Culture Society

How the Pandemic Revealed a Greater Health Crisis within Evangelical Christianity

So how could Grace Community Church justify their unwillingness to enforce any health mandates? The answer comes from a surprising new variable entered into the equation – mental health.

So we were told at the beginning that millions were going to die. Millions of people are going to die from COVID. And just simply stated, we don’t want to kill millions of people. So I said fine, let’s just do live stream.

– Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church, Grace to You, and the Master’s University/Seminary.

John MacArthur made this statement on October 3 of 2020, when asked by Josh Boice of the G3 Conference Podcast about his response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Grace Community Church (GCC) locked down for several weeks in early 2020. This entailed moving church services almost entirely online via live stream. But this initial response wouldn’t last long.

On July 24, 2020, Pastor MacArthur and GCC began a virulent campaign against restrictions placed on church gatherings in California. This narrative shift was further solidified on Sunday, August 9th of 2020. Herein, the Pastor welcomed thousands of unmasked congregants into a church service free of the health mandates being enforced elsewhere throughout Los Angeles. He would also invite an LAPD chaplain to his pulpit, reinforcing what he now dubbed a “peaceful protest” – borrowing language from the nationwide protests over George Floyd’s murder on May 25th, 2020.

GCC elder Phil Johnson retweets two photographs of the August 7th church service, wherein MacArthur publicly asserted his new stance of civil disobedience.

Separate from this well-publicized spectacle, Pastor MacArthur began a media campaign defending the new position of his church. On the July 30, 2020 episode of the Eric Metaxas Radio Show, MacArthur stated,

…in the state of California there are 40 million people, and 8500 who died with COVID – not necessarily of COVID. So that’s 0.002 [sic]. So in California you have a 99.99 [sic] chance of surviving the pandemic – if you want to call it that.

MacArthur cites faulty mortality statistics on the Eric Metaxas Radio Show, attempting to downplay the severity of COVID-19.

How did Grace pivot from a desire to “save millions of lives” via a church-wide lockdown, to continuing mass gatherings and defying local health orders? According to an elder letter on July 24, 2020, it was now “The Church’s Duty to Remain Open.” In a sermon that very Sunday – July 26 – MacArthur asserted that “We Must Obey God Rather Than Men,” citing an unverified statistic that “if you are under 80” there’s a “99.99% chance you will live through this whole thing.” This would also mark the beginning of GCC’s call for other churches to, “Stand with us in support of the biblical mandate to gather for corporate worship.” And while LA County successfully pressured GCC to cancel their 2021 Shepherd’s Conference, MacArthur would still take the stage via a March 3 live stream, encouraging pastors to, “be a man and open your churches.”

This new position of civil disobedience hinged on the church’s ability to downplay the virus’ effect on their own congregation. In an apparent attempt to lower their case numbers, GCC allegedly silenced congregants infected with COVID-19. Grace was also silent when a Master’s Seminary Student and GCC attendee died from COVID-19.

So what changed?

Again to G3, MacArthur justified GCC’s newfangled rejection of COVID-19 health mandates,

…you can lock down an entire nation and destroy people; destroy them. And then lock down the world and destroy people all over the world, and even with multiple millions of people negatively affected and even dying because of the lockdown. They still don’t lift the lockdown.

MacArthur, in response to a question from Josh Boice.

And regarding his own church, he proclaimed, “…we (GCC) haven’t had an outbreak of anything.”

With official reports of an outbreak at Grace surfacing, the church shifted from a defensive position to an offensive one. GCC began to reframe their rejection of lockdowns as the only logical and moral position. Traditionally ascribing to a rigidly deontological normative system of ethics, Grace would now pivot to utilitarian rhetoric.

MacArthur’s narrative reversal was readily apparent on October 11, 2020 – when the pastor spoke for FRC Freedom Sunday,

“Church needs to be open. We’re not going to kill people by being open.” 

So what would kill people?

Phil Johnson, a prominent and boisterous elder at GCC, propagated unsubstantiated claims that suicides and drug overdoses increased due to lockdown measures.

Mitigation efforts suggested by the CDC to slow the spread of COVID-19 prove effective at lowering virus-related fatalities. So how could Grace Church justify their complete unwillingness to enforce any health mandates? The answer comes from a surprising new variable entered into the equation – mental health.

John MacArthur, Phil Johnson, James Coates, and others of the GCC/TMS family would begin asserting a truly unprecedented concern for those struggling from suicidal ideation, addiction, and clinical depression. These societal woes, they argued, were far more pressing than the dangers of COVID-19. This logic would represent a new moral calculus akin to John Stuart Mill’s “Greatest Happiness Principle.”

Notice the value judgments made in GCC’s July 24, 2020 statement entitled “Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church: A Biblical Case for the Church’s Duty to Remain Open,”

…because we could not possibly have known the true severity of the virus, and because we care about people as our Lord did, we believe guarding public health against serious contagions is a rightful function of Christians as well as civil government. Therefore, we voluntarily followed the initial recommendations of our government. It is, of course, legitimate for Christians to abstain from the assembly of saints temporarily in the face of illness or an imminent threat to public health…there were horrific projections of death. In light of those factors, our pastors supported the measures by observing the guidelines that were issued for churches.

Excerpts from the July 24, 2020 statement drafted by GCC’s elders.

Clearly, MacArthur and company had no issue following health mandates at the onset of this Pandemic. But the July 24, 2020 narrative shift necessitated a move away from deontological ethics. Value judgments were created and skepticism advanced.

It is apparent that those original projections of death were wrong and the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared.

Excerpt from the GCC elders’ July 24 statement.

The value judgment is immediately evident in the above statement. In fact, the British COVID-19 Response Team revealed the much-publicized Imperial College Study on March 16, 2020 – which stated, “In total, in an unmitigated epidemic, we would predict approximately…2.2 million [deaths] in the US, not accounting for the potential negative effects of health systems being overwhelmed on mortality.”

Note that this alarming 2.2 million number could have been reached, were it not for national lockdowns and social distancing measures. But, even with mitigation efforts, the death toll has surpassed 800,000 in the U.S. as of this writing.

Since the 2.2 million estimate simply represents a counterfactual, GCC can assert the implausibility of said outcome ever actualizing. These conclusions are easily asserted ex post facto, without factoring in mitigation efforts.

With opposition to the church’s civil disobedience mounting in the Fall of 2020, GCC shifted its argumentation to highlight the tole of isolation resulting from lockdowns, which supposedly increase mental illness-related deaths.

Via extrapolation, we must infer that 800,000 lives lost does not reach the threshold of legitimacy, “for Christians to abstain from the assembly of saints.” Yet, presumably, the “horrific projections of death,” (i.e. the 2.2 million Imperial College estimate) would have been sufficient. This would represent a utilitarian-calculus foreign to most deontological systems or Divine Command Theory itself. Sadly, these calculations ignore certain key variables, such as the detrimental long-term effects of COVID-19. Ironically, Long Haulers’ COVID has been shown to have detrimental effects on mental health.

Although MacArthur and his evangelical associates continue to reject the existence of the Pandemic, they still acknowledge that people have died from the virus. But they argue this number pales in comparison to mental illness related death and devastation. Pastor MacArthur and others bring up suicide, alcoholism, and drug addiction as spiking during the Pandemic lockdowns – because people are unable to have normal social lives at church and elsewhere.

But are deaths from suicide and drug overdoses truly greater than COVID-19 deaths? As will be shown, the data simply doesn’t support these assertions.

On February 14, 2021 – James Coates, Pastor of Gracelife church in Edmonton and lauded graduate of The Master’s Seminary, said in a sermon,

Our government has no responsibility or culpability for the virus…Deaths resulting from their (government’s) actions (lockdowns) … there is culpability then before God.” Risk mitigation regarding the virus is on each individual, the government’s only role is to defend your inalienable, God-given rights…God is responsible for the death rate, not (the Premier).

Pastor James Coates, in a sermon on Romans 13.

This radical narrative shift is apparent in arguments being made from both Grace pulpits.

On Sunday, July 26th, 2020, John MacArthur officially pivoted from submission to civil disobedience. In a sermon labeled, “We Must Obey God Rather Than Men,” MacArthur made his new stance clear. On this Sunday, MacArthur boldly exclaimed,

Fourteen thousand people die every year from accidents. Five thousand people from suicide – and that’s going higher this year as well. How could they close the hospitals when these people are in jeopardy for something that can affect only 0.01 percent [sic] of the population?

Pastor MacArthur, July 26th 2020.

Here is the first example of MacArthur using a value judgment to assert that lockdowns are more deadly than the Covid-19 Pandemic. He would again make this assertion in a Q&A Sunday church service on December 6, 2020,

This approach (lockdowns) to the virus obviously has a devastating impact on many people. In Japan in one month, there were as many suicides as there have been in covid deaths through the entire almost year-long siege.  We know about that.

John MacArthur, in response to a congregant’s question during the sermon titled, “Bible Questions and Answers, Part 76.”

MacArthur likely borrowed this rhetoric from then-president Donald Trump. During a March 2020 press conference, Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci were asked,

“Dr. Fauci, could you speak to that — the idea that there might be mental health and suicide related to this? Would that outpace, at some point, the virus’s impact on the society?”

Instead of deferring to Fauci, Trump handled the question himself.

“I could ask Dr. Fauci to come up, but it’s common sense,” Trump said. “You’re going to have massive depression, meaning mental depression. You’re going to have depression in the economy also. But you’re going to have mental depression for people. You’re going to have large numbers of suicides.”

He continued, warning that the country would see drug addiction “more than anything else.”

“You will see drugs being used like nobody has ever used them before,” Trump said. “And people are going to be dying all over the place from drug addiction, because you would have people that had a wonderful job at a restaurant, or even owned a restaurant.”

By some estimates, suicides in 2020 actually dropped by 5%, compared to 2019. The Washington Post disproved faulty predictions in the article, Efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic didn’t have the death toll Trump seemed to predict.

MacArthur’s assertions may have stoked faux-outrage and contrived concern for the mentally ill, but his narrative was never truly based in fact. Again and again, MacArthur has confidently asserted faulty COVID statistics from the pulpit.

But a more important question remains to be answered – if Pastor MacArthur is truly concerned for the mentally ill, why isn’t he helping them? Perhaps he is merely using individuals with mental illness as pawns in a game of “compassion chess.” Unfortunately, Grace Community Church, The Master’s University, and The Master’s Seminary all have a checkered past when it comes to mental health. Those suffering from mental health crises at these institutions have been told they’re in sin. That psychology is a farce. And that health disorders are simply signs of weakness, wickedness, or worse. This subsection of Christianity has rarely extended empathy for the mentally ill – a pandemic, mass deaths, and lockdowns can’t change that fact.

In upcoming articles, I will contend that a lack of empathy in the evangelical church has led to a mental health pandemic. My vision is for the normalization of compassion directed toward the mentally ill within Evangelical Christendom. That struggling individuals would be viewed as children of God – not expedient statistics or burdensome sinners. I believe empathy is foundational for an ethic seeking to emulate Christ as the ultimate man of virtue. I pray that the COVID-19 pandemic would wake the church up to the importance of altruism – putting others first.

Metaphysics Philosophy


Robert Adams, in “Middle Knowledge and the Problem of Evil” sought to address the reemergence of a Jesuit theory of divine providence Scientia Media – by offering the grounding objection to God’s MK.

Adams first addresses Scientia Media historically – leaning heavily on Luis de Molina’s offerings in “Part IV: On Divine Foreknowledge” in Concordia (1588). Middle Knowledge describes God’s knowledge of, “what every possible free creature would freely do in every situation in which that creature could possibly find himself,” (109). Theologians are drawn to scientia media because it explains how God could sovereignly actualize a world wherein He utilizes the (libertarian) free actions of creatures to accomplish His will.

Adams’ contends that conditional propositions supposedly known in MK cannot be true (109). He substantiates this claim by appealing to the text of 1 Samuel 23. Before settling in Keilah, David asks the Lord if Saul of Israel will come into Keilah. God responds in the affirmative. David then queries if the men of Keilah, “will surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul.” God responds, “they will surrender you.” As a result, David evacuates from Keilah, giving Saul no opportunity to besiege his men and removing the occasion for the men of Keilah to surrender him (1 Samuel 23:1-14). Jesuit theologians use this passage to assert God’s knowledge of two propositions:

  1. If David stayed in Keilah, Saul would besiege the city.
  2. If David stayed in Keilah and Saul besieged the city, the men of Keilah would surrender David to Saul.

Since both actions would have been free in a libertarian sense, this is understood as a case of God’s MK (110). But what, if anything, makes these two propositions true? Adams states, “Most philosophers … have supposed that categorical predictions, even about contingent events, can be true by corresponding to the actual occurrence of the event that they predict. But propositions (1) and (2) are not true in this way.” (110).

Given a correspondence theory of truth, subjunctive conditionals require a truthmaker. Rejecting the idea that Saul’s besieging of Keilah follows by logical necessity from David’s staying there, a more plausible suggestion is one of causal necessity. But both types of necessity would eliminate libertarian free will (111)! Any non-necessitating basis for the truth of (1) and (2), Adams continues, would result in mere probabilities. This means God would not infallibly know what definitely will happen.

Suarez appealed to a primitive understanding for the truth values of relevant subjunctive conditionals. A merely possible being, under Suarez’s view, need not find actualization, yet has a property of being a possible agent who may or may not insatiate a situational action. Only God knows which property this possible agent has (112). This ontology is rejected by Adams.

Alvin Plantinga assumed the theory of MK in formulating his “Free Will Defense” to the problem of evil. Adams refutes Plantinga’s possible worlds explanation of counterfactuals – adapted from Robert Stalnaker and David Lewis (112). By this analysis, the actual world must be more similar to some possible world wherein David stays in Keilah and Saul besieges the city, than to any possible world in which David stays in Keilah and Saul does not besiege the city (112). Adams objects to the conclusion that such a world as described above is relevantly similar to the actual world. Rather, his argument goes, it seems a relevantly similar world would be one in which David stayed in Keilah but wasn’t given over to Saul. Additionally, Adams appeals to the argument of probability presented previously – that one can only posit what Saul might have done, and so would have only probably laid siege to Keilah (113).

Adams rejects Plantinga’s application of deliberative conditionals (If I did x, y would happen) to the possible worlds explanation of counterfactuals (113). Here the order of explanation in God’s creative act is questioned – “the truth of crucial conditionals cannot be settled soon enough to be of use to God,” (113). The problem is that this conditional may only be considered true if the actual world is more similar to a world wherein x is done and y happens, than a world wherein x is done but y does not happen. Thus, the truth of this deliberate conditional depends on the truth or falsity of its antecedent. Which world is the actual world is seen as dependent upon whether x is done or not done. Adams argues that if God simply believed a deliberate conditional prior to the settlement of this conditional as true, then He acts based on luck, not wisdom.

New Testament Studies

3 John 9-10 Exegetical Commentary

The aptly named Third Epistle of John was written by the Apostle John, son of Zebedee. This letter, along with the other Johannine Epistles, was penned after John’s Gospel, somewhere between A.D. 90– 95.[1] In the first two epistles, one finds John’s treatment of heresies arising from those mishandling his Gospel.[2] Third John will function similarly, albeit with the distinction of addressing one straying from proper Christian and early-church praxis, rather than entertaining heresy. Third John was likely written from Ephesus, during the final years of the Apostle’s life.[3] This letter’s recipient, Gaius, is unknown – although he was ministering in a churched area, familiar to the Apostle. Diotrephes is similarly unfamiliar to Scripture. Of importance to this epistle is the prevalence of missionaries commissioned in the early church to teach and establish doctrine. Hospitality was expected in a Roman world where local inns were dirty, dangerous, and depraved.[4] It would have been expected for friendly locals to offer up lodging to any sojourner, especially those sharing the bond of common faith.[5] Not to do so was a fragrant display of prideful selfishness, not merely an act of preference or comfortability.  

Opting for the positional title of “the Elder,” John opens this letter with a direct address and commendation of Gaius. Gaius is clearly a beloved fellow believer of John, though his location and background is unknown. Indeed, one should extrapolate from textual evidence that John has never met Gaius personally, though the Apostle rightly assumes a position of authority. And John’s avuncular praise for Gaius is unequivocal. John writes of the positive testimony he had received regarding Gaius from various Christian brothers (cf. v. 3). The Apostle further commends Gaius for both his faithfulness to the Truth and hospitality (vv. 4; 5). Notably, these two aspects of Gaius’ faithfulness both describe his worthy walk (vv. 4b; 6b).

Recognizing Gaius’ integrity, John now requests his humble brother extend this hospitality by continuing to support those missionaries receiving Apostolic approval (v. 6b; 8). John expects humble submission from Gaius. He rightfully assumes Gaius will joyfully maintain Gospel unity by selflessly supporting strangers and accommodating fellow workers (vv. 6–8). Another church leader, from the same area as Gaius, will now be introduced in contrast to this image of Christian hospitality. This negative example will serve as a warning against not merely inhospitality, but the prideful selfishness which fuels such evil.

Commentary: 3 John 9–10

Verse 9

I wrote something to the church. Here John introduces a key fact unknown to Gaius. He had written something (implied to be a letter), in the past, as indicated by the aorist tense of Ἔγραψά. Some scholars argue this Gaius was centered in the same church as Diotrephes, whom John will condemn in short order. This cannot be the case, as John would have no need to inform Gaius of this past writing and subsequent rejection if these two believers were members of the same church.[6] Glenn Barker suggests Gaius lived in a nearby village, separated just far enough from Diotrephes’ church to be ignorant of the situation therein.[7] Quite simply, John informs Gaius of a past conflict with implications both present and future. As remains to be seen, Gaius was located near enough Diotrephes for this information to be relevant for his own ministry of hospitality.

John’s use of the definite article“τῇ” with “ἐκκλησίᾳ” (church) has proven to be a point of contention in scholarship. At first glance, it may appear John is necessarily referring to the specific church referenced in v. 6a, to which Gaius himself belongs. This conclusion, however, is gratuitous. A better inference would be that Gaius is simply familiar with this specific church, to which Diotrephes belongs.[8] One might also conclude the nature of Diotrephes’ illegitimate overextension in leadership based on the addressee being a collective church (as opposed to addressing Diotrephes individually). To be sure, the lost letter was clearly not written directly to Diotrephes, though the disgruntled leader either suppressed or destroyed it.  

but Diotrephes. Diotrephes now comes into focus, as a key point of contrast and opposition. John’s lost letter was purposeful, intended to promote hospitality, for the congregation’s benefit.[9] But Diotrephes interferes, casting himself in arrogance. Diotrephes was clearly a leader in the church, and a despotic one at that.[10] It’s unclear if Diotrephes had a legitimate leadership title in the church prior to John’s first letter. Regardless, it is evident that Diotrephes sought to usurp apostolic power while simultaneously stretching such authority beyond anything Scripturally defendable (cf. v. 10). As remains to be seen, the root of Diotrephes’ issue was simply sin; prideful selfishness leading to evil deeds.[11] Some scholars speculate that cultural, social, theological, or ecclesiastical considerations moved the leader to forcefully object outside influence. These unwarranted postulations assume about Diotrephes a background never included before or after the words “but Diotrephes”.

who loves to be first among them. This phrase constitutes a unique word in the Greek, which warrants further explication.φιλοπρωτεύων is a hapax legomenon in Greek literature.[12] Being a present participle, it has been translated by Raymond Brown as, “The-liking-to-be-first.”[13] This title suggests both Diotrephes’ arrogance in his pursuit of primacy, as well as his true position of leadership and authority.[14] In other words, Diotrephes truly had sway over “the church” to which John is referencing and thus has the capacity to destroy letters stamped with apostolic authority. Further, his power extends even to the unprecedented, despotic pronouncement of excommunication (cf. v. 10b).

Daniel Akin argues that Diotrephes’ “love for being first” indicates a desire to usurp the preeminence of Jesus. He further contests that Diotrephes isn’t desirous of John’s apostolic authority – for even this wouldn’t be sufficient to satiate his hunger for power.[15] This conclusion is unjustified, since Gaius is exclusively informed of Diotrephes’ blatant rejection of apostolic authority. If Diotrephes’ desire was to usurp the dominion of Christ, this apostacy would be treated with far greater consequence. One must conclude, however, that vying for preeminence points to the leader’s prideful heart, which places him in opposition to Christ. 

does not accept what we say. Indeed, Diotrephes’ arrogance and selfish zeal for self-sufficiency and magisterial power is no secret to John. Interestingly, the literal rendering of this phrase is “does not receive us”οὐκ ἐπιδέχεται ἡμᾶς.[16] This leads one to a better understanding of John’s abrupt use of the first-person plural pronoun here. John is drawing upon not only the cultural norm of hospitality, but more significantly, a way of thinking, “common in the Fourth Gospel, where to receive the ones sent is the same as receiving the one who sent them (cf. John 5:23; 12:44–45; 13:20; 14:24).”[17] Therefore, while John himself was not personally denied hospitality by Diotrephes, the latter’s refusal to accept the Apostle’s approved missionaries was just as unacceptable, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”[18]

Indeed, there is no justification for taking a different sense of the word ἐπιδέχεται here.[19] John had sent approved workman to minister effectively in Diotrephes’ congregation, rightfully expecting proper Christian hospitality in return. But Diotrephes, likely in his fear of losing primacy, must have seen these servants as threats and thus refused to receive them.[20]

Verse 10

For this reason. John now responds to the subversive attitude of Diotrephes. Because of Diotrephes’ refusal accept his apostolic epistles and emissaries, John will now seek further confrontation and reproof.Implied here is a clear justification for John’s authoritative condemnation and future actions; justification which the elder will further expound in turn.

if I come. After having his ministers and letter rejected by Diotrephes, John desires to further express his concerns in a personal confrontation. Commentators are split on John’s use of ἐάν (if) here. Is the Apostle expressing an uncertainty regarding the timing of his coming or is he simply unsure if he will indeed come at all? Some scholars inexplicably ascribe certainty to this statement, suggesting that although the correct translation is “if”, John still conveys certainty regarding his impending visitation.[21] Of the three possible options, the most logical conclusion is to ascribe uncertainty to this potential visitation. Indeed, this inference is most faithful to the data and bodes well with a straightforward, face-value reading of the text. Even so, it is rightly suggested that one not linger much on the reasoning behind John’s uncertainty.[22]

I will call attention to his deeds which he does. Although translated here in the NASB as “I will call attention,” the literal meaning of the Greek wordὑπομνήσω as used here is, “I will remind.” This phrase can signify a negative reminder of some past infirmity which requires correction, such as is seen in 2 Timothy 2:14.[23]  Virtually all commentators and scholars agree that this confrontation would be a public rebuke before the congregation to which Diotrephes belongs. Such would accord with the mandate of 1 Timothy 5:20, “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.”[24]John will now  reference these specific sinful deeds, which ultimately overflow from Diotrephes’ arrogant heart.[25]

John’s desire to rebuke Diotrephes displays several realities regarding the author of this epistle. Most prominently, one should rightly ascertain that the author is not merely an elder of the Johannine school – otherwise his power to rebuke would not extend over a leader of a foreign congregation. It is far more plausible that John, as the writer of this epistle, intends to assert his apostolic authority to publicly rebuke Diotrephes. Further, John will clearly seek to strip Diotrephes of his unearned leadership role, seeing as his rise to authority is faulty.

Some have concluded John’s previous uncertainty regarding a potential visit (ἐὰν ἔλθω If I come) is indicative of the author not possessing apostolic authority. These same scholars seek further support for this concept by suggesting the wording in this present phrase is rather mild. Indeed, the seriousness of this rogue leader’s sin would certainly warrant a strong rebuke.[26] A few commentators have used this supposed lack of confidence as definitive evidence against the author’s apostleship. This conjecture is simply unjustifiable. John merely displays love by abiding in the Scripture supported methodology of rebuking a brother.[27] While the congregants must be protected, it is also simultaneously true that restoration should be desired as laid out by Christ In Matthew 18:15-20. Here one should also conclude, with notable support from scholarship, that Diotrephes was at very least not a heretic. The Apostle’s words of condemnation alongside a clear desire to correct suggest Diotrephes’ had not apostatized but rather fallen into sin.

unjustly accusing us with wicked words. The Apostle now specifically mentions three “deeds” of Diotrephes which require “attention.” These deeds are clearly an overflow of the rogue leader’s arrogance and selfish desire for primacy, since he, “loves to be first.” John here uses the word φλυαρέω, which is a hapax legomenon in the New Testament (although its cognate noun is used in 1 Timothy 5:3).[28] This verb has been variously translated as, “to gossip, chatter, talk nonsense.”[29] Indeed, the cognate noun form unique to 1 Timothy 5:3 describes younger widows, who, although they’re believers, incur rebuke from Paul for being φλύαρος “gossipers.” John, however, adds that Diotrephes gossips “with wicked (evil) words.” This clearly adds to the severity and slanderous nature of such gossip, linking it indirectly with the Evil One.[30]

Regarding these “slanderous words,” some denying the apostolic authorship of 3 John have sought to categorize Diotrephes’ attacks as, “refer(ing) not to his (the author’s) personal character but to his role as an authoritative witness to the tradition.”[31] This conclusion is completely unwarranted by the text, and represents misguided eisegesis necessary to maintain authorship by a person (or persons) other than the Apostle John. Context clearly reveals the personal nature of these false charges, which again sought to cut directly at John’s Apostleship.[32] Regarding the use of the first-person plural pronoun, “us” – this is simply a logical continuation of the language used in verse 9. Again, the central thrust of this passage is the condemnation of Diotrephes for rejecting not simply John alone, but all those whom the Apostle sent out as missionaries. To reject these traveling teachers was to reject John himself.

and not satisfied with this. Here the downward spiral of Diotrephes’ prideful disposition continues past attitude and words into action. Karen Jobes argues that the writer’s use of “ἀρκούμενος ἐπὶ” represents an unusual and seemingly unnecessary use of the preposition ἐπὶ (with) in front of the dative ἀρκούμενος (which already has the propositional sense “with” built in).[33] Rather than concluding this is merely stylistic, Jobes states, “Although the preposition doesn’t change the translation, it does heighten the sense of provocation.”[34] This is the logical conclusion, and preferable to counting Paul’s use of ἐπὶ as superfluous. The author thus recognizes that Diotrephes was not content with mere slanderous words but would further express his opposition to John’s authority by rejecting even the apostolic emissaries.[35] The pronoun τούτοις (this) then clearly refers back to the “wicked (evil) words” of Diotrephes.

he himself does not receive the brethren, either. John now addresses the inhospitable schemes of Diotrephes, which are purposed to slight the Apostle’s authority. The verbs John employs are all in the present tense, signaling that Diotrephes was continuing to abide in his policies of inhospitality.[36] Notably, this verse contains a unique word mentioned in the New Testament only here and in verse 9.[37] This verb, ἐπιδέχεται, literally means, “to receive” or “to welcome.”[38] This term finds identical formation, placement, and usage in both verses 9 and 10. Even so, countless scholars argue verse 9 refers to a rejection of the author’s words.[39] Brooke explains the word’s contrived variation in meaning (as compared to the identical verse 10), as simply a usage, “ in a somewhat different sense.”[40] Regarding its operation in verse 9, Jobes states,

“English translations that render “he does not welcome us” (οὐκ ἐπιδέχεται) as “he rejects our authority” or something similar are providing an interpretation of his (Diotrephes’) motivation, which in context is likely a true insight into the relationship between the elder and Diotrephes. Nevertheless, the verb itself does not include the sense of authority and therefore should be understood as referring to a refusal to welcome those sent by the elder, regardless of the motivation.” [41]

This is incredibly significant in a proper exegesis of verse 10. Here, the identical usage of ἐπιδέχεται must be accepted as such. Both instances point to Diotrephes continual (present tense) refusal to welcome/receive those approved by the Apostle John. The repeated usage of ἐπιδέχεται emphasizes the severity of this inhospitable action specifically. Yet the second usage adds a distinct emphasis of personal, conscious rejection, “οὔτε αὐτὸς ἐπιδέχεται” properly translated, “he himself does not receive us.” The digression starts with Diotrephes’ own refusal to hospitably welcome the brothers and ends with his despotic suppression of Christian hospitality.[42]

and he forbids those who desire to do so. Diotrephes is described here as continually (present tense) disallowing congregants to extend hospitality toward the orthodox emissaries of John. Based on the grammar and syntax alone, one cannot determine whether Diotrephes had the power and position to excommunicate, or if he simply hindered the efforts of others by cunning.[43] Yet based on the cumulative evidence of verses 9 and 10, Diotrephes must have been a prominent church leader, likely even the pastor. Thus, his act of “forbidding” should be understood as the exertion of a despotic leader.

Significant also is Diotrephes’ control over those who merely “desire” to “receive the brethren.” For one, this shows Diotrephes’ utter disdain for the Apostle Paul (although the motivation for this hatred is clearly his personal quest for primacy). The disdainful leader would take whatever measures necessary to make sure he was first, as is expected from a despot.[44] Secondly, the reality that some within Diotrephes’ church did indeed desire to obey the elder is remarkable. This shows a widespread acceptance of John’s apostolic authority, bearing against the theory that Diotrephes’ entire congregation was obdurately in line with their despotic leader. It should also be concluded that the entire congregation was indeed aware of John’s requests for hospitality (one should not conclude, as Kruse, that this necessarily means they read the letter of verse 9a).[45] In conclusion, this displays the accepted apostleship of John alongside the illegitimate, albeit authoritarian, assertions of Diotrephes, who was likely viewed as a despot by his own congregation.    

and puts them out of the church. Virtually all commentatorsacknowledge that the verbal form of ἐκβάλλει represents the habitual action of expelling. Comparatively few scholars have addressed the possibility that the present tense is conative, rather than factual. If this is the case, Diotrephes would be understood as merely attempting to expel congregants.[46] Clearly this would have significant implications.

Although the conative conclusion bodes well with the idea that Diotrephes was a mere powerless congregant, it is contrived and unwarranted by the text. Although it’s impossible to say with certainty the specific leadership position he held, it’s clear Diotrephes had unprecedented power in his church. Some have argued no pastor or elder at this time would have authority to single handedly reject missionaries, let alone excommunicate congregants. Even if this cultural conclusion is valid, one must simply speculate Diotrephes acted via coercive action to sway his congregation away from proper praxis. Moreover, the Apostle John would rightly concern himself with a situation where church power structures were subverted by those with autocratical aspirations. If Diotrephes is understood as a usurper in this way, as the text warrants, then there’s no logical reason to suppose his desire to wrongfully cast out faithful congregants wasn’t realized.

With this in mind, significant conclusions can be made regarding the ἐκκλησίας “church” over which Diotrephes asserts his leadership. First of all, the term ἐκκλησίας is consequential in early Christian culture for several reasons. This word literally translates, “an assembly, or a regularly summoned legislative body.”[47] In Greek culture, public assemblies were held for the purpose of political or legislative discourse. In the Roman Empire, this practice was characteristically adapted, though as more of a cultural custom. Regardless, this nomenclature was widely recognizable in Roman culture and was understandably adapted by Christians who gathered together for purposes of worship. This is significant because the word translated “church” has none of the modern connotations now associated with specifically Christian gatherings. With the much-opposed emergence of Christianity in Rome, using the inconspicuous ἐκκλησία moniker was tremendously strategic.

Even decades after Christ’s death, these distinctly Christian “assemblies” were still scattered, unofficial (at least in government and society), small, and purposefully quiet. This explains the New Testament prominence of so called “house assemblies” (cf. Philemon 1:2; 1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:5; et. al.). These gatherings are often referenced in the New Testament in relation to the homeowner, such as in Colossians 4:15, “Νύμφαν καὶ τὴν κατʼ οἶκον αὐτῆς ἐκκλησίαν.”[48] There’s little reason to believe Diotrephes’ “church” was anything other than a “house-church.”

Given the authority Diotrephes asserts and the lack of action taken against his tyranny, as well as his ability to expel John’s emissaries, it is logical to conclude Diotrephes himself hosted a house church. This also explains his separation from Gaius, who appears ignorant of the situation with the rogue leader, despite having residence near this wayward brother. Moreover, scholars argue whether Diotrephes was expelling individuals from his home or from the church to which he belonged. With a proper understanding of “house-churches,” both conclusions would be valid simultaneously.  

Conclusion: Synthesis of 3 John 9–10

John included verses 9 and 10 in his epistle to Gaius specifically to condemn Diotrephes’ arrogant attitude, slanderous words, and inhospitable actions. The despotic church leader is described to Gaius as rejecting proper submission to apostolic authority in his quest for primacy. This unchristian love for preeminence is exemplified by a habitual rejection of the Apostle’s orthodox missionaries, as well as a continuing pattern of deeds rightly described as evil. Although Diotrephes was a brother in Christ without any heretical variation in teaching, he was also a deeply egocentric man who required face to face rebuke from John himself. Without this intervention, Diotrephes would continue spreading lies about the Apostle and his ministers, while refusing to welcome missionaries associated with the Apostle whom he felt threatened by. Indeed, Diotrephes’ sinful rejection of John’s apostolic authority was so rampant, the tyrant was willing to excommunicate those with the mere desire to display Christlike hospitality to John’s missionaries.


Backgrounds, Surveys, and Introductions

DeSilva, David Arthur. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

Hill, Charles E. The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2016.

Concordances, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias

Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick William Danker. Translated by William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Elwell, Walter A., Peter C. Craigie, and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Freedman, David Noel. Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 3. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Silva, Moisés, and Merrill C. Tenney. The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.


Akin, Daniel L. 1, 2, 3 John. New American Commentary 38. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001.

Barker, Glenn. W. 1, 2, 3 John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 12. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004.

Brooke, Alan E. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles. International Critical Commentary. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912.

Brown, Raymond Edward. The Epistles of John. Anchor Yale Bible 30. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982.

Burdick, Donald W. The Letters of John the Apostle: An In-Depth Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1985.

Derickson, Gary W. 1, 2 & 3 John. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Edited by H. Wayne House. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014.

Hodges, Zane C. 3 John. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures 2. Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Jobes, Karen H. 1, 2, and 3 John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 19. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

Kruse, Colin G. The Letters of John. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

MacArthur, John. 1, 2, 3 John. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007.

Marshall, I. Howard. The Epistles of John. New International Commentary on the New Testament 8. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

Rosscup, James E. “Exposition of III John.” Unpublished class syllabus. The Master’s Seminary, 2004.

Smalley, Stephen S. 1, 2, 3 John. Word Biblical Commentary 51. Dallas: Word Books, 1984.

Stott, John R. W. The Epistles of John. Tyndale New Testament Commentary 19. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.

Thompson, Marianne Meye. 1–3 John. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series 19. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Walls, David, and Max Anders. I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude. Holman New Testament Commentary 11. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.

[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger, Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2016), 895.

[2] Ibid., 904.

[3] Ibid., 905.

[4] Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 89.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Glenn W. Barker, 1, 2, 3 John, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 12, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 374.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Raymond Edward Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Yale Bible 30 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982), 715.

[9] Even those who posit 1/2 John constitutes the “lost letter” argue that these related epistles specifically promote hospitality (love). Thus, by rejecting either (or both) former epistles, Diotrephes was displaying his heart set on denying hospitality to John’s emissaries. This fits well with a larger, more significant understanding of Diotrephes’ obdurate lust for preeminence and tendency toward rejecting Apostolic authority, but there is simply no reason to postulate the lost letter was necessarily 1/2 John. More significant is Diotrephes’ blatant rejection of Johannine instruction regarding hospitality. For an argument defending the lost letter’s identity as 1/2 John, see: James E. Rosscup, “Exposition of III John,” unpublished class syllabus (Sun Valley, CA: The Master’s Seminary, 2004), 6.

[10] This is perhaps most evident by Diotrephes’ unprecedented power to excommunicate – see notes on verse 10.

[11] John R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentary 19, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 234.

[12] Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, World Biblical Commentary 51 (Dallas: Word Books, 1984), 357.

[13] Brown, The Epistles of John, 717.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, New American Commentary 38 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 246.

[16] Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 226.

[17] Ibid, 227.

[18] John 13:20, New American Standard Bible: 1995 update.

[19] As is further argued regarding the use of ἐπιδέχεται in verse 10b.

[20] Rosscup, “Exposition of III John”, 6.

[21] Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 357.

[22] Alan E. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, International Critical Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912), 189.

[23] Brown, The Epistles of John, 719.

[24] Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, 248.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Brown, The Epistles of John, 719.

[27] Howard I. Marshall, The Epistles of John, New International Commentary on the New Testament 8 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 91.

[28] Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 358.

[29] Brown, The Epistles of John, 719.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Zane C. Hodges, 3 John, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures 2, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 914.

[33] Karen H. Jobes, 1, 2, and 3 John, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament 19 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 320.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Brown, The Epistles of John, 719.

[37] Brooke, Johannine Epistles, 189.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Hence the NASB translation, “does not accept what we say.”

[40] Brooke, Johannine Epistles, 189.

[41] Jobes, 1, 2, and 3 John, 313.

[42] Ibid., 320.

[43] Brooke, Johannine Epistles, 190.

[44] Kruse, The Letters of John, 228.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Gary W. Derickson, 1, 2 & 3 John, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, ed. H. Wayne House (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 692.

[47] Walter Bauer, “ἐκκλησία,”A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., ed. Frederick William Danker, trans. William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 303.

[48] Translated, “Nympha and the assembly that is in her house.”

Essay New Testament Studies

Understanding the Praetorium of Philippians 1:13

ABSTRACT: Paul understood Praetorium as the Imperial Guard centralized in Rome, not a palace or building.



Praetorium as a Building

Flaws of the Palace View

Praetorium as the Imperial Guard

Praetorium, Provenance, and Purpose



Key to understanding the provenance and purpose of Philippians is one historical term. This single word can potentially altar the reader’s exegesis of Paul’s inspired epistle. Philippians 1:13 contains this Pauline anomaly, praetorium, “so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorium and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ.” The term, often translated as “palace guard,” “imperial guard,” or “governor’s palace,” is, “one of the cruxes of this letter and impinges on the question of Paul’s location at the time of writing.”[1] More specifically, “the (Greek) phrase ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ, “among the whole imperial guard,” uses πραιτώριον, a loanword from the Latin praetorium.”[2] If praetorium specifies the Praetorian Guard – the Roman emperor’s personal, elite soldiers – the provenance of Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome can be affirmed.[3] Along with a mention of “the saints of Caesar’s household” in Philippians 4:22, the reference to praetorium in 1:13 sufficiently refutes theories that Paul’s correspondence with Philippi originated from Ephesus or Caesarea Maritima. But this task is more than a mere academic exercise, for great theological weight rests upon the traditional rendering of praetorium, as used in this thoroughly Roman epistle.

In order to assert a non-Rome provenance, one must argue praetorium refers to a building (henceforth the “palace view”). This paper will explicate the dissenting palace view before revealing its flaws, and offering the “imperial guard” position as far more theologically, historically, and biblically consistent. Finally, it will be shown how one’s understanding of this single term affects his interpretation of Philippians as a Christian hortatory letter of friendship.[4]

Praetorium as a Building

The ongoing debate over the provenance of Paul’s prison epistles, and thus Philippians, is crucial for identifying bias in one’s interpretation of Philippians 1:13. If one assumes a Roman provenance, Paul’s use of praetorium is best translated “imperial guard”. Yet any other theory of provenance essentially and necessarily limits praetorium to designate a royal building. Keener explains, “Some commentators have suggested that “palace” or “praetorium” here may refer to a provincial governor’s residence, such as the place of Paul’s detention in Caesarea (Acts 23:35).”[5] By this reckoning, praetorium must be understood as a metonym, “The phrase ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ signals a metonym, a spatial descriptor to indicate the people (τοῖς λοιποῖς πάσιν) who had access to the πραιτώριον.”[6]

Those arguing for the palace view understand praetorium as being used broadly in the Julio-Claudian period. It must be acknowledged that praetorium has a wide lexical range, with abounding extra-biblical evidence of its usage. It originally denoted a general’s tent or his staff or council.[7] Subsequently, the term was variously adapted to signify the residence of a provincial governor, a pleasure villa, official road-side rest-house, or emperor’s residence.[8] In a permanent fort, praetorium was distinguished from the principia – with the former designating the commander’s house and the latter a headquarters building.[9] Aside from this diversity of possible designations regarding physical buildings, praetorium, “is also regularly used for the forces or services of the Praetorian Prefect.”[10]

Recognizing the extra biblical data, one must give even greater credence to the canonical context of Scripture. How did the New Testament authors understand and utilize πραιτώριον? Those ascribing to the palace view conclude Paul’s usage of πραιτώριον in Phil 1:13 mimics Luke’s designation of the same term in Acts 23:35. In this Lukan text, πραιτώριον clearly refers to the residence of a provincial governor. Taking Acts 23:35 plainly, Luke clearly relates that Paul is facing an impending trial before Felix, who, “(gave) orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.” Here the Latin loan word πραιτώριον is used in the dative πραιτωρίῳ, being the subject of the possessive genitive τοῦ Ἡρῴδου, thus the reading “πραιτωρίῳ τοῦ Ἡρῴδου.” Seven of the eight uses of πραιτώριον in the New Testament are similarly translated into English as the subject of a possessive not specified in the Greek, “the governor’s headquarters” (Mt 27:27; Mk 15:16; Jn 18:28 NASB, ESV), “his headquarters” (Jn 18:33, Jn 19:19 NASB, ESV). Suffice it to say that seven of the eight uses of πραιτώριον in the New Testament indisputably reference a building. This leaves Philippians 1:13 as the only anomalous usage and sole instance within Paul’s letters.

If the palace view of πραιτώριον is to be accepted in Philippians 1:13, very little limitation can be offered regarding provenance for Paul’s letter. One may posit any locale within the Roman Empire – assuming the praetorium represented some administrative subsection of a complex or building. Those functioning within a “headquarters building” would necessarily be tied to a provincial government role, owing to another significant verse, Philippians 4:22, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.”[11] Paul’s reference to Caesar’s household (τῆς Καίσαρος οἰκίας), so often linked to 1:13, certainly refers to the familia Caesaris.[12] If Paul’s location is understood as static during his penning of Philippians, the praetorium and “those of Caesar’s household” must be understood as existing in the same municipality.

Where the palace view is espoused, it is commonly suggested that slaves and freedmen within Caesar’s household were spread throughout the empire. These individuals would be serving governmental functions – and thus necessarily tied to a Roman praetorium building.[13] Interestingly, only a Roman provenance for Paul’s Epistle is untenable where πραιτώριον is understood as a palace. Lightfoot explains, “While ‘prætorium’ is a frequent designation of splendid villas, whether of the emperors or others, away from Rome, the imperial residence on the Palatine is not once so called. Indeed the word seems to have suggested to a Roman the idea of a country seat… In Rome itself, prætorium would not have been tolerated.”[14] In other words, praetoriums such as those at Jerusalem (Mt 27:27; Mk 15:16; Jn 18:28, Jn 18:33, Jn 19:19) and Caesarea (Acts 23:35) were the seats of local rulers who derived their power from the emperor. The imperial residence on Palatine Hill in Rome would not be equated with headquarters located elsewhere in the empire.

Of secondary significance to the palace argument is Colossians 4:10–15, wherein Paul lists an extensive group of helpers alongside him in his imprisonment. As a prison epistle, this letter is thought to have the same provenance as Philippians. Scholars have thus questioned how a detained Paul could have such an abundance of assistance while imprisoned. Due to this circumstance, some have concluded that Paul was imprisoned in Asia or Syria-Palestine (specifically Ephesus or Caesarea Maritima).[15] Either provenance would certainly explain the large number of coworkers, given Paul’s ministries in both locales. Paul simply did not have the same influence in Rome.[16] In addition, Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years (cf. Acts 24:27) and held perhaps his most impactful, personal Asian ministry at Ephesus (see Acts 20:17–38).

Flaws of the Palace View

Several critical assumptions must be made to hold the palace view of praetorium in Philippians 1:13 and the associated conclusion of non-Roman provenance. It should be stated at the outset that a wide variety of scholars adopt this non-traditional view, including some conservative scholars who affirm biblical reliability.[17] Nevertheless, it bears mentioning that dismissal of Roman provenance, and thus the imperial guard conclusion, commonly stems from source-critical biases. More specifically, a rejection of congruity between the undisputed Pauline Epistles and Acts (as well as the pastoral epistles) is typically assumed.[18] While this certainly does not represent every scholar asserting non-traditional provenance, it’s often critical scholars who have no desire to synthesize all the new Testament data.

A timeline considering Acts and the Pastorals suggests two Roman imprisonments. In contrast to this orthodox assumption, many critical scholars deny that Paul ever made it to Rome.[19] It remains to be shown that a synthesis considering all 27 New Testament books as of equal historical value presupposes a Roman imprisonment that best fits Paul’s bondage as described in Philippians. Here it will prove beneficial to briefly relay the orthodox, traditional timeline of Paul’s arrival in Rome.

In Acts, Luke recorded the life and ministry of Paul as essentially progressing toward his ultimate imprisonment in Rome. After three missionary journeys, Paul set his mind on Jerusalem – understanding he would be persecuted and arrested (cf. Acts 20:22–23). The Apostle was indeed arrested in Jerusalem, and would then spend two years in custody at Caesarea Maritima (cf. Acts 24:22–27). Because of his appeal to Caesar, Paul assures a capital trial in Rome (Acts 25:11; 26:32; 28:19). The Apostle then finds himself under house arrest in the capital city, “And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him,” (Acts 28:16). Luke further records that Paul was “wearing a chain” (cf. 28:20). And finally, Acts ends abruptly with Paul still imprisoned, “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance,” (28:30–31).

Since critical scholars largely reject this narrative, they feel no obligation to factor in a Roman imprisonment in Paul’s timeline. Acts 28 in particular is often rejected as spurious.[20] Without being bound to correlate Acts 28 with Philippians 1:13 and 4:22, these scholars simply suggest a different provenance that concurs with Paul’s self-testimony in the undisputed letters. This is especially prevalent in the prominent offering of Ephesus as the place of writing, which is more easily concluded without Luke’s testimony. Alternatively, the less commonly held Caesarea Maritima provenance finds corroboration with Paul’s two-year imprisonment found in Acts 24. Since scholarship appears to be moving toward Ephesian/Asian provenance, this view will be considered over others.[21] The historical reliability of the New Testament will heretofore be assumed.
Ephesian provenance for Philippians is lacking in several key respects. To start, the Acts narrative relates two instances where Paul was imprisoned for a sufficient period of time to account for his language in the Macedonian letter. Paul’s suffering and imprisonment are central themes in Philippians. Paul expresses his situation repeatedly by the phrase “δεσμούς μου” (Lit. “my chains”); in Philippians 1 vv. 7, 13, 14, and 17; “in my imprisonment,” “my imprisonment is for Christ,” “by my imprisonment,” “afflict me in my imprisonment.” It’s widely acknowledged that Paul is awaiting a capital trial while writing this, as his life-or-death language makes clear (cf. 1:19–25).

These verses alone correlate well with the house arrest situation of Acts 28. Luke records Paul himself describing his first Roman imprisonment as, “τὴν ἅλυσιν ταύτην περίκειμαι (lit. “wearing this chain”). There is striking similarity between Paul’s bondage in Philippians and that of Luke’s Acts 28 narrative. Luke’s account further specifies that Paul’s bondage took place in “his own hired dwelling” wherein he “welcomed all who came to him” (Acts 28:30). This bears a striking correlation with Paul’s successful prison ministry detailed in Philippians 1:13 and 4:22. If it can be shown that Philippians 1:13 and 4:22 are best explained by a Roman provenance, the correlations go even deeper.

Paul in Philippians 1:13 recorded his successful witness to the Praetorium, who, if understood to be the imperial guard, are also apart of Caesar’s household (4:22). Further, it has been noted that based on a less reliable textual tradition, Acts 28:16, “Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him,” speaks specifically of a soldier within the praetorian guard.[22] Even if the textual variant is rejected, the current reading of Acts does not preclude that this soldier was a part of the Praetorium. Both the Lukan and Pauline texts bear significant similarities and no major diverging details. The wholistic narrative unity of Acts and Philippians must therefore be maintained. The student of Scripture should presuppose unity within the text, rather than dismissing certain books, chapters, or verses that don’t fit an arbitrary or presupposed narrative. Holloway rightly dismisses the Ephesian provenance theory as the work of redaction critics.[23] Further, to suggest Paul faced a drawn-out imprisonment in Ephesus, while awaiting a capital trial, dismisses the biblical witness which would suggest otherwise.[24]

Another weakness of the palace view lies in the grammar of Philippians 1:13 and 14. Holloway contends,

The whole expression reads ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πᾶσιν, “in the whole πραιτώριον and all the rest,” where “and all the rest,” given Paul’s usage elsewhere, is most naturally interpreted as a reference not to other buildings but to other personnel, something like “and everyone else.” This would imply that πραιτώριον similarly is a reference to personnel. This interpretation makes excellent sense of 1:14, where Paul continues, “and the majority of the brothers in the Lord, etc.” Taken together, vv. 13–14 would then describe the effect of Paul’s imprisonment first on persons outside the church (v. 13) and then on persons inside (v. 14).[25]

Those “outside the church” are best understood as Romans within this same circle as the praetorium, who were forced to accompany Paul. Therefore, καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πάσιν must be more closely linked to ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ in Philippians 1:13. The second phrase, “all the rest” necessarily precludes the palace view of praetorium.[26] Paul clearly speaks of personnel, not buildings here. To be sure, this accords with the central thrust of his letter – that even through trials and chains, the Gospel was still advancing to the top echelons of society. If praetorium here is not understood as metonymy, the connected phrase “all the rest” would be rendered unintelligible. One could scarcely imagine the Gospel writers or Luke utilizing this phrase in conjunction with Herod’s Palace, for example. As will be argued in defense of the imperial guard view of praetorium, Philippians 4:22 is central to understanding the present text.

Praetorium as the Imperial Guard

Lightfoot has most convincingly defended the position that Praetorium, as utilized in Philippians 1:13, signifies a body of men.[27] He argues, “…more frequently it denotes the prætorian regiments, the imperial guards. This in fact is the common use of the term.”[28] Evidence of this common usage abounds in Latin inscriptions and literature.[29] One early Greek example utilizing the Latin loaner word is found in Josephus, “…and the very emperor’s guards seemed under the like fear and disorder with private persons, the band called pretorian, which was the purest part of the army, was in consultation what was to be done at this juncture.”[30] Latin historians from Tacitus to Pliny similarly appropriated this word.[31]

This imperial guard was first established by Augustus in Rome and adjacent municipalities.[32] Tiberius would then bring all these elite soldiers to Rome, giving them a permanent camp.[33] The praetorians were well paid, highly respected, and influential.

Grammatically, the use of “all the rest” makes little sense alongside a translation rendering preatorium as “the governor’s headquarters.”[34] If the palace view is to be followed, the translation of Philippians 1:13 must be rendered, “So that is had become known throughout the whole governor’s headquarters and to all the rest…” At best this leaves tremendous ambiguity in identifying the broad, undefinable “all the rest”. Again, if “governor’s headquarters” is taken as a metonym, the phrasing would still be awkward and unnatural.[35] Taking this position would also divorce Philippians 1:13 from 4:22, verses that are better understood in harmony. To be sure, one could not confidently assert that those in a provincial governor’s headquarters belonged to Caesar’s household. When the letter is understood holistically and interpreted as a single unit, Paul’s appeal to a far-reaching Roman ministry best stratifies the textual evidence. Caesar’s personal, imperial soldiers, with about 9,000 total in Rome, would be given the task of defending Paul – who was awaiting a high profile capital trial (1:13).[36] These elite bodyguards would by necessity belong to Caesar’s household (4:22),

They were the emperor’s elite bodyguard under the praetorian prefect. Viewed as clients of the emperor (thus part of his household), they were kept loyal with the highest pay in the Roman military; they were also kept loyal by the leadership of a prefect who could never legally become emperor (being a knight rather than a senator).[37]

Holloway offers one final clue for the present conclusion, “The hyperbolic rhetoric of 1:13—“in the whole πραιτώριον and all the rest,” where both “whole” and “all” are emphatic by position—also supports a reference to the Imperial Guard, which by this time was at least six thousand. Roman governors, on the other hand, typically had relatively small staffs.”[38] The impact of Paul’s language, which serves to emphasize his successful Gospel ministry in Rome, would be dulled if Praetorium refers to a colonial palace.

Michael Flexsenhar’s conclusion that Paul was too unimportant a prisoner to warrant tying up Nero’s most valuable bodyguards must be rejected at this point. This conclusion is simply conjecture, that again undermines Acts and the historical realities of Paul’s movement, the radical Jewish opposition he faced, and his opportunity to defend himself before Felix, Festus, Herod Agrippa, and Bernice. (Acts 24–26).[39] Paul certainly caused great tension within the Empire, and especially in the notoriously volatile Judea. And even the waves of this far-reaching ministry were subsumed under the far greater Christ-movement. Ultimately, even Flexsenhar admits some prisoners were worthy of being guarded by the Empire’s most elite.[40] He just doesn’t consider Paul important enough, or his trail significant enough, to enjoy the emperor’s involvement. This judgement call is far too subjective and arbitrary, without any real methodology offered for how the emperor may have allocated his praetorian guard. Addressing Acts 25:11–12, F. F. Bruce emphatically concludes, “Having made his appeal to the emperor, Paul was the emperor’s prisoner (although he preferred to think of himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus”), and while he waited for his case to be heard, he “was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him” (Acts 28:16).”[41]

Numismatology has also helped scholars better understand Rome’s relation to Philippi and the colony’s experience with the Praetorium. The existence of the Praetorian guard is witnessed on coinage dating to the time of Claudius or Nero. The editors of RPC have dated RPC 1651 to the time of these Julio-Claudian, emperors based on metallurgical studies.[42] This coin, which commemorates Augustus’ victory over Mark Antony at the battle of Actium in 31 BC, has the reverse legend COHOR PRAE PHIL for “Cohort Praetorium Philippi”.[43]  It’s been suggested that Augustus himself sent retired praetorian guards to Philippi, a province quickly becoming a haven for veterans.[44] RPC 1651 thus affirms that Philippi was aware of the Praetorium in the time of Paul, when these coins were in circulation. It has additionally been suggested that the coin itself celebrates Augustus’, “settlement at Philippi of a cohort of praetorians when he refounded the colony in 30 BCE.”[45] If this coin was indeed minted during the reign of Claudius, as all evidence seems to suggest, Paul’s reference to the imperial guard in Philippians 1:13 takes on incredible significance. Burnett states in RPC, “The types of the larger presumably refer to the battle of Actium (VIC AVG) and the settlement of veterans from the praetorian cohort at Philippi (COHOR PRAE PHIL).”[46]

With RPC 1651 circulating in Paul’s time, the Philippians present in Macedonia would be familiar with the Latin inscriptions and imagery on their coins. They would transact daily with these very pieces of copper, seeing the clear inscription Praetoria and acknowledging its relation to Philippi. One might conclude this is exactly why Paul uses the terminology of “the whole Praetorium” in Philippians 1:13.[47]Any suggestion that this coin, fraught with the imagery of war banners and Victoria, refers to an administrative palace must be rejected. It is far more likely that the Philippians understood Praetoria, the Latin loan word for Praetorium, to mean the imperial guard. Holloway concludes, “It not only dates the striking of the coin close to the time of Paul’s letter but, more importantly, attests to Philippi’s continuing pride in its praetorian foundations, a fact that Paul, now a prisoner of the Guard, would presumably to be alluding to.”[48]

Vincent summarizes the imperial guard position of Philippians 1:13 thusly, “The unquestionable fact that ‘prætorium’ was used to denote the prætorian guard makes it unnecessary to assume that the apostle in this passage refers to any place, and furnishes a simple explanation and one entirely consistent with the narrative in Acts 28.”[49] The coherence of Paul’s imprisonment narrative under the watch of imperial guards best synthesizes the biblical data. It must lastly be shown why alternate understandings of praetorium provenance are untenable. Bo Reicke convincingly argues that, “the word (πραιτώριον) was not used for the personnel of a governor either in Greek or in Latin.”[50] This would severely handicap the conclusion that πραιτώριον is simply a metonym, applicable to a wide range of administrative or provincial personnel. Regarding 1:13 potentially speaking of Ephesus, Reicke further states that the governor of Ephesus was a proconsul, not a propraetor.[51] The author also rejects a Caesarean provenance, stating, “Auxiliary troops under the supervision of the procurator were stationed here (Caesarea), but none of the élite soldiers of the praetorium.”[52]

Praetorium, Provenance, and Purpose

Although scholarship is far from a consensus on the matter, there’s sufficient reason to conclude Paul wrote Philippians from Rome. Some of the earliest attestations to Roman Province include that of the Marcionite Prologues, “According to the Prologues, Paul wrote to the Colossians from Ephesus, already in chains (iam ligatus), and to the Philippians from prison in Rome.”[53] Concurring with this conclusion are Philippians 1:13 and 4:22, as detailed above. While it’s certainly true that Paul’s proximity to the praetorian guard tells us something about provenance, it’s also significant what an assumed Roman provenance tells us about the praetorium. Indeed, if Paul was writing from Rome, the reader can better understand his purpose in mentioning the Praetorium at all. Surely great significance must be ascribed to Paul’s claim of evangelizing some of the Roman Empire’s most elite and powerful individuals. This is absolutely crucial to the main contentions and intentions of this apostolic letter. Paul’s witness to the imperial guard, who were included in Caesar’s household, highlighted his focus on heavenly citizenship, joy amidst suffering, and a radical gospel focus.

Philippi’s history as a Roman colony, and even its founding under Philip II of Macedonia, all highlight the military foundations of this colony. From Macedonia to Julio-Claudain Rome, some of the world’s most powerful leaders purposefully packed Philippi with significant military figures – including soldiers from the Praetorian guard. And Rome was especially generous in granting this Macedonian colony the title and benefits of Roman citizenship. That Paul wrote from Rome itself, the heartbeat of Philippi and her citizens, thus carries significant importance.

Reicke comments, “The Roman capital also provides the background for those images used by Paul in Philippians which refer to the political realm. This is true in the case of the exhortation to a worthy evangelical behaviour as a citizen (πολιτεύεσθε, Phil. 1:27), as well as of the reference concerning the true, heavenly commonwealth (πολίτευμα, 3:20).”[54] The Philippians understood who Paul was as a Roman citizen, imprisoned for the gospel.[55] Paul was willing to suffer all things for the Gospel. His allegiance was not to Rome, but to Christ. Paul was a citizen of heaven. This message, which Paul calls the Philippians to emulate (3:17), becomes all the more powerful given Paul’s situation in Rome, under the praetorium. The Apostle evangelized even Rome’s most elite soldiers, the empire’s top citizens. The proud Romans citizens of Philippi would have recognized Paul’s courage, drive, and submission to God’s will. As is apparent by their coinage, the Philippians were fully aware of the praetorian guard. It was a source of pride, in that the praetorium was the progenitor of their own Roman identity in many ways.

Regarding joy and suffering, Paul faced unjust trial and restrictive imprisonment in the kingdom he rightfully belonged to. The Apostle was able to confidently assert, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). He saw even his chains as an opportunity to reach others with the gospel, that “most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (v. 1:14). The Christians in Philippi were facing the same persecution under the same Roman yoke,For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (vv. 1:29–30). Undoubtedly the Philippians, within the context of their thoroughly Roman colony, faced persecution by Pagan Romans.[56] Yet there was hope. God sovereignly planned to use even Paul’s suffering for His glory, evidenced by the Apostle’s incredible opportunity to witness to Rome’s elite,

“It is in this light that the Philippians would hear Paul’s triumphant note about the whole Praetorian Guard—the emperor’s own select troops—coming to know about the gospel through Paul’s imprisonment. So also with the final word of the letter (before the concluding grace-benediction), “all the saints (in Rome) greet you, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household”—who themselves join you in saying “Jesus is Lord.” The gospel, with its proclamation of a heavenly Lord who had become the incarnate Savior, had penetrated the household of the (merely earthly) Roman “lord and savior,” who stands ultimately behind “the same struggle” both Paul and the Philippians are currently experiencing.”[57]

Much would be lost if praetorium in Philippians 1:13 is not understood as the emperor’s personal guard, centralized in Rome. Paul’s gospel appeals, empathetic statements, and focus on heavenly citizenship would be deprived of their personal force. Further, the Apostle’s permeating appeal to the struggles and benefits of life as Roman citizens would be lost if an Asian or Syria-Palestinian provenance is asserted. Ultimately, Paul’s desire for this unique letter – a Christian hortatory letter of friendship – would become far less clear if God was not truly using the Apostle’s suffering to reach the highest levels of Rome.[58] Reciprocal, empathetic motifs of friendship are what pervade this epistle. Paul encourages his Philippian friends as fellow Christians, not fellow Romans, by showing how God had placed him before even “Caesar’s household” and “the imperial guard.” All this was to advance the Gospel as a worthy citizen of heaven.


[1] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 113.

[2] Mark J. Keown, Philippians, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, ed. H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris III, and Andrew W. Pitts (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 190.

[3] This is the conclusion most notably defended by Lightfoot. Commenting on Philippians 1:13, he noted, “‘throughout the prætorian guard,’ i.e. the soldiers composing the imperial regiments. This seems to be the best supported meaning of πραιτώριον.” Joseph Barber Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (London: Macmillan and Co., 1913), 88.

[4] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 32.

[5] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Php 1:13.

[6] Michael Flexsenhar, “The Provenance of Philippians and Why It Matters: Old Questions, New Approaches,” Journal for the study of the New Testament 42, no. 1 (September 2019), 36.

[7] Ian Archibald Richmond, “Praetorium” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed, ed. N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Sculland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 874.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Flexsenhar, “The Provenance of Philippians,” 19.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 23.

[14] Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, 100.

[15] See Michael J. Hugh for Ephesian provenance view: Michael, J. Hugh, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, The Moffatt New Testament Commentary, ed. James Moffatt (London: Hodder and Stroughton, 1928). And Gerald Hawthorne for the Caesarean Provenance view: Gerald F Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, Rev. ed. (Word Biblical Commentary 43. Dallas: Word Books, 2004), 43–44.

[16] Paul first arrived in Rome c. 60 AD for his first imprisonment. Although he had not previously ministered in Rome, a church was already established there (Acts 28:14–15).

[17] See Hugh, Philippians, 1:13 and Hawthorne, Philippians, 43–44.

[18] Michael Flexsenhar, “The Provenance of Philippians and Why It Matters: Old Questions, New Approaches,” Journal for the study of the New Testament 42, no. 1 (September 2019): 18–45.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Paul A. Holloway, Philippians: A Commentary, ed. Adela Yarbro Collins, Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017), 21.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 21–22.

[26] Lightfoot, Philippians, 99-101.

[27] Ibid., 101–102.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Whiston (Project Gutenberg, 2001), 19.3.1.

[31] Lightfoot, Philippians, 102.

[32] Marvin Richardson Vincent, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon, International Critical Commentary (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1897), 16–17.

[33] Ibid.

[34] See note under “Flaws of the Palace View” above.

[35] Ben Witherington III, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Company, 2011), 79.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Php 1:13.

[38] Holloway, Philippians, 22–23.

[39] Flexsenhar, “The Provenance of Philippians,” 18–45.

[40] Ibid.

[41] F. F. Bruce, Philippians, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Peabody, MA: Baker Books, 2011), 41.

[42] A. Burnett, M. Amandry, P.P. Ripolles, Roman Provincial Coinage, vol. I (The Julio-Claudians) (London: British Museum Press, 1992), 308.          

[43] Ibid.  

[44] Theodore John Cadoux, “Philippi” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed, ed. N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Sculland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 816.

[45] Holloway, Philippians, 88.

[46] Ibid., 308.

[47] Ibid., 88.

[48] Ibid., 88.

[49] Marvin Richardson Vincent, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon, International Critical Commentary (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1897), 52.

[50] Bo Reicke, “Caesarea, Rome, and the Captivity Epistles,” Apostolic History and the Gospel: Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F.F. Bruce, ed. W. Ward Gasque & Ralph P. Martin (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1970), 284.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Niles Dahl, “The Origin of the Earliest Prologues to the Pauline Letters,” Semeia 12: The Poetics of Faith, Part 1: Rhetoric, Eschatology, and Ethics in the New Testament (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1978), 246.

[54] Reicke, Caesarea, 285.

[55] After being wrongfully beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, Paul asserted his privilege as a Roman citizen (cf. Acts 16:37). This displays Paul’s understanding of the prerogatives of Roman Citizenship and longstanding willingness to face injustice for the Kingdom. Further, the Philippian official’s response speaks to their understanding and respect of Roman citizenship (cf. Acts 16:38–39).

[56] As opposed to the common persecution from Jews, who had a miniscule presence in Philippi (cf. Acts 16).

[57] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 32.

[58] Ibid. 34.


Backgrounds, Surveys, and Introductions

DeSilva, David Arthur. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2016.

Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Magie, David. Roman Rule in Asia Minor to the End of the Third Century after Christ. 2 Vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950.

Concordances, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996.

––––––. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001.

Freedman, David Noel. Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 Vols. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Silva, Moisés, ed. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis. 5 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick William Danker. Translated by William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Blass, Friedrich, and Albert Debrunner. A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Translated by Robert W. Funk. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961.

Hammond, N. G. L. and H. H. Sculland. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Hornblower, Simon, Anthony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.


Hawthorne, Gerald F and Ralph P. Martin. Philippians. Rev. ed. Word Biblical Commentary 43. Dallas: Word Books, 2004.

Lightner, Robert P. “Philippians.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures 2. Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Bruce, F. F. Philippians. Understanding the Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.

Bruce F. F. The Books of Acts. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.

Melick, Richard R. Jr. “Philippians, Colossians, Philemon.” The New American Commentary 32. Edited by David S. Dockery. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1991.

Polhill, John B. “Acts.” The New American Commentary 26. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1992.

Reumann, John. Philippians. Anchor Yale Bible 33B. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Acts of the Apostles. Anchor Yale Bible 31. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

Hansen, G. Walter. The Letter to the Philippians. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Anders, Max. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.

Silva, Moisés. Philippians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.

Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007.

Martin, Ralph T. Philippians. Tyndale New Testament Commentary 11. Edited by Leon Morris. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987.

Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentary 5. Edited by Leon Morris. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980.

MacArthur, John. Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2001.

Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. 2nd ed. German Bible Society: Stuttgart, 1994.

Fee, Gordon D. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

Witherington III, Ben. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Socio-Rhetorical Commentary Series. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.

Witherington III, Ben. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Socio-Rhetorical Commentary Series. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Whitacre, Rodney A. John. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series 4. Edited by Grant R. Osborne. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Fowl, Stephen E. Philippians. The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2005.

Fee, Gordon D. Philippians. The IVP New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Bockmuehl, Markus. The Epistle to the Philippians. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997.

Thompson, James W. and Bruce W. Longenecker. Philippians and Philemon. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016.

Vincent, Marvin. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and Philemon. International Critical Commentary. Edited by Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles Augustus Briggs. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1897.

Barrett, C. K. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Volume 2. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998.

Holloway, Paul A. Philippians: A Commentary. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017.

Keown, Mark J. Philippians: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Edited by H. Wayne House, W. Hall Harris, and Andrew W. Pitts. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017.

Reumann, John H. P. Philippians. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

Hawthorne, Gerald F. and Ralph P. Martin. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 43: Philippians. Rev. Ed. Word Biblical Commentary. Thomas Nelson: Edinburgh, 2004.

Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Schnabel, Eckhard J. Acts. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.

Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014–2015.

Lightfoot, Joseph Barber. Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament. London: Macmillan and Co., 1913.

Michael, J. Hugh. The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians. The Moffatt New Testament Commentary. Edited by James Moffatt. London: Hodder and Stroughton, 1928.

Journals and Dissertations

Gasque, W. Ward., Ralph P. Martin, and F. F. Bruce. Apostolic History and the Gospel: Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F. F. Bruce on His 60th Birthday. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970.

Bruce, F. F. “St Paul in Macedonia.” Academic Journal Article (1979): 337–354.

Burnett, A. M., Amandry, P.P. Ripolles, Roman Provincial Coinage, vol. I (The Julio-Claudians). London: British Museum Press, 1992. Reprinted with corrections 1999, reprinted 2006.

Dahl, Nils. “The Origin of the Earliest Prologues to the Pauline Letters.” Semeia 12: The Poetics of Faith, Part 1: Rhetoric, Eschatology, and Ethics in the New Testament. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1978.

Flexsenhar, Michael. “The Provenance of Philippians and Why It Matters: Old Questions, New Approaches.” Journal for the study of the New Testament 42, no. 1 (September 2019): 18–45.

Reicke, Bo. “Caesarea, Rome, and the Captivity Epistles.” Apostolic History and the Gospel: Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F.F. Bruce. Edited by W. Ward Gasque & Ralph P. Martin. Exeter, UK: The Paternoster Press, 1970.

Translated Volumes

Eusebius. “Ecclesiastical History, Books 1–5.” In the Fathers of the Church 19. Edited by Roy Joseph Deferrari. Translated by Roy Joseph Deferrari. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953.

Jerome. “Against Palagians.” In Dogmatic and Polemical Works. Translated by John N. Hritzu. Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1965.

Rufinus. History of the Church. The Fathers of the Church 133. Translated by Philip R. Amidon. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2016.

Herodotus. The Persian Wars. 8 Vols. The Loeb Classical Library: English. Translated by A. D. Godley. London: Heinemann, 1922.  

Appian. Roman History, Volume I. Loeb Classical Library. Edited and translated by Brian McGing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019.

Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Translated by William Whiston. Project Gutenberg, 2001.

Culture Society

The Church’s Role in a Global Pandemic

How can Scripture guide the believer, congregation, and church leaders through the COVID-19 pandemic?

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Nearly one year into the Coronavirus pandemic and the Church seems more fractured than ever. Vitriolic rhetoric amongst believers has become the new norm. Purporting Christian liberty, some have taken a stand against governing authorities, while maligning societal convictions on health and safety. With this vocal minority gaining momentum in Christo-American culture, its difficult to remain unaffected, silent, and neutral.

I myself have faced persecution from fellow believers, simply for following COVID guidelines. I’ve been crushed by church leaders, mentors, and professors who suggest mask wearing is tantamount to ignorant compliance to an oppressive system. I’ve lost friendships, merely because of my desire to obey Scripture – to love others, submit to governing authorities, and obey my church elders. To say this pandemic has unalterably affected my future would not be an overstatement. The Lord has allowed me to experience these trials, so that I myself might humbly treat others with greater respect and dignity. That I would respect the convictions of others and resolve to never put a stumbling block in the way of a brother or sister. And to take seriously my Christian witness amongst a world that is beginning to associate Christ with conspiracy, rebellion, science denial, and inhumanity.

In upcoming posts, I will provide biblical insight into the church’s role in a global pandemic. Key to this analysis will be a systematic observation of scriptural principles, reaching beyond arguments for Christian freedom. Several facets of church praxis will be considered:

  • Is the Church’s gospel witness marred by rebellion against governing authorities?
  • How does the church best care for her neighbors and the flock?
  • What is the root and solution to infighting over COVID regulations and guidelines?
  • Does Christian freedom and liberty inform our response to social distancing/mask mandates?
  • What is the pastor’s role in addressing COVID-19? Is a church leader qualified to downplay or deny the Pandemic?
  • How can Gospel unity be achieved between the libertines and the subservients?

In examining the church and COVID-19, I will offer my own experience with libertine philosophy and praxis – namely at Grace Community Church and the Master’s Seminary – in contrast with the subservience of my home church, Cornerstone Moorpark. I hope to shine light on this dilemma of divergent convictions faced by many students, congregations, and families.

Textual Criticism

The Inauthenticity of the Pericope Adulterae

Why John 7:53-8:11 should be excluded from the New Testament Canon

Introduction: The Pericope Adulterae – A Textual Anomaly

             In virtually all of today’s modern Bible translations, the aptly named Pericope Adulterae can be found in John 7:53–8:11. Yet evidenced by the cautionary brackets placed around the story, its canonicity has been pushed to secondary status. Although a majority of scholars and text-critics deny the words ever came from the Apostle John’s pen, the contentious Pericope nevertheless abides. This paper will seek to reaffirm the inauthenticity of the Pericope Adulterae by utilizing the methodologies of textual and literary criticism. More specifically, the story of the adulteress woman will be shown as warranting no connection to the Apostle John. Historical attestation to the text itself will be scrutinized and its authorship examined, before addressing the superfluous attestations of literary and theological concurrence. By way of conclusion, this author will argue that the Pericope Adulterae, if it can be established as inauthentically Johannine, should be excised from Scripture completely.

External Evidence: A Late Interpolation of the PA

            Historical attestation of Johannine authorship for the Pericope Adulterae (henceforth PA) is markedly minimal. The modern student of Scripture quickly recognizes the jarring brackets surrounding this story, where it currently rests in John’s Gospel. This fenced off passage is ominously accompanied by the cautionary note, “The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11.” As will be shown, this warning alone represents sufficient reasoning to reject the PA as non-canonical. The PA must be thoroughly scrutinized via textual criticism to reveal its origins as inauthentically Johannine. Examining the manuscript evidence will reveal that this story was interpolated between John 7 and 8 sometime in the early fourth or late third century. After addressing the manuscript evidence, the earliest attestations to the PA within Latin and Greek church traditions will be considered.

Greek Manuscript Evidence

That “many of the earliest [Gospel of John] manuscripts don’t include 7:53–8:11” is perhaps an understatement, used to justify continuing the circumspect inclusion of PA into John’s Gospel. Regardless, the scant manuscript support for the Pericope has been widely cited as the fatal blow for any question of its authenticity. It has been noted that none of the second- and third-century Greek papyri containing portions of John’s Gospel have the Pericope Adulterae.[1] Two notable witnesses, Papyrus Bodmer XIV and Papyrus Bodmer II, contain the relevant section of John, without any sign of the questioned Pericope.[2] Other early Greek manuscripts exist, but with missing or otherwise obstructed sections where the PA is traditionally found.[3]

The earliest Greek witness of PA’s inclusion into John’s Gospel can be found in the Greek and Latin diglot, Codex Bezae. This manuscript, however, has been the subject of much debate. It is the opinion of this author that Bezae, dating to approximately AD 400, has been rightly criticized as anomalous and often erroneous. Indeed, the text contains many interpolations besides the PA. The reader should follow the Alands’ example in recognizing Bezae as insignificant outside of validating textual traditions from more reliable sources.[4] In Bezae, then, we have the first evidence of an abnormal interpolation of PA into a Greek manuscript. This is by no means normative for the first four centuries of Greek New Testament scribal efforts. No reliable, universally accepted early Greek manuscript contains the story of the adulteress.

From Asia to Alexandria: The Attestation of Didymus and Papias

            Moving away from Greek external evidence against the Pericope, one must now examine the far more affirmative Latin tradition pointing toward inclusion. To be sure, later Latin scholars and theologians, from the fourth century onward, display a willingness to accept PA into the canon of Scripture. Several significant church fathers must be examined – Didymus, Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine.

The most significant of our attestations to the PA is not from a Latin father, but rather Didymus the Blind (c. 388–89). This Alexandrian theologian had a direct connection with the Latin father Jerome, who was his pupil in Alexandria.[5] Rufinus, who translated Eusebius’s works from Greek into Latin, was also a student of Didymus. As will become apparent, these connections to Didymus are incredibly important for understanding the history and acceptance of the PA.[6] Regarding Didymus, Donaldson notes,

In his Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Didymus uses the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11; §85), which he says is present in certain (copies of the?) Gospels (εν τισιν ευαγγελιοις), to illustrate the statement that even if a servant has cursed a master, the master is not innocent of having wronged others. While Didymus offers no opinion on the authenticity of the passage, he feels free to cite it as though it is authoritative Scripture.[7]

Ehrman argues that Didymus’s claim regarding the PA being found “in certain Gospels” and literary positioning necessarily link the story to the context of John 7 and 8.[8] This, of course, represents only those manuscript(s) available to Didymus in fourth century Alexandria, which he utilized for his commentary on Ecclesiastes. Because Didymus utilizes the PA to further explicate right versus hypocritical judgement in Ecclesiastes 7:22, Ehrman is confident Didymus understood the story in a Johannine context. Put simply, he contends that utilizing the PA in this instance would be nonsensical unless the greater Tabernacles Discourse of John 7–8 is recognized.[9] This conclusion requires one to submit that the PA was present in John’s Gospel manuscript(s) within Alexandria (and thus in Greek) even before Bezae. Despite the contentions of Ehrman, no such manuscript exists. If the Alexandrian-to-Latin link can nevertheless be maintained, one can argue for an early fourth or late third century interpolation of the PA into John 7 and 8.

Ehrman takes Didymus’s ambiguous, plural “gospels” to also refer to The Gospel of the Hebrews.[10] That Didymus merely refers to manuscripts or copies of “gospels,” is a conclusion wholly rejected by Ehrman.[11] While his suggestion of an early interpolation of the Pericope into John is lacking evidence, it becomes more convincing once one understands the link between Didymus, Jerome, and Rufinus. Your author proposes a mediating position, which qualifies Ehrman’s Didymus connections, while rejecting his extrapolated two-source theory. More specifically, that the Gospel of Hebrews is the original written source of the PA, which was only later interpolated into the Gospel of John. This narrative translocation plausibly transpired in an early fourth or late third century Greek manuscript – likely originating from Alexandria. Since the Gospel of Hebrews may indeed represent its original manuscription, it should be acknowledged as the sole non-oratory source of the PA.[12] Even Ehrman contests that, elsewhere in his writings, Didymus displayed familiarity with this non-canonical gospel.[13] If, then, it can be shown that the PA belonged to the lost gospel, the story’s current position within the Gospel of John must be completely rejected.

            By way of analysis, evidence points toward Didymus’s utilization of the PA, in the context of his commentary on Ecclesiastes 7, as inseparable from its present Johannine location. This does not mean the Alexandrian theologian was unaware of other traditions or “gospels” purveying this same narrative. As virtually all scholars agree, it is likely that Didymus was familiar with either oratory tradition regarding the PA, or the Gospel according to the Hebrews specifically.[14] This hypothesis is further supported by the witness of Papias (c. AD 95–110), who, according to Eusebius (c. AD 324), was familiar with a story regarding a woman accused of many sins being brought before Jesus, “and he (Papias) has set forth another story about a woman who was accused before the Lord of many sins, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews.”[15] Certainly this early attestation could refer to the PA. Many scholars have reached this conclusion.

Notably, there remains ambiguity in the reference to the Gospel of Hebrews. Eusebius may have been recalling that this story, known in Papias’s Expositions of the Lord’s Sayings, was found/recognized by Eusebius himself in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Otherwise, the historian is stating that Papias actually found this story in the Gospel of Hebrews. The former reading seems more plausible contextually.[16] Given that Eusebius grants very little space for addressing Papias’s works, it’s clear he only included the most consequential details. Why would he, as some suggest, merely reference Luke 7:36–50, which was already an accepted canonical account?[17] Observing this passage from Luke, there are certainly parallels – A woman guilty of many sins (v. 47), who was accused before Jesus by the Pharisees (v. 39). Still, Eusebius would have certainly made reference to any synoptic or Johannine parallels. Moreover, Eusebius heads this section with “another story”, suggesting it was not a familiar narrative.[18] Eusebius seems to be affirming the historicity of an account Papias passed on from source a (likely oratory witness) as corroborated with the same story appearing in source b (the Gospel of Hebrews). Ehrman highlights that Eusebius only recorded traditions Papias had passed down from the oral witness of certain ‘elders’ (associates of the Apostles).[19]

Didymus and the Didascalia: The Two-Source Theory

Ehrman concludes that the Papias account represents the same historical narrative recorded in the Didascalia Apostolorum (c. AD ~230).[20] The Didascalia, which is similar to the extant Didache, clearly refers to the PA,

For if thou receive not him who repents, because thou art merciless, thou sinnest against the Lord God, because thou dost not obey our Lord and God in acting as He acted; for even He to that woman who had sinned, her whom the elders placed before him and left it to judgment at His hands, and went away; He then who searcheth the hearts, asked her and said to her, “Have the Elders condemned thee, my daughter? She saith to him, No, Lord. And our Saviour said, Go, and return no more to do this, neither do I condemn thee.”[21]

Notable here is the PA tradition being carried on, supposedly at an early third century date, without any reference to the Gospel of John. In fact, this account is quite dissimilar to the present John 7 Pericope. Yet this story was clearly viewed as historical and authoritative, given its use for church instruction here. Ehrman believes this version (concurring with that of Papias) represents one of two disparate early PA narratives, later conflated and interpolated into John.[22] Under this theory, it is understood that Papias directly received and recorded one PA story, which was incorrectly identified by Eusebius with a second PA story found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews.[23] This would assume the two narratives had divergent details which Eusebius simply ignored.

One might argue, as Ehrman has, that Papias and the Didascalia Apostolorum account for the oldest, most historical PA.[24] This leads to a conclusion that Didymus, the Gospel according to Hebrews, and Eusebius were all familiar with an entirely different PA narrative.[25] Finally, Ehrman presents his theory, “Is it possible that Didymus and the Didascalia actually preserve two originally distinct stories which were conflated into the traditional version of the PA only after they had circulated independently in different Christian Communities?”[26]

            Ehrman’s pervasive theory fails on several counts. First, his infamously conjectural methodology is on full display here. One wonders how Ehrman makes such great cognitive leaps in his text-critical endeavors. For example, he submits that Didymus offers a paraphrased account and Eusebius a mere allusion to Papias’s full story in Expositions of the Lord’s Sayings, yet he still draws his main contentions from the details (or lack thereof) in each recounting! His molding of each PA appearance to fit his two-source bias is arbitrary and contrived. In addition, Ehrman’s conclusion on an early dating of the Didascalia Apostolorum is similarly conjunctural.[27] There’s no compelling evidence to believe the Didascalia preserves an older, historical version of the PA. Regarding other potential manifestations of the PA, some have dubiously suggested phrasal parallels between the “Johannine PA” and the second century Infancy Gospel of James or Papyrus Egerton 2.[28] These links are nearly impossible to maintain and thus find little explication in modern scholarship.[29]

            Therefore, only three early attestations to the PA are extant – in Didymus’s commentary on Ecclesiastes, Papias’s Expositions of the Lord’s Sayings, and the Didascalia Apostolorum. None of these accounts claim this story is canonical. It can further be held that all three narratives represent the same story, in opposition to the outdated two-source theory of Ehrman. This is the most logical conclusion, given that the PA is almost universally acknowledged as originating from a nearly lost oral tradition and the nonextant Gospel of Hebrews. Due to the transient nature of both sources, it should not be assumed that the PA would maintain complete fidelity. This is certainly an important acknowledgement for the Christian who understands the story to be uninspired. God had no reason to sovereignly preserve it – and the text naturally faced additions and degradation.[30] The onus is on Ehrman to provide solid, nonconjectural proof of two sources. For even he admits all the aforementioned accounts bear notable similarities.

Finally, and most importantly, neither text is inherently Johannine. Even Ehrman would submit to this conclusion.[31] These rather early instances of the story’s circulation highlight that the PA is not completely apocryphal. Rather, it seems to have been acknowledged as a truthful story of the Lord’s life, perhaps only found in the Gospel of Hebrews. Didymus and the Didascalia Apostolorum seem to imply this was the case. Regardless, no Christian witness testifies to the Johannine inclusion of the PA until the late fourth century.[32] Though the text was included after John 7:52 in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, it remains to be shown that such an inclusion was contentious.

The Latin Church Fathers and PA’s Late Acceptance

            To conclude this section on the historicity of the PA text itself, one must recognize the Latin fathers’ zeal in affirming the pericope as authentically Johannine. Jerome, writing around AD 415, noted, “In the Gospel, according to John, there is found in many of both the Greek as well as the Latin copies, the story of the adulteress who was accused before the Lord.”[33] This came nearly forty years after Jerome resolved to include the Pericope in his Latin Vulgate.[34] Certainly Jerome wasn’t referring to Codex Bezae (c. AD 400) alone. It’s clear Jerome utilized even older Greek manuscript(s), likely those estimated to have existed in Alexandria in the early fourth, late third century AD. One must necessarily conclude that by the fourth century, the PA was found within John, though its inclusion was already contentious. It must be noted that the story appeared in a small fraction of Greek manuscripts but found wider assimilation into the Latin tradition. Jerome thus wittingly chose to translate those Greek manuscript(s) containing the PA.

Augustine, writing around 401, said of the Pericope,

Some hostile to true faith, fearing, as I believe, that liberty to sin with impunity is granted their wives, remove from their Scriptural texts the account of our Lord’s pardon of the adulteress, as though He who said: ‘From now on, sin no more,’ granted permission to sin, or as though the woman should not have been cured by the Divine Physician by the remission of that sin, so as not to offend others who are equally unclean.[35]

Again, this quote reaffirms that by the fourth century, the PA was contentiously present in some manuscripts of John’s Gospel. That a variety of manuscripts existed both with and without the story is readily apparent. Should one assume the PA was excised from John due to scribal misgivings regarding Jesus’ leniency on sexual sin? While we might observe the sexual ethic of Augustine’s time was strict and valued chastity and fidelity, this historical, redaction criticism claim is frankly a baseless theory.[36] Early textual excision would be apparent from the manuscript evidence.

As it currently stands, there is no sign that any early Greek copyist was familiar with the adultery narrative in a Johannine context. Another fourth century witness to PA was supposedly mounted by Ambrose, which will not be treated here due to the account’s spurious nature.[37] It bears mentioning that this Ambrose imitator, writing sometime after AD 397, affirms that PA was, by this time, both found in a Gospel and viewed as difficult to accept, precisely because of Jesus’ forgiveness of an adulteress.[38] Punch, who himself cannot fully affirm Ambrose’s authorship of Second Apology, comments, “Ambrose seems concerned that the PA could lead some to view Jesus as being too lenient on sexual sins and perhaps even as making a mistake.”[39] This displays what has already been affirmed – that the Pericope Adulterae was found within the Gospel of John by the fourth century, yet not without debate regarding its authenticity.

As has been shown, the Latin Fathers almost unanimously viewed the PA as subversive in its sexual ethic. Does this represent a history of purposeful excision due to a strict moral framework within the church? This so called “suppression theory”[40] fails under scrutiny when one acknowledges various passages not excised from the text of John. Certainly, if there was an aversion to leniency regarding female sexual sin, scribes would have first removed John 4:1–45. Herein we find a blatant picture of Christ ministering to the Samaritan woman, who was herself an adulterer. Many such targets for redaction are only limited by the imagination. Further, the rigorous and defined philology of scribes counts against this theory, “Such an editor may have chosen to mark copies of John with the passage in some way—and indeed, such marks do accompany the pericope in later Byzantine manuscripts—but deletion was outside of the scope of established critical methods.”[41]

A thorough examination of the Pericope’s historicity and a synopsis of currents in text-critical analysis has revealed that the story of the adulterous woman was never original to John’s Gospel. While the external evidence is certainly conclusive, arguments based on the internal witness must nevertheless be addressed. Those arguing for inclusion of the PA most commonly appeal to the story’s contribution to John’s narrative flow and congruence with Johannine literary and textual cues.

Internal Evidence: Johannine Dissimilarities

While the interpolation of the Pericope Adulterae is clear from its meager historical record, many questions remain regarding this passage. Most prominently, what is the source of this textual anomaly and where does it belong? While nothing pins the Pericope between John 7 and 8 necessarily, one must inquire about the origin, historicity, and canonicity of the narrative itself. These issues will henceforth be taken up, with a conclusion regarding the canonicity of this anomalous account.

The PA’s Anomalous Rhetorical Style

One perplexing feature of the PA is its appearance outside of John 7:53–8:11 in several notable manuscripts. The story has been found after John 7:36, after John 21:34 or 24, and even after Luke 21:38.[42] Although these manuscripts are exceptions, the “floating” nature of this account further suggests interpolation. Thus, one might rationally conclude that a copyist wittingly chose the present context of John 7:53 precisely because of the Pericope’s contextual parallels. But most interesting here is the early appearance of this stray narrative in Luke. As Brown suggests of the Pericope, “in general the style is not Johannine either in vocabulary or grammar. Stylistically, the story is more Lucan than Johannine.”[43] This has led more than one scholar to posit Lukan authorship for the PA.[44] Even the previously mentioned use of the PA in the writing of Didymus has been argued by Donaldson to exhibit Lukan characteristics.[45]

Literary Concurrence

            Thus far, the disparate elements of the Pericope Adulterae have been analyzed to highlight the incongruity of this narrative within John’s Gospel. Textual criticism alone strongly suggests the Pericope is not original. With the addition of decidedly unusual textual elements, Johannine authorship is nearly impossible to maintain. Scholars, desiring to move beyond these two lines of attack, have suggested the Pericope Adulterae is abruptly introduced and does not fit within the Tabernacles Discourse of 7:1–52. Further, there is a clear connection with 8:12ff, suggesting a continuation from 7:52. Specifically, the phrase “Again Jesus spoke to them” in 8:12 most apparently links back to Jesus’ living water discourse in 7:37–38. This imagery, previously utilized by Jesus, is that of water drawing associated with the Feast of Tabernacles.

Similarly, in 8:12 Jesus is found proclaiming, “I am the Light of the World” – drawing upon the symbolism of lamplit nights during this same celebration.[46]

Reflecting back upon the methodologies of text criticism, it is worth noting that PA contains 14 words unique to John, being used nowhere else in his Gospel.[47] By some accounts, the author of PA appears to use phraseology and terminology quite unusual for John’s Gospel, yet almost certainly mimics Johannine features as well.[48] The evidence is far from being rendered inconclusive, however. For one, the unusual and frequent use of verbal κατα-prefixes has been variously noted as the strongest example of non-Johannine terminology being employed.[49] Finally, only two distinctly Johannine style characteristics have been noted in the entire Pericope.[50]

            Although there is a convincing narrative continuation from 7:52 to 8:12, it cannot be decisively asserted that the PA is completely out of place narratively. Beasley-Murray explains, “If we ask why it (PA) was set in its present place, the answer must be a genuine sense of fitness of context. The theme of judgment is strong in chaps. 7–8; the story could well be regarded as illustrative of 7:24 and 8:15–16; and we note the opposition of the Pharisees to Jesus in 7:46–52 and 8:13.”[51] Similarly, Klink comments, “Yet in spite of this text-critical mystery, this pericope plays a significant role in the developing narrative, serving as a conclusion to several burgeoning issues in chapter 7 and as the climactic episode to the section, “The Confession of the Son of God” (5:1–8:11), by clearly showing to the Jewish authorities the authority of Jesus.”[52]

By way of deduction, one may thus suggest that this interpolation was purposefully placed within a fitting context. It’s not a far stretch to conclude this same interpolator attempted to mimic Johannine style characteristics to further blend the PA into its current context.[53] To simply assert the adultery narrative is completely unfitting within this context is too assumptive and cavalier a conclusion. Brown, who strongly argues the Pericope Adulterae is a later insertion, nevertheless submits, “From the standpoint of internal criticism, the story is quite plausible and quite like some of the other gospel stories of attempts to trap Jesus (Luke 20:20, 27).”[54]As has been shown, text-critical and syntactical analysis have sufficiency placed the onus on those holding the minority view to support their claims.

That the PA appears in so many varied forms is further evidence of the text’s adaptation and interpolation into a Johannine context. One may conclude all the evidence points toward scribal zeal to preserve a Jesus tradition, regardless of the historicity of said narrative. From the fourth century (or perhaps late third century) onward, this well-known account was interpolated into John from either oratory tradition or the elusive Gospel according to the Hebrews. The interpolation theory of the PA finds further evidence in scribal attempts to fit the story into ten disparate locations within John and Luke.[55] Of all of these interpolations, ultimately the context of John 7 and 8, the Tabernacles Discourses, was found most fitting and enjoyed the greatest deal of later duplications. 

Conclusion: A Timeline for the PA

            In conclusion, the text-critical evidenced for the inauthenticity of Johannine authorship for the Pericope Adulterae is too strong to be ignored.[56] Not only is the Pericope completely absent from all pre-fifth century AD manuscripts, it appears within extant manuscripts in at least nine different locations in John’s Gospel, and one in Luke.[57] Many copyists who later included this Pericope did so with hesitancy, distinctly marking John 7:53–8:11 to highlight its potential inauthenticity.[58] Regarding church tradition and attestation, Metzger notes, “No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospel do not contain it.”[59] Admittingly, Didymus the Blind’s Commentary on Ecclesiastes, and the reference to the PA therein, means Metzger’s claim is outdated. This is far from a tragic development, however. Rather, as has been shown, the lineage of the PA can now be directly traced from the Gospel of Hebrews and oratory tradition to its current location in John’s Gospel. One must submit that the Apostolic father Papias attests to the PA’s circulation among the ‘elders’ (close associates of the Apostles).

The Imperfect Preservation of the Non-Canonical PA

This same exact historical moment in the life of Jesus was later confirmed by Eusebius as being recorded in the early but lost Gospel of Hebrews (c. AD 150). The popularity of this tradition and the Gospel of Hebrews itself was especially prevalent in Alexandria. Alexandria was home to Didymus the Blind, who taught both Jerome and Rufinus. Both scholars preserved the conclusions of their Greek mentor and teacher regarding the PA.[60] Jerome carried on Didymus’s claim that “certain gospels” contained the PA, by defending the narrative’s inclusion into John’s Gospel. As will be shown, Rufinus connected all previous iterations of the PA into one central, historical Jesus story.[61]

Yet by both accounts, the Johannine placement was far from unanimously accepted and represented an emergent interpolation attested by a minority of manuscripts. That any inclusion into the canon was absent until the early fourth or late third century is attested to by the non-existence of this narrative in all Greek manuscripts before the fifth century. When Jerome stated this deviant reading was contentious, he certainly affirms that his fourth or fifth century reader would be surprised by its inclusion in the Vulgate. Finally, the willingness of Rufinus to specify Papias’s account as absolutely referring to the PA in his translation of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (c. 401), shows that one PA narrative was known to exist in both late John manuscript(s) and the Gospel of Hebrews.

Rufinus writes, “He (Papias) includes at the same time some story about the adulterous woman accused by the Jews in the Lord’s presence. That passage is also found in the gospel which is called “according to the Hebrews.”[62] Two significant conclusions are drawn from this expansion and specification of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History. First, Rufinus wouldn’t have altered Eusebius’s “woman who was accused before the Lord of many sins” to “adulterous woman accused…” unless he was familiar with the PA as it stood in the Gospel of Hebrews and certain manuscripts of John. Correspondence with the Gospel of John is inferred on two points – the clear verbal allusion to the still extant “Johannine” PA and Rufinus’ association with Didymus.[63] Much like Jerome, Rufinus must have been aware of the PA’s existence in “certain gospels.” As has been argued, this phrase of Didymus most plausibly refers to the Gospel of Hebrews and a minority of Greek manuscripts of John’s Gospel.

From here, Latin Fathers such as Augustine took up the task of vehemently defending Johannine authenticity. Thus, the interpolation of PA must have happened in a Greek manuscript – and having never been fully accepted by the Greek Fathers as anything but an oratory tradition and Gospel of Hebrews narrative – was only later defended by zealous Latin Fathers. The link from Didymus to the Latin Fathers has been thoroughly represented. How can one be certain the Greek Father’s weren’t accepting of even the stray interpolation of the PA into John? Didymus’s own teacher, Origen, moves from 7:52 to 8:12 in his commentary on John’s Gospel, with nary a mention of the PA.[64] Thus, especially stunning in PA research is that the earliest church fathers explicitly knew of the PA, yet never considered it canonical.[65]

One final point of contention is raised regarding the literary style of this pericope. While some argue this passage bears the marks of Johannine authorship, the majority highlight its highly unusual vocabulary, which seems almost Lukan. The Pericope is so anomalous, in fact, that the fringes of modern scholarship have spilled ink to defend its Lukan or even Markan authorship.[66] Even if the literary style’s ambiguity leads one to suggest a Johannine style, varied due to the unusual subject matter, one must concede that a forger would easily emulate Johannine characteristics given such a small canvas.[67]

            It is the contention of this author that the sheer magnitude of the aforementioned evidence alone demands the Johannine authorship of the Pericope Adulterae be rejected. The student of Scripture need not probe further into the contextual elements wherein the Pericope currently stands in modern Bibles. Many have suggested the story of the adulterous woman fits well within the context of Jesus’ Tabernacle discourse. This, however, proves nothing about the Johannine authorship of the account. Surely scribes located what they believed to be the most fitting spot for this interpolation, which explains why other copyists disagreed and found Luke 21:38 a more fitting context. 

            The Pericope Adulterae should not be included anywhere in the book of John and should be omitted from the canon of Scripture entirely. While the story’s origins and authorship remain ambiguous, one can be certain the passage was not penned by any of the four Gospel writers. Most scholars and textual critics have arrived at this very conclusion, though very few have suggested the Pericope be abrogated completely.[68] Many are satisfied with the story’s containment within cautious brackets or it’s questioned authenticity being relegated to a mere footnote. While the designation of this text must not divide the Church, there is no logical justification for its inclusion.

Concluding Implications for Theology and Ministry

One must submit the PA is not detrimental to the narrative flow of John’s Gospel, nor does it propose theological difficulties. If anything, as has been shown, the text fits well and even highlights God’s Gospel of grace. Yet this interpolation intrudes upon God’s inspired, inerrant Word, as recorded by the Apostle John. John’s masterful, God-breathed account serves the sovereign purposes of his Lord – regardless of our thoughts on the narrative or literary structure. In other words, If God, and His servant John, did not intend the Pericope Adulterae to be found anywhere within the Fourth Gospel, it should not be there. To interpolate even the most elegant, fitting, and historical story from an apocryphal gospel would rightly be considered an unspeakable evil.[69] Protestant Christendom has thus refused to include even “deuterocanonical” books within or “between” the Holy Scriptures, separating from the tradition venerating disposition of Roman Catholicism.

All uninspired stories of our Lord must be wholly separated from our inspired text. To wittingly entertain extra-canonical interpolations sets a dangerous precedent regarding the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture and contextual, literary, and socio-historical unity of individually purposed apostolic letters. Köstenberger, in his commentary on John, takes an approach to the Pericope Adulterae that is distinct among his contemporaries. He argues that this story should be completely excised from Scripture and not taught from the pulpit. The scholar thus stands in solidarity with Origen, who in his third century commentary on John, passed over 7:53 to 8:11 entirely.[70] While evangelical Christian scholars must continue studying New Testament apocryphal literature, such traditions must not be preached from the pulpit and thus ascended to “secondary” canonical status.


[1] Tommy Wasserman, “The Strange Case of the Missing Adulteress,” in The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research, Library of New Testament Studies 551, eds. David Alan Black, Jacob N. Cerone, and Chris Keith (Edinburgh: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 37.

[2] Bruce Manning Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, rev. ed. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 187.

[3] Wasserman, “The Strange Case of the Missing Adulteress,” 38.

[4] Barbara Aland and Kurt Aland, The Text of the New Testament: an Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Textual Criticism, 2nd ed., trans. E. F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989) 110, 244.

[5] William L. Petersen, “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ: John 8:11, the Protevangelium Iacobi, and the History of the Pericope Adulterae,” in Sayings of Jesus: Canonical and Non-Canonical: Essays in Honor of Tjitze Baarda, eds. William L. Petersen, Johan S. Vos, and Henk Jen de Jonge (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 199.

[6] Ibid. Petersen makes the connection between Didymus the Blind and his two students, Jerome and Rufinus. He suggests the witness of all three of these men be taken together when tracing the history of the PA’s acceptance. Petersen also makes a connection between Eusebius and Rufinus – the latter being responsible for correlating Papias’s vague story of Christ in Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord with the PA.

[7] Amy M. Donaldson, “Explicit References to New Testament Variant Readings among Greek and Latin Church Fathers” (PhD diss., University of Notre Dame, 2009), 113.

[8] Bart D. Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” New Testament Studies 34 (1988): 28. Ehrman views the Pericope Adulterae as explicitly instructing that anyone with any sin must never judge another sinner. With this interpretation, Didymus’s use of the passage to support leniency on hardworking slaves, regardless of their countenance or attitude, would thus be nonsensical. Ehrman’s contention is therefore that Didymus must have been alluding to the greater Tabernacles narrative of John 7–8, specifically regarding the discourses on right versus hypocritical judgement (Jn 7:22–24; 50-52).

[9] Ibid., 26–27.

[10] Ibid., 30; 37.

[11] Ibid., 26. Ehrman argues that ευαγγελιοις contextually refers to “books that contain Gospels.”

[12] Peterson, who utilizes form-critical parallels between the PA (as presented in John 7) and the Protoevangelium of James, even supports this conclusion. His contention, however, differs from that of his contemporaries. Based on several assumptions: (1) an early second century date for both the Protoevangelium and John’s Gospel, (2) that the Protoevangelium’s long history of textual variants and interpolation is insignificant, (3) and a rejection of a wide swath of scholarship that has observed and wittingly dismissed these parallels. All three of these assumptions represent major deviations from accepted scholarship. Johannine authorship of the Gospel of John and a first century date for this canonical book must be maintained. The historical development and corruption of the pseudonymous, apocryphal Protoevangelium cannot be ignored. And the extrapolations of Peterson’s form-critical method must be rejected. Indeed, Peterson is willing to entertain a hypothesis that the Gospel of John utilized the Protoevangelium, or that both works interpolated phraseology from a common, earlier source (such as “Q”). These conclusions are untenable and rightfully glossed over in New Testament scholarship. Petersen, “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ”, 204–219.

[13] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 28.

[14] Wasserman, “The Strange Case of the Missing Adulteress,”, 34.

[15] Eusebius, “Ecclesiastical History, Books 1–5,” in The Fathers of the Church 19, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari, trans. Roy Joseph Deferrari (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953), 206.

[16] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 29.

[17] Petersen, “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ”, 210.

[18] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 29.

[19] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 29.

[20] The Didascalia is only extant in the Apostolic Constitutions, dated to AD 380 and heavily modified/expanded. Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 33.

[21] Margaret Dunlop Gibson, trans., The Didascalia Apostolorum in English, vol. II (London: Cambridge University Press, 1903), 39–40.

[22] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 30.

[23] Ibid., 33.

[24] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 35. The author of the Didascalia and Papias are thought by Ehrman to have both come across this story in Syria and Asia Minor, where it supposedly circulated.

[25] Ibid., 34.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Chris Keith, “The Pericope Adulterae: A Theory of Attentive Insertion,” in The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research, Library of New Testament Studies 551, eds. David Alan Black, Jacob N. Cerone, and Chris Keith (Edinburgh: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 91.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Petersen, “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ”, 210, Citing D. Lührmann, “Die Geschichte” (supra, n. 26), pp. 289-316. D. Lührmann argues the PA developed over time, gaining more details until reaching the Johannine account we have today.

[31] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 37–38.

[32] Keith, “The Pericope Adulterae,” 93.

[33] Jerome, “Against Palagians,” in Dogmatic and Polemical Works, trans. John N. Hritzu (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1965), 2.17.

[34] Jennifer Knust, “‘Taking Away From’: Patristic Evidence and the Omission of the Pericope Adulterae from John’s Gospel,” in The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research, Library of New Testament Studies 551, eds. David Alan Black, Jacob N. Cerone, and Chris Keith (Edinburgh: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 65. – Jerome placed his translation after John 7:52, in about AD 384.

[35] Augustine, “Adulterous Marriages,” in Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects, The Fathers of the Church 27, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari, trans. Charles T. Huegelmeyer (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1955), 107–108.

[36] Knust, “Taking Away From,” 88.

[37] John David Punch, “The Piously Offensive Pericope Adulterae,” in The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research, Library of New Testament Studies 551, eds. David Alan Black, Jacob N. Cerone, and Chris Keith (Edinburgh: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 26. Further, Ambrose’s direct relationship with Augustine necessitates that even if one ascribes this account to the Bishop of Milan, he would simply be mirroring the same tradition Augustine later affirmed.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Knust, “Taking Away From,” 88.

[41] Ibid., 83.

[42] Punch, “The Piously Offensive Pericope Adulterae,” 22.

[43] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John (I–XII): Introduction, Translation, and Notes, Anchor Yale Bible 29 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 336

[44] Chris Keith, “Recent and Previous Research on the Pericope Adulterae (John 7.53–8.11),” Currents in Biblical Research 6.3 (2008): 384–6.

[45] Donaldson, Explicit References to New Testament Variant Readings, 447.

[46] George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary 36 (Dallas: Word Books: 1999), 127.

[47] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic: 2004), 245.

[48] Ibid., 246.

[49] Punch, “The Piously Offensive Pericope Adulterae,” 15–16.

[50] Klink, John, 387.

[51] Beasley-Murray, John, 144.

[52] Edward W. Klink III, John, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Clinton E. Arnold, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 386.

[53] Alan F. Johnson, “A Stylistic Trait of the Fourth Gospel in the Pericope Adulterae?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 9 (1966) 91–96.

[54] Brown, The Gospel according to John (I–XII), 335.

[55] Köstenberger, John, 248.

[56] Metzger reached a similar conclusion, “The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming.” Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 187.

[57] Klink, John, 387.

[58] Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 189.

[59] Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 188.

[60] Petersen, “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ”, 199.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Rufinus, History of the Church, The Fathers of the Church 133, trans. Philip R. Amidon (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2016), 140.

[63] Petersen, “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ”, 199.

[64] Knust, “Taking Away From,” 79–80.

[65] As attested to by Eusebius, Eusebius, “Ecclesiastical History,” 206.

[66] Johnson, “A Stylistic Trait of the Fourth Gospel in the Pericope Adulterae?” 94.

[67] Ibid., 96.

[68] Köstenberger seems to be the one exception here. Unfortunately, his commentary on John has been removed from circulation due to plagiarism. Köstenberger, John, 249.

[69] See Revelation 22: 18–19.

[70] Köstenberger, John, 249.


Backgrounds, Surveys, and Introductions

Aland, Barbara and Kurt Aland, The Text of the New Testament: an Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Textual Criticism. 2nd ed. Translated by E. F. Rhodes. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.

Brown, Raymond Edward. An Introduction to the Gospel of John. Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday, 2003.

DeSilva, David Arthur. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2016.

Concordances, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996.

––––––. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001.

Freedman, David Noel. Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 Vols. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Silva, Moisés, ed. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis. 5 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.


Beasley-Murray, George R. John. 2nd ed. Word Biblical Commentary 36. Dallas: Word Books, 1999.

Blum, E. A. John. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures 2. Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. New American Commentary 25a. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996.

Brown, Raymond Edward. The Gospel According to John. Anchor Yale Bible 29. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Edited by D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

Gangel, Kenneth O. John. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Hendriksen, William. Baker New Testament Commentary: John. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953.

Keener, Craig. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. 2 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012.

Klink, Edward W. III. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Edited by Clinton E. Arnold. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.

Kruse, Colin G. John. Tyndale New Testament Commentary 4. Edited by Leon Morris. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

MacArthur, John. John 1-11. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006.

Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. 2nd ed. German Bible Society: Stuttgart, 1994.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Rev. ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

Ridderbos, Herman Nicolaas. The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary. Translated by John Vriend. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Whitacre, Rodney A. John. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series 4. Edited by Grant R. Osborne. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Journals and Dissertations

Black, David Alan, Jacob N. Cerone, John David Punch, Tommy Wasserman, Jennifer Knust, Christ Keith, Maurice A. Robinson, Larry Jurtado. The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research. Library of New Testament Studies 551. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2016.

Donaldson, Amy M. “Explicit References to New Testament Variant Readings among Greek and Latin Church Fathers.” Ph.D. diss. University of Notre Dame, 2009.

Ehrman, Bart D. “Jesus and the Adulteress.” New Testament Studies 34 (1988): 24–44.

Johnson, Alan F. “A Stylistic Trait of the Fourth Gospel in the Pericope Adulterae?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 9 (1966): 91–96.

Keith, Chris. “Recent and Previous Research on the Pericope Adulterae (John 7.53–8.11).” Currents in Biblical Research 6.3 (2008): 377–404.

Petersen, William L. “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ: John 8.11, the Protevangelium Iacobi, and the History of the Pericope Adulterae.” In Sayings of Jesus: Canonical and Non-Canonical: Essays in Honor of Tjitze Baarda. Edited by William L. Petersen, Johan S. Vos, and Henk Jen de Jonge; Supplements to Novum Testamentum 89. Leiden: Brill, 1997: 191–221.

Translated Volumes

Augustine. “Adulterous Marriages.” In Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects. The Fathers of the Church 27, edited by Roy Joseph Deferrari, translated by Charles T. Huegelmeyer. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1955.

Eusebius. “Ecclesiastical History, Books 1–5.” In the Fathers of the Church 19, edited by Roy Joseph Deferrari, translated by Roy Joseph Deferrari. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953.

Jerome. “Against Palagians.” In Dogmatic and Polemical Works, translated by John N. Hritzu. Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1965.

Margaret Dunlop Gibson, translation. The Didascalia Apostolorum in English 2. London: Cambridge University Press, 1903.

Rufinus. History of the Church. The Fathers of the Church 133, translated by Philip R. Amidon. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2016.

Book Review

Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views – A Response to William Lane Craig’s Middle-Knowledge View

William Lane Craig is perhaps the most prolific modern philosopher to purport the middle knowledge view of divine foreknowledge today. In Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, Craig displays this prowess by categorically defending Molinism. Among the other competing understandings of divine foreknowledge, the middle knowledge view stands out for several reasons. First of all, it expands the omniscience of God, while highlighting His relation to man as immanently personal yet distinctly transcendent. In addition, and perhaps most significantly, the Molinist view best corroborates the existence of creaturely free will alongside divine providence.

Observing the whole of Craig’s chapter in Four Views, one finds a constant and consistent application of Christian philosophy. Indeed, the author begins his section by addressing the concept of counterfactuals – a term not used in the Biblical text yet highly important throughout Scripture. These statements represent possibilities, of what would be if a certain action were taken. Thus understood in theology, counterfactuals represent real options a free creature would have taken if he or she were placed in a certain circumstance. God’s knowledge of these counterfactuals is understood by the Molinist as existing logically prior to the creative decree – in between God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge. Thus, this “middle knowledge” informs God of the decisions creatures would make if placed in circumstances, and allows him to actualize a world wherein the sum of freely made creaturely decisions ultimately allows God to accomplish His purposes. As William Lane Craig defines it, middle knowledge best synthesizes divine providence with human free will.

I would argue that William Lane Craig offers the best understanding of divine providence via Molinism. In addition to the solid logic previously expounded, the objections to middle knowledge seem unconvincing. Dr. Craig specifically addresses the grounding argument, wherein the truth of counterfactuals is disregarded as being without basis. Yet, as the author explains, this objection is far from sound. Perhaps counterfactuals are simply possibly true, or exist in the mind of God. One need not assert their existence as necessary, abstract objects. In the area of theology, arguments linking God’s foreknowledge to fatalistic preordination are simply implausible when one addresses, as Craig does, logical versus chronological priority. Very few solid objections against Molinism have surfaced, and the middle knowledge view is far from heretical.

In my opinion, the most convincing portion of Dr. Craig’s chapter is his defense of counterfactuals within Scripture. The author presents several circumstances, such as David’s experience with Keilah, wherein God himself clearly offers a counterfactual statement (cf. 1 Sam. 23). Certainly this validates the truth of such statements. Moreover, it seems to show the reality of human responsibility and reality of free will, wherein creaturely decisions truly affect future procession. God’s suggestion that Keliah would offer up David to Saul if David stayed in the city cannot be explained away by mere hyperbole. God allows David to choose between leaving or staying, knows the outcomes of each choice, and foreknows what David will actually choose. As Craig explains, the Bible does not explicitly address “divine middle knowledge” but it does indeed suggest the validity of this extension to God’s omniscience.

Finally, the practicality of a middle knowledge view cannot be dismissed. As previously mentioned, this view best synthesizes human free will with divine providence. Stemming from this conclusion is an exceptionally qualified theodicy. By God’s middle knowledge, one is able to recognize the Creator as wholly sovereign yet not responsible for the free actions of human beings. Thus, the responsibility for evils within our world are the result of our God-given ability to make truly free decisions. Even so, we know God has actualized a world wherein His plan will be fulfilled. Several additional theological issues can be better defined according to middle knowledge, such as God’s ability to answer all prayers and biblical inspiration.

Metaphysics Philosophy Theodicy

The Logical Problem of Evil: A Molinist’s Response

Logical Problem of Evil

Interpreting the Premises

In 1955, J.L. Mackie posited that a logical contradiction exists between the following three propositions:

1)      God is omnipotent

2)      God is omnibenevolent

3)      There is evil in the world[1]

The crux of Mackie’s argument, then, is that God cannot exist if evil exists, and evil exists – therefore, God does not exist. Immediately apparent in this are the numerous assumptions made within the propositions. Most prominently, and as Mackie himself would accept, the deity in question must be the greatest conceivable being, to borrow Anselmian terminology. This author will indeed proceed per the biblical conclusions of perfect being theology, rejecting the less orthodox assumptions of process theology and the Irenaean theodicy of John Hick.

To begin assessing the faulty conclusion of Mackie, it will prove beneficial to dissect the propositions offered. Most importantly, it is evident (even to Mackie himself) that some set of additional or hidden premises must be accepted in order to prove the three propositions given above are truly contradictory. More specifically, if one holds that the statements, (1) an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God exists and (2) evil exists, are logically incompatible, further explanation of these terms must be provided. For to simply assert the above conclusions is to assume a specific understanding of “omnipotence”, “omnibenevolence”, and “evil”. Here we again arrive at the problem with assumed dogmas and inadequate philosophies. For clearly Mackie presents a view of God reminiscent of Descartes’ conclusion wherein even the laws of logic do not pose a limit on God. Related to this “hidden premise” is the conception of omnibenevolence wherein if God is indeed maximally good, then He would desire a world free of evil. Since God is simultaneously omnipotent (and under the Desacartian assumption, not limited by logic), He would actualize a world without evil. Assuming God can create any world He desires necessitates an undisclosed premise based on logic foreign to the incompatibilist, as it remains to be shown.

Free Will Defense

Alvin Plantinga first offered the free will defense, in response to J.L. Mackie’s logical problem of evil. Highlighting the assumptions and premises presented in the previous section, Plantinga successfully deconstructed the proposed contradiction. In his own words,

The heart of the Free Will Defense is the claim that it is possible that God could not have created a universe containing moral good (or as much moral good as this world contains) without creating one that also contained moral evil. And if so, then it is possible that God had a good reason for creating a world containing evil.[2]    

To expound upon this argument, it must simply be possible that humans have libertarian free will for the premises regarding the nature of God’s omnibenevolence and omnipotence to be proven as not necessarily true.[3] More specifically, the assumptions that God can create any world He desires (by virtue of His omnipotence) and would favor a world free of evil (per His omnibenevolence) are not necessarily true.

To be sure, the possibility of libertarian freedom is quintessential for this argument, which immediately undermines Calvinistic determinism. But again, binding our definitions of omnibenevolence and omnipotence to necessarily conform to the conclusions of any one dogma, such as those of Calvin and Descartes, does nothing to disprove the possibility of God and evil existing simultaneously. Further, the remaining natural evil present in the actualized world could possibly be the result of Satan and his cohorts expressing their own free will.[4] As Mackie himself admitted, this defense offered by Plantinga does indeed eliminate the logical problem of evil. What we must address now, however, is the probabilistic or evidential problem of evil. It will prove beneficial, however, to first expound upon the seemingly theoretical nature of Plantinga’s defense, to show the same logic of possibilities might move us closer to probability in the area of a well-defined theodicy.

Possible and Feasible Worlds

Following the reasoning of incompatibilism, one can successfully postulate the inherent goodness in God’s creating beings with true, libertarian free will. Indeed, it seems antithetical to suggest God would create mere automatons, programmed to perform the function of worship, especially when He already has creatures bound to this duty.[5] It appears our value to God is perhaps greater than the angels who we will “judge”.[6] In any case, it seems all the more meaningful to have humans who freely choose to worship God, even when faced with the opposing pull of sinful desires. On the negative side, creaturely free will also negates any suggestion that God might somehow be responsible for evil. If one takes a deterministic worldview – wherein God determines the actions of creatures – it is well-neigh impossible to escape the implications of such direct causation.

With the virtues of an incompatibilist view established, the crucial task of discerning reasons why God actualized this specific world remain. According to the Molinist, God discerns all the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom according to contingent circumstances. The collective whole and ultimate procession of these counterfactuals thus makes up the gamut of possible worlds God could actualize.

Now, it should be assumed that the greatest conceivable being would wittingly chose to actualize a world wherein His purposes would be accomplished. Further, I would offer that given His reasoning for creating man in particular, God would logically bring about a world that would bring Him the greatest amount of glory. Given the reality of free will, this must be explored further. A world wherein everyone chooses only good certainly might be possible for God to actualize, though it is likely not feasible. We might imagine that such a world contains five creatures, all of which live five minutes after being created – a scenario with significantly less glory being given to God compared to the actual world. One must further assume that God’s reasoning is far more inscrutable, and the nature of “infeasible” far more complex to a perfect being. In addition, it doesn’t appear beneficial to adapt the view of Leibniz wherein God is viewed as actualizing the greatest possible world. Rather, one might assume He actualized a best possible world that was feasible for Him and will ultimately achieve His purposes. To adopt Leibniz’s logic here would lead one to an infinite quantitative progression in goods, wherein an end is logically unlocatable. To conclude this section, is a possible explanation for the existence of evil utilizing the middle knowledge view, “God could not have created a world that had so much good as the actual world but had less evil, both in terms of quantity and quality; and, moreover, God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil that exists.”[7] It is now the task of this writer to address the evidential problem of evil using inductive reasoning. 

Works Cited

[1] J. L. Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence” In Mind, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), 200-212.

[2] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 31.

[3] William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 1601-04.

[4] Plantinga, God, 58.

[5] Cf. Isaiah 6:2-3. Revelation 4:8.

[6] Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:3, see also, Hebrews 1:4.

[7] Craig, Foundations, 1609.

Philosophy Theodicy

The Problem of Evil: A Molinist’s Theodicy (Pt. 1)

Throughout the millennia, philosophers and laypersons alike have struggled with the existence of evil. Augustine passed on a dualistic vision of morality reminiscent of his former Manichaeism, wherein the body is essentially evil while the mind good. This elevation of the mind, intellect, and reason proved pervasive – bleeding into the Catholicism via Aquinas and defining European society by popular literary artists such as Dante. Evil and suffering have thus historically been viewed in the post-Greco world as a product of man’s inability to transcend the physical.

Given our modern setting, new challenges have arisen where atheism has been offered as an acceptable and complete worldview and naturalism permeates a society inclined toward monistic thought. In this climate, philosophers like Nietzsche are welcome to categorically deny distinctions between “good and evil”, at least as they exist in traditional thought. Moreover, Judeo-Christian values and duties are mocked as simplistic and illogical, due to the still pervasive influence of Aristotelian asceticism, Calvinistic determinism, Descartes’s extension of divine omnipotence, and so forth. Common association of these philosophies with theism in general have caused many to back away from, or unapologetically ridicule, Christianity. It is thus crucial for the Christian to develop a fuller theodicy, expounding upon both proper theology, philosophy, and logic.

In modern times, the derision and rejection of religion continues. The issue is not so simply dismissed by the Christian as through an appeal to wrongheaded yet pervasive philosophies. Rather, these enduring issues involve complex emotional struggles with tangible evil and personal suffering. Within our world exists not only moral evils, explained by some fault in humanity, but also the seemingly gratuitous natural evils devastating the masses. At the base of this problem lies the question, why would God allow evil? Or more personally, why has God allowed me to suffer thus? To properly formulate a theodicy, one must address not only the logical problem of evil, but also the evidential or probabilistic. In upcoming posts, this author will differentiate between these facets of this quandary and explicate their validity from a Christian worldview, all the while utilizing logic and philosophy.