Friday, April 10, 2015

John 19:11 – Who is from above? And who guilty of the greater sin?

I went to church last week for Good Friday and Easter Sunday services. I can vaguely recall what the sermon was about for easter, but there was one point made on the passage of John 19 when Jesus was being interrogated by Pontius Pilate which stuck out to me. In verse 11, Jesus answered Pilate after Pilate had told Jesus that he had the power to crucify him and release him that Pilate could have no power against him unless it was given from above, and therefore, the one who delivered him to Pilate has the greater sin. According to the pastor, Jesus was telling Pilate that God’s power was greater than Pilate’s, and that if God had not ordained Pilate to have such power, he would not have been able to boast of it. With regards to who is being referred to as having the greater sin for delivering Jesus to Pilate, the pastor says that this refers to the chief priest, Caiaphas.

I was perplexed by this verse because the sentencing suggest some relation between the power that had been given from above to Pilate, and the one having the greater sin for delivering Jesus to Pilate. It seemed that a literal interpretation might suggest that the one from above is guilty of the greater sin for delivering Jesus to Pilate. I was checking commentaries about this passage during service, but the more devotional sources online expresses similar opinions with what my pastor says, although some commentaries suggest that Judas Iscariot was included in the one referred to as having delivered Jesus and thus being guilty of the greater sin.

I looked up the passage online again today, and found that there were a few forums (see here and here) where some commentators expressed the same perplex about the verse. One answer on the forum referred to the original language of the word ‘from above’, anōthen, as being used in other passages of the bible, and in most instances referring to God or heaven, but it disapproves of the idea that the authority mentioned as being guilty of the greater sin refers to God and that this refers rather to the Chief Priest and the Sanhedrin. However, it doesn’t really explain why the logical structure of the sentence is the way it is. Why is there the word ‘therefore’?

I looked up the word ‘therefore’ in its original language on blue letter bible. The original language is in greek, and is called dia. I am wondering whether ‘therefore’ has a different connotation in its original form. From my brief perusal, it would seem that the word ‘therefore’ is used in a manner largely consistent with how one may understand it in today’s times. But there are some instances in other passage where the way ‘therefore’ is used in other parts of the bible where I find them as perplexing as the John 19:11 verse. For example, Matthew 12:30 – 31 writes “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” I am again perplexed as to how the second part of the passage relates to the first. What relation does blasphemy against the Spirit being unforgivable have to do with whether one is with or against Jesus?

I was hoping that the easier solution to John 19:11 would be to interpret the one from above as mentioned by Jesus as referring to the authority who had delivered Jesus to Pilate. I thought it would make sense if it was Caiaphas who had given authority to Pilate to put Jesus to death, and is therefore guilty of the greater sin for being the principal of the decision. But in light of the argument that ‘from above’ in its original language has largely been used to refer to God or heaven, I don’t think this interpretation is as viable as I would had first thought.

If the correct interpretation to be taken is that the one from above refers to God, and the one who delivered Jesus to Pilate and is guilty of the greater sin is the Chief Priest, perhaps a way to explain the logical connection would be that God has given the right to Pilate to put Jesus to death, but this is not so for the Chief Priest, and therefore, the Chief Priest is guilty of a greater sin since his exercise of authority to crucify Jesus is not intended by God, whilst that of Pontius Pilate is.

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