this in account, it was not solely an evangelistic tactic but a deeply rooted philosophy which came forth out of the Stoics as well as Platonists philosophers (cf. Freeman 2004:576-578).


Another doctrine was that of Marcion (c.110-160AD), the son of a bishop from Pontus. Marcion argued that the Gods of the OT and the NT were distinct—the God of the NT was superior to the God of the OT. He came to this conclusion because the God of the OT seemed to be more violent than the God that Jesus preached. Furthermore, Marcion argued that the God of the OT was particularily committed to only one people, and in the NT, Jesus annotates a more approachable God. Marcion advocated a break between Judaism and Christianity. He did not only reject the law but he rejected the Hebrew Bible along with any connection between Judaism and Christianity.

It was Irenaeus (115-202AD) who strongly argued against Marcion, and in this Irenaeus did not stand alone: Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandra, and Origen, among others, wrote against Marcion and his followers. Marcion was excommunicated in 144 AD, but his ideas continued to be very influential (cf. Barton 2007:67-81).

Dynamic and Modalistic Monarchianism

In his work ‘Against Praxeas’, Tertullian (c.213AD) asserted the ‘threeness’ aspect of God, being the first to use the word ‘Trinity’. However, he did not have a full and accurate understanding of the Trinity, his views being tinged with Subordinationism. Nonetheless, he was the first to develop the formula of ‘one substance in three persons’ (treis Hypostases, Homoousios). Tertullian was battling Monarchians who opted for the unity of God and denied Trinitarianism. Monarchianism existed in two forms, namely Dynamic Monarchianism (Adoptionism) and Modalistic Monarchianism (Sabellianism).

The first theory, developed by Paul of Samosata, viewed Jesus as a man who was given special power by the Holy Spirit at his baptism. Paul of Samosata used the word ‘homoousios‘ different than Tertullian did. Paul of Samosata used the word in the sense of

“a common substance out of which both Father and Son proceeded, or which it divided between them…” (Catholic Encyclopediaa 2009).

The church fathers condemned Paul of Samosata at the synods of Antioch in 264 and 268 AD for this heresy (Eusebius 1989:402).

The second theory was more influential—attempting not only to maintain the unity of God, but also the full deity of Christ by asserting that the Father became incarnated in the Son. In this attempt however, Modallists interpreted the biblical presentation of a multi-personal God completely as what they thought monotheism was—God as an undifferentiated uni-personal Being. Sabellius was a strong defender of Modalism. Schaff (1998:262) annotates that Sabellius taught successive or developmental Modalism, which teaches that God can manifest His ‘modes’ simultaneously.

If one takes this theory to its logical end, it is not comprehensible with the Bible. To who did Christ address his cry on the cross for example, or how could Jesus be ‘forsaken’ if he was the Father—did the Father suffer nothing because he left the physical body? (Tertullian 1998:30).

Nicea council

Around 318AD, Arius defended what he believed was the absolute unity and oneness of God. He separated the Son completely from the Father by stating that the Son was an exalted creature—raised above all that was created, but still a creature. This teaching led to a major controversy because it was contrary to the central teaching of Christian faith as received from the apostles. Alexander of Alexandria organised a council, which condemned Arius in 320AD. Arius fled to Palestine where he continued his teaching. He became friends with Eusebius of Nicomedia, who rejected the condemnation by Alexander’s council, during a council in the east—as a result both sides sought collaborators, which led to even more strife (Morris 2011:53).

Emperor Constantine tried to persuade Arius and Alexander to stop their strife, and to come to a compromise. He asked his advisor on ecclesiastical concerns, Hosius, the Bishop of Cordoba to end the battle. Hosius supervised a council in Antioch (324AD). It was this council that condemned Arius and his doctrines again. However, the outcome did not settle the question between Alexander and Arius. Constantine decided to call a council of all the bishops in his empire. The purpose of this council was to debate and to establish a universal statement of faith and thus restore the unity of the Church (Wand 1994:151-152).

The council of Nicea was attended by about 300 bishops. Throughout this council it was Athanasius, the deacon and personal secretary of Alexander of Alexandria, who contributed greatly in stating and defending the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. It was Eusebius of Nicomedia who set forth an Arian statement of faith. This was rejected by the majority of the council. Eusebius of Caecarea came forth with his own creed, which was quiet about the actual point of debate. His statements were very superficial, and thus unacceptable for the attending bishops. To exclude Arianistic ideas, the bishops combined the definition of the Son with the phrases ‘of the substance of the Father’ and ‘of one substance of the Father’ (homoousios). Carter (2006:140) notes that it has been said that Constantine intervened on behalf of this term. Carter illustrates that if he did, it could not have been out of a firm theological understanding about the implication of this word. It was more likely that Constantine was more interested in unity and politics. The council concluded the creed with a warning of condemnation for Arianistic teachers. After this all bishops had to sign the creed. This was a new phenomenon and illustrates the importance of this debate.

Arians argued that the word ‘homoousios‘ can not be found in the Scriptures. This line of arguing still prevails:

“If the Lord meant to convey the Nicene concept of God, He would certainly have used the word homo-ousios here [John 10:30]… He [Jesus] did not teach that He was homo-ousios (or co-substantial) with the Father” (Hopkins 2006:97, cf. Cave 1996:17-19).

This critic can be regarded as irrelevant because the word was never meant to be Scriptural—it was an attempt to expound the term, which was regarded as the best way to express the biblical description of the Father-Son relationship. The second problem Arians had was the fact that Paul of Samosata, and his usage of the word, got condemned in the council of Antioch. Although the Arians had a seemingly strong point with this objection, it did not hold. The word ‘homoousios‘ was not interpreted the same way as Paul of Samosata’s definition, which derived from Aristotle’s interpretation. Blaising annotates that it was

“clear that the fathers at Nicea did not think of homoousios from the standpoint of Aristotle’s category of primary ousia, in which ousia is condidered simply as an individual thing” (Blaisinga 2001:574).

The Conflict of 340-380

Arius and his followers had been exiled by the council of Nicea and the matter seemed to be solved. However, Emperor Constantine later recalled this exile and gave Arius the chance to clear himself. Williams notes that Arius’ party annotated that their faith was not different from that of the other bishops. In their statement, about the word ‘homoousios‘, they declared that they have examined the implications and were committed to preserve the peace of the Church and avoid heresy. In fact, with this statement, they cleverly avoided to answer the question on acceptance of the word (Williams 2001:73).

The battle continued, and at the end of summer 328AD, Athanasius, who was now Bishop of Alexandria, ventured on an ecclesiastical battle. The Bithynian synod (328AD) did an appeal on Athanasius for Arius’ restoration. Athanasius refused, even after several warnings by Emperor Constantine and Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was in high favour with the Emperor. After a slander campaign, organised by Eusebius, Constantine banished Athanasius to Gaul. On 22 May, 337 Constantine died, after having been baptised by Eusebius. Athanasius could come back from exile. The new emperor, Constantius, was strongly influenced by Eusebius, and as result spent much of his time in persecuting Athanasius (Catholic Encyclopediab 2009).

The Council of Nicea had not clarified the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. After 360AD this became a topic of debate. Again it was Athanasius who maintained the deity of the Spirit in his letters which were sent to correct the heresy of Tropici, who taught that God created the Spirit out of nothing. This teaching appeared in the so-called ‘Homoiousion‘ Party (c.373AD). This group tried to compromise between Arianism and Nicene orthodoxy. Homoiousion means ‘like the Father’, but not in the sense of ‘the same essence’. The Cappadocians opposed this teaching and taught the full deity and homoousia of the Spirit, who is not begotten but proceeds from the Father.

Constantinople council 381AD

Theodosius became emperor in 379AD. Theodosius was, in contrast with his predecessor, in favour of Nicene Christianity. Theodosius expelled Bishop Demophilus of Constantinople, and commissioned Meletius Bishop of Antioch, and Gregory of Nazianzu Bishop of Constantinople. In May 381, Theodosius summoned an ecumenical council at Constantinople to repair the schism between East and West.

This Council marked the end of more than fifty years of the political and theological supremacy of Arianism. The developed pneumatology of Athanasius and the Cappadocians became, together with the reaffirmation of the Nicene orthodoxy, imperative to the Council of Constantinople. With this the Church completed the trinitarian doctrine (Blaisingb 2001:191-192). Although Arianism was weakened, its influence is still visible in several modern groups like Mormonism and the Jehovah witnesses.


Although the word ‘trinity’ (trias) can be found in early writings, the early church fathers (100-160AD) did not formulate any clear statements concerning the trinitarian theology as it is now. There were many writers who tried to expound on the rationale behind the praxis of worship within the Christian community, but the conclusions were still not homogeneous.

Different ideas developed which denied the deity of Christ. The Church did not tolerate this in whatever form, and universally condemned these doctrines (Dalcour 2005:149-150). These different viewpoints forced the church fathers to formulate their beliefs in sound credal statements.

Emperor Constantine, mostly concerned about unity within his empire, summoned the first ecumenical Council in Nicea. It was this Council which came to a universal creed on the Trinity. Through politics and slander, the Arianistic party maintained their domination for many years, which came to an end during the second ecumenical Council at Constantinople, where the trinitarian doctrine was completed.

Opponents of trinitarian thinking regularly argue that this doctrine originated, strongly influenced by emperor Constantine, at the Council of Nicea. A more honest evaluation is to say that the early church fathers did their utmost best to protect the integrity of the Gospel (Morris 2011:47). The Church developed the basics of this doctrine long before Constantine, who, as it turns out, was in strong favour of Arianism.

Word count: 2740


All biblical references are taken from The Holy Bible: King James Version (1611).

2 Clement (2012) The Second Epistle of Clement. Donaldson and Roberts (trans.). [Internet] Kirby. P., Early Christian Writings. Available from: <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/2clement-roberts.html> [Accessed 27 April 2012].

Barnabas (2012) The Epistle of Barnabas. Lightfoot, J. B. (trans.). [Internet] Kirby. P., Early Christian Writings. Available from: <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/barnabas-lightfoot.html> [Accessed 27 April 2012].

Barton, J. (2007) The Old Testament: Canon, Literature and Theology : Collected Essays of John Barton. Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Blaising, C.a (2001) homoousios. In: Elwell, W. A. (ed.) Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House Company.

Blaising, C.b (2001) Constantinople, First Council of (381). In: Elwell, W. A. (ed.) Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House Company.

Carter, C. A. (2006) Rethinking Christ And Culture: A Post-christendom Perspective. Grand Rapids, Brazos Press.

Catholic Encyclopediaa (2009) Paul of Samosata. [Internet] Knight, K., New Advent. Available from: <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11589a.htm> [Accessed 10 May 2012].

Catholic Encyclopediab (2009) Eusebius of Nicomedia. [Internet] Knight, K., New Advent. Available from: <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05623b.htm> [Accessed 24 May 2012].

Cave, M. A. C. (1996) Is the Trinity Doctrine Divinely Inspired? [Internet] WAMY Publishing. Available from: <http://islamicstudies.islammessage.com/panel/media/file/Is%20the%20Trinity%20Doctrine%20Divinely%20Inspired.pdf> [Accessed 22 May 2012].

Dalcour, E. L. (2005) A Definitive Look At Oneness Theology: Defending The Tri-unity Of God. Maryland, University Press of America, Inc.

Didache (2012) The Didache or Teaching of the Apostles. Donaldson and Roberts (trans.). [Internet] Kirby. P., Early Christian Writings. Available from: <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/didache.html> [Accessed 4 May 2012].

Eusebius (1989) The History of the Church (Penguin Classics). Williamson, G. A. (trans.), Louth, A. (ed.). London, Penguin Group.

Freeman, C. (2004) Egypt, Greece, and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean. 2nd ed. New York, Oxford University Press Inc.

Hall, C. A. and Olson, R. E. (2002) The Trinity. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Hopkins, R. R. (2006) Biblical Mormonism: Responding to Evangelical Criticism of Lds Theology. Springville, CFI.

McGrath, A. E. (1997) Studies in Doctrine: Understanding Doctrine, Understanding the Trinity, Understanding Jesus, Justification by Faith. Grand Rapids, Zondervan.

Morris, J. W. (2011) The Historic Church: An Orthodox View of Christian History. Bloomington, Authorhouse Publishing.

Rogers, R. (2000) Theophilus of Antioch: The Life and Thought of a Second-Century Bishop. Maryland, Lexington Books.

Schaff, P. (1998) History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D 100-325. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Tertullian (1998) Against Praxeas. Holmes, P. (trans.). [Internet] Roger, P., The Tertullian Project. Available from: <http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-43.htm> [Accessed 10 May 2012].

Theophilus (2012) Theophilus to Autolycus. [Internet] Kirby. P., Early Christian Writings. Available from: <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/theophilus-book2.html> [Accessed 30 April 2012].

Wand, J. W. C. (1994) A History Of The Early Church To A.D. 500. London, Routledge.

Williams, R. (2001) Arius: Heresy and Tradition. London, SCM Press.

Wright, D. F. (2001) The Formation of the Doctrine of the Trinity in the Early Church. A Quarterly Journal for Church Leadership, 10 (3) Summer, pp. 68-93.

Exegesis – Mark 15:33-39

Exegesis – Mark 15:33-39

Jurgen Hofmann

Word Count: 2145

28td February 2012


Each of the four Gospels gives a portrait of Jesus Christ and his works. The writers used different styles and emphases—the message however is the same in each writing: the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.

In this paper a closer look is exerted to the Gospel of Mark with a strong emphasis on chapter 15 verses 33-39. In this passage the writer describes the last minutes of Jesus’ life on the cross. These last minutes are described very detailed and, as the reader will discover, they are very significant for the way the church has approached the gospel ever since.

Within these verses several references to the Old Testament (OT) will be explored more closely—and they will be briefly examined in context with the writer’s purpose with these references.

The writer of Mark

According to the oldest tradition it was Mark, also called ‘John Mark’ (cf. Acts 12:12), who wrote this Gospel. According to Healy (2008:18) he was a disciple of Simon Peter and he based his writing on Peter’s preaching. Eusebius (1833:124-127,234) states that this tradition has been documented by Papias (ca. AD 60-140) and confirmed by Clement of Alexandria (ca. AD 150-215).

Place and audience

Although there are some different hypotheses most scholars will agree that Mark is probably the oldest gospel of the four (cf. Evans 2003:1064). Carmody (2010:1) states that the Gospel connotes that the Christians suffered, or were suffering persecution (cf. Mark 8:34-38,10:38,13:9-13). This could well be placed in the period when Nero persecuted the Christians. Considering this—together with the observation of Hengel (1985:29) that Mark 7:24-30 annotates about a woman who was called a ‘Syrophenician’, a term primarily used in Rome— makes it plausible that Mark wrote his Gospel around 62-64 AD in Rome.

There is no internal, direct evidence for the intended readership. There is, however, some internal, indirect evidence. For example Mark often explains Jewish terms and customs for the benefit of non-Jews (eg. Mark 7:3-4,11:13,12:42). Furthermore, translations of Aramaic words are provided (eg. Mark 3:17,5:41,7:11,7:34,10:46,15:22,15:34). Considering this, it is very feasible to assume that at least a part of the intentional readers would be non-Jewish.

Context of Mark 15:33-39

Many things happened in a very short time. After Jesus’ arrest in 14:43-50 he is taken to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and scribes are assembled. After interrogation and hearing false witnesses they condemn Jesus to death. In 15:6-15, Pilate releases Barabbas at the request of a mob. The mob shouts for Jesus’ crucifixion. From verses 16 and further Mark narrates about the Roman soldiers who mock Jesus by dressing him in a purple robe and a crown of thorns, hailing him derisively as the king of the Jews. Jesus is crucified, and the titulus reads ‘King of the Jews’.

Mark 15:33

Mark notes that the people, who wanted to watch how Jesus would die, mocked him. The description given by Mark shows a man who is going through an agonizing and humiliating time. Except from his mother and three women along with John (John 19:25-27), Jesus was deserted by every other friend. If Mark was indeed writing for a persecuted audience this would be a recognisable scenario. Christians who had to face hungry lions or boiling oil where indeed deserted like their master on the cross.

Mark used the Jewish system for his time scale. Jews reckoned from 6:00 to 18:00. This would mean that the sixth hour was noon, and the ninth hour 15:00 (cf. Wiersbe 2007:132). Lockyer (1961:243) states that the darkness from noon to three o’clock could be an allusion to Amos 8:9. It can be seen as an eschatological sign, signifying the judgement of God on the whole earth. Darkness is a commonly used metaphor for God’s judgement against nations for sin (eg. Exodus 10:22-23; Isaiah 5:30). Lane (1974:571) suggests that even the gentiles understood that darkness was a sign of impending disaster because
“Philo spoke of a supernatural eclipse of the sun or moon as signifying ‘either the death of kings or the destruction of cities’ (De Providential II. 50).”

Donahue and Harrington (2002:447) state however, that it was the cosmos itself which was mourning about the death of Jesus. They came to this conclusion for in Amos 8:10b it is God who states:
“I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day.”

If the darkness is indeed an allusion to Amos 8:9 then this explanation gives more justice to the context of these verses.

Mark 15:34

One of the consequences of sin is the total separation from God. Jesus, who carried the sin of the world, was the substitute for human-race. He laid down his divinity and as human went through the horrific pains and agony of the burden of sin. It was at that moment that he felt the seperation from God. That is why he prayed out the first words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” A psalm that is at the same time the lament of a righteous sufferer and his confident hope of vindication. Weber (1979:39) argues that Jesus only had to mention the first verse of a Psalm because, in synagogue liturgies and later Rabbanic Judaisme, that was enough to imply the whole Psalm. Weber could have made his argument stronger by noting that Jesus himself in Mark 14:49 said that this all must happen to fullfill the Scriptures. In contrast to Webers argument it must be said that there is no proof within the specific text. Mark does not state that Jesus cried these words ‘to fullfill the Scriptures’. In addition to this, it is thought that Justin the Martyr (ca. 100-165 AD.) was the first who contributed this Psalm as a whole to Jesus (cf. Ulmer 2011:109). Looking at the specific text, the Greek word that is used for ‘cried’ is ‘boaó’, which means ‘shouting with intense feeling’ or ‘to make an urgent distress-call’ (Biblos.coma; 2011). To stay closer to the written text, it is more convincing that Jesus cried out in dispair to God his Father without refering to the complete Psalm.

Mark uses the Aramaic words: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Mark did not describe a mythical hero who always reacts victorious. Mark showed his audience what terrible price Jesus payed to deliver them from sin and eternal separation from God. Why Mark used the Aramaic words is not known but one can imagine that, if it was indeed Simon Peter who dictates this story, he had never forgotten the words, spoken by his Master, in times of need, sorrow and dispair.

Mark 15:35-36

Spectators either misunderstood Jesus’ words, or decided to re-interpretate his words to ‘Elijah’ in order to ridicule Jesus even more. Many Jews believed that Elijah had not died, but ascended into heaven (2 Kings 2:11). Maleachi 4:5-6 expounds a promise that Elijah would return as teacher and helper of those in need. Jesus had associated the coming Elijah with John the Baptist (Mark 9:13). In other words: the voice of second Isaiah “that crieth in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3) proclaimed the forthcoming of Elijah through John the Baptist (Mark 1:3). For the Jews this must have been a strange thought, since John the Baptist was killed by king Herod (Mark 6:27) and Elijah would not suffer persecution. Hughes (2004:56) states that the murder of John the Baptist, alias Elijah, and the crucifixion of Jesus indicate a new emerging Christian interpretation. Hughes continues by stating that “the persecution may be understood as being treated with contempt, following the foe-lament section of Psalm 22:7.” What Hughes means to say is, just like the second Isaiah had undergone severe persecution, now Mark creates an ongoing line of persecution from the second Isaiah through Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus. Hughes makes a reasonable assumption, as it was Jesus who said in Matthew 23:29-39 that the Israelites had murdered and persecuted the prophets throughout the ages.

In verse 36a, again it is not clear whether people wanted to ridicule and mock Jesus repeatedly, or if they were really waiting to see what would happen. A sponge of sour wine could be intended either to ease Jesus’ discomfort or to torment him even more. Youssef (2012) states that, according to Mark 15:23, this sour wine, or ‘vinegar’, is probably a combination of myrrh or gall with sour wine, which would become an anaesthetic herb that could be utilized indisputably to lessen the pain. If this passage alludes to Psalm 69:21-22, where the vinegar is associated with poison, one can conclude that it was indeed an endeavour to ridicule Jesus. Furthermore, Luke 23:36-37 mentions that it was one of the soldiers, who also mocked Jesus, who offered him the drink, “and saying, if thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.” The statement in verse 36b, about Elijah, could indicate a combination of the two—maybe the people wanted to discomfort Jesus more to see if Elijah would come to help him.

Mark 15:37

Jesus’ death is described as sudden and crimson. Normally a victim of a crucifixion did not die that fast, sometimes it could take days. Jesus however was in control all the time. The text suggests that he was still rather strong at the moment of his death. Mark notes that Jesus “…cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.” The word ‘loud’ (Greek: megas) can be translated as ‘large’ or ‘great’ (Biblos.comb; 2011). John 19:30 adds the words “…It is finished…”, and Jesus bowed his head and died voluntarily and deliberately.

This last cry again evokes Psalm 22: “O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not…”. Luke 23:46 adds the following words: “…Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit…”. Jesus gave his breath, his life, back to his father (cf. Genesis 2:7).

Mark 15:38-39

Right after Jesus’ death two important aspects of Christology can be found in the text. Firstly Mark narrates the tearing of the temple’s veil. This is most likely the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:33; Hebrews 9:3-4). This tearing of the veil signals that the death of Jesus has taken away the barrier between God and humanity (cf. Ephesians 2:14; Hebrews 10:19-22). Healy states that it was God himself who tore the veil, because the veil was ripped from top to bottom. Healy continues by noting that the ripped veil indicates the end of the old covenant worship. Healy explains this by referring Mark 14:58 (cf. John 2:19)—the eartly temple would be exchanged with a new temple “…made without hands”, and with the Christ as the cornerstone (Healy 2008:322; cf. Mark 12:10). Donahue and Harrington (2002:452) annotate that for Mark’s readers, the tearing of the veil would help to explicate the (real or impending) destruction of the Temple.

Secondly there is the centurion who proclaimed that Jesus was truly the son of God. This is the first such confession of faith in this Gospel. Furthermore it portraits what was to come—the possibility for Gentiles to accept the Gospel. Witherington (2001:400) notes that the Greek allows a slightly different translation: truly this was a divine man—which can be “a conclusion drawn from Jesus’ bravery even on the cross”. Mark’s readers would however attribute this proclamation to the fact that the Gospel was not only to be excepted by a Jewish community, but by the Gentiles as well (cf. Mark 13:10).


In this short passage of Mark’s Gospel the reader is taken to the horrific moment of Jesus’ death. Mark did not ‘spare’ his audience by narrating a romantic scene. He testifies very closely of the most important event in human history.

Although the reader could almost link the events around Jesus’ death in detail with several Psalms (22 and 69) and other OT references, it must be said that there is no direct evidence that Jesus himself used the words on the cross to accomplish this. The only reference in the gospel of Mark to such an exertion by Jesus can be found in Mark 14:49. In contrast to this one can argue that Mark, who wrote his Gospel at least three decades after Jesus’ death, came to an understanding that these parallels to the OT where very significant and helpful to make people understand that Jesus is the fulfilment of the old covenant.

The crucifixion and death of Jesus are crucial to understand God’s holiness. Sin can not prevail in the presence of God. God is righteousness and thus needs to punish sin. In order to restore the relationship between sinful humans and God, Jesus voluntarily died as perfect human substitute. Laurie (2009:26) gives the following summary:
“Jesus accomplished in six hours what would have taken us the rest of eternity to never complete: The forgiveness of our sins!”

Wordcount: 2145


All biblical references are taken from The Holy Bible: King James Version (1611).

Biblos.coma; (2011) Greek definition of ‘cried’ [Internet] Washington, Online Parallel Bible Project. Available from: <http://concordances.org/greek/994.htm> [Accessed 15 February 2012].

Biblos.comb; (2011) Greek definition of ‘loud’ [Internet] Washington, Online Parallel Bible Project. Available from: <http://concordances.org/greek/3173.htm> [Accessed 17 February 2012].

Carmody, T. R. (2010) The Gospel of Mark. New Jersey, Paulist Press.

Evans, A. C. (2003) ‘Mark’. In: Dun, D. J. G and Rogerson, W. J. eds. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pp. 1064-1103.

Eusebius, P. (1833) The ecclesiastical history of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Cesarea, in Ten Books. Trans. Cruse, C. F. A. M. New York, Swords, Stanford & Co.

Donahue, R. J. and Harrington, D. J. (2002) The Gospel of Mark (Sacra Pagina Series), vol. 2. Collegeville, The Liturgical Press.

Hengel, M. (1985) Studies in the Gospel of Mark. London, SCM Press.

Healy, M. (2008) Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Mark. Grand Rapids, Baker Publishing Group.

Hughes, R. A. (2004) Lament, Death, and Destiny. New York, Peter Lang Publishing inc.

Lane, W. L. (1974) The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Mark. Stonehouse, N. B., Bruce, F. F. and Fee, G. D. (eds.). Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Laurie, G. (2009) Finding Hope in the Last Words of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Baker Books.

Lockyer, H. (1961) All the Miracles of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Zondervan.

Ulmer, R. (2011) ‘Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: The Suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus’. In: Garber, Z. ed. The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation. USA, Purdue University Press, pp. 106-128.

Weber, H. R. (1979) The Cross: Tradition and Interpretation. Jessett, E. (trans.). Grand Rapids, W. B. Eerdmans.

Wiersbe, W. W. (2007) The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: The Complete New Testament. 2nd ed. Colorado Springs, David C. Cook Distrubution.

Witherington, B. (2001) The Gospel of Mark: a Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Youssef, H. G. (2012) Sour Wine and Gall: Was it a Merciful Gesture or Mockery? [Internet] Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States. Available from: <http://suscopts.org/resources/literature/542/sour-wine-and-gall-was-it-a-merciful-gesture-or-mo/> [Accessed 16 February 2012].

Old Testament Salvation

Critical Essay on the Theme of Salvation
as it Emerges in the Old Testament

(Maximum 3000 words)

Jurgen Hofmann

Word Count: 3039

16td December 2011


In this paper the theme of salvation will be explored, and how this theme emerges throughout the Old Testament (OT). When one is asked to say what the Bible teaches about this theme, it is likely that one would respond from his or her understanding of the New Testament’s (NT) teaching on salvation. Although salvation in the OT is not a regular discussed theme, it is anchored throughout Scripture.

The emphasis of this paper is on three main forms of salvation, namely material salvation, salvation through a kinsman-redeemer, and salvation through ransom. The literal meaning will be explained as well as the way people understood it in the OT. A closer look will be taken at the different methods of salvation, and the line it follows throughout the OT. Although in these examples more biblical references are used, the accent will be on the flood in Genesis 6-9, Isaiah 43:1-4, and Exodus 6:6-7. In addition to this exploration the contemporary relevance will be discussed in the light of Jesus’ work.

The word ‘salvation’ explained

Looking up the word in a dictionary points out that there are several definitions of it. Dictionary.com (2011) states that salvation can be an ‘act of saving’ or ‘protecting from harm, risk, loss, and destruction’, and in theology, ‘deliverance from the power and penalty of sin; redemption’. Green explains several important Hebrew words which are used in the context of salvation in the OT. Although Green discusses more words, this paper will lift out three of them. Firstly there is the word ‘hayah’, which means ‘to be alive’, but in the causative sense it means ‘to preserve’, ‘to keep alive’ or ‘to give full and prosperous life’ to someone. Green says that this word ‘hayah’ is used seven times in the formula ‘God save the king’ (e.g. 1 Samuel 10:24). This example shows the underlining message all over Scripture, namely it is God who saves. The second word, gó-el, mainly means to act the part of a kinsman. A kinsman justifies his relative; often his duty is to retaliate his blood (eg. Numbers 35:19). Occasionally the kinsman buys a family member out of slavery (eg. Leviticus 25:48). Whenever this word is used in Scripture, it is in the context of a redeemer who is making an effort in the cause of a relative. The last meaning of the word to be considered is ‘kôpher’, which means a ‘ransom price’ (Green 1998: 13-15, 32-33). A clear passage, with the word ‘kôpher’, in the OT is Isaiah 43:1-4, where God says:
‘O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee’
and in verse 3-4,
‘for I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.’

Understanding in the OT

The OT readers understood salvation differently than the contemporary NT readers. Brueggemann states that
‘these actions of intervening with the purpose to rescue are nameable, concrete, and decisively transformative, and are termed ‘salvation’ or ‘deliverance’ (2002: 184; Italics mine).

Several passages in the OT connote that there was an awareness of ‘spiritual’ salvation as well (eg. Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 31:34). The word ‘spiritual’ is not the word the OT reader would have used, they saw it more as a relational restoration between people and God. Spiritual salvation is a phraseology used by many contemporary writers, and will be used in this paper when these writers are quoted. Koole (1997: 400) describes that
‘the pronouncement of salvation ‘to remember iniquity no more’ is parallel with the wiping out of sin (Isaiah 43:25) and its forgiveness (Jeremiah 31:34), and the Psalms declare that this is only thanks to God’s mercy (Psalm 25; 79:8).’

This awareness of relational salvation was a contemporaneous awareness, which is to say that there was no clear understanding of an afterlife. Boadt (1984: 250) says that there is little evidence that the Israelites held out hope for an afterlife before a quite late time in the post-exilic age. Boadt remarks that this is a strange position held by the Israelites, since almost all ancient nations had elaborate burial customs, illustrating their believes in an afterlife.
The understanding of an afterlife began to gradually form after the exile. The prophets of the time, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel, placed more attention on personal fate. From the exile on, every individual was held responsible for his own life, and thus the question arose what would happen with a good person who died without visible blessings during his life. The passages of Psalm 16:9-11; 49:15; 73:24 and Isaiah 26:19 seem to suggest an afterlife, Daniel 12:1-2 however is the most clear passage about being saved for an afterlife. Boadt thinks that this understanding took shape in Daniel,
‘helped by the questions of persecution and martyrdom, and with some outside influence from Persian and Greek ideas on the afterlife and immortality of the human spirit’ (Boadt 1984: 252; cf. Nichols 2010: 25).

In contrast to this, one might note that when the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt, they saw the concept of afterlife in the Egyptian culture. In that respect the concept was not new to them. Wright however states that this understanding of an afterlife was always there, but in a latent form. According to Wright humans are innately immortal, and the awareness of an afterlife
‘grew directly from the emphasis on the goodness of creation, on YHWH as the god who both kills and makes alive’ (Wright 2003: 125).

What Wright states, is that the Israelites believed that God created humans as immortal beings. By sin humans became mortal, but the believe was that God would restore his creation to its original state. The solution of Wright does not need a foreign addition to the Jewish faith and makes it more apprehensible, and plausible.

The method of salvation in the OT

Studying the word ‘salvation’, and reading through Scripture, people can distinguish different methods by which God saves. Firstly, there is material salvation, that is to say, saved from death, disasters, and sickness. For this method, a closer look is exerted at the famous story of Noah and his family in Genesis 6:5- 9:19. The salvation of man and beast was a deliverance from the flood, thus it was no relational salvation. Lockyer (1973: 277) annotates however that Noah was an inheritor of righteousness, which is by faith (cf. Hebrew 11:7). Lockyer continues to explain that it could well be that Noah’s wife and family were brought to a relational deliverance as a result of the physical deliverance they experienced. Lockyer makes a justified assumption, because the physical salvation was accomplished on a supernatural level. According to Phillips, Noah and his family went in the ark voluntarily.
‘No one pushed Ham into the ark. God convicts, but He does not coerce. Salvation is a personal choice, and Ham chose to enter the ark’ (Philips 2006 : 54).

Another example can be seen in Genesis 19:19, where Lot is being saved from the disastrous punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah:
‘Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life.’

In this verse the word ‘hayah’ is used in the phrase: ‘saving my life’. The word ‘hayah’ is often used in a non-religious way, for example where the life of the harlot Rahab is being saved by Joshua (Joshua 6:25). In the situation of Lot one can see that ‘saving my life’ refers to a supernatural act of God. The two examples above, Noah and Lot, demonstrate two aspects of salvation in particular; judgement and mercy. Mercy and judgement can be seen continually throughout later salvation.

Secondly there is the salvation of slavery, and exploitation. The principle of the kinsman is a very important concept for the Jews. God is called the ‘redeemer’ (Hebrew gó-el) of Israel. An act of kinsman-ship can be seen in Exodus 6:6-7, where the word ‘gó-el’ can be found in the phrase ‘I will redeem’. According to Deadmond (2007: 199)
‘the two phrases ‘I will take you’ and ‘I will be to you’ are biblically and rabbinically connected to marriage and in this case is referring Israel’s betrothal at Mt. Sinai.’

Brueggeman (2002: 163) states that God functions as the redeemer to preserve Israel and secure Israel’s release from being in hock to Pharaoh. The Psalms testify of this great salvation act, which is imperative for Israel’s existence (cf. Psalm 74:2, 77:15, 78:35, 106:10).

The salvation from Egypt demonstrates God as a kinsman in twofold. Firstly, God acknowledged Israel as his wife, a redeeming act that foreshadows the law which is described later in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Secondly, God saves Israel out of slavery. This act of God is an example for the Israelites as well. An Israelite was not allowed to take one of his own people as his slave, but should an Israelite fall into debt, he could sell himself into servitude unto the year of jubilee (cf. Leviticus 25:39-42). In the meantime a slave could purchase his own freedom, or one who was immediate family could mediate and secure the freedom of a relative (cf. Leviticus 25:47-53).
‘In all these ways, the actions of the kinsman-redeemer reflect what God has done for His larger human family’ (Hale and Thorson 2007: 513-514).

God functions through his actions as the perfect example for his people. Knowing the history, and thus what the Lord has done for the Israelites, is important to understand his laws. Knowledge of the OT is also of significance in understanding the contemporary relevance of Jesus’ sacrifice.

The last method to be discussed in this paper, is that of atonement. The Hebrew word ‘kôpher’, which means ‘ransom’, is closely related to atonement. The word ‘ransom’ can be found in Exodus 30:12-15. Here it is an act of the people to make an atonement for their souls. Atonement often relates to the ransom price, which people needed to pay, for sin. In Isaiah 43:1-4 it is God himself who promises to pay the ransom for his people. Several scholars state that these verses demonstrate Gods love for his people. Because of this love, God is prepared to pay a high ransom for the deliverance of Israel from Babylon (cf. Koole 1997: 283; Wiersbe 2008: 52). The Persian empire gave the Israelites back their (relative) freedom, but in exchange for this act received large additions in Africa (cf. Andreasen 2001: 163).

The line of salvation throughout the OT

‘And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31). God created everything and everything was without falsity. Salvation was not needed until the fall of humankind. Genesis 3 narrates a dramatic change in this situation. Adam and Eve were banned from the garden of Eden, but not without a promise of salvation:
‘And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel’ (Genesis 3:15).

This is the promise of salvation that echoes throughout Scripture, as will become clear in the following part of this paper.

Salvation in the Old Testament is not discussed primarily in terms of ‘going to heaven’, but in terms of belonging to God as his people. The flood story underlines God’s intention. God want to restore and salvage humankind. As mentioned earlier, this was a material salvation, but one of significant value. After the flood God made a covenant with Noah (cf. Genesis 9). Sánchez (1989: 153) makes the following note on this event:
‘…the covenant made with Noah (unlike the subsequent covenants with Abraham, Moses, Israel, etc.) was made with all creation. Standing as a memorial and a sign of that cosmic covenant, the rainbow was to be forever a witness to God’s fidelity’.

After Noah the story proceeds with Abraham, who was called out of Ur in to the land Canaan.
‘Salvation comes because God calls in grace and sinners respond by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Thessalonian 2:13-14)… Abraham did not know the true God, and had done nothing to deserve knowing him, but God graciously called him’ (Wiersbe 2007: 57).

One might say that God called Abraham out of boundage to relational salvation.

In Genesis 15:13-14 God makes a remarkable promise. God told Abraham that his offspring will be in another country (Egypt) as slaves, but that he will finally salvage them. Johnson (2001) explains that after the covenant (Genesis 15) God made with Abraham, God even passed between the dismembered halves of animals in a self-maledictory oath. By doing this God illustrates: ‘If I ever leave you, may I myself be torn apart’. Exodus narrates the promise, which God made to Abraham, and even presenting himself as a real kinsman-redeemer (Exodus 6:6-7). God saves the Israelites from Pharaoh, who wore a headdress with a serpent attached to it. According to Howey (1955: 22) this
‘was not only regarded as the badge of royalty, but was also a protector, and credited with power to destroy any who might lay sacrilegious hands on the Pharaoh.’

The reader might call attention to the first promise of salvation given in Genesis 3:15. Now Israel encounters a visual serpent on Pharaohs head. Pharaoh bruised the people in slavery, but he is crushed by the wondrous salvation of God.

As the story enfolds through the OT, it is God who saves individuals as well as the people of Israel time and again from oppression, diseases, and separation from God. Prophets were used by God to call the people back to live a holy life, with the promises of Deuteronomy 28 always present in the back of their minds.

The exile to Babylon awoke the desire to re-establish the Davidic dynasty. After the salvation from exile, foretold in Isaiah 43:1-4, Israel tried to rebuild this kingdom. Israel considered this not only to be a national restoration (Ezekiel 36:24, 37:12), but also a prelude to the expected messianic advent that would usher in religious restoration (Malachi 4:5-6 cf. Ezekiel 36:25-27, 37:14; Strauss 1995: 37-40). However, despite the efforts, the post-exilic community came to realize that the prophetic ideals of restoration had not been met, and that religious restoration, and the promised ‘Anointed’ still lay in the future (Price 2005). Israel held its expectation of salvation, which had to be accomplished through the promised messiah, and they had
‘common themes to the expectation. Based on what they knew from the Torah and writings, those common themes would include kinship, priesthood, and warfare’ (Porter 2007: 30; italics mine).

Salvation in contemporary time

Knowing how God saves throughout the OT makes it easier to understand what Jesus did. During his ministry he healed people from diseases, and other shortcomings. By doing this, he did what God did in the OT. Being saved from death or sickness does not automatically mean that one wants to be restored in the relationship with God. In Luke 17:12-19 Jesus healed ten lepers, only one came back to thank him. Just as God did not force Noah’s family into the ark, so did Jesus not force the lepers to thank him.

Herzog compares the ministry of Jesus with that of a kinsman-redeemer. In the OT it was Yahweh who became the gó-el, who rescued
‘the people from slavery, and now, once again, a new redeemer, acting on Yahweh’s behalf had done the same thing… Wherever God’s people were in bondage to Satan (eg. Luke 13:10-17) or his demonic minions (eg. Mark 1:21-28; 5:1-20), Jesus searched them out to liberate them’ (Herzog 2000: 208).

It was God who rescued his people from Pharaoh with an outstretched arm (Exodus 6:6-7 cf. Deuteronomy 26:8). Likewise Jesus salvaged with a mighty hand (that hand was pierced), and an outstretched arm (his arm was outstretched on the cross).

The likeness with that of a kinsman is reveiled when Jesus takes his church as his bride. God took Israel as his wife and in 2 Corinthians 11:2 it is Paul who makes this comparison with the church and Jesus (cf. Revelations 19:7).

Finally a closer look is exerted to salvation through a ransom. God saved his people through a ransom (Isaiah 43:1-4) and now it was Jesus who gave his own life as a ransom (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6) In the OT sin or defilement needed to be covered with the blood of an innocent animal—this was the ransom. Eurales (2004: 24) remarks that this is a parallel with that which
‘the NT teaches about Christ, the Lamb of God. He was the innocent sacrifice who bore our sins—those of us who received His gift of salvation’ (eg. Revelations 5:9).

Jesus is called the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) and this reminds the reader of what happened in Genesis. The first Adam brought sin into the world, but God did not leave him without a promise (Genesis 3:15). By crucifying Jesus the enemy bruised his heel, which was not lethal in the end. Jesus however will return and bruise the head of the enemy, which will put an end to all misery (cf. Revelations 20:10).


In the beginning everything was very good. There was no need for salvation in what ever way. But with the fall of man the necessity of salvation was imperative. The initiative came from God, who made the first promise, straight after the condemnation of Adam and Eve.

Salvation emerges through the OT in several ways. There are the non-religious and the supernatural salvations. In the supernatural deliverances God shows himself as a loving God. He is the one who becomes the perfect Kinsman, and is even prepared to pay high ransoms for his people.

Up to the exile the Israelites saw salvation in the ‘here and now’ setting. It was to be prosperous, to stay alive, to be released from sin, and to have their own land. The concept of being saved for an afterlife and the resurrection became more substantial in later Judaism, and finally in Christianity.

In salvation God’s character can be recognized. He is the God of great power, who humbled himself and became human in order to be the greatest kinsman-redeemer of all times.


All biblical references are taken from The Holy Bible: King James Version (1611).

Andreasen, M. L. (2001) Isaiah the Gospel Prophet: a Preacher of Righteousness. Brushton, Teach services, inc.

Boadt, L. (1984) Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New Jersey, Paulist Press.

Brueggemann, W. (2002) Reverberations of Faith; A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes, 1st ed. Louisville, Kentucky, WestMinster John Knox Press.

Deadmond, R. (2007) The Betrothed Bride of Messiah: Making Herself Ready For The Bridegroom. [Internet]. Xulon Press. Available from <http://books.google.co.uk> [Accessed 23 November 2011].

Dictionary.com (2011) Definition of ‘salvation’. [internet]. Dictionary.com, LLC. Available from: <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/salvation> [Accessed 18 November 2011].

Eurales, D. E. Jr. (2004) Principles of Christian Living. [Internet]. Xulon Press. Available from <http://books.google.co.uk> [Accessed 17 November 2011].

Green, M. (1998) The Meaning of Salvation. Vancouver, Regent College Publishing.

Hale, T. and Thorson, S. (2007) Applied Old Testament Commentary: Applying God’s Word to Your Life. Colorado Springs, David C. Cook Distribution.

Herzog, W. R. (2000) Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God: a Ministry of Liberation. Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press.

Howey, M. O. (1955) The Encircled Serpent a Study of Serpent Symbolism in All Countries and Ages. New York, Noble Printers inc.

Johnson, G. (2001) Salvation in the Old Testament – They weren’t saved by animal sacrifices… They weren’t saved by works. [Internet] Gregs Couch, theology & apologetics for normal people. Available from: <http://gregscouch.homestead.com/files/otsalvation.htm> [Accessed 04 December 2011].

Koole, J. L. (1997) Isaiah: Historical Commentary on the Old Testament III, vol. 1. Runia, A. P. (trans.), Houtman, C. (ed.). Kampen, Kok Pharos Publishing House.

Lockyer, H. (1973) All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Zondervan.

Nichols, T. (2010) Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids, Brazos Press.

Phillips, J. (2006) Exploring People of the Old Testament, Volume 1. Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications.

Porter, S. E. (2007) The Messiah in the Old And New Testaments. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Price, R. (2005) The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament. [Internet] San Marcos, World of the Bible Ministries. Available from: <http://www.worldoftheBible.com/Bible Studies/The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament.pdf> [Accessed 04 December 2011].

Sánchez, P. D. (1989) The Word We Celebrate: Commentary on the Sunday Lectionary, Years A, B, and C. Maryland, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, inc.

Strauss, M. L. (1995) The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts: the Promise and its Fulfilment in Lukan Christology. Sheffield, Sheffield Academic Press Ltd.

Wiersbe, W. W. (2007) The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: The Complete Old Testament. Colorado Springs, David C. Cook Distributions.

Wiersbe, W. W. (2008) Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament Prophets Isaiah – Malachi, 2td
ed. Colorado Springs, David C. Cook Distributions.

Wright, N. T. (2003) The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3). Minneapolis, Fortress Press.

Word Count: 3039