05.05 Jesus Reveals Himself

05.05 Jesus Reveals Himself

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.05 Jesus Reveals Himself

Unit 05

The Early Ministry Of Jesus


Chapter 05

Jesus Reveals Himself


05.05.00.A SCOURGING THE MONEYCHANGERS FROM THE TEMPLE by El Greco. 1600Without a spoken word concerning Malachi’s prophecy (Mal. 3:1), but by suddenly appearing in the temple and driving out the merchants, Jesus not only announced His Messiahship, but also demonstrated that the House of God was to be a holy sanctuary and not a market place for corrupt businessmen.  His appearance in the temple has definite messianic overtones!

05.05.01 Introduction

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 11, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.05.01 Introduction

05.05.01 Introduction

Since His baptism Jesus acquired five disciples, and they were invited to a wedding in the small village of Cana. It was at this wedding that, due to a shortage of wine, His actions revealed His identity. In the time that followed, He revealed His identity repeatedly, not by a confession, but by His actions and teachings. This, in turn, made people ponder, search their Scriptures, and discover for themselves His identity.


05.05.01a (2)

05.05.02 Jn. 2:1-11 The First Miracle in Cana

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 08, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.05.02 Jn. 2:1-11 The First Miracle in Cana

05.05.02 Jn. 2:1-11 The First Miracle in Cana




On the third day a wedding took place in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and 2 Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding as well. 3 When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother told Him, “They don’t have any wine.”

4 What has this concern of yours to do with Me, woman?” Jesus asked. “My hour has not yet come.”

5 “Do whatever He tells you,” His mother told the servants.

6 Now six stone water jars had been set there for Jewish purification. Each contained 20 or 30 gallons.

7 “Fill the jars with water,” Jesus told them. So they filled them to the brim. 8 Then He said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the chief servant.” And they did.

9 When the chief servant tasted the water (after it had become wine), he did not know where it came from—though the servants who had drawn the water knew. He called the groom 10 and told him, “Everyone sets out the fine wine first, then, after people have drunk freely, the inferior. But you have kept the fine wine until now.”

11 Jesus performed this first sign in Cana of Galilee. He displayed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.


People have always loved weddings, and in ancient times the wedding was rather unique – and in some ways – like a game. As the evening sun set upon the horizon, the bridegroom and his friends went to the bride’s home to “steal her away.” She anticipated his coming and was prepared to meet him with her bridesmaids, but wasn’t exactly sure when to expect him. Both bride and bridegroom were then carried off on the shoulders of young men while others carried torches, played flutes and drums, sang and danced in the streets, as they went to the appointed place of the wedding. Bride and groom were treated as they were a king and queen – a profound image in a culture of economic slavery.  The celebration is one of the most joyful events in Jewish life, because a new family was established and God was honored for the creation of new life.

05.05.02a (3)


“On the third day a wedding.”  In Judaism, the days of the week do not have names, but rather, are numbered. Weddings were held on the third day of the week because, at the time of Creation, that was the day God twice said that “it is good.”[1] Since the day begins at sunset, the wedding occurred Monday after sunset which is the beginning of the third day and went far into the night.[2]  Maidens were married on the third day of the week, and widows on the sixth day.[3] So the wedding at Cana was clearly for a young maiden.[4]  Families of wealth could afford an ample supply of wine that would last seven days – the length of wedding celebrations among the proverbial “rich and famous.”[5]   However, among the poor, weddings were no more than three days, if that. The fact that this family ran out of their beverage of choice, is indicative of their economic status – poor. In addition, among the common people, the host did not provide wedding garments for the guests.  Only the very wealthy and those of high rank could afford to provide wedding garments to all their guests.[6]

It was the custom for the host (the bridegroom or the father of the bridegroom) to employ a toastmaster for the wedding feast to insure that all the needs were met for the guests, and especially for the bride and groom.  Therefore, when the wine was all consumed, it was a social tragedy and a supreme insult for him. Such an error on the part of the toastmaster would not only haunt him but also the newlyweds for the rest of their lives.  It was a problem beyond modern comprehension. The fact that they did run out of wine underscores the probability that the wedding party was a poor Jewish family. This gross embarrassment was averted when Jesus changed the water into wine with the taste of aged mellowing.[7]


05.05.02.A. TWO RITUAL STONE WATER VESSELS. Stone vessels were considered ritually pure, as opposed to vessels made of clay (Mishnah: Kelim 10:11; Parah 3:2). They were made of a limestone block that was turned on a primitive lathe. These vessels each have a capacity of eight and one-half gallons.[8] Photograph by the author.


Cana of Galilee.”  It was in this obscure village of Cana where Jesus performed His first miracle.  Not before crowds in a splendid amphitheater, but before a few peasant farming families who worked hard, who struggled to keep afloat under Roman oppression, and who were about to have an ordinary wedding – or so they thought. If a son of Mary and Joseph was getting married, then the wedding would have occurred in Nazareth. If a daughter was getting married, the wedding would have been at the bridegroom’s home – which in this case, was in Cana. The identity of the wedding couple may never be known, but scholars are comfortable with the assessment that one individual of the bridal couple, most likely the daughter, was closely related to Mary and Joseph.

On a side note, since the seventeenth century, the village of Cana that is adjacent to and just north of Nazareth has claimed to be the traditional site of the miracle.  In fact, the local church contains two vessels said to be of the biblical wedding.  However, this village was established solely for tourists and has no biblical, historical, or archaeological significance.  In fact, recently archaeologists identified the actual site of the Khirbet Kana ruins about ten kilometers north of Nazareth. Excavations there have revealed a first century occupation and local Arabs for centuries have called it the Cana of Galilee.

What has this concern of yours to do with Me, woman?”  To modern readers this hardly seems like a statement that Jesus would make, especially when Hebrew law and the cultural hospitality demanded respect for parents.   It seems very unkind and harsh, but in the Aramaic language, it did not convey that negative emotion.

The word woman, or gunai, is a word of endearment and great respect, so much so that emperor Augustus addressed Queen Cleopatra of Egypt by the same word gunai.[9] Jesus used it again when he hung dying on the cross and said, “Woman, behold your Son.”  Another translation could be, “What have I and you to do with that?”  Or, “Never mind; don’t be worried.”[10] Yet, as previously stated, English translations do not convey the emotion of the common Aramaic phrase (mal li velak), that is perfectly consistent with the most delicate courtesy and feelings of consideration.


05.05.02.Q1 Why did Mary ask Jesus to resolve the crisis at the wedding (Jn. 2:1-11)?

When Mary asked Jesus to do something about the crisis, He said that His commands come from His Father in heaven, not her. That sounds rather harsh in modern English. This was followed by His statement, “My hour has not yet come,” which can also be translated as “I must wait for the right opportunity.”[11] Nonetheless, He did as she requested, not out of obedience, but for her honor.  He was in His thirties and the parent-son relationship still had to be cherished. Therefore, Jesus performed His first miracle, changing water into wine, which would later symbolize His life – bringing joy to life. But the fact that Mary asked Jesus to resolve a serious problem presents the question of why – why did she ask?

The only reason Mary could have asked Him to do anything was because she was an important figure in the wedding party – someone in her immediate family was getting married. Because weddings were times of great celebration, the entire extended families of Mary and Joseph were probably there. One tradition says that the reason she asked Jesus for help was because the bride was either her sister or daughter.[12] Another tradition says the bridegroom was Alphaeus and the bride was Mary, a sister of the Virgin Mary.[13] Note that at times parents did name two or more children with the same first name.

However, some scholars have suggested that it is too much of an assumption to consider Mary as a member of the wedding party because such an opinion cannot be sustained by an exegetical study – and they are correct! However, from a cultural perspective, it is almost certain that she was a member of the wedding party.  If Mary was a guest, it would have been most inconsiderate of her to make this request and cause further embarrassment to the host.  There are several reasons why she asked Jesus to do “something,” meaning, to perform a miracle of some kind.  Consider these –

  1. She certainly did not forget the angel that told her of her pregnancy. No one would forget that event – and she wondered about it for three decades. But now she knew that He was past the age of 30 and His ministry would soon begin.
  1. It was Mary, when told she would conceive and bear a child (Lk. 1:46-56; 04.03.05), who once magnified her Lord when she proclaimed “My soul proclaims the greatness of our Lord.”
  1. Who, but a mother would have known her son better than anyone else, especially if He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and she gave Him birth while still a virgin?
  1. She knew of Zechariah and Elizabeth and their miracle son, John, who by now had been preaching in the less populated areas north of the Dead Sea.
  1. She remembered the words of Simeon who, when he held the infant Jesus, thanked God for the opportunity to see the salvation of God for all people (Lk. 2:25-35; 04.04.04).
  1. She reflected upon the words of Anna, a prophetess in the temple.
  1. She remembered the magi and the trip to Egypt so Herod would not kill her son, and possibly herself and Joseph too.
  1. What was it like to raise a perfect sinless child? Mary and Joseph, as well as their relatives and neighbors, were most certainly aware of the unusual character of Jesus as He grew into manhood.
  1. She knew her Son already had five disciples and was a popular teacher. She probably questioned that if some Hebrew prophets performed miracles, would her son do likewise?


With all these incredible thoughts and experiences she knew there was something profoundly different about her Jesus. So why not ask Him to do something? She most certainly did not know of His divinity, but she knew her Hebrew Bible well enough to understand that since the prophets of olden times performed miracles, maybe her Jesus, who was now past the age of 30, could do something the wine situation. Especially since this was a socially desperate situation.

This miracle must have had a special effect upon His siblings[14] who most certainly were wondering what kind of brother they had.  Yet in spite of His incredible teachings, the fact that He had five disciples at this point, and the incredible miracle He performed, yet they had no respect or honor for Him (Mk. 6:4).

“Jewish purification” Orthodox Jews observed the ceremonial washing of hands prior to eating.  The washing of hands (2 Kg. 3:11) meant washing the forearms from the elbows to the finger tips prior to eating with prayers of thankfulness.[15] So serious was the matter of hand washing, that those who failed to wash properly were said to be subject to the attack or influence of a demon named Shibta.[16] Because most Christians have never observed ritualistic ordinances as this one, the significance of ceremonial washing is difficult for them to understand.

At the wedding, the vessels were present so the attendees could to wash their hands in ritually-pure water before eating.  Vessels of clay pottery were considered to be ritually impure because of the possibility of dung being in the clay. The fact that there were six stone jars indicates that this was a huge wedding – with many guests not only from the small village of Cana, but nearby Nazareth as well.

Since the stone vessels were for water to be used in ritual washing, why did Jesus use them for His miracle?  The answer is that there were probably no other vessels available that would have contained the sufficient amount of wine needed for the large crowd.  Furthermore, since the miracle occurred in ritually pure vessels, in Jewish eyes that was a positive reflection upon His miracle.

“The chief servant.”  The chief servant (Gk. architriklinos) was not a slave, but the master of the banquet; either the headwaiter or a guest who served as the steward or host.[17] Since this was a multi-day event, he presided over the series of evening meals that were an integral part of the lengthy wedding feast.  It was his responsibility to insure that the entire feast was properly conducted, assign seats for family and guests, and maintain a lively spirit throughout the celebration.[18]   As the chief steward, he tasted the wine before it was served to the guests.[19] He was also responsible to insure that no one had too much to drink, as intoxication would have been an insult to him and the wedding couple.[20] Whether for religious or civil occasions, there was always plenty of food, wine, pomp, and speeches as the order of the day.  The master scheduled everything in its due time for the host.[21] But his reputation as the master of the banquet was largely determined by how well he mixed wines. The Talmud recorded that a Rabbi Rava excelled in this art and had established a renowned reputation for being the best wine mixer.[22]

“Fine wine . . . the inferior (wine).”  Wines were normally consumed within three to four years of the grape harvest, with the best wines aging ten to sixteen years.[23] The best wines were presented first to the guests of honor in the beginning of the feast, with the lesser quality consumed near the end of the festival.   To acquire the best taste, it was common practice to mix wines, especially in the royal courts.[24] The wine Jesus produced was of such excellent quality that it did not have to be mixed with other wines.  Since new wine had a potent effect the Talmud forbade giving it to a Jewish servant.[25] This is a very interesting reflection upon the quality of wine. What Jesus produced apparently had the full flavor of fine aged wine, not the fresh potency of new wine. The Bible says that the Jews related wine with the joy of life (Ps. 104:15), which is why the Second Temple Period sages said,                                                         

One in whose house wine does not flow like water is not blessed.

Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 65a


Obviously, if the prevailing opinion was that a house without wine was not blessed, imagine what running out of wine at life’s most important occasion, a wedding, would have been like.  A huge social embarrassment!  To insure that no one drank too much of the beverage, the rabbis insisted that it be diluted with water, but they disagreed on the ratio of wine to water. Note the following:

  1. According to one source in the Babylonian Talmud, wines were normally diluted with two parts water to one part wine, but a mixture that consisted of three parts water and one part wine could not be considered wine.[26]
  2. The ancient writer Pliny said it was diluted eight parts water to one part wine.[27]
  3. Jason of Cyrene, who authored 2 Maccabees from an extended narrative, said,

For just as it is harmful to drink wine alone, or, again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one’s enjoyment, so also the style of the story delights the ears of those who read the work.

2 Maccabees 15:39[28]

  1. Two writers of the Mishnah said that wine diluted with two to four parts water and the mixture was known as mazug.[29] Furthermore, they said this was a normal practice. It would have been nearly impossible to become intoxicated with this diluted beverage.


The point being that wine was seldom consumed without first diluting it with water. This was done for two reasons:

  1. To decrease the opportunity for abuse and intoxication. A constant concern was the abuse of a blessing to the point it would become a curse, namely, drunkenness. Judaism, as well as the church, has always condemned drunkenness. Clement made this comment concerning Jesus:

For if He made water [into] wine at the marriage, He did not give permission to get drunk.

Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor[30]

  1. To kill the bacteria in water that had been stored in cisterns for long periods of time. By the end of a long hot dry summer with no rain, the water that was stored in cisterns generally had some bacteria or other microbes that could cause stomach problems. The small alcohol content of the wine made the water safe to drink.


To honor the command, “You should be holy,” even rabbis were forbidden from entering the temple, blessing a congregation, or rendering a legal-religious decision if they were even slightly under the influence of wine. Because wine “gladdens the heart” (Ps. 104:15), it was the symbol of joy, along with love, marriage, and repentance.  Jesus performed his first miracle that was symbolic of a wedding. His last miracle was also symbolic of a wedding.  His miracle at Cana is in sharp contrast to the first miracle of Moses, where water in the Nile turned into blood and suggests that the Old Covenant symbolized judgment.[31]  The Cana miracle was clearly symbolic of the contrast between the Old and New Covenants.  But could there have been another purpose for the miracle at Cana?

Jesus performed this first (miraculous) sign.” John clearly indicated the miracle at Cana was the first in the ministry of Jesus.  The Greek word for sign is semeia which John used to point the readers toward Jesus. Whereas Jesus used the miracles to reveal His glory; to reflect upon past prophets (as in the healing of Jairus’ daughter), John used the word semeia to point specifically to Jesus.

Miracles were designed to authenticate the message and messenger of God (Acts 2:22). In the Old Testament, miracles were generally punitive, whereas those of Jesus were redemptive.  The Jews were persuaded by miracles, which were signs of the continuation of God in their midst, but the Greeks were persuaded by logic and reason (1 Cor. 1:22).  It is interesting that Jesus did not come primarily as a miracle-worker, but He came to reveal the Father and to preach that the Kingdom of God was about to come to those who placed their faith in Him. Three times John discretely used the number seven. As previously stated, John presented seven “I am” statements,[32] seven discourses,[33] and seven signs or miracles,[34] about Jesus.

The Hebraic meaning of “seven” was very significant to his first century audience.  It represented completeness and wholeness, while the number three represented emphasis.  Whenever something was said in the most important manner possible, it was said three times. Since John used the number seven as a figure of speech, it is obvious that there were many more signs, discourses, and “I am” statements. Cana was the first miracle sign.

To underscore His divine authority, Jesus did not choose the fresh fruit of the vine, but common water and changed that into the finest wine.  Water has always been an essence of life, especially in the semi-arid and arid climate zones of Israel.  It is interesting that the first miracle was not the restoration of life to a dead person or the healing of a crippled, deaf, or mute person, but changing water into wine and creating joy.  It had been more than three decades since reports spread throughout the land of His unusual birth; three decades since the shepherds and angels rejoiced.  Now this Man of divine birth began to disclose God’s compassion, power, and the message of the Kingdom of God.

 05.05.02e (2)


05.05.02.Q2 What is the significance of the first miracle (Jn. 2:1-11)? 

All too often study of the first miracle is focused on the turning of the water into wine, rather than the fact that Jesus was at a wedding and the wine, symbolic of joy, was at a wedding feast. The new wine portrays the coming of the messianic kingdom – Jesus is the Messiah of Israel who will bring the Messianic Kingdom into reality.  His kingdom is often portrayed in terms of a banquet or wedding feast.[35] How appropriate then, that His first miracle is to bring joy to a wedding feast – the focus of His entire ministry. As a whole, Judaism with its many sects and multiple regulations had essentially become a dead religion.  It needed life and joy; it needed a “spiritual wine.” Jesus is that wine.

  1. The miracle captured people’s attention in a greater manner than did the preaching and teaching He had done until this point. The fact that He had five disciples is indicative that He was a well-respected teacher.
  1. The miracle emphasized the fact that He came to bring joy to life – joy that would be revealed within the Kingdom of God.
  1. This miracle was the first of many, that coupled with His message, revealed the Father as Jesus preached the good news that the Kingdom of God was about to come to those who placed their faith in Him.


05.05.02.Q3 Did the wine that Jesus created contain alcohol (Jn. 2:1-11)?

There is no biblical passage that commands total abstinence from alcohol, but there are abundant passages that declare drunkenness to be a sin.[36] This writer has come to the conclusion that today this question is usually asked by those who wish to justify their abuse of alcohol, or desire to argue against this church doctrine. Both issues actually point to other problems.  However, to respond to the straight forward question – both the Greek and Hebrew languages have a word that means grape juice and another word that means fermented drink made from grapes. In this passage, the Greek word oinos (3631) for wine originated from the Greek oy-nos, which clearly means fermented wine.[37] There is no question that the miracle wine had alcohol. The Bible does not condemn drinking wine, but it highly condemns drunkenness and the lifestyle associated with it (see commentary below on “Choice wine … cheaper wine”).[38]  Wine was a common beverage at this time in a manner similar to what a soft drink might be to North America today.


05.05.02.Q4 What is the difference between wine and strong drink (Jn. 2:1-11)?

Due to the hot climate, any kind of natural juice spoils quickly. For that reason, grape juice was fermented into wine, so it had a long shelf life and could be used as a medicine, beverage, and for religious rites.  As previously stated, both Greek and Hebrew have distinct words for fermented wine and grape juice. A complete study of wine is beyond the scope of this study, but a brief overview is presented.[39]  The word wine is basically used in three ways as follows.

  1. The word new wine is fresh grape juice. It is used 38 times in the Old Testament.[40] But it too can be fermented, as evidenced by Hosea 4:11 that says both “old wine” and “new wine” (Gk. gleukos 1098)[41] take away understanding. Obviously virgin grape juice would not do that. Another example is that on the day of Pentecost, the crowds said that the people were filled with “new wine” (Acts 2:13), which obviously implies they were under the Holy Spirit influence. This suggests new wine has some alcohol content.
  2. The word wine is simply fermented grape juice that has a natural alcoholic content and is found 141 times in the Hebrew Bible.
  3. The phrase strong drink is used 23 times and refers to an intoxicating beverage with a higher alcohol content than wine. It was made by adding dried fruit (i.e., raisins, dates, figs, barley, pomegranates, dates, or even honey) to fermenting grapes.[42] The dried fruit, with its natural sugar content, spiked the alcohol level of the brew resulting in a “strong drink.” This wine is the “mocker” and “brawler” of Proverbs 20:11, but was to be given to those who are dying (Prov. 31:6). In modern times, this would be associated with liquor.


On a side note, in light of the ancient custom of drinking wine, today’s commercially produced wine has higher alcohol content when consumed than did its ancient counterpart. While it may not be as strong as the “strong drink” of the first century, it isn’t far from it. On occasion, a spice wine with honey and pepper or a palm wine was created. Beer came from Media and Babylon and barley wine was imported from Egypt.[43]  However, most Jews observed the rabbinic rules and consumed only their local wines. Jesus made pure wine of the best quality; anything inferior would not have been a divine miracle.[44]


05.05.02.Q5 Could Jesus have quietly have demonstrated His superiority over the Greek god Dionysos?

A question to ponder is whether Jesus silently demonstrated His divinity and power over the Greek god Dionysus. The miracle was obviously significant to the Jews, and their Greek neighbors certainly heard about it.  In fact, some Gentile friends and neighbors most certainly attended the event and witnessed the miracle. Jesus demonstrated that He had greater power than Dionysius, the Greek god of joy and wine. In fact, this writer believes that most, if not all of John’s recorded miracles were demonstrations of power over Greek and Roman deities.

The first miracle has two symbolic significances.

  1. As stated previously, the first miracle by Moses was to turn water into blood (Ex. 7:20). In that historic case, Moses was the administrator of death and wrath (2 Cor. 3:6-9), but in this case, Jesus was the administrator of joy in life because He is the true vine that brings gladness to the heart (Ps. 104:15). While Moses is shown here in contrast to Jesus, in other places he is shown as a “type” of Christ,[45] as when he sweetened the bitter waters (Ex. 15:25), a feat duplicated by Elijah (2 Kg. 2:19-22).[46] The first miracle had a symbolic message that was quickly recognized by the rabbis. It placed Jesus as One who was more holy than Moses, and that was a dilemma they could not accept.
  1. A second symbolic significance is that it also reflects upon the thin and watery elements of the Jewish faith (Heb. 7:18) that was about to be transformed into a richer and joyous higher faith. In essence, the Old Testament Israelite religion was symbolized by water; and only in the “type and shadow” could it point to Jesus who is the true vine (Jn. 15:1). The second symbolic significance was probably not observed until after His resurrection.


According to a Greek legend, on certain annual occasions, namely January 5 and 6, the god of Sepphoris, Dionysius, produced wine in a miraculous manner.[47] The proverbial “wine, women, and song” were considered among life’s greatest pleasures by the Greeks and Romans.  No image portrays this better than the god Dionysos.  Since Nazareth and Cana were both short distances from Sepphoris, there is no doubt that the news of the miracle soon reached the Gentile city.



05.05.02.B. FLOOR MOSAIC OF THE GOD DIONYSOS (LEFT) PRESENTING GRAPES AND WINE. A 3rd century Roman mosaic of Dionysos is generally depicted as a young man who feverishly enjoys wine, women, and song. No image portrays the Greek life, as well as the Herodian dynasty, more than Dionysos. Courtesy of the Kato Paphos Archaeological Park, Kato Paphos, Cyprus.


In the Greek city of Sepphoris, located only three miles from Nazareth and a few more from Cana, the Greek god Dionysus was worshiped. According to ancient authors like Pliny, Dionysus was the god of wine and happiness.[48]   However, the Greeks understood very well that their idol could not change water into wine.  This is significant since the gospel of John was written for a Greek audience.   The Cana miracle not only had profound theological implications for the Jews, but also led the Gentiles to take notice of the superior deity, just as Moses had done centuries earlier.[49]

On a final note, the Apocryphal gospels, written in the second century and later, record miracles that Jesus supposedly performed in his childhood and early adulthood.[50] These so-called miracles range from modified portions of authentic miracles found in the New Testament to outlandish fantasies. All of them are in serious conflict with the Bible, even though the authors claimed apostolic authorship. There are dozens of them, if not more. These writings can be categorized as the false teachers that Jesus warned would come.[51]


05.05.02.Q6  Where was Joseph, the legal father of Jesus?

It is often presumed that by this time Joseph had died, since there is no mention of him after the temple episode when Jesus was twelve years old.   This would naturally lead to the question as to why Jesus did not raise His own father from the grave.  The only possible answer may be that Joseph died before the ministry of Jesus began, during which time He performed His miracles. As Jesus said previously, “My hour has not yet come.” Since the Father in heaven ordained the time of Jesus’ ministry, He could not perform any miracles prior to then. The siblings of Jesus naturally felt great sorrow at the passing of their father.  But once they witnessed Jesus performing miracles, they probably could not understand why He did not raise their own father back to life.

However, some have argued against this opinion indicating that Joseph may have been alive as noted in John 6:42.

They were saying, “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can He now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 

John 6:42


In this conversation, the people refer to the parents of Jesus as if they are still alive and know them personally. But that is a modern interpretation.  In biblical times, a son was referred to by his father’s name throughout the son’s lifetime, and many years after the father’s passing. For example, John ben David (John, son of David) would be known by that name until his dying day, even if David died fifty years earlier.


[1]. The custom of numbering the days of the week, instead of giving them names, continued in the early church and is recorded (A.D. 100-110) in a text known as the Didache (8:1); Throckmorton, Gospel Parallels. 45; Funderburk “Calendar.” 3:320.


[2]. Funderburk, “Calendar.” 3:320.


[3]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:473.


[4]. For further study on first century weddings, see Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:471-79.


[5]. Gen. 29:27; Judg. 14:15; Tobit 9:12; 10:1.


[6]. Vine, “Garment.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:261, and “Marriage, Marry.” 2:394-95. See video 09.03.04.V1 by Messianic Rabbi John Fischer who discusses first century wedding imagery, and video 14.02.05.V2 by Professor John Metzger who discusses the Passover, the Last Supper and its implications to the Messianic Banquet.


[7]. Tenney, “John.” 9:42. xx.

[8]. Josephus, Antiquities 8.2.9


[9]. Barclay, “John.” 1:98; Vine, “Woman.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:681.


[10]. Howard, “St. John: Introduction and Exegesis.” 8:491.

[11]. Lockyer, All the Miracles of the Bible. 161.

[12]. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 114; Barclay, “John.” 1:96-97.


[13]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:582. Volumes could be written on the various legends that surround the life of Jesus. However, these two traditions are listed because one of them has a real possibility of being historically accurate. In addition, while it was not common, at times a family did have two children with the same name.


[14]. The word “siblings” is used here with the understanding that they were the natural children of Mary and Joseph and, in effect, not full siblings in the normal sense of the word.

[15]. 1 Sam. 9:13; Mt. 15:35; Lk. 22:17.


[16]. Barclay, “Mark.” 165.


[17]. Barclay, “John.” 1:99; Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 75-76.


[18]. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs. 513.

[19]. Howard, “St. John: Introduction and Exegesis.” 8:493.

[20]. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs. 513.

[21]. Manser, The Saying of Jesus. 37.

[22]. Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 60a.

[23]. Dayagi-Mendels, Drink and be Merry. 33.

[24]. Dayagi-Mendels, Drink and be Merry. 54-55.

[25]. Babylonian Talmud, Kedushim 22a.

[26]. Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 108b; Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 77a; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 618-20.

[27]. Pliny. Natural History 14.6.54.


[28]. First and 2nd Maccabees belong to a classification of extra-biblical books known as the Apocrypha. These two literary works are deemed highly reliable historically. See 02.02.03 “Apocrypha” for more information.


[29]. Mishnah, Niddah 2:7; Mishnah, Baba Metzia 3:27; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 619.

[30]. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 84. Insert mine.

[31]. For a study of Jewish covenants from a messianic Jewish perspective, see Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology.

[32]. The Seven “I AM’s”: Bread of Life (Jn. 6:35, 41, 48, 51): Light of the World (Jn. 8:12); Door of the Sheep (Jn. 10:7, 9); Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:11, 14); Resurrection and the Life (Jn. 11:25); the Way, the Truth, the Life (Jn. 14:6) and the True Vine (Jn. 15:1, 5).

[33]. The Seven Discourses: new birth (Jn. 3:1-21); Works of God (Jn. 5:19-47); Bread of Life (Jn. 6:26-58); Water of Life (Jn. 7:11-52): Light of the World (Jn. 8:12-59); Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:22-39) and Upper Room Discourse (Jn. 131-17:26).

[34].  The Seven Signs: Water into Wine (Jn. 2:1-2); Healing the Nobleman’s Son (Jn. 4:46-54); Healing the Paralytic (Jn. 5:1-17); Feeding the 5,000 (Jn. 6:1-14); Calming the Storm (Jn. 6:15-21); Healing Man Born Blind (Jn. 9:1-14) and Resurrection of Lazarus (Jn. 11:17-45).

[35]. Mt. 8:11; 22:1-4; Lk. 13:29; 14:15-24; Rev. 19:7-9.


[36]. Hab. 2:15; Lk. 21:34; Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18; etc.


[37]. Vine, “Wine.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:677.


[38]. Fruchtenbaum, Life of the Messiah. Tape 4, Side A; Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. 54-55.


[39]. For an excellent study on wine, see Norman L. Geisler. “A Christian Perspective on Wine-Drinking.” Bibliotheca Sacra. 139:553 (Jan-Mar. 1982) 46-56.


[40]. e.g., Gen. 27:28; Joel 2:24; Mic. 6:5.


[41]. Vine, “Wine.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:678.


[42].  Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. 54-55.


[43]. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 309.

[44]. Dayagi-Mendels, Drink and be Merry. 55.

[45]. See Appendix 3.


[46]. According to some Messianic scholars, shortly after this event, although probably not related to this event, Rabbi Yokamen ben Zikai terminated the practice of bitter waters as a test for determining the guilt of an adulteress.  Source:  Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 9, Session 2.


[47]. Major, Manson, and Wright, The Mission and Message of Jesus. 726.

[48]. Pliny, Natural History 2.231; 31.16.

[49]. Idols are not mentioned in the gospels because these statues to pagan deities were not permitted within Jewish communities. They were, however, prominent in Gentile communities within the Jewish regions and are mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. Vine, “Idols.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:317.


[50]. Similarly, the Egyptian Coptic Church has many traditions about Jesus performing miracles as a young child when He was in Egypt (cf. Mt. 3:13-15).


[51]. Two examples are: 1) Ron Charles, who has gathered scores of fanciful legends and myths, mostly written between the sixth and sixteenth centuries, in his book titled, The Search: A Historian’s Search for Historical Jesus. (Self-Published, 2007). 2) Nicholas Notovich, whose book,  The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ. Trans. (Virchand R. Gandhi, Dover Pub.) is a so-called historical account of when Jesus went to Asia to study between the ages 13 and 29.



Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 08, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.05.03 AN INTERLUDE AT CAPERNAUM

05.05.03 Jn. 2:12 From Cana to Capernaum



 After this, He went down to Capernaum, together with His mother, His brothers, and His disciples, and they stayed there only a few days.

Jesus began His ministry in the lush country hills and villages of Galilee, also known as Gennesaret, meaning garden of abundance.[1] With His family[2] and five disciples,[3] they walked down to Kefar Nahum, or the “Village of Nahum” that is known in English as “Capernaum.”[4] It was a border town between the districts of Philip and Antipas.  The expression “down,” is a reference to elevation and not to the north-south orientation as is commonly used today.  For example, ancient writers referred to going “up” to Jerusalem, regardless from which direction they came. The capital city is about 2700 feet above sea level in the central mountain range.  From Cana, Jesus and His disciples traveled east to Capernaum, stayed there a few days, and walked southward up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover.

As will be revealed, Jesus spent the better part of His ministry time in Capernaum.  But why did He relocate from Nazareth? Nazareth was a small hilltop village in the middle of the Jezreel Valley in the District of Galilee. Only one highway of any significance went near it, and that was in Sepphoris – an hour’s walk distant.  Capernaum, however, had considerably more traffic – local and international. If Jesus was going to get His word out into the world quickly, the Sea of Galilee area was the place to be.  The popular road Via Maris ran through it; from Egypt to Damascus and another road went from Capernaum to Ptolemais[5] – now known as Acre – so international travelers would hear His message and take it with them.[6]  When Jesus left Nazareth and moved to Capernaum, it was a fulfillment of one of Isaiah’s prophecies that says,

3 Nevertheless, the gloom of the distressed land will not be like that of the former times when He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. But in the future He will bring honor to the Way of the Sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations.

Isaiah 9:1


Video Insert    >                                                                            

05.05.03.V  The Strategic and Economic Significance of Capernaum. Professor Gordon Franz discusses the significance of Capernaum in the ministry of Jesus.  Introduction by Dr. Bill Heinrich. (16:50) 


[1]. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 93.


[2]. Concerning the number of brothers and sisters, see 10.01.02, “and the brother of James, Joses…”


[3]. At this point in the ministry of Jesus, He had only five disciples.  See Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:253; Farrar, The Life of Christ. 87.


[4]. Avi-Yonah and Kraeling, Our Living Bible. 251-52.


[5]. The Greek city name of Ptolemais was changed to Acre in the seventeenth century. See Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:485.


[6]. All scholars agree that an international highway began in Egypt, came up the coastline and went inland, then went through Capernaum and on to Damascus and beyond. However, not all scholars agree that the short section of highway running through Capernaum was called the Via Maris.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 08, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.05.04 FIRST TEMPLE CLEANSING, MERCHANTS DRIVEN OUT

05.05.04 Jn. 2:13-25 In the Temple



13 The Jewish Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple complex He found people selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and He also found the money changers sitting there. 15 After making a whip out of cords, He drove everyone out of the temple complex with their sheep and oxen. He also poured out the money changers’ coins and overturned the tables. 16 He told those who were selling doves, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace!”

17 And His disciples remembered that it is written: Zeal for Your house will consume Me (Ps. 69:9).

18 So the Jews replied to Him, “What sign of authority will You show us for doing these things?”

19 Jesus answered, “Destroy this sanctuary, and I will raise it up in three days.”

20 Therefore the Jews said, “This sanctuary took 46 years to build, and will You raise it up in three days?

21 But He was speaking about the sanctuary of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this. And they believed the Scripture and the statement Jesus had made.

23 While He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many trusted in His name when they saw the signs He was doing. 24 Jesus, however, would not entrust Himself to them, since He knew them all 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify about man; for He Himself knew what was in man.


Jesus went to Jerusalem to observe Passover for the first time since He began His ministry.[1] He had been there many times in earlier years, and knew the corrupt business climate that had taken control of the House of Prayer. This was the first of two recorded temple cleansings; symbolically, He opened and closed His ministry with a call to purity of the people of God.[2]

“He found people selling . . . money changers sitting there.”  When Jesus entered the temple, He found agents for the high priest selling animals and exchanging currency at inflated rates. Currency exchangers functioned at the temple year round, but they were especially active at Passover.  This commercial business activity became known as the Bazaars of Annas, located in the Court of the Gentiles.[3]  Only Annas was qualified to certify if an animal was pure, spotless, and unblemished and, therefore, perfect for sacrifice.  In the event he rejected an animal, he was quick to have an “approved” animal available for purchase at a premium price. Since many local people were involved with agriculture they frequently raised their own animals for sacrifice.  But all animals had to be approved by Annas who was known for rejecting perfectly good animals for the sole purpose of reselling them to someone else at inflated prices. Furthermore, many people traveled great distances to the temple and Annas took advantage of their plight by overcharging them ten to twenty times the fair market value.[4]  The Talmud records an incident of such price gouging:

Once in Jerusalem a pair of doves cost a golden dinar.  Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel said, “By this temple, I will not suffer the night to pass by before they cost but a (silver) dinar.”  He went into the court and taught: “If a woman suffered five miscarriages that were not in doubt or five issues that were not in doubt, she need bring but one offering, and she may then eat of the animal offerings; and she is not bound to offer the other offerings.  And the same day the price of a pair of doves stood at a quarter-dinar each.”

Mishnah, Kerithoth 1:7[5]


The significance of either a silver or a golden dinar being the price of a pair of doves is that a pair of doves was the offering from the poorest people of Israel.  The temple elite clearly had no compassion for anyone but themselves.

From the fifteenth day of the month preceding Passover, bankers set up their tables throughout the city, and from twenty days prior to Passover they were permitted to trade within the temple itself.[6] Passover was also the time when the annual half shekel temple tax had to be paid (Ex. 30:11-16).  Foreign coins were generally rejected by Annas, supposedly because these coins generally had images of pagan gods.  However, the more likely reason was that these coins did not have a consistent precious metal value, with the exception of coins minted in Tyre.  For those who came with foreign currency, Annas charged them a premium between four to eight percent, so they could place pure (94%) Tyrian shekels[7] into the temple coffers.[8] These shekels and half-shekels were known for having the purest silver content of any mint in the ancient Middle East. That was far more important to Annas than the image of Marduk, a/k/a Melqarth-Herakles that was stamped on the coin. Little wonder that the Pharisees had a passionate hatred for the Hellenized Sadducees.

But the crimes of Annas did not end there.  His bazaar was located in the Gentile Court of the temple and the resulting atmosphere was more of a livestock auction than a place of worship. Clearly the retired high priest had great disdain for the Jewish people he was supposed to represent before God, but he had even less respect for Gentiles.

Tradition says that a certain Babh Ben Buta was the first to commercialize it when he brought a flock of 3,000 sheep from Kadar.[9] This business venture would never have happened if the high priest Annas had not approved it.  The Gentile Court, which was to be a House of Prayer for all nations, had been degraded into a foul-smelling livestock market with its currency exchange bankers. Those who were employed by Annas were profit-oriented, while the worshipers were forced to defend themselves against temple swindlers, bankers, and hucksters.[10]  Clearly, the livestock business was a highly lucrative endeavor. The irony is, that those who claimed Jesus profaned the temple were the ones profiting from the profaning that occurred on a weekly basis, but more so at Passover.

Finally, his greed was beyond description. For example, from the altar there was a pipe in which flowed the blood from the sacrificial animals into the Kidron Valley. That blood was collected, dried, and sold to gardeners who used for fertilizer.[11]  There was good reason that the common Jews hated House of Annas as much as the Herodian family.

“A whip out of cords.”  No weapons were permitted in the temple area.  This included sticks and whips that were normally used to drive animals.  Therefore, Jesus quickly made a short rope (Gk. schoinion 4979)[12] out of twisted rushes, or bul-rush, thereby creating a rush-rope.[13]  With it He scolded the merchants as He drove them out of the Gentile Court and into the streets. His action was a message everyone understood, and no one, not even the Roman guards who were stationed in the adjacent Antonia Fortress, took action against Him.  Judas Maccabee would have been proud of Him. His actions undoubtedly caught the attention of many, including the Zealots.

Jesus never intended to cleanse the temple from its divinely appointed system of sacrifices, but from the incredible corruption and abuses. On several occasions He healed people and told them to make the required sacrifices in the temple.[14] It was a holy site for worship but the current activities were an affront to God. The prophet Zechariah said that in the days of the Messiah, no trader (or “Canaanite”)[15] would be in the house of Jehovah and holiness would be restored (Zech. 14:20-21).

20 On that day, the words HOLY TO THE LORD will be on the bells of the horses. The pots in the house of the Lord will be like the sprinkling basins before the altar. 21 Every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the Lord of Hosts. Everyone who sacrifices will come and take some of the pots to cook in. And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts.

Zechariah 14:20-21


The rabbis must have wondered if Zechariah’s prophecy was fulfilled, and if so, when the rest of the prophecy would be fulfilled. Clearly, cleansing the temple called attention prophetic scriptures and to His identity as the messiah.

This sanctuary took 46 years to build, and will You raise it up in three days?” These words sent shock waves throughout the rabbinic community and temple establishment. They knew that the temple described in Ezekiel (Ch. 40 ff.) was not the temple they so highly cherished. If Ezekiel’s prophecy was to come true, as did so many other of his prophecies, then clearly the present temple would have to be destroyed to permit the construction of the one prophesied. That change would destroy the power and wealth system of the ruling class and no one dared to speak of such a destruction or replacement.

Yet, to add turbulence to their thinking, Jesus said He would raise it in three days. When they realized He could heal the blind, make the lame walk, and raise the dead, their fear of a new temple was most threatening.  No wonder they made certain someone would accuse Him of destroying the Holy Shrine. In fact, the law required anyone who threatened the destruction of the temple be put to death. While Jesus did not say He would do this, His words came close.  He referred to the “reconstruction of the temple” as His body resurrected from the grave. Jesus never said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God,” or “I will destroy this temple….”  But those were distortions later said by two false witnesses who accused Him during His trial (Mt. 26:61; Mk. 14:57-58).

05.05.03a (2)


In the phrase, “this sanctuary took 46 years to build,” the Greek wording clearly indicates construction was still in progress.  In fact, the temple reconstruction began in Herod the Great’s 18th year of reign,[16] reckoned to be 20-19 B.C., and was not completed until A.D. 64, only six years before its destruction.  Since the discussion between Jesus and His adversaries took place in the 46th year of reconstruction, the date can be accurately connected to the 15th year of reign for Tiberius Caesar (Lk. 3:1), which in the modern calendar was A.D. 27.[17]  Some scholars have argued for a beginning date of A.D. 28 (or 791 AUC the founding of Rome). However, their calculation fails to recognize that the Jews considered part of a year as a full year, in the same manner as they considered part of a day as a full day (i.e. crucifixion day to resurrection day equals three days).[18] It is a strong argument for a crucifixion date of A.D. 30, which presupposes a ministry of three and a half years.[19]

It should be noted that the 46th year was not the year of the temple’s completion, as some have suggested. In fact, the Talmud indicates that the temple was still under reconstruction during the days of Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder,[20] and Josephus said that the all the work was finally completed in the days of Albinus,[21] which was just prior to the First Revolt and the temple’s ultimate destruction.[22]

“Many trusted in His name when they saw the signs He was doing.”  The early teaching ministry of Jesus must have been impressive, because by the time He attended the wedding in Cana, He had gathered five of His twelve disciples without performing any miracles. In fact, they probably didn’t even know Jesus could perform such feats.  Therefore, the water-to-wine miracle brought incredible attention, the first of many, which John called signs or semeion (4956).[23] 

Multitudes came from many parts of the world for the Passover celebration. While in Jerusalem they most certainly heard all the chatter and latest gossip about the Man who changed water into wine and threw out the money changers.  When they returned to home the news spread like a wildfire. While His ministry was essentially in a very small geographical area, His influence reached throughout the empire.

This was the first of two cleansings.  While some scholars believe there was only one cleansing which was recorded twice, there clearly is a major difference between the two – after the first cleansing Jesus continued in His ministry.  After the second one, He was crucified.  However there is an important point to consider, one that has often been missed: the appearance of Jesus was a fulfillment of a prophecy by Malachi, and as such, the cleansing was a bold messianic claim.

“See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts.

Malachi 3:1


Because of these words by the prophet Malachi, there was a common belief that when the messiah comes, there would be a new era of holiness and purity in temple worship. This is found in several Jewish writings,[24] as well as in the Eighteen Benedictions.[25] The beginning of this verse clearly refers to John the Baptist. But the second sentence refers to Jesus who suddenly came to the temple (see 13.02.02) and, in doing so, made a profound messianic claim without a spoken word.[26]

05.05.04b (2)


The cleansing was not an action against the temple, but against the merchants in the Court of the Gentiles. By these cleansings, Jesus also fulfilled a prophecy in Psalm 69 that reads,

For your house has consumed me,

Psalm 69:9a


The verse literally means that the temple will be His destruction.[27]  This is precisely what happened.  The Sadducees were delighted to see Jesus challenge and humiliate the Pharisees, but when He cleansed the temple, He was threatening their turf – their social, economic, and political security, and they planned to kill Him. The primary reason for the cleansing was that the Gentile Court of the temple complex had been converted from a Holy Site to a massive commercial enterprise for the personal financial benefit of the high priest, Annas.

It should be noted that there was a wall of division between the Gentile Court and the Court of Israel. That wall had a warning engraved on at least two stones (see 13.02.02.A), one of which reads as follows:

No stranger is to enter within the balustrade (partition barrier) surrounding the temple and whoever is caught will be answerable for his death, which will ensue.  

Josephus, Antiquities. 12.3.4 (145b)[28]

05.05.04c (2)


There are two significant points to consider which are followed by the discussion of the temple as a sacrificial system and significant people affiliated with the temple who also functioned as a private banking system. The days when the temple was a House of Prayer were essentially gone – as only a few righteous priests and Levites continued to function in their service as per the biblical mandates.

  1. The temple was the shrine of the national religion and center of public life. Only the righteous (as defined by the religious elite) could worship there. The structure had become an idol, and to speak against it could mean death. Into this religious environment, Jesus boldly announced the corruption of the established religion.  Jesus came and found a decadent temple, rather than what it was supposed to be – a holy temple where all mankind could come to sacrifice and worship God.
  1. The Essenes established an independent religious community at Qumran in the second century B.C. because of the corruption of the temple establishment – the most corrupted leadership in the six centuries of the temple’s existence (515 B.C. – A.D. 70). The sins of the Sadducees, who controlled the temple affairs, were prophetically described centuries earlier in Psalm 69:9. Not only did Jesus condemn them, but Josephus likewise mentions them in his book Antiquities of the Jews.[29] Centuries after Jesus, the writers of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds also condemned them. The high priesthood reached the pinnacle of greed and defiled the temple in two ways:[30]
  1. The leading Pharisees and Sadducees converted the sacrificial system into a moneymaking machine for their personal wealth.
  1. The temple or various priestly families of the temple continued to function as a private bank for the Jews. Both features are discussed below.


05.05.04.A. FLOOR PLAN OF HEROD’S TEMPLE.  The Court of the Gentiles was a large area that surrounded the more sacred areas of the temple. The Court had been converted into a commercial banking and livestock sales area in Jesus’ day.


The small city of Jerusalem brimmed with hundreds of thousands of visitors during the springtime festival of Passover. It was so congested that many brought their own food and slept outside the city under the starry sky in places like the Garden of Gethsemane.  In fact, Jerusalem had become such a popular tourist center, with Jewish pilgrims coming from all parts of the Mediterranean world that scholars believe a synagogue with hotel accommodations was built primarily for them. In 1913 the Theodotus inscription was discovered in the bottom of a well in Jerusalem.  However, it is also believed that the facility served as a school between festivals when the “tourist trade” declined.


05.05.04.B. THE THEODOTUS INSCRIPTION. The Theodotus inscription was at one time at the entrance of a Jerusalem synagogue which was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70.  It is believed to have been built for Jewish pilgrims who desired a bath and place for lodging.  Wikipedia Commons.


The inscribed stone reads as follows:

Theodotus son of Vettenus, priest and synagogue leader, son of a synagogue leader, grandson of a synagogue leader, rebuilt this synagogue for the reading of the Law and the teaching of the commandments, and the hostelry, rooms and baths, for the lodging of those who have need from abroad. It was established by his forefathers, the elders and Simonides.

Theodotus Inscription[31]



05.05.04.C. A MODEL OF THE TEMPLE AND COURT OF THE WOMEN (behind the wall). The Court of the Gentiles was the large area to the extreme right and left sides as well as the immediate foreground. Photograph by Wikipedia Commons.


  1. The Sacrificial System.

The Jews celebrated their God, in part, with seven festivals that were combined in three events, of which the Passover was the most significant (Ex. 20).[32]  Every male Jew, who lived within fifteen Roman miles, was expected to participate.  However, it was such a highly esteemed celebration that every Jewish man, particularly those in distant lands, dreamed of visiting the holy city at least once in his lifetime.

This gave the aristocratic Sadducees, namely the house of Caiaphas and Annas, the annual extortion opportunity to overcharge these visitors for sacrificial animals needed for their most sacred worship service. The vast number of sheep, oxen, and doves sold to visiting pilgrims in the temple transformed the place of worship into a marketplace to benefit the well-to-do Sadducees.  The noise, filth, and stench were most certainly unbearable.


  1. The Banking System.

The Court of the Gentiles had become a house of merchandise, of bartering and bickering, and a banking center.[33]  It was supposed to be a House of Prayer where men and women from all nations could pray to the Almighty God of heaven and earth.  Instead, it was a system of elaborate commercial enterprises which produced enormous wealth for a few aristocrats.[34]


In ancient times, the common belief was that gods lived in the temple where the people worshiped.  This was true of every ancient culture worldwide, not only in the Middle East.  People trusted their gods to protect them and provide for their daily needs. Temples were always considered a safe haven because the gods lived there and would protect people and property.  Furthermore, no one dared to steal monies given to the gods or stored in the holy sanctuaries, because it was feared that the gods would retaliate and curse the thief, whether he be a king or a pauper.  When Solomon’s temple was burned in 587 B.C., the Israelites believed that the Babylonians had defeated their God.  Hence, prophets such as Daniel and Ezekiel gave prophetic words to tell their people that their God was very much alive and in control. Centuries earlier when Joshua traveled from Jericho north to Hazor, he burned the entire city, including its temple and royal palaces.  Since Hazor was the largest of the Canaanite cities, Joshua’s victory, including the destruction of the Canaanite temple, sent shivers of fear through the hearts of all of the other Canaanite communities.  It was obvious to everyone that the God of Joshua was more powerful than the god of the Canaanites.

In every society, as a few individuals became wealthy, they needed a place to store their funds.  The only place available was the nearby temple, which became the first bank.  The temple-banking system became well developed during the Hellenistic Period in cities such as Delos, Sardis, Claris, Pessinus, Mylasa, Aymus, and Caria.[35] In Ephesus, for example, the temple of the goddess Diana served as the central bank for the eastern third of the Roman Empire.  The wealth that flowed into that city was enormous.   Deposits grew and as people needed to borrow money, wealthy individuals within the temple became the first lenders. While the Israelites were in Babylonian captivity, they became familiar with Babylonian lending institutions. Archaeological evidence clearly shows that some Jewish families became very wealthy in the banking industry.[36] Religions and temples were closely aligned with governments.  Now, not only was the money of the wealthy safely secured, but incredible sums of money also were given to the temple by the devotees of the faith. Hence, trustworthy priests could serve as mortgage brokers and earn a commission on money lent out.  Thousands of texts written on clay tablets found in Mesopotamia indicate the average interest rate of twenty percent, which was easy for anyone to calculate using fingers.[37]  It was also the established interest rate for redeeming part of a tithe (Lev. 27:31).[38] In temple complex was the Royal Stoa Building, the financial facility that housed cash reserves, notes of debts, mortgages, expensive fabrics and other objects of extreme value.[39]


Video Insert    >    

05.05.04.V1 The Temple Role in the Banking System. Professor Gary Byers and Dr. Paul Wright discuss what scholars believe was a private banking system affiliated with the religious establishment in the temple. Introduction by Dr. Bill Heinrich. Click here if Internet connection is available.


In one of His parables, Jesus asked the question, “Why didn’t you put my money in the bank?”(Lk. 19:23). So clearly, there was some type of lending-saving financial institution operating at the time.[40] Some scholars believe that in all probability, it was a private institution connected with the temple. In Jerusalem there were merchants who evidently did considerable business and needed a place to keep their money.[41] The safest place evidently was the Counting House, which was related to the temple – not physically, but probably owned by the temple but located elsewhere in the city.[42] Some scholars have suggested the Counting House was located outside the city,[43] but this is doubtful for security reasons.

At this time there was no modern-style institutionalized banking system, although there is clear evidence that the aristocrats and super rich stored their wealth in the temple.[44]  Josephus, in his eye-witness description of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, said,

They also burnt down the treasury chambers, in which was an immense quantity of money, and an immense number of garments, and other precious goods, there deposited; and to speak all in a few words, there it was that the entire riches of the Jews were heaped up together.

Josephus, Wars 6.5.2 (282)


Among the wealthy who were private lenders, were tax collectors. Josephus recorded the account of one by the name of Joseph, son of Tobias of the second century (B.C.). His relation as a nephew to the high priest in Jerusalem most certainly was a factor in acquiring this position, which he held for twenty-two years. From his office in Jerusalem, he collected taxes from Syria, Phoenicia, Israel, and Samaria. In addition, he had an office in Alexandria which was operated by his steward. Tax collectors such as Joseph often became private lenders, a tradition that was already well-established in Old Testament times (Isa. 5:8; Micah 2:1-5). Peasants who did not have funds mortgaged their lands and crops, thus becoming poorer while the tax collectors became wealthier.[45] That is why the prophet Isaiah condemned them when he said,

Woe to those who add house to house

And join field to field

Until there is no more room

And you alone are left in the field 

Isaiah 5:8


The prophet Micah likewise condemned the tax collectors saying that they deprived people of their homes and inheritances to the point of creating a national disaster. The problem for the tax collector was where to store the thousands of coins until shipment was made to the royal treasury? Money was stored in the temple. That is why there was a Roman auxiliary unit stationed in Capernaum where Matthew was the tax collector and why there was a fortress by the temple in Jerusalem.

In addition to being a Roman-protected “safe deposit box” for ancient wealth, the temple was the most important factor in the commerce of Jerusalem. A number of shopping areas, called bazaars, were located nearby where pilgrims could purchase goods made locally as well as imports.[46] So much money was generated from local businesses, that a number of ancient writers said that people were invited to store their wealth in the temple,[47] but it was not just for the rich and famous, widows and orphans also used this facility (2 Macc. 3:10).  With so much money in the temple, supervision and security of the deposits was critical. There were no less than three treasurers, or gizbarim,[48] who reported to the captain of the temple.[49]  They were responsible for all financial transactions, which included the following:

  1. Deposits of monetary funds.
  1. Deposits of goods (grain, animals, dough, etc.) equivalent to money[50]
  1. Deposits of all other offerings, including second tithes
  1. Secured payments of the temple tax as mentioned in Matthew 17:24.[51]


Video Insert    >

05.05.04.V2 The Temple Cleansing. Professor Gary Byers discusses the cleansing of the temple.



Due to the fact that there was a huge amount of silver and gold in the temple treasury, there was a need for security.  The temple police were the responsibility of the Levites who assigned Levitical guards to twenty-one posts while the priests guarded three posts within the sacred area.[52] Previously, when the Jews were taken to Babylon, they were introduced to a highly developed lending system. A study of the Hebrew Bible and Inter-Testamental books reveal some clues indicating that lending not only existed, but was also abusive, hundreds of years before Christ.[53] Notice the following examples:

  1. After a number of poor crop harvests, unfortunate happenings and possible extravagance led to huge debts (Neh. 5:3-4).
  1. The wealthy and prosperous were expected to lend to the poor without charging interest.[54]
  1. When David was struggling for his position, among those with him were debtors who joined him in the Cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22:2). They probably joined him due to the harsh punishment they would have received for failure of payment (cf. Ps. 37:21).


These accounts appear to be related to private individuals as there is no mention of commercial lending through the temple.  Therefore, the narrative written by Jason of Cyrene[55] in 2 Maccabees 3:10-14 is perplexing, because it is the report of an agent for the Greek Seleucid king who attempted to steal private monies from the temple.  It reads as follows:

He reported to him that the treasury in Jerusalem was full of untold sums of money, so that the amount of the funds could not be reckoned, and that they did not belong to the account of the sacrifices, but that it was possible for them to fall under the control of the king.

When Apollonius met with the king, he told him of the money about which he had been informed.  The king chose Heliodorus, who was in charge of his affairs, and sent him with commands to effect the removal of the aforesaid money.  Heliodorus at once set out on his journey, ostensibly to make a tour of inspection of the cities of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, but in fact to carry out the king’s purpose. 

When he arrived in Jerusalem he had been kindly welcomed by the high priest of the city, he told him about the disclosure that had been made and stated why he had come, and he inquired whether this really was the situation.  The high priest explained that there were some deposits belonging to widows and orphans,[56]  and also some money of Hyrcanus, son of Tobias, a man of very prominent position, and that totaled in all four hundred talents of silver and two hundred talents of gold.[57]  To such an extent, the impious Simon had misrepresented the facts. And he said that it was utterly impossible that wrong should be done to those people and in the sanctity and inviolability of the temple, which is honored throughout the whole world.  But Heliodorus, because of the king’s commands which he had, said that this money must in any case be confiscated for the king’s treasury.  So he set a day and went in to direct the inspection of these funds.

There was no little distress throughout the whole city.  The priests prostrated themselves before the altar in their priestly garments and called toward heaven upon him who had given the law about deposits, that he should keep them safe for those who had deposited them.  To see the appearance of the high priest was to be wounded at heart, for his face and the change in his color disclosed the anguish of his soul.  For terror and bodily trembling had come over the man, which plainly showed to those who looked at him the pain lodged in his heart. People also hurried out of their houses in crowds to make a general supplication because the holy place was about to be brought under contempt.  Women, girded with sackcloth under their breasts, thronged the streets. Some of the maidens who were kept indoors ran together to the gates, and some to the walls, while others peered out of windows.  And holding up their hands to heaven, they all made entreaty. There was something pitiable in the prostration of the whole populace and the anxiety of the high priest in his great anguish.

While they were calling upon the Almighty Lord that he would keep what had been entrusted safe and secure for those who had entrusted it, Heliodorus went on with what had been decided.  But when he arrived at the treasury with his bodyguard, then and there the Sovereign of spirits and of all authority caused so great a manifestation that all who had been so bold as to accompany him were astounded by the power of God, and became faint with terror.  For there appeared to them a magnificently caparisoned horse, with a rider of frightening mien, and it rushed furiously at Heliodorus and struck at him with its front hoofs.  Its rider was seen to have armor and weapons of gold.

Two young men also appeared to him, remarkably strong, gloriously beautiful and splendidly dressed who stood on each side of him and scourged him continuously, inflicting many blows on him.   When he suddenly fell to the ground and deep darkness came over him, his men took him up and put him on a stretcher and carried him away, this man who had just entered the aforesaid treasury with a great retinue and all his bodyguard but was now unable to help himself; and they recognized clearly the sovereign power of God.  While he lay prostrate, speechless because of the divine intervention and deprived of any hope of recovery, they praised the Lord who had acted marvelously for his own place.  And the temple, which a little while before was full of fear and disturbance, was filled with joy and gladness, now that the Almighty Lord had appeared.     

2 Maccabees 2:6-30


This historical narrative not only provides evidence of influential lending families within the temple, but also shows that God moved in a profound way to protect.  There has been little research made on the relationship of the Jewish temple and private banking system, yet it appears to have been common practice for the two to function together similar to that of other ancient cultures in the Middle East.  Concerning the corruption of the aristocratic temple Sadducees, there is no shortage of graphic expressions by the writers of the Mishnah.

The daughters of the Samaritans are deemed unclean as menstruates from their cradle and the Samaritans convey uncleanness to what lies beneath them…. The daughters of the Sadducees, if they follow after the ways of their fathers, are deemed to be like the women of the Samaritans; but if they have separated themselves and follow after the ways of the Israelites, they are deemed to be like the women of the Israelites. 

Mishnah, Niddah 4.1-2


Josephus said Pilate stole temple funds to build an aqueduct to serve the temple.[58]  This project was begun by Herod before his death.  Note the words of Josephus, as these imply the people were upset, not so much that their money was gone, but that Pilate stole sacred monies.

After this he raised another disturbance by expending that sacred treasure which is called “Corban,”[59] upon the aqueducts, thereby he brought water from four hundred furlongs.  At this, the multitude was indignant; and when Pilate came to Jerusalem, they came about his tribunal and made a clamor at it.

Josephus, Wars 2.9.4 (175)


The maintenance of the infrastructure of Jerusalem – the walls, water-channels, towers, storm sewers, maintenance workers and street sweepers[60] – were all paid for by the temple.[61] The irony is that when Pilate raided temple funds to complete the construction of the aqueduct, he essentially finished the work that the religious aristocrats were supposed to have done in the first place. When the Romans destroyed the temple during the First Revolt, they burned down the various chambers (rooms) of the temple complex.  Josephus, who was an eye witness, recorded the following,

And now the Romans, judging that it was in vain to spare what was around the holy house (meaning the temple itself), burned all those places, and the remains of the cloisters, and the gates except two; the one on the east side and the one on the south side; both of which, however, burned afterwards. They also burned the treasury chambers, in which was an immense quantity of money, and an immense number of garments, and other precious goods, there deposited; and to say in a few words, there it was that the entire riches of the Jews were heaped up together.

Josephus, Wars 6.5.2 (281-282)


The treasury chambers (rooms) that Josephus referred to were probably the same ones that John mentioned when describing the discussion Jesus had by the treasury in John 8:20.[62] Since the temples functioned as “safe deposit boxes” in banks, the private bankers, a/k/a money changers (Gk. kollubistes, 2855 – derived from kollubos, meaning money clippers)[63] were responsible for all phases of banking, including currency exchange. It was connected with the Greek word philarguia (5365), from phileo, meaning to love, and arguros, meaning silver.[64] The English word banker is derived from the ancient money changers. The changers of money or money changers, (kollubistai)[65] sat at a table, bench, banque or banca precisely as described in the temple narratives.[66]  The money changers in the temple also charged the people high exchange rates for currency and sold sacrificial animals at inflated prices.[67]


05.05.04.D. A ROMAN RELIEF OF A BANKER AT WORK (2)05.05.04.D. A ROMAN RELIEF OF A BANKER AT WORK.  This relief carving shows a banker with his money bag and book of records at work.  The huge volume of money donated to temples, as well as deposits held for security reasons, resulted in temples becoming banking institutions throughout the ancient world. Relief on a Roman era funerary stele from Hungary. Photograph by Wikipedia Commons.


Finally, the fourth gospel tells us Jesus went to Jerusalem for two feasts.  These occurred in the spring and would have been the Passover observances. He essentially began and ended His ministry with the cleansing of the temple, symbolic of the ministry and culmination of His life, to cleanse the hearts of the people to be His temple.


05.05.04.Q1 What is the evidence against the existence of a temple banking system Jn. 2:14)?

The question of a possible banking system centers on the money changers of the temple as well as the management of temple and business funding in general. Scripture does not address this matter directly, but repeatedly indicates the temple was to be a place of worship and the dwelling place of the Most High God. As previously stated, recent scholarship suggests that wealthy families in Jerusalem established private banking systems that centuries later, became commercial enterprises. The Mishnah and both Talmuds were written by rabbis who desired to see the temple rebuilt, services restored, and God honored.  They preserved incredible details and, at times, harsh criticisms of their own priests, but they made no mention of a commercial lending institution. They vehemently opposed the activities of those who were like Annas and Caiaphas who gained incredible wealth by lending and exploiting of fellow Jews.

Nonetheless, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that some wealthy families affiliated with the temple functioned as private lending institutions.[68] It would have been one of those families whom Jesus referred to in His parable of the talents, when He told a servant that instead of burying the talent, he could have placed it in a bank and received a minimal interest.[69]

[1]. Jesus went to at least three Passovers during His ministry years (Jn. 2:13; 6:4; and 11:55) and attended another feast that was not identified but is believed to have been a Passover celebration (5:1). He also attended the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 7:2, 10) and the Feast of Dedication (Jn. 10:22).


[2]. The synoptic gospels record the temple cleansing at the end of Jesus’ ministry while John recorded a cleansing at the beginning. Throughout history the church has maintained that these were two separate events.  However, with the rise of textual criticism and various liberal theologies, this viewpoint has become the minority view. For an excellent article that supports the view of two cleansings, see Allan Chapple “Jesus’ Intervention in the Temple: Once or Twice?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 58:3 (Sept. 2015) 545-570.


[3]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 81.

[4]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 2:108-14; Wilkinson, Jerusalem as Jesus Knew It. 117-18.

[5]. The famous Hillel had a son Simeon who served in the temple when Jesus was dedicated. This Simeon had a son named Gamaliel, who had a son also named Simeon.  See Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:31.


[6]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:496.


[7].  Franz, http://www.lifeandland.org/2009/02/the-tyrian-shekel-and-the-temple-of-jerusalem/ Retrieved October 10. 2014.


[8]. Stein, R. Jesus the Messiah. 189. Some scholars believe five percent, see  Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:496; Hendin, Guide to Biblical Coins. 131-3.


[9]. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 100.


[10]. The issue of commercialization in the commercialization within the Court of the Gentiles is found in the Mishnah Seqalim 1.3; 3.1 and Berakot 9.5; Josephus Antiquities 12.3.4 (145) and 15.11.5 (417).


[11]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:85.


[12]. Vine, “Cord.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:129.


[13]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 2:84.


[14]. I.e. the cleansed leper, Mk. 1:40-45; ten lepers, Lk. 17:11-19.


[15]. Traders and merchants were given degrading names such as “Canaanite.”

[16]. Josephus, Antiquities 15.11.1-6.

[17]. Mackowski, Jerusalem City of Jesus. 3; Snodgrass, “The Temple Incident.” 447.


[18]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 259.

[19]. Nonetheless, scholars are not in agreement on this dating as many believe that Herod the Great died in 1 B.C. and the crucifixion occurred in A.D. 33; See Filmer, “The Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great.” 283-98; Finnegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology. 98.


[20]. Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 115A.  


[21]. Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.7 (219).  


[22]. Mazar, “Herodian Jerusalem in the Light of the Excavations South and South-West of the Temple Mount.” 231.


[23]. Barclay, “John.” 1:9, 119.


[24]. Isa. 9-11; Dead Sea Scroll 4QFlor 1.6-17.


[25]. See number 14 of the “Eighteen Benedictions” in Appendix 18.


[26]. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 6.


[27]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 6, page 6.


[28]. See also Josephus, Wars 5.5.2.

[29]. Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1-8.


[30]. See “Defile” in Appendix 26.

[31]http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=29&Issue=4&ArticleID=14  December 20, 2013. See also Shanks. “Israel Antiquities Authority Declines Dirty Money.” 25.


[32]. See Appendix 5.


[33]. Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? 65.

[34]. Wilson, The False Trials. 26-27.

[35]. Hamilton, “Temple Cleansing and Temple Bank.” 366.

[36]. Youngblood, Unlock the Bible: Keys to Exploring the Culture and Times. 38.

[37]. The University of Pennsylvania Department of Archaeology and Anthropology has an inventory of approximately 30,000 clay tablets, most of which are financial transactions, such as mortgages and legal contracts.  The British Museum holds about 150,000 similar tablets. All of these predate King David (1000 B.C.).

[38]. Josephus spoke of corrupt priests who stole the tithes from other priests in Antiquities, 20.9.2, found in, “A den of robbers,” 13.02.02. He also mentioned it in Antiquities 20.8.8 as found in “The chief priests” in 15.02.09. See additional rules on tithing in the Mishnah, Ma’aserot 1.1 and Moed Shabbath 4.7. The point is that tithing was a well-established practice.


[39]. See mini-lecture by Dr. Paul Wright at 05.05.04.V1.


[40]. For further study of loans, debts, and how first century Jewish courts ruled, see the Mishnah and the chapter titled Baba Bathra.


[41]. Pesiqta Rabbati 41, 173a.7; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 115.


[42]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 34.    


[43]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 35.    


[44]. 4 Macc. 4.3; Josephus, Wars 6.5.2 (282); Vine, “Treasury.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:641.


[45]. Sanders. “Jesus in Historical Context.” 430.


[46]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 55-57.    


[47]. Josephus, Wars 2.5.2 (282); 2 Maccabees 3:4-6, 10-15; 4 Maccabees 4:1-3.


[48]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 166.    


[49]. Mishnah,Shekalim 5.2; Tosephta, Shekalim 2.5, 177.    


[50]. Mishnah, Peah 1.6; 2.8; 4.8; Hallah 3.3; 3.4.


[51]. Mishnah, Shekalim 2.1.


[52]. Mishnah, Tamid 1.1 and Middot 1.1.


[53]. 1 Kg. 7:51; 2 Kg. 18:15, 16:8; 1 Ch. 9:26, 28:11-12; 2 Ch. 36:18; Neh. 13:12-13; Ec. 42:7; and Tobit 1:14, 9:5.


[54]. Ex. 22:25; Deut. 15:7-11; Ps. 15:5.


[55]. Hellerman, “Purity and Nationalism in Second Temple Literature: 1-2 Maccabees and Jubilees.” 407.


[56]. Monies (alms) given to the temple for the support of widows and orphans.


[57]. Private funds held in the temple for safe keeping.

[58]. See photo of Herod’s Aqueduct pipe at 09.03.08.A. According to author of Pseudo-Aristeas 90, the pipe was sealed with lead and lime mortar.


[59]. A corban (Heb. qorban) was a gift consecrated to God and, therefore, it was considered sacred. Vine, “Corban.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:129.


[60]. Since Jerusalem was considered to be a Holy City, the streets were swept every day (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 26A and Pesahim 7A). The Valley of Hinnom had a dump site by the dung gate where all the filth was thrown. With the exception of rose gardens, gardens were not permitted in the city because they required dung (Mishnah, Maaseroth 2.5; Babylonian Talmud, Baba Kamma 82B). This illustrates to what measures the laws of purity were taken by the time of Jesus.


[61]. Mishnah, Shekalim 4.2.


[62].  https://mail.google.com/mail/?shva=1#inbox/1351ab9c4176f14a Retrieved February 22, 2012.


[63]. Vine, “Changer.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:96.


[64]. Vine, “Money (love of).” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:414.


[65]. Barclay, “John.” 1:110.


[66]. Hamilton, “Temple Cleansing and Temple Bank.” 365; Barrois, “Trade and Commerce.” 4:682.

[67]. See 02.03.03 “Economy” for a brief description of the condition of the economy during the ministry years of Jesus.


[68]. Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? 65; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 34, 56-57, 134, 166.


[69]. For more information, read 02.01.16 Sadducees concerning the incredible greed of the Sadducean families. Clearly, they had little or no interest in representing the Jewish people before God.



Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 08, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.05.05 NICODEMUS AND HIS NEW BIRTH

05.05.05 Jn. 3:1-21 Jerusalem: Jesus met an Inquiring Rabbi          



1 There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.”

3 Jesus replied, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

4 “But how can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked Him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?”

5 Jesus answered, “I assure you:                                                                             A             Unless someone is born of water                                                                            B                   and the Spirit,                                                                                               C                            he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

A’        6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and                                                                     B’                whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.                                                                       C’                          7 Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again   


A         8 The wind blows where it pleases,

B                     and you hear its sound,

B’                    but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.                          A’         So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”


9 “How can these things be?” asked Nicodemus.

10 Are you a teacher of Israel and don’t know these things?” Jesus replied. 11 “I assure you: We speak what We know and We testify to what We have seen, but you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I have told you about things that happen on earth and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about things of heaven? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven — the Son of Man.    14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.

16 “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.

19 “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed. 21 But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.”


According to rabbinic writings, Nicodemus, a/k/a Naqidimon ben Gorion,[1] was one of the three wealthiest and most respected men of Jerusalem – also considered to be one of the most righteous of the city.[2]   He was the head of a seminary and a member of the Sanhedrin. Since the words and deeds of Jesus had spread far and wide, naturally he wanted to meet the Man of whom he had heard so much about. But the eyes of the community were upon him constantly, so a secret private meeting was necessary.  It was then that his theology was politely challenged.

The concept that God, and God alone, as the supreme deity for all people had been rejected by some Jewish leaders. Yet while the Old Testament invites the Gentiles into the Jewish world, many had developed feelings of isolation toward their non-Jewish neighbors for two specific reasons.

  1. They remembered the horrific experiences their forefathers encountered under Gentile rule during the Inter-Testamental Period.[3]
  1. The Romans and Greeks had no concept of sin. Their gods had all the character traits and vices of mankind. They made sacrifices to appease their gods, not for the forgiveness of sins. Furthermore, to worship an invisible deity who was called “Father” was beyond their comprehension.[4] So the idea that Greeks and Romans could come to God was beyond the imagination of many Jews. But Jesus cleared the proverbial playing field by stating that all (whosoever) believed in Him would have eternal life.

Another significant issue was the cleansing of the temple. This bold event was a challenge to the Sanhedrin and it was their responsibility to investigate such matters.  It also could have been a reason why Nicodemus came to Jesus.  Most certainly, the entire conversation was not recorded. Since he was the head of a rabbinic school, a leading scholar among the Pharisees and, from the mood established in the text, he was seriously interested in learning who this Jesus was.[5]  It is here that Jesus presented the gospel in the proverbial “nutshell.”

  1. There must be honest repentance by everyone including the Jews. This is the beginning of the second point,
  1. Repentance (the new birth) is followed by discipleship.

Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”  As a Pharisee with a Greek name, Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin and some scholars believe he was the third member of the high court.[6] As such, he was extremely faithful to the ritualistic laws of Judaism that included fasting on Mondays and Thursdays.[7] He lived upright in every way, carefully obeying and teaching the oral and written laws. Eventually he became a follower of Jesus – a bold decision for any member of the Sanhedrin to make.  After the crucifixion, Nicodemus was the first to come with spices of myrrh and aloes for the body. In doing this he clearly demonstrated his decision concerning his faith. It would be interesting to know how his conversion affected his seminary and students.  Did they abandon him? Or did he establish the first Christian Bible college and seminary?

“This man came to Him at night.” Nicodemus is often criticized by today’s theologians for meeting with Jesus at night, as if it was a cowardly act.  However, as the leading teacher he was immensely popular and most certainly could not go anywhere without crowds following him.  Popular rabbis were cultural icons and continue to be so among ultra-orthodox Jews today, just as are rock stars and professional athletes among American teen-agers today.

Nicodemus probably had some disciples just as other leading rabbis did, but they obviously were not with him. There were times, just as today, when teachers, leaders, and ministers desire to have a private meeting to discuss confidential issues and questions that might not be ready for a public forum. To have such a meeting with Jesus, Nicodemus had no choice but to see Jesus at night.  Such was the case here.

“Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher.” Nicodemus opened the conversation in true Middle Eastern style – with a compliment. This culture was one of respect and honor. For Nicodemus, who himself was the teacher of a seminary and a member of the Sanhedrin, to address Jesus as “rabbi” was quite a compliment. At this time in Jewish history, it was not an official title of a clergyman in the synagogue, but it signified a highly esteemed position in the community. The Jews used the title as an equivalent to the modern word “doctor.” The Hebrew word comes from a root word meaning “to increase.”  Sometimes Jesus was also addressed as rabban or rabboni which means our master, our great one.[8]  These are higher titles than rabbi, which means my master.[9]

There can be no question that Nicodemus and his students had carefully scrutinized John the Baptist (Jn. 1:19-24), had observed Jesus as well, and would never address anyone lightly with the title of “rabbi.” They may have even checked the temple records of genealogies and eventually concluded that Jesus was from God.

By recognizing that Jesus was a Man sent by God, Nicodemus confessed that the Pharisees had an understanding that God was in their midst and, as such, a new revelation was about to be presented to them.  This understanding was the basis for their accountability and their unbelief/rejection was the basis for their judgment (Isa. 6).  The purpose of the miracles that Jesus performed was to vindicate His message and ministry (Jn. 3:2; Acts 2:22).

05.05.05a (2)


“Born again.”  This could also be translated as, begotten from above.[10] When referred to from the father’s side, the verb is “beget.”  When referred to from the mother’s side, the verb is “bear.”   In this context, the phrase means to be “begotten of water and the Spirit of God” and it affirms a heavenly origin.[11] As for Nicodemus, he knew that the term was applied to those who converted to Judaism.[12] His problem was that the meaning had been lost in the prevailing externalism of observing the Oral Laws that was the heart and soul of Pharisaic doctrines.

For the Jewish people to learn that they had to be “born again” was totally contrary to their basic beliefs.[13] Since they were God’s chosen people, they believed all of Abraham’s descendants were, therefore, saved.[14] They believed that only pagans and unbelievers needed to be born again.

Clearly the concept behind the phrase was not new, but had to be reapplied to everyone. In the minds of many Jewish people, all Gentiles were damned to hell. Righteous Jews believed that Gentiles who observed the Noahide Commandments would have a place in heaven someday. Therefore, when a Gentile converted to Judaism, he was “born again” because now his destiny was changed – he became a member of God’s “Chosen People” and was destined to enjoy eternal life. [15]  The last thing that Nicodemus ever thought he needed, with all his credentials, was to be born again.

The advantage for the believer of being “born again” or receiving “birth from above” is that he becomes a partaker of the new covenant with God.  This includes all of the privileges and responsibilities of being a child of God, including the right to address the God of the universe as “Father.”  The responsibility requires that one maintain a biblical relationship with the Father as well as with the brothers and sisters in the church.  The intimate and devoted relationship of a husband and wife is representative of the devotion God the Father desires to have with all His children.  To become born again is not only a one-time decision, but the beginning of a new relationship with God.

Jesus came to earth so man might be saved from his sins.  Salvation is found only by complete faith in and dependence on Jesus Christ.  It is because of Him that we have complete redemption and forgiveness of sins. Jesus, who lived a sinless life, died for the sins of humanity, and returned to life from the grave on the third day.[16]  It is the responsibility of men to accept the gift of salvation and, thereby, receive eternal life. The decision to become a disciple of Jesus was followed by a public confession at the time of baptism.  In this ceremonial process the new converts in the first century church were baptized either “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 2:38; 10:48) or “into the name of Jesus” (Acts 8:16; 19:5).  Either way, the rite was a confession of faith (Rom. 10:9-10), an offer to accept forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38; 12:16), to accept the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 10:44-48), and a commitment to be obedient to His word.[17]  This was a doctrine of the early Christian faith.[18]

John 3:16 in the King James version “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” is without question the most quoted verse in the New Testament. It reveals the following:

  1. God loves His people
  1. To love is to give, great love requires a great gift and God loves humanity so much that He gave what was most precious to Him – His son.
  1. Jesus knew that He was the Son of God.
  1. Jesus was aware that He would die a sacrificial death for all humanity – past, present, and future.
  1. Mankind without faith in Christ Jesus is doomed to destruction; mankind with faith in Christ Jesus will receive eternal life.
  1. Faith and trust in Jesus is not an intellectual acknowledgement, but a personal relationship.


05.05.05.Q1 Why does John 3:16 say that God loves the world and John 9:39 says that Jesus came to this world to judge it?


John 3:16 is the famous verse that says that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son Jesus that anyone who believes in Him will never perish but have ever lasting life.  Yet John 9:39 says that Jesus came into this world to judge it.  Obviously the second verse doesn’t sound very loving.

Jesus did indeed come to bring salvation to the world. He does, in fact, love everyone and, as St. Augustine once said, “Jesus died for every one of us as if there was only one of us.” However, not everyone accepts the free gift of salvation.  For those who reject His calling the Day of Judgment will be most unpleasant.  So both John 3:16 and 9:39 are true; 3:16 is offered first and, if rejected, 9:39 goes into effect.  As someone else once said, “decisions determine destiny.”

Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” There can be little question that Jesus referred to Ezekiel’s prophecy (36:25-27; Dead Sea Scroll 1QS 4:20-22).[19] Rabbi Shim’on Ben-Lakish once said that a “Proselyte is like a newborn infant”[20] to which Rabbi Yosi agreed.[21] Yet those trapped by preconceived ideas of a political-messiah did not recognize it. The two key terms “born of water” and born of spirit are explained below.

  1. The term “born of water” on line “A” as found in rabbinic writings and in this context, means natural birth, as a child in the womb is in its water sac.[22] This meaning is further clarified on line “A’” with the term is “born of the flesh is flesh.” The connection is obvious – what is born of water is born of flesh, and this is clarified when read in its poetic format.

Christians have associated the phrase, “born of water,” with baptism practiced by a new convert to the Christian faith.  Just as the Israelites escaped the bondage of Egypt, they walked through the Red Sea,[23] and went forth to enjoy the new life in the Promised Land.  Likewise, baptism symbolizes death to the bondage of sin.  Being immersed in baptism is symbolic of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea and rising out of water is symbolic of the promised new life in Christ.  Jesus introduced a new use for it.

Baptism was well established among the Essenes.  According to Dead Sea Scroll 4Q414, one of the requirements to become a member of the Qumran sect was to be baptized. While the scroll fragment was found tattered with some pieces missing, sufficient script was found to recreate the original document.


05.05.05.A. DEAD SEA SCROLL 4Q414 WITH BAPTISMAL LITURGY. Dead Sea Scroll 4Q414 preserved the baptismal liturgy for the Essene sect who lived in various communities, most notable in Qumran. Baptism was part of the acceptance ritual for new membership into the group. Photograph by Wikipedia Commons.


Notice that the first section requires a response; this differs from a mikvah immersion for purity which one did by oneself.  An Essene baptism always required a minimum of two people. The scroll fragments from cave 4 read as follows:

(…And he shall) say (in response) “Blessed (are You,) the unclean for the festivals of (…) Your (…) and to make atonement for us (…to be) pure before you (…) in every matter (…) to purify oneself prior to (…) You made us (….).                                                

           F.2 Col.1

And you shall cleanse him for Your holy statutes (..) for the first, the third and the sixth (…) in the truth of Your covenant (…) to cleanse oneself from uncleanness (…) and then he shall enter the water (…) And he shall say in response “Blessed are You (…) for from what comes out of  Your mouth (…) men of impurity (…) .

F.2 + 3. Col.2

Soul (…) he is (…) to Yourself as a pure people [24] (…) And I also (…) the day which (…) in the times of purity (…) the Yahad. In Israel’s pure food (…) and they shall dwell (…). And it will happen on that day (…)  a female and she will give thanks (…)


For You made me (…) Your will is that we cleanse ourselves before (…) and he established for himself a statute of atonement (…)  and to be in righteous purity and he shall bathe in water and sprinkle upon (…) (…) And then they return from the water (…) cleansing His people in the waters of bathing (…) second time upon his station. And he shall say in response: “Blessed are You (…) (…) Your purification in Your glory (…) (…) eternally. And today (…).


Dead Sea Scroll Fragment, 4Q414 with Baptismal Liturgy[25]


According to Jesus, the baptism ritual symbolized a new phase of life and commitment to God to carry out that calling.  Water for drinking is symbolic of the Holy Spirit whereas water for washing is symbolic of the Word of God for cleansing.  Jesus spoke of the Spirit in the form of “living water,” as in His discussion with the Samaritan woman (Jn. 4). When the water was poured over the brazen altar at the morning sacrifice, it was to remember the water that flowed from the rock that Moses struck (Ex. 17; 1 Cor. 10:4). Baptism was not only a physical immersion in water, but that same water was symbolic of being immersed in the Holy Spirit.

The dispensation of the Spirit could not begin until the work of Jesus as redeemer was finished.  There could be no Pentecost until there was first a Calvary.  Only after Jesus was exalted in heaven did the Spirit celebrate the coronation.  Only after the Rock (Jesus) was smitten, could the rivers of water (Holy Spirit) flow. The extent of that flow is dependent, in part, to how we thirst, drink, and believe in the glorified Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “If any man thirst” (Jn. 7:37) and Jesus continued to speak of the Holy Spirit. Nothing could stop Calvary and nothing could stop Pentecost; the “living water” of Jesus.

The process of being born again or born from above includes a ritual called baptism. The term is from the Greek word baptismos or baptisma. It’s root word bapto means to dip and as such was used by the Greek poet Homer to describe the dipping of steel in water to temper it.[26]  The Hebrew counterpart is tabhal, and is often translated simply as to dip, as when Naaman dipped himself in the Jordan River (2 Kgs. 5:14).[27]  It was not a new phrase and people were familiar with the word.

  1. “Born of the Spirit.” The regeneration of life in the new believer is the key. This is of a spiritual nature and, with it there is the immediate divine promise of eternal life, as well as divine strength to pass through the difficulties of this life. While this is of a spiritual nature, the physical challenges, such as addictions, often remain to be healed in a slower process. However, by the power and grace of Jesus Christ, the new believer can break free of these bondages.


The Jews practiced baptism for the conversion of Gentiles. Hence, it was not a new institution for them. It had been a ceremonial ritual, but did not have the same concept of repentance as taught by John the Baptist and Jesus. The Essenes, on the other hand, were probably more on target in understanding this concept than most believers today realize. They had a daily ritual immersion bath for purification that included a confession of sins. It is interesting that they said such a ritual immersion was worthless without a repentant heart. This doctrine developed in the previous two centuries and the entire Jewish nation was aware of it.  Therefore, when Jesus preached it, His message was not entirely new.  The Essenes appear to have had clear understanding of the times in which they lived that would usher in the messiah – and interesting reflection upon the “fullness of time” in Galatians 4:4, which had not yet been written by the Apostle Paul.

Finally, the initial difference between the lost and the saved is not who is guilty and who is innocent, but rather how each person responds to the gospel message.  Nicodemus knew that righteousness was required to enter the kingdom of the Messiah (Ps. 24:3-4) and he knew the details of the Law.  He was about to learn that the Law was a reflection of what the condition of the heart ought to be.

Whereas the Written Law directs the behavior of man toward God from an external source, a change of heart, the Kingdom of God directs the behavior of man toward God from an internal source.  The concept of the Messiah as the Savior of humanity and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer were not in first century Jewish expectations.

 05.05.05b (2)


Jesus said to him. “Are you a teacher of Israel?” In the Greek, a definite article indicates Nicodemus was one of the most respected educators of his time and it would read, “Are you the teacher?” meaning, “senior theologian,” or, “professor,” in Israel ….”[28]  Jesus was not indicating any lack of knowledge of the Law, but He was critical of Nicodemus’ inability to understand what He was teaching.  Nicodemus had been so strongly instructed in every facet of the Law that he failed to understand its purpose. For this reason, Jesus gave the illustration of Moses in Numbers 21:8-9.

“Our testimony.”  When the New Testament writers used terms such as “testimony,” “bore witness” or “I have seen and testify,” these are statements of legal terminology. These statements were common in Roman, Greek, and Jewish cultures whereby the author placed himself under an oath concerning the truthfulness of the statement made.[29]


05.05.05.Q2 How could an evil symbol of a snake of Numbers 21:4-9, be associated with Jesus crucified upon a Cross? 


The passage in John 3:14 reads “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness (desert)” and with it Jesus reflected upon an Old Testament story in Numbers 21:4-9. In that account the people of Israel journeyed through the desert and complained bitterly and regretted that they had ever left Egypt. God punished them for complaining and murmuring, and, after receiving some nasty snake bites, they repented and cried for mercy. God told Moses to make a brass snake, place it on top of a pole, and when the people looked upon it they would be healed. Years later during the days of Hezekiah, the brazen serpent became an idol (2 Kgs. 18:4). The irony was that they were not to make a graven image of any living thing, yet when they looked upon a brass snake, they were healed.

The wilderness event is sometimes problematic for modern students, because the snake is associated with the demonic serpent of Genesis.  How could such an evil symbol be associated with Jesus who would be lifted upon a cross?  This is the perfect example of how two cultural perceptions, separated by centuries, leads to perplexing conclusions.

From the days of Moses through to the first century, many believed that because a snake sheds its skin every year, it was a symbol of renewed life.[30] When the ancient Israelites looked upon the snake on top of the pole, they looked upon renewed life. Today, when we look upon Jesus on the cross, we look upon renewed life.  In the Old Testament Period, it was certainly not the snake that healed, nor was it Moses, but it was God. Centuries later it was Jesus who healed. Ironically, among the Greeks and Romans the symbolic snake appeared with ancient gods and goddesses of healing as well as in pagan accounts of virgin births.

There are two issues taking place in this passage that challenge the modern reader.

  1. The symbolic issue of the snake, and
  1. The phrase “just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,” which must not be disconnected from the statement, “the Son of Man must be lifted up.” John 3:14 places Jesus as One who was more holy than Moses, and verse 15 states that all those who believe in Him (Jesus) have eternal life. By this Jesus clearly declared His equality with God, and that was a dilemma they could not accept.

“The Son of Man must be lifted up.” The early church recognized these interpretations to this comment:

  1. The literal “lifted up” event when Jesus was hung on the cross.[31]
  1. The literal “lifted up” when He arose from death and walked out of the grave.
  1. The literal “lifted up” of the ascension
  1. The early church understood this phrase as a literal fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy:

See, My Servant will act wisely;
He will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted.

Isaiah 52:13


  1. The early church recognized the divinity of Christ Jesus. He had thrown a new light on the Scriptures; He revealed God in a new aspect – as no mere national deity, but as the Father of all mankind. He also taught the most enlightening concepts of freedom of the individual conscience.


“World.”  John places a unique emphasis on this word by repeating it three times – a Jewish custom of giving something the maximum level of importance. Furthermore, he used the Greek word kosmos, meaning a sinful place where Satan rules.[32]  The word is repeated twice in verse 17 and again in verse 19. His message is that Jesus came into this world to save sinners.[33]

Jesus then closed the meeting by saying that men love the cover of darkness to cover their sins. This was not intended to be an insult or degrading, but simply to underscore the need for regeneration of life (being born again).



05.05.05.B. EARLY ISRAELITE INCENSE BURNER ADORNED WITH SNAKES. Incense burner adorned with snakes of the earlier Israelite Period. Snakes represented renewed life throughout the biblical period. Photograph courtesy of the Israel Museum.



05.05.05.C.  THE GREEK GOD ASCLEPIUS WITH STAFF AND SNAKE. The statue of the god Asclepius is always shown with a staff entwined with a snake, and as such was known as the “rod of healing.”[34] The snake was not symbolic of any demonic spirit, but of new life because it sheds its skin yearly. Photo by Wikipedia Commons


05.05.05.Q3  Should Nicodemus have known or suspected anything about a “new birth” (Jn. 3:1-21)?


Absolutely, yes! He was aware of the baptismal rites within Judaism and, therefore, should have made a connection with what Jesus was telling him. He also should have been aware of King David’s two horrific sins for which there was no atonement: murder and adultery.  As a result he cried out unto the Lord and said,

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,                                                                                 and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence                                                                                 or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation                                                                        and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.                        

Psalm 51:10-12 (NIV 1984)


What David requested from our Lord was a regeneration or new birth, for he realized that cleansing himself was a vain exercise (Ps. 73:13).  The Essenes, even though they lived under the Old Covenant, realized that the Holy Spirit purifies the heart. They even spoke freely of God’s Spirit of holiness as a cleansing and purifying power as revealed in a number of Dead Sea Scrolls.[35] Notice the similarities between Dead Sea Scroll 1QS 4.21,[36] written about a century before Jesus was born,[37] and Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16 as illustrated below.

He shall cleanse him of all wicked deeds with the spirit of holiness; like purifying waters He will shed upon him the spirit of truth (to cleanse him) of all abomination and injustice.

Dead Sea Scroll 1QS 4.21[38]


“I baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove His sandals. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 

Matthew 3:11


John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I.  I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Luke 3:16


Nicodemus, as the head of a seminary, should have known that the Messiah would be Israel’s refiner and purifier as stated in passages such as Malachi 3:1-3.  That purifying had already begun with the temple cleansing, but he did not recognize it.  Yet the Spirit moved his heart to discuss this with Jesus.

The rabbis, of which Nicodemus was one, had long connected the ritual of baptism (complete immersion in water), with washing as instructed in Exodus 19:10. It was deemed to be the first step in holy living and preparation to be in communion with God.[39] This opinion was summarized by Josephus concerning the ministry of John the Baptist.  The background to this narrative is that Herod Antipas had executed John, and then entered into battle with the Nabateans who soundly defeated him.  The Jewish community believed the defeat was divine judgment for a horrible sin against a righteous man.  Note the comment on Jewish baptism:

Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist for Herod slew him who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism. For that washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body.

Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.2 (116-117b)[40]


As previously stated, baptism did not originate with Christianity, but with Judaism.[41]  When a Gentile converted to Judaism, he was baptized. [42] When a disciple became a rabbi, he was baptized as part of his ordination service. Some sources indicate that when one became a member of the Sanhedrin, there was a baptism. Such rites were associated with the new responsibility and direction in life.  The rite, along with “born again” terminology was common in Pharisaic writings.  Therefore, Nicodemus should have known or at least made an educated guess at what Jesus was talking about. There were several times when a man could be “born again” according to Jewish theology and tradition.[43]

1. When a Gentile man converted to Judaism, he had to perform three things:[44]

  1. Be circumcised[45]
  1. Make an offering at the temple
  1. Be immersed in a mikvah; after this a man was considered a “new born child” and accepted in Jewish society.[46] That immersion was not a ritualistic immersion in a mikvah to cleanse defilement, but a baptism concerning the forgiveness of sins as John the Baptist did. Records show that some rabbis permitted baptism immediately after circumcision, while the School of Hillel said baptism should be seven days after the circumcision.[47]
  1. When a Gentile slave, either man or woman, became the property of a Jew, he/she had to be baptized.[48]
  1. When a Jewish man was crowned king
  1. At the time of his bar mitzvah (age 13 years and 1 day). From that day on he qualified to be one of ten men and women to begin a new synagogue.[49]
  1. When he married a wife (usually between ages 16 and 20).
  1. When a man was ordained as a rabbi (age 30)
  1. When a rabbi joined the Sanhedrin (age 50)[50]

However, some scholars believe that the “baptisms” of points 3 through 7 above were not baptisms, but purification rituals in a mikvah.[51]  But regardless, Nicodemus should certainly have known what Jesus meant when He used the terms such as “born of water,” “born of the water,” or “baptize.”[52] No wonder that Jesus said, “Are you the teacher…”[53]  Therefore, “the teacher,” who in all probability was the head of a seminary, had a small following of disciples, and as a member of the Sanhedrin he should have understood what Jesus meant.[54] Furthermore, the Apostle Paul made an interesting comment on baptism in his first letter to the Corinthian church when he said “All under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (10:1b-2). Clearly, not only did the apostle know what baptism meant, but those in his audience understood that their forefathers understood the term as well.

05.05.05c (2)


One scholar gather a number of writings and composed a comparison of early Christian baptism ritual of conversion to Jewish baptism and ritual of conversion. [55] Notice the striking similarities.


Christian Baptism                                                     Jewish Proselyte Baptism


Candidates are asked about their                                Candidates are asked about their

motive for conversion.[56]                                              motive for conversion.[57]


Candidates must have witnesses who                        Candidates must have two or three

can guarantee the sincerity of                                     witnesses at baptism.[58]

of the candidates.[59]


Requirement of pre-baptismal instruction                   Instruction in some of the heavier         in ethical catechism.                                                         and  some[60]of the lighter                                                                                                                        commandments  of the law.[61]


Immediately before baptism: Exorcisms,                    Proselyte Aseneth praying and fasting.[62]

Prayer and fasting.[63]


The candidates must renounce the Devil and             Aseneth renounces the Devil and idols.[64]

Reject idol worship.[65]


Baptism to be in “living [running] water”                   Baptism in flowing water on in a                                                                                                          mikvah.[66]

but also poured from a basin.[67]


Water to touch every part of the candidate’s             Water to touch every part of the                                                                                                           candidate’s body; women to loosen hair body; women to loosen hair and remove                    and remove jewelry; no alien object on                                                                                               the body.[68]

jewelry; no alien object between the water and

the body.[69]


After baptism, candidate brings bread                       After baptism, the candidate                                                                                                                  participates in

and wine as an offering to the first                             first Passover meal with offering.[70]



While this is not a comprehensive list, there are enough similarities. Finally, the concept of rebirth or born again was well known to both Jews and Gentiles.  For the Jewish people, the concept is discussed above. For the Gentiles, the Romans and Greeks were familiar with the phrase because it was in nearly all of the ancient mystery religions.


05.05.05.Q4 In light of Romans 10:9, was it possible for Nicodemus to become born again?


Yes, if the answer were limited to this passage in Romans, which states that eternal life is obtained if first, one confesses that Jesus is Lord, and second, one believes that God raised Him from the grave. The problem is obviously that Jesus was very much alive when He spoke to Nicodemus.

The New Testament was written years after the ministry of Jesus. While being “born again” is generally and accurately defined by Romans 10:9, a passage that is more applicable pertains to the new creation Jesus spoke of and is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17.  It states that “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.”  That was precisely the point Jesus made. Nicodemus needed to become a new creation in Christ, which today is known as becoming “born again.”[72]


05.05.05.D. FIRST CENTURY MIKVAH.  A mikvah like this one, located at the southern steps of the temple, became the pattern for baptismal fonts used by the church.  Photograph by the author.



05.05.05.E. FIFTH CENTURY CROSS-SHAPED BAPTISTRY. The concept of a step-down baptistery was patterned after the Jewish ritual mikvah. The Jewish rite was adapted by the early church when a river or body of water was not available. This cross-shaped baptistery is located along the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. Photograph by the author.

[1]. Cited by Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 96 n 27.    


[2]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 6, page 11;  Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:261-63; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 226, 228-29.


[3]. For more information, read the Inter-Testamental history from Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 176-164 B.C. (03.04.17) to the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C. (03.06.04).


[4]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:547.


[5]. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 122-23.

[6]. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 106-08.


[7]. Lawrence, The Seven Laws of the Harvest. 37.

[8]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:549; Packer, Tenney, and White, eds., The Bible Almanac.  557.


[9]. Packer, Tenney, and White, eds., The Bible Almanac. 557.


[10]. Vine, “Only Begotten.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:447-48.


[11]. Howard, “St. John: Introduction and Exegesis.” 8:505; Farrar, Life of Christ. 93; Fruchtenbaum, Life of the Messiah. Tape 4, side A.

[12]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:505.


[13]. For further study see Allison Jr., “One Baptism of Jesus and a New Dead Sea Scroll.”  58-60; See also “A Messianic Vision.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 17:6 (Nov./Dec, 1991) 65.


[14]. Tenney, “John.” 9:48. xx.

[15]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:265-68.


[16]. Jesus died on a Friday afternoon and arose on Sunday morning. The Hebrew method of counting time is that the day ends at sundown.  Any time prior to sundown was counted as a full day. Any portion after sundown was also considered a full day.  Hence, Jesus was considered dead for three full days.

[17]. For an example of a first century baptismal rite, see 18.02.04.


[18]. For other references to the salvation of man, see Jn. 3:16-17, 10:9-10; Lk. 19:10; Heb. 12:2; Acts 4:12; Eph. 1:17, 2:8; Rom. 8:16.  For the fall and redemption of humanity, see  Gen. 1:26, 31; 3:1-7; Ps. 8:4-8; Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-22; 2 Cor. 5:17.  The fall and redemption of humanity and, his salvation by the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus are two critical doctrines of the Christian church. See also Ralph Martin, Worship in the Early Church. 61, 89, 99.

[19]. The Essenes seem to have had a basic concept that atonement could be gained by the Holy Spirit. For further study, investigate comments on Dead Sea Scroll 1QS 3:6b-8, 1QS 4:20-22, and related fragments.


[20]. Babylonian Talmud. Yevamot 62a.


[21]. Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 48b.


[22]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 6, page 8.


[23]. Some ancient manuscripts refer to the Red Sea as the Reed Sea.  Scholars believe it was because of the reeds that grew along the shoreline.

[24]. Purity was a major issue among orthodox Jews because of the continuous encroachment of Hellenism in Jewish families.  Purity (Gk. katharos) was defined within the realm of physical, religious, and ethical purity; a term that has both figurative and literal requirements of behavior. See Link and Schattenmann. “Pure, Clean.” 3:102-03.


[25]. http://www.gnosis.org/library/baptl.htm Retrieved July 17, 2011; See also Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls. 439.


[26]. Homer. Odyssey. 9.392; See 05.02.03.


[27]. Williams, “Baptize, Baptism.” 27-30.

[28]. Howard, “St. John: Introduction and Exegesis.” 504-05; Farrar, Life of Christ. 93.

[29]. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 5.


[30]. Negev, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. 248.  Notice that even some emperors like Alexander the Great, believed they were born of a virgin who became pregnant by the actions of a snake. See 04.03.08.Q7 “How does one explain other so-called virgin births in history?”


[31]. See comments by Messianic scholar Timothy Hegg on the term “lifted up” in 01.02.01.V.

[32]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 209-10.


[33]. Compare Jn. 1:10 and 15:19.


[34]. Luz. “Ancient Medicine and Philosophy: Twin Professions.”15.


[35]. See Dead Sea Scroll: 1QS 3.7-9; 4.21; 1QH 16.12 cf 7.6; 17.26, Fragment 2.9, 13.

[36]. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit. 9-10.

[37]. This scroll is known as The Community Rule or The Manual of Discipline. It is one of the earliest scrolls written by the Essenes; Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. 97.


[38]. Translated and parenthesis by Geza Vermes; Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. 103.


[39]. Tenney, The Gospel of John. 49.


[40]. Bracketed inserts for clarification by Whiston, ed.


[41]. Fruchtenbaum, The New Birth. 20-23.


[42]. For further study of Jewish baptism, see Skarsaune. In the Shadow of the Temple. Ch. 18, 353-75.


[43]. These baptisms would have been similar to those of John the Baptist who stressed true repentance. For more information on Jewish baptisms, see William S.LaSor, “Discovering What Jewish Mikva’ot Can Tell Us About Christian Baptism.” 52-59. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 6, pages 7-9;  See also Zondervan’s New International Version Archaeological Study Bible. 2005. 1562.


[44]. Also see comments below “After Jesus was baptized” in 05.02.03.Q1.


[45].  Those men who decided to forgo the circumcision ritual, but observed the Noahide Commandments, were known as “God-fearing” men. They were not “Jewish converts,” but still respected among the Jewish people. For more information on the Noahide Commandments, see Appendix 17.


[46]. Livingston, “Jesus on Purity, Baptism, and Jewish Ritual Baths.” 1-2.


[47]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 307;  Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:396.


[48]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 348.


[49]. The rabbinic rule that a minimum of ten men could establish a new synagogue was not established until centuries after Christ, around the time the Babylonian Talmud was written. For further study on the various opinions concerning the status and influence of women in the Second Temple Period, see the excellent work by Tal Ilan, Integrating Women into Second Temple History, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999.


[50]. Fruchtenbaum, Life of the Messiah. Tape 4, Side A.


[51]. See “Baptism” and “Mikvah” in Appendix 26.


[52]. According to Scott, Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. 146, one of the earliest scholars to research Jewish baptisms was a French scholar, Joseph Thomas, who authored Le Mouvement baptist en Palestine et Syrie (Gembloux: J. Duculot, 1935).


[53]. Emphasis by the author, but it is also in the Greek text.


[54]. Fruchtenbaum, The New Birth. 20-23.


[55]. Skarsaune. In the Shadow of the Temple. 359-60.


[56]. Apostolic Tradition 16.2.


[57]. Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 47a.


[58]. Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 46b.


[59]. Apostolic Tradition 16.2.


[60]. Didache 1-5; Justin, First Apology 61; Apostolic Tradition 16-17.


[61]. Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 47a.


[62]. Joseph and Aseneth 10-13.


[63]. Didache 7; Justin, First Apology 61; Apostolic Tradition 20.3-10.



[64]. Joseph and Aseneth 10.8-13; 12.9-12.


[65]. Apostolic Tradition 21.9..


[66]. Sibylline Oracles 4:162-70..


[67]. Didache 7.


[68]. Apostolic Tradition 21.5.


[69]. Babylonian Talmud, Bava Qamma 82a/b.


[70]. Mishnah, Pesahim 8:8; Keritot 2:1.


[71]. Justin, First Apology 65; Apostolic Tradition 20:10; 23:1.


[72]. Fruchtenbaum, The New Birth. 40-43.


05.05.06 Jesus and John in Judea

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 08, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.05.06 Jesus and John in Judea

05.05.06 Jn. 3:22-36 Jesus and John in Judea



 22 After this, Jesus and His disciples went to the Judean countryside, where He spent time with them and baptized. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water there. People were coming and being baptized, 24 since John had not yet been thrown into prison.

25 Then a dispute arose between John’s disciples and a Jew about purification. 26 So they came to John and told him, “Rabbi, the One you testified about, and who was with you across the Jordan, is baptizing — and everyone is flocking to Him.”

27 John responded, “No one can receive a single thing unless it’s given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

31 The One who comes from above is above all. The one who is from the earth is earthly and speaks in earthly terms. The One who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what He has seen and heard, yet no one accepts His testimony. 33 The one who has accepted His testimony has affirmed that God is true. 34 For God sent Him, and He speaks God’s words, since He gives the Spirit without measure.  35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hands. 36 The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.


“Judean countryside.”  While a number of ancient extra-biblical writers refer to the Holy Land as Judaea, amazingly,  John 3:22 is the only place in the New Testament where the name “Judean” appears, meaning “Judaea.”   

“Aenon near Salim.” The location of these two villages was unknown until the late 19th century when, during an excavation in St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Madaba, Jordan,[1] a 6th century mosaic map of sacred sites was found.[2]  Known as the Madaba Map, its focal point is Jerusalem, but it also depicts Aenon as being near to Salim, just south of the Decapolis city of Scythopolis (a/k/a Beth Shean) and west of the Jordan River. Note that John was baptizing in this area, while Jesus was baptizing two or three days further south along the same river in Judea, where He Himself was baptized by John.

“Because there was plenty of water.” John the Baptist did most of his ministry in the area along the Jordan River, especially the southern region. Generally, the river had sufficient water for an immersion baptism.  However, at the end of a long hot and dry summer, it is reduced to a trickle and any crocodiles can be easily spotted. So John went further north, where there was a greater quantity of water for immersion. Apparently, sprinkling was not an option.  But sprinkling was introduced by the Jewish church near the end of the first century, as recorded in the Didache.

Regarding baptism.  Baptize as follows: After first explaining all these points, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in running water. But if you have no running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot in cold, then in warm.  But if you have neither, pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Before the baptism, let the baptizer and the candidate for baptism fast, as well as any others that are able.  Require the candidate to fast one or two days previously.

Didache 7:1-4[3]


Rabbi, the One you testified about … everyone is flocking to Him.”   The disciples of John the Baptist became so jealous of the ministry of Jesus, that they did not mention the name of Jesus. Rather, they referred to Jesus as “that man,” or in this case, as “the One.”  The avoidance of a name was a deliberate insult. However, John did not respond with a rebuke but simply affirmed that “the One” was the bridegroom (v. 29) who had come from heaven (v. 31).


05.05.06.Q1 What happened to the disciples of John the Baptist who did not follow Jesus (Jn. 3:26)?


The phrase “everyone is flocking to Him” is a figure of speech indicating that many, possibly the majority, of people began to follow Jesus.  It is not an exclusive statement meaning every single person, just as the term “all” is not an exclusive statement[4] in terms of human relationships.

Eventually many disciples and followers of John the Baptist followed Jesus, especially after John was executed. However, not all made that change.  Those who didn’t may have recognized that God brought forth a mighty prophet, but for one reason or another, they chose not to follow Jesus and formed their own religious sect. That group and their descendants became known as the Mendeans, or Christians of St. John, although they were never true Christians. Centuries later the Muslims called them the Sabaeans. They moved east and settled in the cities of Wasit, Basra, and Chuzistan on the eastern side of the Tigris River in a nation known today as Iraq.[5]

But the groom’s friend.”  There were some cultural differences in wedding rituals between communities.  In Galilee, there was a groomsman (Heb. shoshebhin) for the groom and brideswoman for the bride, whereas in Judea only the bridegroom had a groomsman.  The bridegroom in ancient times was the most important individual at the wedding, the reverse from today’s Western custom.  The bridegroom in this passage is Jesus and His friend, the groomsman is John the Baptist.

“The One who comes from above.”  John again presented his commentary reflecting the divine message in no uncertain terms.  He stated that Jesus:

  1. Came from heaven
  1. Spoke with divine authority
  1. Spoke from observation into the hearts of men, not from theology or theory
  1. Spoke the words of God, and
  1. Had complete authority from God the Father to proclaim and demonstrate his message (confirmed later by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:47).


The one who believes in the Son has eternal life.”  John brings forth his theme that whoever places his faith in Jesus for salvation has eternal life.  That life is not only a future possession, but also a present possession.  “Whoever believes” is not an opinion or feeling, but rather, is both a deep-seated faith and commitment to follow biblical instructions that pertain to all areas of life.

After a brief ministry in Judea and around Jerusalem, Jesus traveled north into the Galilee area.  There were two primary reasons for this.

  1. Both Jesus and John were engaged in the same ministry. They were challenged by the increasing tension of the leading Pharisees who desired to see both men end their ministries. The corrupt police power of the Sanhedrin was intense, but limited to Jerusalem and Judea. Therefore, Jesus traveled north to Galilee.
  1. John’s imprisonment by Herod Antipas signaled that the message of the Baptist was rejected, as would be the message of Jesus.


Jesus was gaining immense popularity, which could have developed into political overtones.  The image of the coming messiah held by the people was powerfully explosive but completely different from the life and ministry of Jesus.  To avoid any problems and to be outside the legal sphere of the Sanhedrin, He ministered in the plain of Galilee, as well as the villages that surround the Sea of Galilee.  Herod the Great had previously limited the arresting authority of the high court to Jerusalem and Judea.

At the same time the popularity of John also increased. Since his messages were far more inflammatory than those of Jesus, Herod Antipas feared John might start a revolt. Yet strange as it seems, the leading Pharisees and Sadducees appear not to be as concerned about John, but worried that Jesus would overthrow their religious system in the temple.


05.05.06.Q2 Did Jesus baptize anyone (Jn. 3:22)?


According to John 3:22 and 26, Jesus and His disciples baptized people. However, John 4:2 is a clarification statement that says only the disciples were performing the baptisms. There is no conflict between these three passages, but rather, the disciples were baptizing under the authority of Jesus. Therefore, it would be the same as if Jesus personally performed the baptisms.

[1]. The mosaic Madaba Map is in the village of Madaba, located about 20 miles south of Amman, the capital of Jordan. The map measured approximately 51 feet (north to south) by 19 feet (east to west) totally about 969 square feet that contained about 1.1 million tesserae, which are the small colored mosaic tiles.

[2]. See “Madaba Map” in Appendix 26; See also 14.02.03.D and 05.02.03.Z.


[3]. The Didache is a book on church order that was written within a century of the life of Jesus. For more information, see 02.02.08.


[4]. For an explanation, see 15.04.08.Q1 “Does the word “all” mean the entire Jewish community; every Jew in the land?”


[5]. Kessler, “Mendaeans.” 4:1467.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 08, 2016  -  Comments Off on 05.05.07 JOHN THE BAPTIST IMPRISONED

05.05.07 Lk. 3:19-20 Machaerus Fortress, East of the Dead Sea




19 But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him about Herodias, his brother’s wife, and about all the evil things Herod had done, 20 added this to everything else — he locked John up in prison.

The Herodian family lived on the wild side.  Their wild and sensual parties and banquets were the envy of Rome.  The trend began with Herod the Great and was faithfully continued by his three sons, especially Herod Antipas.  For this the Baptist had rebuked him for his notorious debauchery as well as his adultery. Naturally, the corrective rebuke was not welcomed by the king. In fact, according to Josephus, he feared that John’s teaching might lead to civil unrest.[1]  Consequently, he had John imprisoned in the Machaerus Fortress, located east of the Dead Sea.



05.05.07.A. RUINS OF THE MACHAERUS PALACE-FORTRESS.  The ruins of this palace-fortress, east of the Dead Sea, are hardly a shadow of its glorious past. According to tradition, John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded at this site. Some scholars believe the pit (right of the fence) was the prison dungeon. The fortress was constructed by Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.), destroyed by the Romans in 57 B.C., and reconstructed by Herod the Great, who enjoyed the nearby hot springs of Callirrhoe in the Wadi Zerka Ma’in.[2] Photograph by the author.

[1]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.1.

[2]. Bruce, “Machaerus.” 2:929.

  • Chapters